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I thought this was going to be different: my first encounters with a British person

Five minutes from the Pittsburgh airport and four minutes into my Turkey Sausage Breakfast, I find myself at a Bob Evans sitting across from Patricia, a woman from England who is a new hire at our company and in the “States,” as they like to call it, for program training. At that moment, I am getting a feeling similar to the one I had when my parents explained that Barney wasn’t a real dinosaur when I was little. Disappointed. Sad. Slightly panicky about what other great disappointments life has in store for my poor, feeble soul.

Let me explain why.

When I was little, I thought British people were the bomb diggity. How could I not? I had grown up listening to the soothing voice of Julie Andrews, admired the great Angela Lansbury during my weekly viewings of The Pirates of Penzance and Beauty and the Beast, read ALL of the Georgia Nicolson books at least five times, and my mother encouraged us to partake in the British “afternoon tea” with the various tea pots and cups she had acquired over the years. She taught us to always drink our tea with milk. We were totally British but, like, not.

Naturally I wanted a British penpal and I found her at the impressionable age of eleven: Charlotte. Charlotte was from Essex and sent me PG Tips, strawberry gummy “sweets”, Cadbury chocolates, you name it. The girl was pretty much my British food dealer. I became engrossed in the British culture and royalty and by the time I was in middle school I refused to partake in Fourth of July celebrations because I knew my true home was in England. I never got to meet Charlotte in real life, or the other penpals from England that I would have later, but it was always my dream to meet up with a British person that I had befriended online in “real life”. The friendship ideally would lead to me visiting them at their cottage in the countryside where I would drink tea and eat home-made scones in their garden while wearing fascinators and bitching about the Queen. I so wanted this. I wanted to bask in a person’s British awesomeness but more importantly I wanted to be British, damnit.

Back to Bob Evans and Patricia.

british bloody hell teacup british flag

Patricia, although young and cheerful-sounding on the phone, seemed to lack that particular joie de vivre in real life. Her clothes were frumpy and obviously not from Top Shop, Madewell or H&M so I couldn’t talk British fashion with her. She had whiskers. Bleached, but still present. She was NOT the super adorable, well-dressed and well-spoken 24 year-old who she had replaced and who I would have absolutely loved to meet in person. She didn’t crack jokes and seemed to lack any semblance of a sense of humor at all. No, Patricia was not the ideal real-life British friendship that I had always dreamed of.

I tried everything to tap into her good side and make conversation in the hopes that she wasn’t as boring as I thought (seriously, I try not to judge people). Heck, I even made jabs at American tea while my boss was in the bathroom. That’s right, America, I bashed you in front of a Brit.

“Oh my God,” I said as I poured more coffee into my cup, “I seriously hate the tea here. Lipton? CRAP! You guys have all the good stuff over there.”

Patricia just looked at me and blinked a few times.

“Yes, it’s true the flavor doesn’t, um, empty as well into the cup with your teas.” That was seriously the end of this conversation. Even after I had listed off all the British teas I tried, Patricia was not impressed at my distinct and — dare I say amazing — taste in her motherland’s beverage of choice.

I then tried filling the incredibly awkward silence at our table by asking if she had kids, to which she responded no. I asked if she had pets, to which she replied, “I actually don’t have…anything living… that I’m responsible for.” Hmph.

I guess expecting every British person to be as fabulous as Charlotte or Patricia’s predecessor is like Europeans expecting every American to be fat, rude and loud (although a good amount of us are). It’s not fair to assume everyone is the same, and I realize that. But my God — after more than a decade of being an Anglophile and using the Queen’s English in school just to confuse my teachers at times and watching every episode of Coupling and Father Ted, you think the universe would have sent me someone that could have opened my eyes to such a wonderful country a little bit. I was so… underwhelmed.

