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“10 years of pain, and a lifetime of gratitude”

In 2012 I finally found the surgery I had been looking for to end a decade long of hideous pain and suffering.  Now two years post surgery I am still filled with the same immense gratitude that I felt when my Chinese doctors removed a 3 cm gallstone from my gallbladder. I share this story here in the hope that it might change someone else’s life for the better too.

A Brief Introduction 

In 2006 I was diagnosed with gallstones.  Truthfully I was self-diagnosed.  It took me 3 years to finally work out what was causing the excruciating attacks of pain that left me writhing breathlessly for hours at a time.  In retrospect I can’t believe it took so long to figure it out.  Insanely my doctors just kept prescribing me antacids and telling me I had heartburn.  I later found out that they had labelled me a hypochondriac and this was why no one was taking me seriously.

When I finally managed to diagnose my own symptoms via an article on the internet, I went straight to my doctor to request an ultrasound.  The examination revealed what was by now a 2 cm gallstone in my gallbladder.  Of course gallbladder removal was the treatment plan offered, but after doing some research on post-operative outcomes for cholecystectomy (some of which includes ongoing pain, food intolerances and other digestive problems), I decided that I wanted another option.  I already suffered from digestive problems including irritable bowel syndrome and multiple food intolerances, and I did not want to risk any worsening of these conditions and their restriction over my life.

For years I searched for cholelithotomy (gallstone removal) on the internet, desperately hoping to find a surgeon in Australia or elsewhere who would perform one.  The only thing I discovered was that this procedure is no longer performed in western countries, but is still common in China. Of course I couldn’t understand Chinese, so how on earth was I going to research, let alone organise, surgery in China?

In the meantime I tried gallbladder flushes.  I don’t know whether these things work for anyone, but they certainly did not work for me.  My stone was quite large by this time and the range of things that I could consume without causing pain was dwindling.  For years I relied on herbs and dietary restriction to manage the problem while I researched my options.  In particular the herb Chanca Piedra helped immensely with the pain, even though it did nothing to remove the problem.  After a major attack that lasted 2 weeks I became completely intolerant of fats and oils (as well as legumes, onions, and various other random foods) and I found myself living on a fat free diet for the next 4 years.

The Surgery

Finally by the end of 2012 I was ready to give in.  I booked myself in for gallbladder surgery after making one last well justified plea to a surgeon and a gastroenterologist about my need for a better option.  And a couple of days later I finally found what I was looking for.

Luckily I was not the only person in the world searching for another option, and shortly after I booked my surgery in Australia, I came across a webpage detailing the story of a man from the UK who had travelled to China for laparoscopic gallstone removal surgery (Whatisgallstone.com).  The webpage includes details about the procedure, surgery costs and contact details for the hospital and medical staff.  Thanks to this man I had everything I needed at my fingertips to make my dream a reality.

Three months later I was on my way to The Second People’s Hospital in the Panyu district of Guangzhou for surgery.

What can I say about the experience?  The surgery itself went very smoothly.  Afterwards I had some tightness and discomfort in my abdomen and pain from the CO2 gas, but little pain from the incisions.  I think after you have experienced a gallbladder attack, any discomfort post surgery is more than manageable!

After surgery, the first thing I wanted was to see the stone that had been causing me so much pain for so many years.

Just after being wheeled back into my room, the first thing I wanted to see was the gallstone, I wanted to see the thing that had been causing me so much pain, to hold it in my hand and know that it was now on the outside.

Just out of surgery and meeting my gallstone face to face for the first time. You can’t see it, but I am deliriously happy.

Gallstone 2

The stone that controlled my life, now in the palm of my hand.

As a Westerner, I have to say that I felt very touched by the level of attentiveness shown by the Chinese doctors and hospital staff who took care of me.  They were very gracious and treated me very well.

An outing to the Hotel Spa with Nurse Crystal a couple of days after my surgery.

An outing to a Hotel Spa with Nurse Crystal.

Traveling alone to a country I had never been to before for surgery was an incredible experience in itself.  It is also one that will always be close to my heart, because these doctors supported my point of view, and helped me to achieve what I wanted for my body, when I could hardly find a doctor who would take me seriously in my own country.

Of course, this is not a perfect surgery, like any surgery there are risks, especially for gallstone re-occurence.  However my wish was for a chance to keep my gallbladder and that is what I have been granted.  I probably went to lengths that most people would not go to keep an organ, and it is debatable whether that was sensible, but I cannot argue with my gut feeling that gallbladder removal was not the right choice for me, and that there was another possibility available.  And that is my intention in sharing this story.

