In another life, I might have looked at the title of this blog post and said, “There is no such thing as life after coffee!” But following last week’s big medical procedure, which confirmed I have gastritis and inflamed pockets on my esophagus, I have to make some serious lifestyle changes if I want to be around and well for another 60 years.
Esophagitis and gastritis mean I need to dodge acidic foods and beverages for the rest of my life. Tomato sauce, alcohol, and coffee could burn a hole in my stomach and/or throat, so I have to consume them much less frequently. Booze on the weekends is fine, but I had to knock my routine of enjoying 1-2 beers over dinner and TV with my boyfriend each night. From Monday to Thursday, it’s milk and water for me. While he sips that Stone IPA we both love so much, I must hold back, at least until Friday rolls around and I have the following morning to recover if necessary. When I do have a drink, I can’t go overboard. It’s not such a tragedy. The taste of alcohol can be awful, warm beer may as well be urine, and don’t even get me started on hangovers. Coffee, however, was slightly more challenging to give up.
The thing is, coffee isn’t totally forbidden. I just can’t be the girl who downs 2-3 cups per morning anymore, and you know what? It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I didn’t experience withdrawal migraines, and I’m sure my teeth will look whiter and thank me long-term.
My boyfriend and I used to have a morning ritual of drinking espresso and reading the news on our iPads before getting to work. Now he’s the only one using the espresso machine, but that affords me some extra time to clean up before heading out for the day. Coffee dates with old friends are going to be sad since I can never order a regular cup of joe without feeling immense anxiety about what it could do to my stomach, but I think I have a system in place that will work.
I’ve started revisiting hot chocolate, a childhood favorite, and drinking tea, which is soothing on the throat and calms me down. In my case, gastritis came about in part due to stress, so anything to keep me sane is a win. When I do have entire cups of coffee, I add sugar and creamer, but I haven’t made a cup for myself in weeks, to be honest. I go to Starbucks for Pumpkin Spice Lattes (ha.ha.) or regular Vanilla Lattes for something with a little more flavor. It hasn’t been so bad.
Earlier this year, my boyfriend and I went on a pizza binge for several weeks. We ordered the Meat Jesus and White Pizza all the time, and it really slowed us down. We eventually chose to practice healthier habits, and now we only order pizza once every two months or so. I can have pizza and tomato sauce every month or two, but not regularly. The acid is just too hard on my stomach.
When I was diagnosed with gastritis in September, I got really upset when the doctor advised me to stay away from beer and coffee, two major parts of my life. I’ve since learned it’s not the end of the world to have dietary limitations. I’ve gotten thinner since making changes as well. So small, in fact, that my skinny jeans are too baggy now. The intention was never to shed weight. I just wanted to feel better, and so far it’s working. It’s nice to have room to pack on more pounds during the holidays. I’m definitely in a better place to do that now.
Bottom line? Food doesn’t have to run your life, and if it’s one of the best parts of your life, that means it’s time to pursue other interests. I used to think I’d rather die young and have lived fully, but after getting so serious with my boyfriend and knowing he’s the person I’m going to be with until the very end, I’ve realized Ian is a huge incentive for me to be around as long as possible, and in good condition at that. I want to have a family and, unlike my late father, watch my children graduate high school, marry, and prosper in the real world. My dad was unable to do that for me because his health failed him too early. I will not let mine fail me. So sorry coffee and beer, but our relationship isn’t a priority anymore.
Last week, I blogged about needing to get a colonoscopy and endoscopy to confront my chronic stomach issues once and for all. As you can imagine, this was the most personal story I’ve ever published, and I share loads of intimate details about my life online. I’ve written about heartbreak, relationships of all kinds, love, and professional woes as a way to sort out unresolved problems. Those posts were intended to help others, but they were very much for me as well. Writing about my colonoscopy, however, had nothing to do with me. I made the announcement in hopes of encouraging others to be proactive about their health. A colonoscopy is about as taboo as it gets because we exist in a culture that denies women have functioning digestive systems, and I wanted to address just how dangerous and repulsive that attitude is.
I debated waiting until after my procedures to write the post. Then I realized I could write two articles on the same topic: One about the drama leading up to it and another about the experience itself. It took lots of courage to agree to the procedures, even though I knew I needed both, but the preparation day is no walk in the park either. I can say I survived my intense procedures, which required me to go under and fast for more than 24 hours, and here’s how I did it.
The procedure took place Thursday morning at a prestigious medical center in Beverly Hills, and I had to start preparing on Tuesday night. My boyfriend got home late from work, but we had just enough time to enjoy a meal together. My cutoff for eating solids was midnight, so during dinner, I kept looking back at the clock to ensure I wasn’t cutting it too close.
“You still have some time,” he said. “Don’t worry.”
The next morning, I skipped our usual smoothie and coffee breakfast routine, as I needed to avoid all solids and red or purple colored drinks until my procedure. I made some work calls and nursed two bowls of chicken broth, oddly satisfied with the taste. It wasn’t until noon that the hunger emerged, and going to Mimi’s Cafe with my mother (who came down from northern California to support me), made my stomach growl even more. I ordered tea and drank two bottles of lime green Gatorade, my only source of calories. I text messaged my boyfriend to say just how long the day felt without any food in my system.