As we left Bob Evans — the most American dining experience we could provide at two in the afternoon — we waited for my boss to pay for our meal. A server asked if we were ready to be seated, to which I explained that we had already ate. Patricia turned to me with a wrinkled brow and said, “This is quite an odd place.” Standing there, watching my dreams of a kindred British spirit crumble, I nodded my head in agreement. Yes, considering my expectations and what I had always imagined my first “real life” British meeting to be like, this was an odd place to be indeed.

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Fumbles

One month without acid reflux medication (PPIs)… yay me?

Around this time last year, I was on the brink of a terrible acid reflux flare-up which, to this day, I still cannot figure out. I was diagnosed with a hiatal hernia at the age of sixteen and had been on the heaviest dosage of Prilosec possible, and I ate whatever the hell I wanted. Alcohol bothered me, of course, but even the pain from that wasn’t completely unbearable. I figure that my flare-up was a terrible combination of a lot of things: a stressful job, lowering my PPIs to just one a day (which I think started a ‘rebound reflux’ — look it up, it really does exist), exercising and dieting a crap ton and taking handfuls of ibuprofen every day because I was having pain from grinding my teeth. All of this led to what was the worst three months of my life, and the most painful year I’ve had in general so far.

I want to tell everyone just what I learned about acid reflux, proton pump inhibitors, and what I think helped me get better. But let’s back up a bit first… not everyone has the same kind of acid reflux, and not everyone has the same experiences and symptoms. I want to elaborate a bit on what I experienced because, ultimately, my goal is to help others seek the correct treatment for their problems.

What did I feel?

While visiting a friend in Pittsburgh last June, out of nowhere, I started getting neck pain, chest pain and dizziness. I felt like I couldn’t calm down. The next few days, I felt my heartburn get worse and worse, and this progressed for about a month. The best way I can describe the pain (which was unlike ANY typical heartburn I’d ever felt) was like your whole stomach being full of liquid fire and traveling all the way up to the roof of your mouth. I literally felt like I was constantly full and it was a struggle to eat anything. Because of this, I got very weak, dizzy, and I lost about ten pounds over the course of a few weeks. After reading about rebound reflux, I really think that these symptoms occurred because I did not wean myself off of the PPIs and dramatically lowered my dose. My stomach, which was not capable of handling the acid, was not strong because of taking so many ibuprofens. For anyone with ANY stomach issues do not ever, ever, ever take ibuprofen.

I think the worse thing about the symptoms I had was the panic attacks. They were CONSTANT, to the point where I couldn’t function at work and even had to go to the ER. My heart was constantly racing and I was absolutely terrified and scared of what was going on. I lived on my own and luckily my mother came and took care of me a lot, for which I really will be eternally grateful. I couldn’t sleep from the pain. On one of my worst nights, my fiancé and I fell asleep and he told me I was clawing/gripping onto his arm the whole night just from being in pain. I felt like I was dying and I never thought I was going to get better. I know that what I had is very minimal compared to the terrible illnesses and diseases that people have, but to even write about this makes me tear up and get panicky because it was just so, so scary and painful.

Here was my worst night: it was a weekend and I was alone in my apartment which didn’t have air conditioning. It was so, so hot and my throat and stomach felt like fire. It was about 12am, yet another night of being wide awake in pain. I started to feel incredibly lightheaded and my breathing quickened. For the first time in my life, I called 911. I told them I was on the brink of passing out and needed help… I literally did not know what was happening to me and was terrified that I was going to pass out and nobody would be there to help. As I walked down to the front door to greet the ambulance, I talked myself into not going in because I didn’t want to pay for the ambulance ride as I already was living on a very tight budget. I walked back up to my room and calmed myself down. It was still one of the scariest moments of my life because I felt so alone and afraid.

