Content Warning: Lots of talk about Poop and Puke.

Image from MedicalXpress article on gut bacteria.

After nearly three weeks of doing fantastic post-surgery, meeting or exceeding all my healing benchmarks… this week happened.

Some background:

In my twenties, I was lactose intolerant. I did the Lactaid and other digestive thing for a while, then did a full cut for a short period, introducing milk products back very slowly over time. It worked and since then, I’ve been able to eat milk products in moderation—including ice-cream—without any digestive issues. In fact, I found, the whole fat had less impact on me than lower fat options.

Also, my stomach has never gotten along with most artificial sweeteners, but being an at-home cook and generally preferring less-processed type foods, that hasn’t come up much with this exception: If I ever got constipated (not a common thing till perimenopause hit), I could go to Starbucks and get a skinny iced latte of some sort. Problem solved usually within the hour. Small doses didn’t bother me… like a single packet in an iced coffee or tea (as they dissolve more readily than sugar), but more than that… Hello, toilet.

Back to the current post-gastric-surgery life.

After gastric surgery, a person is on a strict, limited diet of high protein and little-to-no carbs or sugars.

And liquid for the first two or three weeks.

So, one must live on a lot of protein shakes with artificial sweeteners. Some milk-based. And broth or “strained cream soups.”

Fortunately, my husband made me a lot of bone broth, which is delicious and high protein. And while I do like many sweet things, I have gotten away from a lot of sweet over the years in my weight loss / attempts at hormone and brain chemical balancing journey. So I was splitting my required intake of liquids and protein with soups and the shakes and food / water additives.

Also, for the majority of post-gastric-surgery patients, constipation is a major concern. In fact, in our orientation preparation meetings, it came up almost as much as unplanned pregnancies (another big thing, albeit with even more significant life changes).

I had absolutely no problem with constipation. I was going easily the day I got home. In this case, artificial sweeteners FTW!  (I hadn’t even begun any dairy yet!)

The second week passed easily, except for the fact this ADHD foodie was BORED, BORED, BORED, BORED with the limited tastes and textures. And, in case you don’t know this about ADHD brains, boredom ticks off all the same chemical triggers as a dangerous situation. The hubby did his best by making me different homemade vegetable juices as were allowed on the diet, which changed some of the flavors, but it was still torture. I was mixing and matching all sorts of stuff to alleviate the dread of boring food. When the doc gave me permission to move forward to the next stage of soft foods, it came as physical relief.

The next stage of soft foods: yogurt, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese. All dairy. All low fat. Even the Greek yogurt, which was already naturally lower carb.

I was not thinking of my past food issues; I was just happy I got some change in texture and flavor.

Half a week into this phase, I was getting bored again. For anyone who’s eaten Wooldridge cooking, you absolutely understand why. We cook with flavor, texture, appearance, and diversity on the plate.

So I started mixing and matching… and my portions were going up, which was good and expected.

Then came last Friday… I started off with a little too much coffee in the morning, or so I thought, and that set me off. I had some soup and felt better. But then I had a phone appointment and would be traveling, so… Every. Other. Meal. was portable, which meant it included artificial sweeteners and / or some amount of dairy.

Yyyeeeeeeeaaaaahhhhh…

That was a bad idea.

To explain more of the science behind what was to come of all these things added up, here’s a little bit more information about gut flora. This article is more medical, as is this one, and this one is more in laymen’s terms.

In shorter blog explanation: Food sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies—as well as non-food based food allergies—are both affected by and affect the gut flora / gut biome. Long, continued exposure to the allergens or cause of sensitivity / intolerance decrease the “good”* bacteria in the gut. At all times, our body has a mix of healthy/positive/ “good” bacteria and “bad”* bacteria that, if unchecked, can bloom and make us unhealthy. Much like the Force, there needs to be a balance between the two.

Me consuming a lot of artificial sweeteners and then throwing a lot of lowfat dairy on top of that upset that balance. So the “bad” bacteria bloomed and settled in my lower GI track.

And made my life utterly miserable.

