When your health goes south, it turns your whole life upside down. I know—I’ve been there.
When I was twelve years old, I had one dream: to be a professional tennis player. For much of my youth, I spent hours training, traveling, and committing myself to being the best tennis player I could be. While other teens were hanging on the beach, I was hitting balls on the tennis court. While most high schoolers were sleeping late on Saturday morning, I was on the tennis court before the sun was up. At a young age, I learned the power of sacrifice and commitment.
My senior year in high school, I was given the opportunity to join the women’s tennis team at the University of Kansas and fight for a scholarship position. I was elated. It was a dream I had worked hard for—and I was ready for the challenge. Tennis is a sport that tests you physically and mentally: you have to train your body to endure heat, move your feet fast in all directions, last through long rallies, and have quick reflexes. More importantly, you have to train your mind to be patient and strategic, never to give up, to play each point one at a time, and to persist despite any obstacle that is put in your way. When I finally got the scholarship, I realized that there’s no greater feeling than persevering through hard work and obstacles—and getting results for it.
Then, two years into my collegiate tennis career, my body began to break down. At nineteen years old, all the training had caught up with me; my body was tired. It started during one practice, when I noticed my shins were hurting. Within weeks, mild pain turned into a chronic, severe, relentless pain. I was diagnosed with shin splints and told ice and ibuprofen would be the fix.
The ibuprofen solved the pain problem temporarily. Yet, like most injuries in the body, if you don’t get to the cause of the injury, it will continue to get worse. That’s exactly what happened. While I was taking large amounts of ibuprofen daily to manage the pain, the injury grew worse.
Every doctor I consulted gave me a stronger painkiller. Each time I tried the new painkiller, it felt like a miracle cure, yet weeks later it would stop working. At nineteen years old, I couldn’t make it through my daily life without a painkiller. This went on for a year and a half.
Finally, an orthopedic surgeon was called in to evaluate me. He diagnosed me with compartment syndrome, a condition in the lower legs where the muscles are so swollen that the fascia surrounding them thickens and creates intense pressure in the lower leg “compartments.” This condition creates a sharp stabbing pain that feels as if someone is shooting pellets into your calves. I was immediately scheduled for surgery.
Recovery was supposed to be quick—three months, tops. We were in the tennis off-season, so the plan was for me to have surgery in October and be back on the court training in December. But things didn’t go as expected.
Once out of surgery, I was quickly put on more medications—stronger ones than those I had been taking for the past few years. And as I waited to get back on the courts, I fell quickly into the typical college life: poor diet, late nights, beer, pizza, and partying. I gained thirty pounds over a couple of months, and although my leg pain was improving, my health was at an all-time low. By Christmas, my body was so fatigued I couldn’t get out of bed.
Watching my health spiral downward was one of the scariest and most frustrating experiences of my life. Bouncing from doctor to doctor looking for answers started to make me feel as if I were crazy. Luckily, one person was there to lift me up and keep me going: my mom.
When I went home over Christmas break, my mom could see that years of training, popping pain pills, and going through surgery had left my body in a massively fatigued state. Being the tenacious woman that she was, she quickly started searching for answers about chronic fatigue. Finally, with persistence, we found a top chronic fatigue doctor who happened to practice in our town. Our hope was restored!
Now, when you’re a patient struggling with your health, your doctor quickly becomes the most important person in your life. He or she becomes your lifeline. You trust that your doctor will find the answer for you. Wants you to get better. Cares about you. Will give you a new direction. We want our doctors to have all the answers. To be superhuman.
But the day we walked into that doctor’s office forever changed the way I look at the doctor-patient relationship. The doctor sat behind a large mahogany desk wearing a white coat. A bit intimidating, but for the most part, I was relieved by the way he looked: society had trained me to view anyone in a white coat as knowledgeable. He looked capable, smart, and resourceful.
Sadly, my opinion quickly changed. As my mom began to tell my story, he looked disinterested, a little arrogant, as if we were somehow inconveniencing him with my story. He seemed more interested in writing me a prescription than understanding how my health had broken down.
My mom’s number one concern was for him to give me a path to get my body strong enough to get me back to school as quickly as possible. When she asked him how he could help me do this, he laughed with an arrogant smirk on his face and said, “Does she look like she can go back to school?” As if the idea that the body could heal quickly from such a condition as mine was a stupid idea even to consider.
He then proceeded to take out a long list of medications. He explained that some of these medications had worked on cases like mine, but chronic fatigue syndrome was not the same in every individual. His recommendation: start with the first one. If that didn’t work, move to the next one, and so on and so forth. Within a year’s time, he said, we would know which medication might help my chronic fatigue. In the meantime, his advice was to drop out of school and wait for one of the medications to work.
Now let’s stop and review what I had been through in the years prior to my chronic fatigue: daily pain medication, poor diet, improper sleep, pushing myself physically, stress, late nights drinking, surgery, increasingly strong pain medications, and eventually even multiple medications. Another medication was not going to be my answer. And wasting a year of my life hoping a new medication would solve my problem was not my definition of a plan. I had destroyed my body from the inside—and there wasn’t one chemical that was going to bring me back to normal again.
What I needed was a reset. A do-over. I needed to repair the damage I had done.
I needed a doctor that could see the big picture—what systems were broken inside me. I needed a doctor who cared about finding the cause of my health problems. I needed a doctor who believed in me and who could teach me a path to rebuild my body back to its original design. And I had no idea where to turn.
But my mom did. She found several doctors who believed in me and the power of my body to heal, and the month that followed consisted of visits to some of them—health practitioners who could actually help me.
The first doctor I saw was a holistic MD who immediately taught me how to stop putting toxins into my body. He knew that 80 percent of the immune system lived in the gut, and that if I was to heal, I would need to repair that system first. He put me on a healing diet and restricted me from any foods that would destroy my gut and suppress my immune system. He then prescribed a protocol of supplements to repair the damage that years of medications and poor diet had done to my body. Vitamin C drips, B12 shots, high doses of probiotics, enzymes, and anti-fungal supplements became a weekly regimen for me.
We then sought out the expertise of a “corrective” chiropractor to help open up the flow of information coming out of my brain and restore the function of my nervous system. This sped up my healing and had me sleeping and thinking better. Then we found an expert in stress management, who taught me techniques for managing stress and the power of using my mind to visualize the body healing.
It was a powerful team approach to regaining my health—one that had a single focus: repair the damage that my lifestyle, medications, and stress had done. Give my body back its power. Give it a fighting chance to heal itself.