>Once upon a time, a teenage boy got sick. Influenza followed by infection followed by different infection all led to chronic stomach pain that just wouldn’t end. Gastro-intestinal distress continued with no obvious source and no end in sight.
Weight loss. Teen boys are supposed to grow. This one shrunk. He got a little taller, but lost forty pounds over the course of six months.
Medicines changed. Subtracted antibiotics that might irritate, added probiotics that might soothe. Added expensive antacid that insurance willingly covered — after the doctor called them and told them how much more costly the alternative would be.
Diet changed. No milk. No dairy at all. Low fat, bland, and very careful monitoring of anything that increased pain and other symptoms.
No pizza. No ice cream. An entire summer without Dairy Queen. The start of football season without calling for pizza. Carefully perusing the hot lunch menu each day to make educated decisions about what might be ‘safe’ for the hungry boy’s tender tummy.
He didn’t touch his Easter basket for fear the chocolate would worsen the stomach ache. He who used to down four frozen waffles in a sitting had trouble finishing one. He cut out his favorite refreshing beverages, afraid that carbonation and/or caffeine would activate the pain all over again.
The kid who loved school, zipped through the hallways with energy and excitement, had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. He needed more and more sleep but had less and less energy.
Tests galore. He had blood drawn, peed in a cup, pooped in a box. All looked normal. Eventually he submitted to general anesthesia, took a scope down his throat and into his colon, and waited for results.
Waited. Waited. Waited. And waited, and waited, and waited.
After the promised seven to ten days and a long week of phone tag that did no good for said teen’s father’s blood pressure, specialist finally called.
IBS. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Essentially, it’s what they call it when all else is ruled out.
So on we go. No celiac disease, no milk allergy. It’s time to readjust the meds, gradually weaning him from the strongest and then the weakest of the cocktails until he’s on his own, in a manner of speaking.
We could celebrate. It’s not celiac disease, not a milk allergy, not diabetes. Stress adds to the pain, although it doesn’t cause it. The worst possibilities have been ruled out.
But somehow, this doesn’t seem like cause for celebration. It’s more of an ongoing puzzle: what will hurt? What won’t? How far can he go before it all starts again?
There are no answers. From now on, he’ll question what he eats and how much he eats. Maybe eventually he’ll stop worrying about food, and that will lessen the stress, which will lessen the additional pain.
And so it goes.