“You can make $20 per stool sample?” You would have thought I had won the jackpot! I just thought my colleagues and I were getting one over on the “Diarrhea Clinic” in Guadalajara, Mexico. I attended medical school there and was making a habit of “donating” regularly. What I did not realize was that I wasn’t just suffering from “Montezuma’s Revenge.” It wasn’t until I returned home that I learned I had Crohn’s Colitis, an often debilitating inflammatory condition of the GI tract characterized by abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding. It can often result in multiple surgeries to remove diseased colon and worse, colon cancer.
I spent the next several years on different medications including monthly infusions and weekly injections, all of which had many side effects. During my residency, I spent 10 days in the hospital due to a flare that resulted in over 20 abnormal stools per day, anemia, and almost constant pain. Despite this, I returned to my career determined to not let this disease slow me down.
I became a family doctor and practiced in the primary care setting for nine years. During that time, I discovered a passion for bariatric medicine. This evolved out of a desire to keep myself healthy which required changes in my diet. I found that eliminating processed foods and added sugars, except those naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables, helped me to keep my colitis at bay. With the help of an excellent gastroenterologist, I healed and continued to enjoy excellent health for many years. However, this hasn’t always been easy and this is where bariatrics comes back into the picture.
Taking care of myself every moment of every day requires a lot of work. It means pushing myself to exercise even when I am exhausted. It requires eating salads and protein when others are enjoying pizza or ice cream. It requires actively engaging in positive thinking and using tools like meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy and affirmations to manage stress levels. And I don’t always feel like doing these things. These are exactly the same challenges that, on a day to day basis, my bariatric patients experience.
I find that using these tools myself adds an additional layer of empathy and relatability to counseling my patients that otherwise wouldn’t be there. They often greatly appreciate this and find that I am able to help in a very unique way because I “get it.” I share my story with patients because when a doctor is able to be vulnerable, they realize they are not alone and that anything is possible.
Every day, I continue to discover new and powerful ways to care for myself, mind, body, and spirit. As my practice continues to evolve, I incorporate as many of these amazing modalities as possible. I hired a mind-body medicine physician to teach yoga, meditation and other skills who has inspired many of my patients. I have a behavioral counselor who keeps us all on track. But most of all, my patients, staff and I are all just trying to be the best version of ourselves on this human journey. I still struggle regularly — as do my patients — but we all have found better ways to be in this world. And because of that, I have found this work far more gratifying than anything I could have imagined and I believe my patients are better for it.