The Stomach Diaries Part X: My Official Diagnosis (!!!)

October 21, 2020

The Stomach Diaries Part X: My Official Diagnosis (!!!)
Right before my appointment with Dr. Lehman

Woweeee is this post a long time in coming. The last time I wrote a Stomach Diaries post was over a year ago. The reason why I didn’t write any health update blog posts was I was still bouncing around from doctor to doctor who looked at me, scratched their heads, and sent me off to the next specialist—so there wasn’t really anything to update you on. Last October, my gastroenterologist at Stanford Health Care gave me a colonoscopy and endoscopy. I’d had an endoscopy before which didn’t offer any abnormal results, but never a colonoscopy. I suppose since he was going to give me a colonoscopy, he figured he might as well check out the insides of my esophagus and stomach too while he was at it and I was under anesthesia. How my body responded to the prep solution for the colonoscopy was telling in itself that there was something severely wrong with my digestion.

I started drinking my prep solution 12 or however many hours ahead of time from your appointment you’re supposed to start. After reading the instructions and hearing my parents’ advice to make sure I was close to a toilet with easy access to pulling down my pants, I was prepared for some major housecleaning. I’m chronically bloated and constipated, so in a sick way, I was looking forward to the effects of the prep. I took the first dose of solution and waited a few minutes for the magic to kick in. And waited. And waited and waited and waited and waited. Nothing. Then, I drank my second dose to adhere to the time schedule of drinking the solution. Nothing. After a few hours of prep, my stomach was distended, crampy, and hurting from downing so much liquid at such a rapid pace. Long story short, would you believe the colonoscopy prep solution, the concoction specifically designed to flush EVERYTHING out of your system, left me bloated and constipated?

The next morning, I waddled into my appointment with liquid sloshing in my stomach with every step. The nurse asked me procedural colonoscopy questions, like when was the last time I’d drank/eaten, if I drank the prep solution, and if I was properly cleaned out. Yes, yes, and nope—not even close. As it turned out, my GI only needed to collect biopsies from my colon and stomach, so the fact that he could hardly see ANYTHING with his camera didn’t matter much in this instance. HOWEVER, it gave him a clue that perhaps my issues didn’t have anything to do with a food allergy (like Celiac disease or Crohn’s disease) but rather my pacemaker cells were not working properly and that was why I always feel so bloated and constipated. Oh and in case you’re wondering, the biopsies came back normal.

The next test I got done at Stanford was a Gastric Emptying Study. This is the test they perform to diagnosis gastroparesis which is partial or full paralysis of the stomach. The test is an all day affair. In the morning, they feed you a breakfast of eggs and toast laced with a radioactive dye. Then, you get MRI scans every hour on the hour for the next 8 hours. This tracks how fast you’re able to digest the meal. The average person can completely digest the food after 4 hours. After 8 hours, I still had food in me. BINGO. My stomach was partially paralyzed. My issue was a gut motility issue which is why even drinking water sometimes bloats me. The GI’s solution? There were medications I could take that could help stimulate my pacemaker cells, but I was dubious. Gastroparesis was still a symptom of something greater. I was getting closer to figuring out the root cause of my issues, but still not there yet. The question that plagued me was what was causing my gastroparesis? I didn’t want to take medication to treat a symptom without first figuring out the root cause. There were still so many unresolved symptoms I experienced, like joint pain, chronic fatigue, eczema, dizziness, and headaches.

The GI sent me to a nutritionist about my gastroparesis who basically told me to not be afraid of food since I didn’t have food allergies. Theoretically, I could eat anything. So I tried eating sweet potatoes and winter squash since those are generally easy to digest. It did not go well with my gut. I saw a dermatologist about the eczema breakouts on my hands who told me I have very reactive skin—perhaps Raynaud’s—and wrote me a prescription for a topical steroid ointment. I saw a rhematologist about possible Raynaud’s who looked at my hands and agreed I had reactive skin, but it didn’t look like classic Raynaud’s. I saw a cardiologist about my chronic fatigue and dizziness who told me maybe it’s worth me traveling to Mayo Clinic because they specialize in the “weird and unusual”. Lastly, I saw a neurologist about my chronic headaches. She told me these were migraines. At this point, I’d been doing a lot of research on my own and kept coming back to articles on chronic Lyme disease, parasites, and mold. I asked the neurologist if she thought the root cause might be an infectious disease like Lyme and she said that it might. She was the first doctor I’d seen to not immediately shut down the idea. (I’d brought up the topic of chronic Lyme to some of the other specialists who immediately said it wasn’t likely if I hadn’t gotten a bullseye rash which I hadn’t.)

