My time in Moldova has come to an end. I am sad to say that, due to my worsening health, I’ll be taking a plane early Friday morning bound for DFW.
Since arriving in Moldova, I’ve struggled with my health. For months, I regularly experienced pain so powerful I would collapse. In January, Peace Corps had to medically evacuate my site, bringing me down to the capital for testing. Since then, I’ve had sonograms, blood tests, stool cultures (ew), exams and more to find the ever-elusive source of my constant pain.
Then, a few weeks ago, I visited a specialist in the capital. My doctor and I sat with him for an hour, explaining my year’s worth of symptoms, going over charts, circling test result after test result. I pointed to my stomach, my back, my shoulder blades – all the places I’ve been experiencing crippling pain for so long. Then, he took one finger, silently calculated where my large intestine begins and pushed. My body erupted in pain. “Whatever you just touched,” I told him, “that is where the problem is.”
My official diagnosis is Irritible Bowel Syndrome, a chronic disorder of the gastrointestinal tract. People with IBS “have colons that react to stimuli that do not affect normal colons, and their ractions are far more severe,” author and IBS expert Healther Van Vorous writes in her book Eating for IBS. In other words, certain foods or hightened stress levels cause my intestines freak the fuck out, knocking me down and leaving me to writhe in pain.
At first, this diagnosis was a blessing. I don’t have chronic pancreatitis or any of the other terrifying diseases I’d been tested for. I won’t need surgery. I just need to manage my diet and stress to prevent further painful attacks.
Then I realized: I’m in Moldova. In my isolated village of 2,000, we eat what we grow. If there is cheese in my pasta, it is because Valentina milked the cow that morning. If there are cucumbers in my salad, Ion harvested them this afternoon. In the winter, we eat what we preserved — pickled tomato, carrots, peppers and even watermelon. Restricting my diet to eat IBS-friendly foods? Yeah, right.
Trying to treat my IBS feels like trying to re-learn how to eat. Suddenly, I’m on a fat-free, dairy-free, soluble-fiber rich, insoluble-fiber-free diet, and honestly, I’m not totally sure what all that means. Fitting this diet into the restrictions of food choices in a Moldovan village makes me hyperventilate. And the irony? Being stressed over my IBS-friendly diet brings a new round of pain attacks.
I need a year — one year — to figure out what I can eat, how to cook it, how to order it in a restaurant and how to control the stress I feel about it. And as much as I want to, I can’t do that here.