By 3 p.m., I started feeling very weak, so I chose not to push it by answering too many work emails. I tried watching TV in my mom’s Beverly Hills hotel room, but the images of food on so many channels were tough to look at. I didn’t dare turning on the Food Network. Ironically, my former coworker Emma texted me to say she was at Chipotle, which reminded her of me since my obsession is basically common knowledge among everyone who meets me once. Heck, it’s part of the reason my stomach lining is in such a bad place (not Chipotle’s fault, my fault for mistreating my insides for so long). Emma had no clue I was fasting, but just the word Chipotle was too much. I couldn’t stop thinking about how hungry I was. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t even bedtime yet. All I wanted was to fast forward to the next day and scarf down whatever I could find.
Of course, a really awful thing needed to happen before all that. Part of the colonoscopy process is drinking a solution that cleanses your intestines. Everyone told me this would be the worst part of the whole experience. You’re essentially living in the bathroom for hours so the doctors can have a clear look at your stomach.
By 10:30 p.m., my mom and I relaxed in front of “And So It Goes” On Demand. I looked away whenever Michael Douglas’s character took a bite of something on screen, and I kindly asked my mom not to bring up food until after my procedure.
“The free breakfast here is so good,” she’d said. “I’m sorry you have to miss it.”
I consumed tons of fluids until midnight, when my cutoff for liquids of all kinds, water included, began.
I woke up around 6 a.m. with intense thirst. I sleep with my mouth open, so you can imagine how dehydrated this makes me. Right around that time, my boyfriend’s mother sent a text wishing me luck, and I told her how badly I wished I could have a glass of water. Having been in my shoes, she sympathized and assured me I could stick it out until the afternoon. I went back to sleep and dreamed of eating chips, steak, mac n’ cheese, and burritos. I woke up relieved I hadn’t eaten before the procedure, but sad I couldn’t just stuff my face already.
A couple hours later, we headed to the surgery center in Beverly Hills. I went in for a colonoscopy with another lady who seemed fond of botox and Juicy sweats, and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to my mother before they took me back to the patient area.
The medical assistant asked for a urine sample before bringing me over to my rollout bed, gesturing towards the hospital gown and towel on the cotton white sheet. She gave me some privacy to remove my clothes, and I remember being shocked by the warmth of the gown and towel. When I laid down on the bed, she verified a few things on my file. She asked if my birthday was correct and I nodded.
“I knew you were a Leo,” she said. “I could tell the second you walked in here.”
“Your hair. The way you carry yourself. I’m a Leo too, but I was born in August,” she said.
“I was supposed to be born at the end of August,” I told her. “But I showed up at the end of July instead.”
“You were ready to be here.”
“Too bad my parents weren’t. They didn’t even have a crib at that point.”
I got really uncomfortable when she told me to put my hair in a shower cap. They removed my glasses as well and suddenly I felt unbelievably vulnerable. In came the anesthesiologist, a tall guy with a goofy disposition that made me nervous given the nature of his role, and another nurse. I panicked when the anesthesiologist confused me with the botox lady, visualizing him giving me the wrong dosage and accidentally ending my life. This is how quickly I jump to ridiculous conclusions. I know in my heart it’s nonsensical, but when I’m on a roll, nothing stops the racing, catastrophic thoughts that flood my head. Add to that a florescent lit surgical room, rollout bed that feels like cardboard, and gown that doesn’t tie in the back and you’ve got one distressed neurotic patient.
Where was my doctor? Who were these people talking at me all at once? How could I pay attention to the anesthesiologist’s spiel when I had a tight rubber band wrapped around one arm and a needle approaching the other? Inexplicably, the tears poured down my cheeks and I started hyperventilating.
“What’s the matter?” the nurse asked. “We do these all the time.”
“I just want it to be over,” I wailed.
“It’s OK, she’s a nervous person by nature,” the Leo medical assistant said, inching the needle closer to my right arm. “Don’t look down.”
“I’m trying to distract her,” the guy said, and that’s when I got the injection. Fast and easy. The tears subsided as they rolled me into another room, and I completely relaxed once I saw my doctor. I know him, I thought. It’s all going to be OK.
“Hi,” I said.
“How are you?” he asked.
“All right,” I said, hoping he couldn’t tell I’d just been sobbing.
The last thing I remember is laughing about the “funny hats” the doctor and anesthesiologist were wearing. Next thing I knew, I was awake in the patient room and the procedures were over. I was done, and my results looked good. There was a biopsy, as well as a confirmation of my gastritis and some inflammation on my esophagus, but the doctor was optimistic.
When it ended, I inhaled baked potato soup and mac n’ cheese at Corner Bakery. I’ve never been happier in my life to eat, not just because I’d been fasting for more than a day, but because my results came out fairly positive. As far as I knew, I didn’t have an ulcer. I didn’t have colitis. There wasn’t even a polyp. Just gastritis and non-severe inflammation, the cause of my bleeding and constant burping for more than a month.
For the rest of my life, I have to avoid consuming excessive amounts of certain foods. Anything acidic is going to upset my stomach, so I have to watch the coffee, alcohol, and tomato intake. As the doctor said, I need to have a very “bland” diet from now on. My roommate used to say that I have a very mellow pallet, and perhaps it wasn’t about being a picky eater all along.
“When you were little, we used to make fun of you for having such boring dietary preferences,” my mom joked. “But maybe that whole time, you knew deep down that you could only handle basic foods.”
“That’s probably true,” I said. “Now let’s go to Target so I can buy Taylor Swift’s new album.” I needed to reward myself. In the words of Swift herself, I was “out of the woods.”