I’ve gotten used to the patter. I smile nervously, make a joke, apologize for the number that’s about to show up on the scale at the doctor’s office. The nurse records my weight, and I get the eyebrow. My stomach lurches. I explain and explain and explain.
“I’ve had some traumatic surgeries this year; I’ve been under a lot of stress…” I trail off as the cortisol flows.
The truth is, I don’t have any idea why I am losing weight, why my hair’s falling out, why I find myself struggling to stay awake by mid-morning.
That is, in fact, why I am here. Still, my weight puts me on trial; the nurse is my judge and jury. The fluorescent light, the exam room table’s crinkly paper, the squeezing of the blood pressure cuff: these things register piercingly. Blood pressure’s high too. Heart rate’s high. The nurse’s eyebrow goes up. I smile; she says nothing.
“The doctor will be in soon,” she offers, after recording my stats.
The door clicks, then — silence. I avoid shifting on the table, afraid to breathe, afraid to move, afraid to be me.
Dr. P. ushers me into her office. I sit on her couch, and she looks me in the eye — something I am no longer accustomed to in doctors, who are forever recording things in computers. I sometimes wonder if my doctors could pick me out of a line-up.
“Have you heard of SIBO?” she asks.
I think about how casually I took for granted my good health and how somehow now it has escaped me. I think about the stress of my daily life, the irregularity of my days and the myriad emotional stresses that invade my mind while I am at work.
Dr. P’s specialty is “integrative wellness,” meaning that she attempts to look at all the body systems at once and to treat the whole person, not just the area of the body that is behaving pathologically. I’m suspicious, and I don’t expect her to have answers; the others haven’t — not the hematologist, the internist, the rheumatologist, or the G.I. specialist. But Dr. P. has an unusual calm about her — she is not trying to rush me out the door.
Still, I am wary; do I even want to know what SIBO is? It sounds scary. With an almost imperceptible shake of my head, I tell Dr. P. I have not heard of it.
“Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth. You said you were feeling sick all the time; you can’t digest FODMAPS, your intestines are at a standstill. You’ve never had a hydrogen breath test?”
“How long have you been anemic?”
“What can you eat?”
“A little fish, a few nuts, sometimes tomatoes. A few other things here and there.”