Treatments/What I did 

I got a scope done and, of course, everything was fine minus a bit of excess bile. I got on Dexilant, a new type of PPI, to help me along with countless other medications that I won’t even mention here. None of them really worked but the Dexilant must have healed something because by August I was functioning normally again, although not without any pain. (Tip for anyone who goes through this and loses a lot of weight/can’t eat: Muscle Milk. It saved me.) Throughout the year, I have had about $2,000 worth of tests done. CAT scans, allergy tests, breath tests, h.pylori tests, and they ALL came out fine. My gastroenterologist is as stumped as I am and I really don’t think I’ll ever truly find out just why this happened to me.

Last month, I decided to start weaning off Dexilant because I felt pretty much the same on days when I wasn’t taking it. I slowly lowered the dose and got off it 100% on April 8th. It’s been a month and I feel pretty much the same without it — and on most days, I actually feel better.

Image

So, how I did I do this?

Besides weaning off Dexilant, I also started all natural remedies. I drank aloe vera juice before breakfast and lunch, I took a super strong probiotic complex every day, I chewed DGL tablets before meals, and I started testing out my ‘triggers’. For me, those triggers are eggs, cream/fatty cheese, tomatoes, and most of the time bread if eaten in large portions. I found that spaghetti squash actually makes my stomach feel better, so I eat it a ton as well as yams. When I stopped eating my trigger foods and replaced my PPIs with natural products aimed at healing my stomach INSTEAD of masking the symptoms, I started to feel better. I still don’t feel like I did before what happened last June, and I’m not sure I ever will — I think the stomach takes time to heal and unfortunately I haven’t been very good at keeping a strict diet. I’m confident that another year of really being careful could make all the difference.

This whole experience has made me seriously question modern medicine, and I really do not recommend taking any PPIs long-term like I did. In fact, I think it actually hurt me more in the long-run. I got off the anti-anxiety meds they prescribed me during my flare up and I also got off the acne medication I was on. I’m happy to say that for the first time in a long time I am only on ONE prescription (birth control) and that is it. And you know what? I feel SO much better without any extra drugs in my system. I actually feel way happier and less anxious… people need to remember that meds do affect your energy, your organs and your mental health in ways that doctors are sometimes oblivious to. Unless I’m in a lot of pain, I don’t think I’ll ever go on another prescription for my stomach again.

I wanted to make this post because I have found so many wonderful people online who have posted their stories and their natural remedies, and I really wouldn’t be feeling the way I do today if they hadn’t made those posts. I am hoping my experience can help others who may be in the same situation.

GERD, acid reflux and most gastro issues are still not fully understood by the medical community. There aren’t any solutions or cures yet, and many surgeries can make people worse after. The best thing to have when going through something like this is a strong support system made up of close family and friends as well as people who have been through similar situations before. ONLY those kind of people will truly understand the type of pain you are going through.

If anyone reading this is in pain or wants to talk about their experience, please feel free to comment or email me. I never want anyone to go through this alone.

We are never given a challenge that we can’t handle. My experience taught me a huge lesson on the value of health, and I will never forget it. I celebrate my ‘good’ days and I have learned to speak up and tell people when I’m in pain because, yes, I do act differently when I’m not feeling well and often feelings are hurt. I have learned that America in particular loves to push drugs when we don’t need them, and that we as a society need to find a way, somehow, to go back to more natural cures. I also hope one day we aren’t all so stressed at our jobs because stress is probably the biggest poison coursing throughout our bodies these days, and it can do so much to our physical and mental well-being.

Phew. Okay, I’m done now. Here’s to hoping for another month of being pain-free!

Fumbles

Pain in My Neck

It’s 5:30pm, I’m lying flat on my back and Joe has a finger deep in the back of my mouth.

“And this? How does this feel?”

I stare into his light blue eyes, briefly glance over his Brad Pitt-esque face, swallow back saliva and mutter, “Yeah that hurts.” He gently cradles my head and massages deep, where my wisdom teeth used to be, exploring tiny muscles that I never knew existed. The pain is good and bad all at the same time. Before I know it, I hear the snap of latex gloves quickly being pulled off, a pat on the back and a “See you tomorrow.” One hour, $15 and plenty of soreness later, I feel like perhaps I’m the epitome of having insult added to injury.

