How A Food Intolerance Led To Undiagnosed Appendicitis and Emergency Surgery:
Last week my daughter, who has Fructose Malabsorption, started vomiting at 6:00 on a Monday evening and continued to vomit until late Tuesday morning. My husband and I just assumed she had a bad case of the stomach flu or secretly ate something with a lot of fructose and was suffering the consequences.
Like all assumed stomach flu incidents I go into DEFCON 5 cleaning mode. It is like I can see the egregious flu intruder floating around our house. I strip beds, wipe down mattresses, bleach bathrooms, clean out the fridge...basically I become slightly neurotic. My goal is to prevent the spread of the invader to other members of my family.
When the flu hits I also start to "mother from a far". I take care of my children, but I don't like to get too close. My lack of human touch isn't based on detachment or a lack of concern. I am honestly afraid of getting sick and then not being able to take care of my family.
So back to my story. Here we are Tuesday afternoon and I force my daughter to leave her bed so I can change her sheets and open her windows (assuming that the freezing MN winter temperatures will assist me in my full onslaught flu attack). It takes my daughter about 3 minutes to walk out to our family room. She is moaning and groaning and I am thinking, "ok here comes the drama". "This girl just needs a little food, the flu has definitely left her body, and we will be back to normal in no time."
WOW, was I so wrong! Within 30 minutes of laying down in our family room my daughter started screaming in pain and clutching her lower right abdomen. I went from mothering from a far to picking her up and assisting her into my car without a care about germs. I knew my daughter needed emergent care and was really sick.
24 hours later we had visited two emergency rooms, taken a ride in an ambulance, spent 8 hours controlling pain with IV drugs, and paced the floors of our local Children's Hospital waiting for our daughter to wake up from surgery. No, my daughter did not have the stomach flu nor ate too much fructose. She had appendicitis and was very sick. Her appendix was 5 times as big as it should be and green, and all of her intestines were angry and inflamed.
How did this happen?
How did I not know sooner what was happening to her?
Were there any signs prior to the onset of vomiting?
Where was my mother's intuition?
Now that our daughter is back at home and on the road to recovery I can think about these questions and find answers.
3 months ago, December 2nd to be exact, my daughter started complaining about low belly pain. She would text me from school and friends' houses complaining of tummy pain; sending me puking emojis with exclamation marks. Honestly, I thought she is 12, probably eating extra holiday candy and treats, testing her Fructose Malabsorption, and learning that her body definitely can not have a lot fructose. I assumed her lack of energy was because she is a pre-teen and her body is growing and needs rest. I can tell you that it never occurred to me that something might be wrong with my daughter.
In January my daughter continued to complain about her tummy pain. At one point she gave up peanut butter for the week because she thought she had developed a peanut intolerance. Hello, red flag!
Why did I not put more stock into her gut voice?
My daughter has an ardent and well cultivated gut voice. She has been diagnosed with Fructose Malabsorption for 7 years, knows how to listen to this voice, and is an intuitive eater. 95% of the time she listens to her gut, makes safe food choices and has learned how to successfully balance her daily fructose loads. Yes, occasionally she eats too much fructose when she is with girlfriends. But, we don't make her feel bad about that. This is part of the process. We want her to take ownership of her food intolerance and learn how to live with it.
Why then? Why as she was complaining about an upset tummy did I not listen?
Because when you have a food intolerance you learn to live with a certain amount of stomach distress. When you have a food intolerance you do not have an iron gullet that is always content and happy. My son likes to say that he has a hollow leg and an iron gullet. He can eat anything he wants, any amount he wants and never feels any ill effect. That is not my daughter. Her tummy is sometimes irritable. She can not eat whatever she wants. If she goes to a movie she packs safe snacks. If she goes to a friend's house for dinner she typically eats mostly protein because she knows most commercial sauces and products don't work for her gut. She is constantly thinking about what she is going to eat for future meals and how those choices affect what she is currently eating. My daughter knows her gut and knows how to keep it happy.
My heart breaks for my daughter. Watching her in the hospital in intense pain was awful. I felt like a terrible mother.
Why hadn't I listened to her?
Why did I let Fructose Malabsorption blind me from other potential problems?
Does this happen to everyone who has a food intolerance and/or an irritable gut?
How do you determine what is your normal and what is more serious?
How can we learn to advocate for ourselves and our guts?
How can we tell the difference between a little irritability; and when our gut is attempting to get our attention, sending up a red flag that something more serious is going on?
I searched "abdominal pain" on the Mayo Clinic website and found a very extensive list of potential causes. I had no idea so many acute issues can mask themselves as simple abdominal pain.
I have learned two important lessons from this experience.
1. Go to the doctor, seek medical help if you have ongoing abdominal pain. All gut unrest is not always related to your food intolerance.
2. My daughter is a tough cookie. Her hockey team sent her a get well present that included a card with the definition of a tough cookie:
"1. Someone with the just the right mix of sweetness and strength.
2. One who doesn't crumble under pressure.
3. A fighter who's too busy kicking butt to sit down and cry, but know it's okay to do both.
4. A person who doesn't always ask for support, but has lots of friends who
would do anything to help."