It started out in November 2015, I had strong palpitations one Sunday afternoon that lasted until the evening. When I went to bed, there was already a tight feeling on the left side of my chest followed by severe pain that radiated up to my shoulders as if someone was trying to rip my heart out. I got up and panicked at the thought that I might be having a heart attack. The pain continued for a few more minutes and at that point I was sure it’s a heart attack (or so I thought). I took a taxi to the hospital, which was less than 10 minutes away from my apartment. I was so nervous and prayed that I get there still conscious.
At the emergency room, the nurses did an electrocardiogram test and took some blood samples. I thought of asking them if it was a heart attack, but I already knew the answer; I wouldn’t have reached the hospital by myself if it really were. I was told it’s acid reflux and caffeine induced palpitations. I remember I had my second cup of coffee that afternoon.
They gave me Omeprazole, a type of antacid and I went home relieved. I still had a few hours of sleep that day, went to work and had my morning coffee, as usual.
Coffee is the first thing that I would have in the morning. I couldn’t start my day without that morning routine. I feel I am unable to function without it. Just the aroma of brewed coffee wakens my brain. Its warmth is like a tight hug; always assuring that everything’s going to be okay. I love coffee and I feel like it always loves me back.
Anyhow, this drink that I have a steady, strong, mutual relationship with was worsening the already severe acidity in my stomach. It was a result of excessive soda and caffeine intake for years. I just don’t have the discipline and I always give in to my cravings. I used to finish a liter of coke in one day, regular meals and snack won’t go in my tummy without soda or carbonated juice. I would feel sourness in my stomach once in a while but it would always go away. Well, not this time.
I just couldn’t get enough of acid.
I did this detox lemon that I always read online (if you love your life, please don’t do this).The instructions were to drink warm water with a slice of lemon in the morning and water with lemon for the rest of the day. You can even add cucumber which has its own cleansing properties to improve taste.
A few weeks after my caffeine induced palpitations, I was a genius to try the lemon detox. And with all the parties and eating that holiday season, the extremely acidic citrus fruit aggravated my condition and turned the acidity in my stomach even moooreee severe. It was like releasing a cracken in my tummy.
I ignored the pains and self-medicated with Omeprazole, the antacid the doctors previously prescribed me. At night, I would just pray really hard that I wake up again the next day.
I got well in January and the pain was back by February. By that time, everything has worsened; I was having heart burns and the feeling of having something heavy on my chest never went away. I started to feel difficulty in breathing, I would wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning with a very sour stomach and pain that radiates from my chest to my shoulders and back.
I went to our company’s doctor. She told me yes it’s still reflux now with heartburn and prescribed Omeprazole too. I got well again for a while but went back to her in March.
This time she had a different tone, she thought maybe there’s something more as to why the reflux kept recurring. Sometimes she said, the things I was feeling could also be symptoms of having gall stones. She asked that I see a specialist in gastrointestinal problems.
I spent the entire day worrying about the acidity and gall stones as if it’s already cofirmed that I have them. I researched online and got worried even more. I have this stupid habit that when I feel pain or there seems to be something wrong in my body, I’d look it up online. The internet seems to be playing with me and would show medical write ups that describe the things I feel to be symptoms of a complicated illness, which would cause me to worry even more.
For weeks I stressed out myself with the arduous symptoms of reflux and heartburn plus the thought of what I’d do with my supposed gall stones. I would continue to wake up in the middle of the night with too much pain on my chest, which went on from March till May.
By June, the antacids were no longer taking effect, I couldn’t sleep anymore and one night, I had to rush myself to the emergency room because of the painful heartburn and heavy breathing. The doctors gave me antacid via IV needle because the oral ones don’t work anymore.
My trips to the emergency room eventually became more frequent; from once a week it became twice and then thrice! I was given higher dozes of Omeprazole plus Ranitidine, which I had to take regularly. At night I couldn’t lie down anymore, I had to keep a sitting position because the moment I lie down a little the acid would gush up my throat.