I believe in health sovereignty, and that we should be able to choose what we feel is best for our health and wellbeing. Part of that is having different options to choose from.  In Western countries gallbladder removal is the only option.  I am sharing this story so that people can have the knowledge and freedom to choose another option.

Post Procedure

It has been nine months since my surgery now and I am pain free, and eating foods that I had been unable to eat for almost 10 years.  As I continue to work towards healing from chronic illness I’m so grateful that I was able to have this surgery to give me a chance to heal in the way that I feel is best for me.

Thank you to the staff at the Second People’s hospital for making my dream come true.

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Update:  17.05.14

It has been 14 months since my surgery and I am still doing well. At 1 year post surgery I went for an ultrasound to check on a small inflammatory polyp which had shown up on a scan 3 months after surgery (possibly left over from the surgery as they removed polyps as well).  I am very glad to hear that the polyp is now gone and I am still stone free.  These are the before, and 1 year after surgery ultrasound scans:

Post surgery

 

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Update: 03.07.16

The doctors who performed my gallstone removal surgery three years ago now have an English website for foreigners who are interested in the procedure.

I have not performed any further scans but currently at 3 years 3 months post procedure I am still free of gallbladder pain and able to consume and digest fatty foods with no issues.  I really encourage people with gallbladder conditions to look into food intolerances as this can cause similar symptoms (which  persist post procedure if not addressed), and may play an important role in gallbladder dysfunction and gallstone formation.

With Gratitude x

squares1
These holidays I decided to get creative and experiment with a recipe for health food squares to give to my 18 month old nephew for Christmas. So, I jumped into the deep end armed with various superfoods and the recipe turned out very well!  With organisation on my side I even managed to record the exact quantities I used for the recipe.

Most importantly my nephew, Ethan, LOVES these squares, and will fetch the jar out of the fridge for his mother to open when he wants one… or more likely 3.  His mama loves them too and they are great for everyone, especially people following gluten free, grain free, paleo and vegan diets.

Technically these squares are a treat, but they are made from foods rich in healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and can be eaten as a snack too. They need to be kept refridgerated in warmer climates, and will keep best this way.

Ingredients:

2/3 cup carob pieces

1/3 cup brazil nuts

1/3 cup cashew nuts

2 TBSP chia seeds

2/3 cup mesquite powder

2 cups (200g) desicated coconut

1 cup coconut butter

300 g medjool dates

1/3 cup water

Directions:

Using a blender, grind the carob, brazil nuts, cashew nuts and chia seeds into a meal.  Place in a large mixing bowl and combine with melted coconut butter (whole flesh).  Blend the dates with water (use more water if needed) and add to the mixture using your hands to combine the ingredients thoroughly until the mixture can be pressed together and stick like a dough.

Place the mixture into a square/rectangular tin or pyrex dish lined with grease proof paper. Use your hands and/or a spoon to compress and flatten the mixture into the container until the surface is even.  Place in the fridge to set for 1 hour then remove from grease proof paper and use a chopping board to cut into squares. Store in a glass jar or tupperware in the fridge.

The addition of cacao powder or alternatively vanilla bean powder or extract would also go well with this recipe.

Food fit for a King!

Food fit for a King!

For those who are avid fermenters and consumers of fermented foods, like sauerkraut, this is a useful tool I discovered a few years ago that allows you to ferment without salt.  I myself am super duper salt-sensitive, so this will be handy if that’s you as well.

All you will need are these 4 things;

Amazin jar young coconut - kimberlysnyder.net Cabbage11 Culture starter

One of each should do it!

Instructions:

Shred your cabbage as finely as possible until there is enough to fill your mason (or other) jar. It helps to pack the cabbage in bit by bit, compressing it down as much as possible as you go.

Once tightly packed you need to open 1-2 young coconuts and collect the liquid in a (large enough) saucepan.  Warm the liquid to room temperature, then take off heat and add a sachet of the Body Ecology vege starter culture. Alternatively you can use any probiotic supplement, just open 1-2 capsules or add a teaspoon of powdered probiotic.

Once you have dissolved the probiotic in the coconut water simply add the liquid to your jar until it fills the gaps and just covers the cabbage.  You can use a rolled up cabbage leaf as a stopper to keep the cabbage submerged under the liquid (the secret to any good ferment).

You can leave the cabbage to ferment at room temperature for anywhere between 3-7 days (or longer). Of course the ferment will keep maturing even in the fridge. The quantities I have given are rough since this will depend on the size of your jar etc.

