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HawkTear's Story


2-16-98

I can remember the night I was watching television and saw an advertisement for acid reflux and heartburn. For some reason, that image of a man, sitting up in bed holding onto his chest, stuck with me. I could not imagine not being able to eat everything that I wanted! That was then!

Not long after seeing the commercial, I was invited to a friend’s house for dinner. During the meal, I consumed one bottle of beer. My total yearly consumption of beer or wine could be counted on one hand and I have never liked mixed drinks at all. After returning home, I noticed that I was starting to have gas building up in my chest. Then I felt a sensation like my heart was skipping a beat. It was not a great feeling. Until I was able to belch and relieve some of the pressure, there was no relief. I had no heartburn, or pain, just the feeling around my heart, coupled with a nagging thought that something was very wrong.

That night, I could only sleep sitting up in a chair (something I would do for the next three months). The following morning, a call to our family doctor ended with a trip to the emergency room where my heart was checked out. The EKG, chest X-ray and blood enzymes all came back in normal range. The sensation of my heart skipping beats had stopped at this point. I really felt that I was just suffering from gastritis..(self-diagnosis)!

Here, in the woods, we do not always have access to doctors. Many times we can only see a physicians assistant. The particular PA I saw was a little upset that I did not seem to be taking my condition seriously. He commented that he had people having heart attacks right in front of him, and they did not think it was a "heart attack" and so on. He scheduled me for a stress test, a week from that date, and put me on an aspirin a day and heart medication to slow my heart rate down. Then, he said to go home and do nothing until the results of the stress test were known. Now...he had succeeded in taking a rather calm "I think I have this under control" kind of guy, to, "Now, I am not so sure.....maybe something is going on with my heart?"

While waiting for the stress test, the gas build-up came back. Seven days of worry, then the day of the test arrived. After signing a paper saying that I knew undergoing such a test could actually cause me to have a heart attack, I went into it thinking, "Maybe, this is it!". Having taken out a life insurance policy several months prior, and having put my will in order, did little to make me feel comfortable at that moment. The test results were normal! The doctor was very nice, stating that whatever my problem was, it was not being caused by my heart. My wife and I went home, very relieved, and with a new outlook on life.

Now and then, the heart skipping sensation would return, yet it seemed to be subsiding. A week passed and one day, after starting to eat a bowl of chicken soup, I asked my wife if she had put a lot of pepper in it. For the next several meals, the "pepper taste" was in my mouth, and then I began having heartburn. Antacid gave me a little relief, but the heartburn quickly returned. A call to the doctor brought the suggestion of an over-the-counter H2 blocker called Pepsid AC. This offered little relief, so the dosage was doubled. Several days passed, still no relief! Thoughts of having heartburn, were keeping me from eating. I returned to the doctor and received a prescription H2 blocker, Zantac. Results.....little, to no, relief, again. I ate, in between mealtimes, to give my stomach something with which to absorb the acid.

My symptoms were now complicated by pains in my sides and recurring bouts of diarrhea. A month passed with a loss of weight of 25 to 30 pounds. An upper GI series and a lower barium test showed nothing. Now in panic mode I went to a different ER in a larger city hoping to find some answers. After performing some rather extensive blood work they called my family doctor and then released me.  The family doctor felt that perhaps it was all in my head, possibly due to depression and stress. He put me on Paxil and Lorazapam. These two drugs almost rendered me incapacitated! One good thing that doctor did was to start me on Prilosec and refer me to a gastroenterologist, who ordered an endoscopy. The test results showed only minor irritation. This particular gastroenterologist had a very bad bedside manner and either could not, or would not, answer some of my most basic questions like "Why did I have this burning taste in my mouth all of the time?" or, "Why did my heart feel like it was skipping beats when I had a lot of gas build-up in my chest?" And, although he did not answer me, he did begin telling me about surgery (Nissen Fundoplication) and the tests necessary before undergoing it.

I decided at this point that it was imperative that I get involved in my treatment before I could submit to further testing, let alone surgery. My research began at home with my computer. I was able to find some information on the Web. There were no support groups, but I did manage to find a message board under Better Health and e-mailed someone in New Jersey who had something called Gastro-esophageal-reflux-disease.....GERD! That personal contact was like a breath of fresh air! I had someone who understood what I was going through and who was able to direct me to some websites dealing with heartburn and Gerd.

I stopped taking the Paxil and Lorazapam and started to get my life under control. The next step was to fire all of the doctors who I was dealing with. I was fortunate enough to find a woman internist who was kind, had a reputation for listening to her patients and who readily answered my questions. She continued the Prilosec and explained that it was going to take awhile to get my condition under control and for me to gain my weight back. She started me questioning whether or not I might be Lactose Intolerant, resulting in the diarrhea and pains in my side. I stopped my intake of lactose and quickly started feeling better. Over the course of the next year, I gained back my lost weight. In a learning process, I substituted Rice and Lactaid milks and found what foods basically did or did not bother me. The Prilosec (20mg a day) was handling the heartburn. I, also, noticed something else. When I was very young I used to be bothered by asthma. I, more or less, outgrew it only being bothered if I was exposed to mold. As an adult, I would have problems when I ate out later than my usual supper hour and then tried going to bed on a full stomach. My breathing would bother me. I always thought it was due to having had asthma as a child. After I started taking the Prilosec these symptoms went away as well. I had been having micro aspiration (small amounts of stomach acid getting into the lungs). I would learn later that a Dr. Pope, of the University of Washington School of Medicine, theorizes: " While aspiration of gastric acid directly into the lungs may occur on occasion, the problem is most likely acid irritation to the esophagus, causing the vagus nerve to restrict the bronchial tubes." I tend to lean toward the acid getting directly into the lungs in my case.

I have now been on Prilosec (20mg a day) for about three years. I have learned, through trial and error, that I cannot eat onions, tomatoes, spicy foods in general, citrus fruits, chocolate, coffee, tea or cola drinks. I can eat meat, again, and have been able to maintain a well-balanced diet, all of this , of course, in spite of the fact I can no longer have PIZZA! My friends have learned what foods I can and cannot eat and cook accordingly. Going out to a restaurant is no longer a real problem since I can generally find something on the menu which is not a Gerd trigger or filled with lactose. 

(12-29-00) I can now eat pizza if my wife makes it using hamburger and without spices. I sprinkle a little Food Tamer on the sauce to neutralize the acid. I have also learned that I can have some ketchup if I use the Food Tamer. Most important, I can now eat chocolate. :)

I am grateful that I am able to have a good quality of life in spite of Gastro-esophageal-reflux disease and lactose intolerance. Many who I talk with, in the chat rooms, are not as fortunate.

It is my hope that Heartburn-help.com will help others to become educated about how to live and deal with heartburn and Gerd and will serve as a gathering place for all who need support.


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