I have been wanting to get this story off of my chest for a while! Alternative titles ideas for this post included, “Why I did not become a Gastroenterologist,” and, for my M.D. friends, “Some females with chronic abdominal pain may actually be suffering from gluten intolerance.”
I saw a gastroenterologist for the first time approximately 16 years ago. It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college. It is etched in my memory because it was such a horrible experience.
I suffered from a mysterious mono-like illness when I was 18 that started shortly after an episode of food poisoning. Soon after, I began to have episodes of sharp, stabbing, diffuse abdominal pains accompanied by bloating and diarrhea. My symptoms seemed to always get worse in the evenings, shortly after dinnertime. I wondered why I would go from looking “not pregnant” to about 8 months pregnant within minutes. I slept with a heating pad on my abdomen most nights. I also had recurrent pharyngitis, fatigue, oral ulcers, and anemia. I also could eat anything I wanted without gaining any weight (which I admit, I thought was pretty cool at the time).
I was treated over and over again for stomach and duodenal ulcers, but despite treatment, my symptoms continued to worsen. During my freshman year I had an upper GI performed (barium swallow) which was normal. My adolescent medicine doctor referred me to a Gastroenterologist and I met him that following summer. It was a memorable experience…but not in a good way! The GI doctor came into the room and didn’t introduce himself. He never sat down. He did not look me in the eye. He reviewed the results of my upper GI study and told me it was normal. He told me that I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). He asked me if I had ever been sexually abused. After telling him that I had not, he told me that I must have been abused and was repressing it, because, in his experience, most of his female patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome had abdominal symptoms as a result of abusive memories. He recommended that I get psychological counseling and to eat a lot of whole grains. He walked out the room.
I remember this interaction vividly because I was planning on going to medical school and it was one of my first experiences as an adult patient. Although I cannot remember the name of the Gastroenterologist, I know that, if I really wanted to, I could find him, as at the time he was working at a large university hospital in a large mid-western city. I hope to God that he actually evaluates his IBS patients for Celiac Disease now, in lieu of recommending psychological evaluations and whole grains. Actually, I hope for the sake of all that he is no longer practicing medicine!
Perhaps I have shared too much with you, but I know that there are tons of Celiacs who have had similar experiences to mine. The lesson that I learned was that I should have gotten a second opinion (or third, or fourth if needed). And, if you or your loved ones are having symptoms that seem to be dismissed, that you need to seek alternate opinions as necessary.
Also, despite there being bad doctors out here, most of us truly care about our patients and want them to heal! We continually learn from our patients as well. Please ask questions and provide us with information that you think is important and relevant to your care and the care of your family. I have learned a ton from the parents of children with chronic illnesses through the years.