I wasn’t keeping in food or water, the two big things necessary post-surgery.  I managed to control the symptoms through two pre-recorded panels for DragonCon, but after that my body was like, “yeah, we’re done.” 

I didn’t want to go to the ER, so I tried as many of my go-to remedies as possible for if I eat bad food or if I’ve got some gastro-intestinal infection. They worked in a limited way. Adding pediatric electrolytes (with REAL sugar) in limited quantities to my water helped me keep the water in. But too much would set me off. And while I could usually keep broth in, even high-protein bone broth wasn’t enough to get me to the protein levels I needed. (60 grams a day.)  I was doing better for a while, but thank goodness a friend told me to still check in with the sugeon, which I’m glad I did then as I ended up on the phone with the surgeon’s office every other day this week….

Shortly after my first call with the surgeon’s team, I got worse and was back to barely keeping water in. But I wasn’t throwing up, so I had hope it would pass.

Well, that changed too, and I was back on the phone and got myself an appointment to give a stool sample. I’ll spare you the details.

In short, the sample confirmed an infection, so antibiotics it was.

If you remember from the last post about my journey toward this surgery, I mentioned the issue of antibiotics and the gut biome… so I was less than thrilled I had to resort to them, but I was in agony. The pain was as bad as when I was in the ER for the kidney infection while I also had the massive fibroid. Only, instead of grinding and pounding, this pain is roiling and feels like being stabbed below the belly button with giant knitting needles. I was spending long swaths of time literally sitting, rocking, and groaning in pain. Unable to do anything else.

When the nurse practitioner warned me that the first antibiotic they’d try was “not readily tolerated by many people,” I quickly learned that was code for “will be the most vile thing you’ve ever let cross your tongue.” Metallic, sour, and bitter, it was all the all the flavor sensations that make a person pucker and gag.

Puckering and gagging is not exactly what someone who’s already trying not to puke needs.

I made it through the first day, then had the Worst Night of all the symptoms. Come morning, I couldn’t finish anything and when I finally tried to take the antibiotic again, my body was like: “Oh. Fuck. No.” And, after a valiant attempt of meditation and deep breathing to fight the urge, I puked up that chalky, disgusting tablet within ten minutes.

I called my surgeon’s office back and got a new antibiotic. Pill one has been consumed and kept in, as has two cooked shrimp.

I keep reminding myself that I did get a fair amount done, and the week wasn’t totally lost: I did my DragonCon panels; I finalized the single document of Wicked Women for layout; I got invited to and submitted to an anthology; I got invited to and filled out the form to mentor on the Writer’s Track for DragonCon; and I wrote some words on my novel.

But the feeling of having lost a week in healing, the feeling of being helpless to the point of asking the Husband-of-Awesome to work from home / drive me places / do stuff I normally do, the still sick and pained feelings—those are still there. And I need to be compassionate to myself about that.

Let it be said, though, The Husband-of-Awesome has WELL earned his title for the next twenty years of marriage!

As an additional note, I have not told a lot of people how sick I’ve been. I always have a hard time doing that, especially if I don’t want to worry folks. But I’ve probably ghosted a few people or not responded because I’ve simply not had the energy. One of my good friends was talking about her daughter blaming herself when a friend ghosted her…and I know I and many of my other friends on the neurodiverse spectrum have those same worries. “What did I do? Did I accidentally hurt someone’s feelings without knowing? Are they mad at me?”

This is very much part of the issue the late, great Robin Williams spoke of when he said, “Every person you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

Be kind to others; be kind to yourselves.

Now to go, rest, and continue to heal.

* Bacteria are simple organisms without the concepts of “good” or “bad.” We classify them as such based on how they make us feel / affect our health. As cute as I can imagine the illustration, there’s no bacterium swimming around a stomach with a twirly mustache going “Mwahahaha! Ultimate pain is my ultimate goal!”

** Also, this is not the place to make a stand against artificial sweeteners or dairy products. Neither are inherently bad or good either, and I know plenty of people for whom those products have been boons to their health. Every body has a different set of needs.