Darkest before dawn: How Google solved the mystery of my history

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This one’s a bit personal but I wanted to share it with you as it’s a silent phenomenon which is far more common than is diagnosed…..

I’ve aways loved baked goods. At Muscat weddings they serve these deep fried pastry balls dipped in syrup and rosewater called looqemat. Pure heaven, I tell you. When I lived in Madrid, mini empanadas were my reward for grocery shopping. In Mexico it was quesadillas, soft and wheaty, folded over hot melted cheese.

I was sick for the whole two years I lived in Mexico; it’s testament to how much I love that country that I completed my contract. The doctor fed me antibiotics like sweets and I went back to the UK with a bag so full of them I could have set up a clandestine chemist. Friends said I looked different. I had lost a stone. My tummy troubles continued on and off. I paid them not much mind.

And then, a decade later, last month, they ramped up a gear.  My guts began to hurt as though I’d caught a bug. I started spending all my time in the loo. I tried to ignore it. Then the nosebleeds started; I’d wake with blood on the pillow. An overarching tiredness engulfed me. It’s just a virus, I told myself. It will pass.

I was eating porridge to keep my strength up, shiny oats in huge mouthfuls. But it always seemed to leave me hungry. As I got into bed at night my body would twitch as though I’d ingested poison. My head throbbed and two impressive rashes decorated my legs.

After three weeks of hoping it would pass I went to see my GP. ‘You’re anemic’ she said, took tests for parasites and other bugs but nothing came up. ‘I really don’t know,’ she confessed, ‘Why don’t you try these?’ and she handed me a prescription for a broad spectrum antibiotic.

‘I know you,’ I thought looking at the box and remembering my time in Mexico. I recalled how they made the symptoms worse. I wondered what she thought she was treating. I went home, googled the potential side effects of Ciprofloxacin ( Retinal detachment anyone?) and binned the box.

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They say that using the internet to figure out why you are sick is unwise. Dr Google cannot take a history from you, or ask you to say ‘ah’ as she looks at your tongue. But if it wasn’t for the world wide web I’d still be living in the loo and losing weight fast.

I needed an answer. I googled so hard I almost broke the internet. I skimmed and scanned, cross-referenced, read and re-read. Looking back I realise my stomach had not been right my whole life. It came in waves alongside other seemingly unrelated stuff: Like, despite a good diet, disappearing tooth enamel which had my dentist wringing his hands.

I put it all into the search engines like a player feeding a fruit machine and watched the search results appear.

Coeliac, it said.

I tried again.

Gluten intolerance or Coeliac disease. A spectrum, from allergic-like symptoms to an autoimmune condition.

I stopped all wheat products. I quit the porridge which was not certified gluten-free. I waited.  My tummy settled. I stopped twitching, itching and bleeding. I continued on the same diet. The pains in my gut abated. I started to heal.

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It seems that 1 in a hundred people have Coeliac. And Gluten Intolerance in varying degrees is even more common. I used to think it was all a fad, a new and trendy way to eat. But consuming gluten when your body can’t handle it is no joke.

Sometimes people don’t have the tummy symptoms. Just other things which don’t add up. Eczema, asthma, acne, joint pain, headaches, migraines, mood swings, brain fog, anxiety, seizures, disappearing tooth enamel, geographic tongue, arthritis, lack of energy, weight gain, weight loss, hypothyroidism, intolerance to dairy produce, intolerance to histamine in foods, reproductive health problems and a bunch of other related issues. You can test for it by continuing to eat gluten and then have blood taken or you can stop gluten for a week or so and watch what your body does.

As a teen I would eat paklava upon paklava. They say that people with a gluten intolerance are often addicted to the one thing that they should avoid.  I certainly was, right up until the last moment before I figured out what was wrong. In my teenaged years I had suffered from severe depression. Untreated Coeliac is a major cause of mood disorders.

Sitting in a toilet late at night can become dismal. But 4am has its own private magic. The sky is so black it seems the stars must pierce through its thickness to be seen. The world is quite still. Even the noisy Omani birds are asleep. And the city itself is shy, her beauty lies behind a layer of dusk. I know that if I wait for long enough, I’ll see the day appear, softly, with an orange hue. They say it’s darkest before dawn, that time you can barely see a thing before your eyes. But when the light comes, oh the light!

Please feel free, as always, to comment.

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