You can ferment many different foods this way without salt, using the coconut water as a brine. The ‘brine’ tastes lovely when fermented and complements the cabbage well. I have also used this recipe with additions of sliced ginger and beetroot with great results.

sauerkrautrecipe.org

slippery_elm2
“The inner bark of the slippery elm was used by the Indians for diarrhea, fevers, and intestinal complaints.  The mucilaginous properties are soothing to a sensitive intestinal tract. The faun-colored inner bark was also made into a powder and mixed with water to be used as a poultice for relief from painful wounds or boils. The Creek Indians used the bark as a toothache remedy. The early settlers sometimes survived on the elm bark when food or game was scarce. ” – Meridian Institute Website

“Smooth and silky, slippery elm helps you sing it loud, say it proud, stand up and be heard.” – Traditional Medicinals Website

I recently started taking slippery elm powder to help heal my digestive system.  For those who are unfamiliar, slippery elm is a plant originating from North America and used by the native Americans as a food and medicine, applied both internally and externally for it’s soothing properties.

Today slippery elm is commonly utilised for its ability to soothe the mucous membranes of the body.  It is well known for its therapeutic effect in conditions affecting the respiratory system and bowel, including inflammatory bowel diseases and irritable bowel syndrome.  It is very useful for treating digestive symptoms including heart burn, constipation, food allergies, discomfort, pain and a myriad of other problems that arise from damage to the intestinal lining.

Those who have taken slippery elm powder will also know that it can taste a bit chalky. Personally I don’t mind this, but I recently discovered a recipe for slippery elm porridge that turns slippery elm into a tasty meal.  And it really just involves adding milk, but what a difference it makes!

Whichever milk you use, the creaminess takes the edge off the chalky taste. Slippery elm also has a malty flavour that seems to be enhanced by the addition of something creamy.

The recipe is very simple, though please note that the measurements are rough.

Ingredients:

2 (heaped) TBSP Slippery Elm Powder

200 ml water

1 cup macadamia nut milk*

*You can substitute the macadamia nut milk with any kind of milk.  Depending on your tolerance you might use almond milk, rice milk, hemp seed milk, goats milk or just normal milk.  I use macadamia milk because  compared to other nuts macadamia nuts are much lower in phytates and lectins which can irritate a damaged gut lining. Coconut milk is another good alternative.

Directions:

All you need to do is combine the slippery elm powder with water in a pan and stir until it reaches the consistency of a porridge.  Heat the mixture until steaming hot then pour into a bowl, add the nut milk and eat.  Alternatively you can add the milk to the mixture before you heat it up. If you do this you might also like to mix the slippery elm powder with straight milk for a more concentrated porridge, adjusting quantities accordingly.

You could also sweeten the porridge with stevia or other sweetner you prefer, and add spices like cinnamon.  I think the porridge would taste really nice with some vanilla bean since vanilla would compliment the malty flavour and herbal properties.  As a herb vanilla bean is also known to soothe inflammation and have a calming effect on the gastrointestinal system.

IMG_3183
Here’s to happier digestive systems! x

5am

I woke up at 5 AM this morning fresh out of a dream. My breathing had fallen out of rhythm and become shallow, and it urged me out of sleep as it sometimes does. As I opened my eyes to the darkness and focused on my body I felt unusual, floaty, like I was breathing thin air.

I switched on the light and sat up, now feeling that familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach, like a bow and arrow arching.  The tension starts to creep up over me like tiny insects latching onto my skin, and I feel the surge of adrenaline emerging like a wave from the deep.

As if rolling down a steep hill without breaks on, I shoot off, faster and faster. The adrenaline would almost be exhilarating if it wasn’t so oddly timed.  Finally the wave passes and gives way to jerky motions, and my body shudders like a stalling car. The tremors shake me harder till my teeth chatter and I lose control of my hands. For a while I sit on the edge of my bed watching my feet dancing in mid air. This must be what Parkinsons disease is like, I think, what a drag!

I walk to the bathroom and turn on the light surveying my stuttering body in the mirror. I’m here because my gut is churning and I need to go. This has happened before and I know that when the gut-churning poison is out, I will be fine.

A couple visits to the loo and the storm passes as quickly as it comes.  I return to sleep in a body that is totally calm and relaxed, wondering why it came, and when it will come again.

antibiotic-resistance-cartoon

“Defense, is the First Act of War” – Byron Katie

Antibiotic resistance is a growing issue arising from the overuse and misuse of antibiotics.  In fact, anyway you try to go around it, the truth is that simply using antibiotics promotes antibiotic resistance.

What is antibiotic resistance?

When bacteria come into contact with antibiotic drugs they learn to adapt by developing various genetic mutations which make them immune to the antibiotic. Antibiotic drugs create a sort of “survival of the fittest” situation in the body, where antibiotic-sensitive bacteria die off quickly, and stronger more resistant strains and are left to proliferate further in the absence of competition.