As an aside, Stanford Health Care is a world renown popular research center and sees patients from all over the world. As you can imagine, it’s extremely difficult to get an appointment. I’d often have to wait 3+ months after each doctor’s visit to be able to get either a follow-up appointment or a first visit with a new doctor. At this point, it was June, coming up on almost a year since my colonoscopy and endoscopy. I graduated from SCAD this past spring (woohoo!) and in July, my family and I were going on a road trip to LA as my graduation gift. I’d been following my friend Jordan’s journey to a chronic Lyme diagnosis for years and knew she had been diagnosed by a Lyme Literate Medical Doctor (LLMD) in LA, Dr. Erica Lehman. Jordan had similar gut, skin, fatigue, and cognitive issues to me. A nagging voice in my head kept saying, “Pursue a Lyme diagnosis, pursue a Lyme diagnosis, pursue a Lyme diagnosis”. After giving it a lot of thought, I booked an appointment with Dr. Lehman during the time we were going to be in LA.

The Stomach Diaries Part X: My Official Diagnosis (!!!)
My mom took no less than 1,000,000 pictures to document every moment of the visit.

I thought I’d be more nervous the day of my appointment with Dr. Lehman, but I wasn’t. The moment I opened up the door to her office, a wave of calmness washed over me. I knew I was in the right place. This was where I belonged. I was going to get my answers here. As I took my seat in the waiting room after checking in, I saw a middle-aged woman in black scrubs with her long, dark brown hair loosely swept up into a claw clip. She jogged to the front desk to tell the receptionist something, then quickly jogged back to the exam rooms. I thought she was a nurse judging by the way she carried herself with no pretense or conceit, but then I realized she was Dr. Lehman herself. This was the doctor who was going to diagnose me.

I sent Dr. Lehman a list of all of my symptoms, photos, and bloodwork ahead of time, so even though this was our first appointment, I felt like we already had rapport. My parents accompanied me during my appointment for support. Dr. Lehman listened to my heart, inspected my eyes, ears, throat, and skin and said all my symptoms look like they could be traced back to chronic Lyme, co-infections of Lyme, Candida, and mold. She suspected the cuts and rashes on my hands weren’t eczema, but rather a symptom of an infectious disease. She ordered the IGeneX test for me to test for Lyme and co-infections, the Vibrant Mycotoxin test to test for Candida and mold, the Genova Diagnostics test for a GI Map, comprehensive stool analyses to test for parasites, and a full panel of bloodwork to test my thyroid, iron, iodine, liver function, etc.

The Stomach Diaries Part X: My Official Diagnosis (!!!)
Me and Dr. Lehman right after our first appointment

All of these tests are very specialized and take about one month to come back. Let me tell you, that month of waiting was a huge test of my patience. I had a feeling I had some sort of parasite or infectious disease—be it Lyme or something else—but still, I wanted the official test results. Since I don’t live in LA, we scheduled our follow-up appointment to go over the results over the phone. The day before my appointment, the office emailed me the results. I remember staring at the documents, trying to decipher them. I had the answers in my HANDS, but I still couldn’t figure out what the numbers and codes meant.

My official diagnosis is mold, Candida, Hashimoto’s, Babesia, and Bartonella. Babesia and Bartonella are co-infections of Lyme. Dr. Lehman suspects I was bitten by a tick at some point early on in my life and my body was able to fight off the Lyme, but not the co-infections. I do know that I was exposed to mold as an infant, so I think that was the gateway for me to picking up these other illnesses along the way. Bartonella in particular causes Bell’s Palsy (aka paralysis) of the gut. THIS is the cause of my gastroparesis! Dr. Lehman had me on a heavy duty supplemental protocol to first tackle the mold and Candida, Nystatin for the Candida, and a low dose of Synthroid and Nature-Throid for my Hashimoto’s. After we got those three under control, we could tackle the Babesia and Bartonella which would probably be trickier. To target the Babesia and Bartonella, some options are ozone therapy, stem cells, or medication. I’m not sure what route I’m going to go. It largely depends on how my body responds to these first treatments. After taking the supplements and Synthroid, I felt more energetic, but I saw no improvement with my digestion.