Such is my first encounter with physical therapy.

I had been ignoring the spasming pain in the left side of my neck for about a year and, after finally dragging myself to the doctor for the umpteenth time in the past eleven months, she told me that my nightly jaw grinding, predominantly on my left side, had most likely caused this. I dabbled with the idea of asking her to run a sleep study on me but decided against it – all the jaw snapping, clenching and neck twisting probably would look like something straight out of The Exorcist or maybe a real life version of Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Everything about my first experience in physical therapy seemed to go about backwards, beginning with me actually parking and entering through the back of the building which I swear the receptionist told me to do. I walked past “Employee Only” rooms and finally found myself in an open room full of old people. I took in my surroundings: Elderly people lifting three pound weights painfully slow, their Myrtle Beach t-shirts drenched in sweat, men and women looking almost corpse-like on tables, waiting for God knows what. It looked so much like a nursing home-turned Gymboree that I imaged for a split second that I smelled the sickly sweet odor of mildew, urine, and whatever else makes assisted living places reek in that most unforgettable way.

Damn Steve, where did YOU go for physical therapy?
Damn Steve, where did YOU go for physical therapy?

Joe took measurements of my neck and jaw movements only to find out, surprise surprise, that they were all extremely lower than average. He decided to start me on some exercises, right then and there.

I sat down on one of the tables and before I knew what was going on a large mirror was being rolled in my direction. Seriously, this mirror was ridiculous – it was like something you’d find in a Victorian mansion’s bedchamber, large and unforgiving. I was taught six different jaw exercises, including using my finger to stretch my top and bottom teeth as far apart as possible, sliding my jaw from left to right, and opening my mouth as wide as I could. I looked like what Edvard Munch’s painting would look like in physical therapy, to put it plainly. I opened my mouth widely for ten seconds at a time, silently screaming.

Staring at myself making these grotesque facial movements wasn’t enough, of course. Neither was the heat I felt on my cheeks as I noticed a few crotchety old men smirking in my direction. What, I thought, your wife can’t open wide either? Want to make an oral sex joke? Try me, I’ve thought about every single one under the sun as I was here gracefully doing my exercises, I thought. No, the icing on the cake was the young assistant I saw also watching me do my exercises and smiling. Smiling! And not in the kind way, either, but the sort of smile you’d give to a snotty cheerleader who happened to slip on black ice on her way to class. I gave him the stink eye and then realized my jaw was still awkwardly in one of my exercise positions. Whatever, that’ll scare the fucktard.

Showoff.
Showoff.

“Nate here went to John Carroll too!” Joe pointed over to the assistant, probably reading into my attempt to look like the old hag with the poisonous apple in Snow White . “Go Blue Streaks!” I yelled back, mentally kicking myself the moment I uttered the words. I had never even gone to one of my college sports games, and I certainly had never uttered that phrase before. What the fuck was I doing here? As someone who hates even sneezing in public, this whole experience was turning into a nightmare. I walked out of that place after an hour of torture and vowed to never go back.

And yet I did. Again, and again, and again.

Brad Pitt has done a great job with my mouth (wink), I’ve convinced the assistants that I don’t need their damn mirror to see just how fucked up my mouth is, I’ve had to ask for weights to be increased because my arms started getting so strong from exercises, and I even do my mouth-widening exercises on my way to work as I listen to Howard Stern. I feel like he’d approve of that.

As I get older, I constantly am convincing myself that there’s only so many experiences I’ll have that will be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Certainly, I thought before I had entered physical therapy for the first time, I was nearing my cap. I was mistaken. I’m never going to stop experiencing new, embarrassing things, but I’m glad that I’ve at least learned to laugh about them. Regardless, I’m always going to be the largest pain in my neck.