Trying to get sleep that way was a real torment. During the first week two weeks, I’d still be awake at three in the morning! I’d wake up at past 7:00 am with a headache that I’m already stressed out even before I go to work. Despite of all the medicines I still had the heavy feeling on my chest and my back. I was told that the pain radiates through my back because half of our esophagus is in that area and is also causing pain in the surroungding parts. My voice started to get hoarse and there was also burning pain in my throat because of the acid that was coming up. I feel pain even when I’m just talking and I couldn’t sing anymore, it was just difficult to breathe. I stopped drinking caffeinated drinks, citrus fruits and anything that already tastes sour like spaghetti with a tomato sauce.
It was a nightmare that went on for months.
But I was a total idiot to endure that suffering for so long. It wasn’t until July when I was going to the emergency room three times a week that I finally decided to see a stomach specialist. I went to Dr. Wilfredo Reyes of Capitol Medical Center and the moment I told him how I was feeling, I saw the look of pity in his face, he must have wondered why this nitwit in front of him had to do this to herself for so long.
He scheduled me for an endoscopy on July 22, 10 days after that check up. On the week of my endoscopy, I went to the emergency room again due to heartburn, I even went there the night before the endoscopy; I had this harrowing chest pain that I almost blacked out already.
During the endoscopy, they found out I already have gerd (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and the linings of my stomach and esophagus were already inflamed. I also had h. pylori which is a type of bacteria that stimulates the acid in the stomach and is one of the known causes of ulcer and stomach cancer. Despite that, I was still grateful and relieved to find out that there was no wound, lesion or tumor in my digestive system, everything was clear except that they were inflamed.
I was given antibiotics for ten days and a cocktail of antacids for 30 days, I had to take a total of 9 tablets. I still sleep in a sitting position but very slowly, the heartburns started to decrease. I still had the heavy feeling on my chest, but my doctor said in a series of follow up check ups that despite of all the symptoms, it looks like I’m recovering because my condition has improved and I didn’t have to go to the emergency room anymore.
After 30 days, the doctor lowered the doses of my antacids but I was still taking 5 tablets. He extended my medication for two more months. I went on a very strict diet that’s without caffeinated drink, soda and juice, I could only drink water. I couldn’t eat or drink chocolate, sour food like Sinigang and tomato sauce, fried and dairy food because they all increase the acid production. Pork and beef which takes longer to digest also cause surges in acidity. I’m only allowed to eat rice and vegetables.
I know I’m tough but with all these restrictions in food, pain, expensive medicines and horrible sleeping conditions, I couldn’t help crying many times. I felt so sorry for myself that I had to go through such kind of situation. I could have used all the money spent in medicines for my family or for travel.
On the 7th week, I woke up one day with this heavy, pounding headache and a tight feeling on top of my head as if there’s a huge rubber band squeezing my brain. The was also pain on my nape and throbbing on my temples. Because I worry to much, I came of up with all sorts of complications that may be going on in my brain and that I may actually die anytime soon. I wrote a letter for my family, some instructions on what to do with my stuff, password and pins so they could access my online accounts, phone, laptop and my cards. Yep, I’m crazy like that.
I was still alive after two days and went to see a neurologist. He made me walk, checked the movements of my joints, asked that my eyes follow the directions of his hands and other physical tests. He concluded that the headaches have nothing to do with my brain because I was still functioning well. It was spasm caused by my sleeping condition and the stress of worrying too much about my illness. He gave me Xanor, a mild anti-anxiety medicine that should calm me down and help lessen even the symptoms of my acid reflux. Unfortunately, after two weeks of improved conditions, the headaches came back the moment I stopped taking Xanor. I had to go back to my neurologist and he extended the medicine for one more month.
This week marks the end of my 3-month antacid medication. Tomorrow, October 22 should be my last day of taking those medicines. I’m also on my 18th day of being able to sleep lying down again. The heartburn and chest pains have drastically improved. I’ve also tried eating chocolates again and yesterday, I had my first sip of coffee (but probably won’t do it again for some more months).
I am so grateful and relieved, the progress may be slow but it still is progress. I am thankful to my doctors who’ve helped me overcome this condition and to our health insurance provider that covered all my hospital bills. Most importantly, I am grateful to God, He is my healer. He’s been my source of strength and peace in this tough situation.
It’s true when they say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I just laugh now when I remember how I thought I was already dying and had written some sort of a special power of attorney so my family could access my accounts.
Life has so much to offer and I am now even more excited to explore and spend time with family and friends.