The Stomach Diaries Part X: My Official Diagnosis (!!!)
Waiting for my follow-up appointment

Earlier this month, I went to LA for an in-person visit to Dr. Lehman. She said that we probably underestimated how severe my mold and Candida are. I mean, I was exposed to mold as an infant before my immunity was built up, so by now, it’s probably invaded so much of my body. I did an IV drip antibiotic treatment to kill my mold while at the same time not killing my gut with the antibiotics. Dr. Lehman also looked at my tonsils and she said they looked enlarged, so she sent me to an ENT, Dr. Karimi, who looked at my tonsils and he said they looked “cryptic” which means that a lot of times, infections like mold and Candida hide out in the grooves of the tonsils. I’m probably going to have to get my tonsils removed in a few months. He also looked at my nose and said I have a bit of a deviated septum which could indicate that mold and Candida are hiding out in my sinuses, so I’ll probably have to get another surgery to correct my septum. It was extremely eyeopening for me to learn how mold and Candida can take over your entire system (sinuses, mouth, throat, gut, joints, etc.).

The Stomach Diaries Part X: My Official Diagnosis (!!!)
About to get my first IV drip

Ideally, Dr. Lehman would like me to get the IV drip twice a week for two months. I have to first strengthen my gut health before I get my tonsils removed as that is traumatic to the body and I’m in such a state of inflammation. Things are a bit up in the air right now as my family and I will be relocating to LA, but the official date is TBD as COVID-19 has thrown the entire world for a loop. It could be as early as November, but most likely around December/January.

It feels so good to finally have some solid answers. I am eternally grateful to Dr. Lehman who actually listened to me and didn’t pass off my symptoms as being psychosomatic or tell me that I need to learn to live with them. I’m planning on writing a book about my experiences and how misunderstood invisible illnesses are. But until then, I love keeping this little blog as my journal as well as recording regular Stories updates on Instagram (if you don’t follow me on Instagram, what are you doing??). They’ll be little time capsules for me to refer to when I write my book.

I truly believe it is one of my raisons d’être to spread awareness about chronic illnesses and autoimmune diseases and I don’t for one second wish I didn’t have them. My illnesses are what got me so interested in health, wellness, the mind-gut connection, and it’s what prompted my mom and me to start Drifter Organics. I would truly be a less interesting, less passionate, less creative person if I didn’t have these chronic illnesses and autoimmune diseases. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions or to share your experiences with chronic health issues—I’m always happy to chat anything invisible illness-related. Thanks for coming along with me for this rollercoaster of a ride. It’s not over yet, but we’ve reached a pivotal time in my healing journey: A DIAGNOSIS!

Looking back and looking forward: 2020

January 2, 2020

Looking Back and Looking Forward: 2020

I wrote down everything I did in 2019 and I think it truly was my most transformative year as far as personal growth. I got the most out of my comfort zone I ever had, achieved a lot of things I’d aspired to do, and I’m really proud of that. I’m going to keep this post short and sweet, so here are things I did in 2019 that I’m really proud of as well as my top goals for 2020.

