I had been feeling a little under the weather since Belize, and shortly after I returned from the softball trip, I was diagnosed with a severe bacterial intestinal infection—residue, the doctor said, from my trip to Central America. I landed in the school infirmary for nearly a week, with an immensely distended belly and a 103- to 104-degree fever. My memories of that week are hazy at best: I can recall little more than opening my eyes to see my mom standing over the bed. And Tim, my college sweetheart and now husband, looking more than concerned.
Once the initial infection had subsided, I was incredibly relieved, thinking I was finally in the clear. As an athlete, I couldn't bear the thought of being "off my game" for more than a day or two. Little did I suspect that my game was going to be significantly "off" for quite some time . . .
After leaving the infirmary, I was eager to get my body back on track again, but my digestive system was seemingly shot. My efforts to regain some of the muscle mass I had lost during my convalescence went nowhere. And though I felt ravenously hungry all the time, the only dining hall option that looked even remotely appetizing to me was soft-serve vanilla frozen yogurt with Rice Krispies mixed in. Food just didn't appeal to me like it had before.
Regardless, I continued to eat, though nothing satisfied my hunger—and everything seemed to throw my stomach into a frenzy. Each meal left me bloated and gassy, with sharp, explosive pains in my abdomen. No matter what I ate, I would soon be doubled over with cramps, awful indigestion, diarrhea—or all of the above simultaneously. I soon became all too familiar with the location of any and all bathrooms. Half an hour later, I would be too lethargic to move.
What on earth was happening to me? I had always been filled with energy before, and now I wanted to crawl back into bed five times a day. I was always in pain, always uncomfortable—especially around mealtimes.
Food, for the first time to this pasta- loving girl, had become the enemy. I was at war with my own body, and it soon became obvious that I was losing each and every battle.
Early on, I (and everyone around me) attributed my difficulties to stress, combined with a lingering infection in my gut. But as time went on and I made my first career move out of school—working as a footwear designer for PUMA—my health only worsened. I was barely able to get through the day without being sideswiped by extreme pain and overwhelming fatigue. I would retreat to the bathroom every ten minutes or so, locking myself in a stall and pressing on my belly in an effort to get control of the spastic bouts in my intestinal region. To keep my colleagues from suspecting that I was under the weather all the time, I would strategically walk a different way to the ladies' room each time, to avoid passing the same person twice in a row.
My commute to and from the office was even more distressing. I was constantly pulling over to the side of the road: Intense pain in my lower abdomen made it nearly impossible for me to sit up straight and focus on driving. The pain typically worsened throughout the day. I would get home from work and try different strategies to "move" whatever was causing the pain. After numerous trips to the bathroom, I could only get relief by lying on my side in bed.