Personal Medicine

I finally finished the long haul of ten weeks of internal medicine, and the 4th years were right in their advice, just hold on for a wild ten week roller coaster ride. I learned a ton, the hours were long, and I’m happy to say it’s over. I do feel so much more prepared to be a doctor from this rotation, and for that I give thanks for. As for the 30 hour shifts, long write-ups, and shadowing burnt out and unhappy residents, I gladly say goodbye to. Now I am in a little town in Eastern OR called Burns, and although this was just my first day, I think I’m gonna like it here. The day started very cold, but the sun was shining, and a herd of deer were meandering through the nieghbors front yard. It can’t be so bad here, I thought, not with the sun out and those gentle deer just acting like this is the safest place on the earth.

I don’t feel as though I can continue writing without paying some attention to what’s been going on in the background of my own personal life, only because it has such a bearing on what I have been experiencing. I have been struggling with my own internal organs for the last 6 months, with constant heartburn that begins in my stomach and goes right up to the back of my throat. I have tried every remedy possible, allopathic as well as the more natural treatments of Chinese herbs, and acupuncture. I’ve even resorted to drinking aloe vera juice on a daily basis, which if you haven’t tried it, is an acquired taste to say the least. I’ve seen a gastrointestinal specialist, who is just as flummoxed as I, since I’m not responding to any of the anti-acid meds that so many people take today for heartburn. I haven’t been drinking alcohol (except for a painful binge when visiting my family during the holidays, necessary to get through the week, but I paid for it immensely afterwards). No chocolate, no caffeine, no spicy foods (don’t eat that anyway, too much of a wimp), in short, nothing fun to eat to drink. And, worse of all, the things that I have cut out of my diet are the very things I need to decompress and de-stress in my life!

I’m sure that my symptoms are stress related, since they have come on during this most stressful 3rd year of medical school. But no matter how many needles I get stuck into my stress points, no matter how much deep breathing I do, or yoga poses I twist myself into, there is still this constant burn in my esophagus. Which makes for a very unpleasant experience, if you can imagine. And all the while I put a big smile on my face, show up for work, and take care of my patients like I’m on top of the world, while inside I’m burning up. No worries, I had a scope put down there which showed that at least I’m not burning a hole in anything, and I had the most pleasant diagnostic test done – a pH study. Which is like having a straw shoved down your nose, through the back of your throat, down your esophagus, and then LEFT there for 24 hours to record what happens to the pH during that time. Since I’m on antacids, the pH should be higher than normal, which the study proved was the case. In short, I’m completely normal from every testing standpoint, but I feel anything but normal. Even now as I type this there is that damn slow and steady burn underneath my sternum.

Sigh….what to do? Even the specialists don’t always know the answers to the mystery of the body, and it’s not like this is going to kill me, just make my life extremely uncomfortable. The GI guy’s next theory is that instead of acid reflux, I may have bile reflux, and he prescribed me a medication that I tried for one day and then said no way, I’ll stick to Chinese herbs and acupuncture needles, thank you very much. (imagine drinking a scope of sand mixed in a few ounces of water….not a pleasant medication to take).

I’m not sure when this issue is going to resolve, and even though it definitely helps me to have empathy for anyone who is suffering from some chronic condition, I think I’ve learned enough of this lesson, and I’m ready for some normal work 80 hours a week medical student stuff. You probably have some suggestion about what I could try to help this all go away, short of quitting med school to eliminate the stress that is probably at the bottom of my burn. I’m willing to try almost anything (hey, I was drinking sand for a day, and I tried clay once too….), so send me any home remedies you may have, and you can be my doctor. Heal me. Hold me. Tell me it’s going to be OK.

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