2019 ACCOMPLISHMENTS:

  1. Started a YouTube channel. This got me out of my comfort zone because I don’t consider myself naturally very quick-witted, so putting myself in front of a camera to speak extemporaneously was quite a harrowing experience — as was video editing but in a good way, self-growth. I’m not going to be a full-time YouTuber anytime soon, but it’s nice to have a different platform to share on and I do like making vlogs and travel videos to look back on as little visual time capsules.
  2. Entered the Moment Invitational Film Festival. Absolutely loved creative directing, writing, starring in, and producing a short film. Producing something different than my usual content stretched my creativity. With only 1.5 weeks to see the concept to fruition, the behind the scenes video shows the mayhem that surrounded the project. It was one of those times when I seized an opportunity and made it happen even if the timing wasn’t the greatest.
  3. Got a better skincare routine. With the exception of my childhood up to age 12, I’ve been good with washing my face daily, but I took it to the next level in 2019. I got my first facial and started regular exfoliation, facial massage, red light therapy, and microcurrent. I definitely can feel my skin is firmer, smoother, and I hardly ever breakout.
  4. Listened to 31 audiobooks. Reading was one of my favorite past times as a child and somewhere along the journey of growing up and taking on more responsibilities, I left it behind. This year, I started listening to audiobooks without any specific goal to read X number of books in a year. I rekindled the love I lost years ago and it felt healthy to indulge in a pleasure that was purely for me. I’m making a video about my favorite books I read in 2019, so be on the lookout for that soon! The video’s up!
  5. Got Drifter Organics in Urban Outfitters. One of my goals for 2018 was to get Drifter Organics in a major retailer. That didn’t happen in 2018, but in 2019, Urban Outfitters approached us and they took on two of our products. It was truly a dream to see our products on the Urban Outfitters website fitting in with everything else. We’re talking with them about taking on more products in 2020!
  6. Launched a Drifter Organics face oil. This is something my mom and I were talking about doing for years, but we never found juuuust the right recipe until randomly one day in October, we came so close, I said let’s launch something for the holidays. And a month later, voilá, Gold Mine was released into the world!
  7. Traveled more. I’m a creature of routine and traveling gets me extremely anxious because it gets me out of my routine (as someone with gut issues, getting off of my eating schedule sometimes wreaks havoc on my system). I plowed right through that fear this year and traveled to LA 4 times (I know, San Francisco to LA is one of the quickest flights you can take lol but baby steps). Traveling still gets me anxious, but I’m getting better at leaning into the discomfort and I’m planning on traveling more in 2020.
  8. Saw a lot of doctors and went through a lot of tests to figure out a diagnosis. If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know I have a ton of gut issues. This year, I got serious about getting an official diagnosis. I have an unofficial diagnosis of gastroparesis and will talk more about it once I get additional testing done. It’s a relief to be this close to figuring out something that’s been plaguing me ever since I can remember.
  9. Exercised less. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but I think it was an essential part in my healing process to focus on taking care of my gut, joint pain, and chronic fatigue, and rest.
  10. Transitioned my wardrobe to almost 100% sustainable fashion. As I’m getting more conscious of my dietary, environmental, and wellness habits, I’ve been trying to transition out of fast fashion to solely supporting independent designers, buying vintage, and thrifting. I’m about 95% there and that makes me happy. I’ve also come to discover a true love for thrifting and vintage clothing along the way.
  11. Sold a lot of my things. Didn’t quite KonMari myself, but cleared a lot of clutter by selling a lot of clothes, accessories, and other knick knacks that no longer served me.
  12. Changed the branding of my platform to Micaela Hoo. Yes, it was the 5th time I rebranded. It finally feels like me. More on that here.
  13. Let my hairstylist decide my haircut. It’s something I wanted to do since February of last year and I was afraid to do it because I thought she’d chop my hair into a bob and I did it! And she gave me a bob! I was right, haha! It was a huge trusting experience in letting go of control and having faith in someone else’s vision.
  14. Signed up for my last class ever at SCAD. After 7 years of going to college part-time online, I’m going to graduate in 2 short months!
  15. Went on a family vacation to Palm Springs. We haven’t gone on a true vacation vacation in years. Money has always been an issue for us, but taking our micro trip to Palm Springs was definitely doable. In that week away from (most) work, I felt free and at ease.
Looking Back and Looking Forward: 2020