Antibiotic drugs use different mechanisms of action to kill bacteria, and bacteria can develop many different defense mechanisms in response to this, rather quickly, sometimes immediately.  These defence mechanisms can even be passed between different bacteria through the sharing of genetic information.  So faster than scientists are creating new antibiotics, bacteria are already developing resistance to them. When it comes to the arms race between man and microbes, there are no prizes for guessing who is likely to win.

You might say that in the microbial world the first act of war is antibiotics, and boy do those bugs know how to retaliate.  Which begs the question; have we gotten it wrong when it comes to antibiotic drugs?

The good news is that herbal antibiotics can be used as an alternative or in conjunction with antibiotic drugs, and bacteria do not become resistant to them. Why? Because just like microbes plants are complex living things which are constantly evolving and adapting to changing conditions.

When it comes to sparring with microbes, pharmaceutical antibiotics are like one trick ponies, whereas herbal antibiotics have a whole bag of tricks.

Plants and microbes grew up together on this planet, so it’s no surprise that plants have well developed mechanisms for keeping bacteria at bay.  In short, compared to antibiotic drugs, plants in their whole form are much more complex antibiotic medicines, with multifaceted and synergistic effects.  They act both directly and indirectly on bacteria by supporting the hosts natural immune functions, as well as inhibiting those pesky genetic mutations that stop antimicrobial substances from taking effect.

Herbal antibiotics are also more selective in the bacteria they target, and this prevents collateral damage to other beneficial species of bacteria that form an important part of our immunity.

Certain species of bacteria serve a protective function in the body which prevents bacterial infections occurring in the first place. They do this by producing antibiotic substances that keep surrounding bacteria in control, and by taking up available space on the body so that other bacteria have no where to attach and multiply. Nourishing and building up this shield of symbiotic bacteria, is another way to reduce the need for antibiotic use, and get around those nasty antibiotic resistance issues.

Ways to optimise that protective shield include improving digestion, eating a natural diet, eating fermented foods and taking probiotic supplements.  We can also use human probiotic infusions, aka faecal transplants, from healthy donors, which replenishes those important species of bacteria that keep infections under control.  This is a well researched and highly successful alternative for treating Clostridium Difficile infections, for example, which are known to be highly resistant to antibiotics.

b12patch2sundew-openmagOilTransdermal supplements are nutrients, hormones and other medicines that are ingested by being applied to the skin.  These supplements come in patches, sprays or creams, and their benefit is that they are absorbed through the skin and into the blood stream, without needing to be digested. They also have a higher rate of absorption.

Nutritional supplements are commonly needed by people with digestive diseases and people who are chronically ill or older who tend to have  more sensitive guts.  People with digestive diseases like IBS, Crohns and Colitis have trouble absorbing nutrients properly, and many chronic illnesses and disorders that require supplementation, also involve gut problems.  This includes disorders such as CFS, autism, ADHD and many more.

For people in this category transdermal supplements make a LOT of sense because the best thing about transdermal supplements is that by-passing the digestive system means no stomach irritation and related side effects.  When there is trouble digesting tablets or unbearable side effects, transdermal supplements can be an absolute Life Saver.

I experienced this first hand during a low period in my health when I discovered that I had elevated homocysteine levels and a functional deficiency in vitamin B12 and folate. My body was in disarray and my gut had become extremely hypersensitive to just about everything including all foods and supplements.  So it was frustrating, to say the least, that the B12 and other supplements that were supposed to be making me better, were actually making me feel worse.

When I remembered that you could buy transdermal B12 and folate supplements I was relieved to finally find a way forward and hopefully out of the mess I was in with my health.  Best of all when I started using the transdermal patches everyday, I finally began to experience an improvement in my health and relief from my horrible symptoms.

I was very encouraged to read that I was not the only one who had experienced adverse reactions to oral supplements, and Dr Sarah Myhill who specialises in treating people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, addresses and discusses this issue on her website.

Unfortunately transdermal supplementation was not an option offered to me by my health practitioner despite the adverse symptoms I was experiencing from oral supplements, and I had to discover it for myself.  However I believe that this is an indispensible tool which should be offered more widely by supplement companies and used more regularly by health practitioners.

The great news is that we can also turn oral supplements into transdermal supplements ourselves. Using substances like DMSO mixed with the supplement and applied to the skin, we can absorb nutrients into our blood stream and bypass the gastrointestinal system all together.

Of course we need to educate ourselves about how to do this properly and take the necessary precautions, but thankfully there is another way forward for the hypersensitive among us who find oral supplementation problematic.