2020 GOALS:

  1. GRADUATE COLLEGE. At this point, I only have one more class to finish up, so I feel like I’ve mentally moved on from school, but it will be official once I get my degree. (I’m going to SCAD online to get my BFA in Graphic Design if you’re curious.)
  2. Grow Drifter Organics into a profitable business so my mom can quit her part-time job. My mom is my best friend and working on our business together is one of my favorite things. With me graduating school this year, I want both of us to take the leap to Drifter Organics full-time.
  3. Get an official diagnosis and treatment plan. I’m soooo close at this point, I can almost taste the closure.
  4. Find a good insurance plan. I turn 26 this year which, in the US, means I get off of my dad’s insurance plan. As someone who is self-employed, I need to find a plan that has good coverage (hellooo acupuncture, chiropractic care, and physical therapy) that also doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
  5. Go on more micro trips. There are so many amazing places within driving distance from where I live. Enough said.
  6. Visit New York City. I grew up in a commuter town in Connecticut and would visit New York City periodically. Since moving to California 12 years ago, I haven’t been back in over 10 years. Since I’ll be on the East Coast to walk in my SCAD graduation in Savannah in May, I’d like to combine it with a trip up north to New York City.
  7. Educate myself on more movies, TV shows, and pop culture. When I was in high school, I used to do things like see foreign films with my mom or just plain old watch The Oscars, but life got busy, and somewhere along the way, we lost that tradition. I have a masochistic one-track mindset of getting work done and pushing anything else aside (work to me is fun so it’s a catch-22 situation), but I’d like to indulge my pleasures more often because I think I’d be more well-rounded of a person.
  8. Make a place home. My family and I have been renting our Oakland apartment for 1.5 years and it was only supposed to be a one-year fling to figure things out until we either stayed here or found a new city we’d like to make home. After one year, there were still a lot of intricacies we had to work out before making our ultimate decision, so we renewed our lease. The only thing worse than delayed expectation is locking yourself into a situation you wish you hadn’t. This is a huge lesson in patience for me, but I think we’re finally going to figure things out this year.

The end of the year always brings forth nostalgia (especially with it being the end of a decade!), but I can feel 2020 brimming with more possibilities than ever before. Feel free to share your highlights of 2019 and goals for 2020 in the comments!

Letting my hairstylist choose my haircut!

November 4, 2019

I don’t know about you, but I grew up watching the TV show What Not to Wear. I loved seeing not only the outer transformations of the subjects, but the inevitable inner transformations that occurred as well. I always admired the participants for their vulnerability and courage in surrounding themselves to the capable hands of a team of stylists. It’s a mental exercise more than anything else. After all, your appearance dictates how you are perceived by others which translates to how you feel about yourself.

Letting my hairstylist choose my haircut!
The magical oasis of Wabi Sabi Beauty.

I discovered Wabi Sabi Beauty, a San Francisco-based eco beauty and wellness studio at the beginning of the year. I chatted with Kristina, the founder and owner, about collaborating on a transformation video in which I would give her creative license to decide my haircut. At the time, my hair was mid-chest length with long layers that lent themselves as the perfect blank slate for Kristina to work her hairstylist magic. Fast forward to 6 months from then when we actually did the transformation, my hair was even longer, making it an even more drastic transformation. I had not cut my hair in over a year.

Letting my hairstylist choose my haircut!
Right after the first chop!

I tend to be a Type A control freak and this exercise in letting Kristina cut my hair however she saw fit was a good way for me to trust fall into her caring, hairstylist arms. It was super fun to see how she envisioned me looking. We ended up going for a bob with long bangs that are versatile in the way they can be styled. I’ve been wearing this hairstyle for two weeks and so far, my favorite way to style these bangs is to part my hair in the middle and do curtain bangs.

Letting my hairstylist choose my haircut!
We made my chopped hair into a heart!
Letting my hairstylist choose my haircut!
Cutting bangs and not having a clue what they’re going to look like.
Letting my hairstylist choose my haircut!

In addition to the haircut which was the biggest transformation, I also got a facial at Supple, makeup lesson from Kristina at Wabi Sabi Beauty, and personal styling session at Lisa Says Gah.

Letting my hairstylist choose my haircut!
The final look!

I wholeheartedly believe that it’s healthy to change elements of your life even if things don’t necessarily need changing. My decision to let Kristina choose my haircut was instigated by the desire for something new and different. Not necessarily better, just different. I think we put this unnecessary weight on change that if we make it, it needs to be better. To me, changing just means evolving. Usually for the better, but sometimes just for a change of pace. And changing elements of your life in even the most seemingly petty and hedonistic capacities — such as a new haircut or dress — can seem insignificant. The only thing constant is change, so if you can embrace change in the little, petty things in your life, it helps keep your mind open and perspective fresh for when big opportunities and changes arise.

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