A person hunches over as pain radiates from their body in waves.

Life Lessons from Ali's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Last updated: March 2023

It was a Monday morning the week before my 40th birthday.

I woke up around 5:45 am, put on my robe, and went downstairs for coffee and cereal. I sat at my desk and checked email while alternating bites and sips.

Once I heard my younger child call out from his room, I started towards the stairs but stopped abruptly. A terrible pain had erupted in the middle of my ribcage. I thought, Hmm. Maybe I ate too fast? I pretended I was fine, and continued upstairs. I managed to retrieve my upset toddler from his crib, and his distress somehow made my chest hurt even worse.

Could this be heartburn? I get heartburn every so often but it never came on this strong, this quickly.

I placed him on the ground and took off my suffocating robe. I was extremely hot, sweating, and suddenly lightheaded.

“Something is wrong with me,” I told my husband

The pain had taken over my entire torso at that point, and I felt it was best to just lay down on the bathroom floor where it was cold and safe.

My toddler ran after me, crying a bit, and sat on my legs as I lay there. My 4 year old entered the bathroom shortly after, brimming with energy with something really important to say. My body bristled and churned and I remember telling Josh to take the children away from me.

The pain was moving through my body in waves. Could I be in labor? No. Impossible.

My vision was pixelating, and objects around me were fading into white. I going to faint. After lying there for a few minutes with no improvement, I managed to drag myself to the toilet. What I experienced on that porcelain bowl could only be described as giving birth via my bowels. Right after, I returned to the cold, safe tile.

As suddenly as the episode came on, it left

I felt completely fine...So. Weird.

I went on with my morning as usual. But, what I really should have done was go to urgent care. In denial, I dressed myself, got the kids dressed, made them breakfast, brushed their teeth, packed their bags and loaded them in the car for school. I felt a bit shaky but otherwise fine. I then drove to a friend’s house to try to fix her son’s terrible haircut, and then proceeded to drive over an hour to Boulder to meet another friend - a new friend - for lunch and a hike.

While driving, I ate a dried fruit bar. I was a bit nervous about putting something into my body but nothing happened. What a relief! I assumed the earlier ordeal was just a fluke. I actually managed to forget about it - can you believe that? What was wrong with me?

My new friend Brooke and I had met on Instagram of all places. But, we had so many interests in common that we decided to meet in real life.

This was our second in-person meeting

Brooke and I had lunch at a beautiful dining hall at the base of Chautauqua Park, a popular hiking spot in Boulder. I took my time eating - I chose a grilled vegetable sandwich on grainy bread and fries. It was delicious. And we had such a great conversation! When our meal was finished, we got up to use the restroom before our hike.

It was on the way to the bathroom where I began to feel a slight discomfort in my chest. In disbelief and denial, I said nothing. We hiked and chatted for about 10 minutes, gaining altitude quickly.

My chest pain throbbed and spread. Everything became blurry. My breathing became rushed and anxious.

I must have stopped responding because she asked, “Are you feeling ok?”

“No,” I told her the truth, ”maybe I should sit down?”

I couldn’t believe it was happening again. I sat on a small boulder on the side of the trail, and tried to control my breathing but I wasn’t able to slow the rate. Just like this morning, I decided to get even lower. I slid down the side of the boulder and lay on the ground. Brooke stood by, totally calm and supportive. I later learned that she used to be a doula, and calmly supporting people was totally her thing.

My condition seemed to be progressing just as it did earlier that day. And my anxiety and panic about the impending events definitely exacerbated the issues.

Even though I was gasping for breath and couldn't really see, I decided that I would try to walk off the trail and find somewhere to relieve myself.

As I stumbled into the brush, people were strolling lazily up and down the trail. They were old, young, able bodied, and even some in wheelchairs. All of them were going about their hike normally while I was trying to relieve myself behind a pinchy bush in a mostly open hillside with no toilet paper..

Who knows how I managed to do this, but I returned to Brooke intact, and upright. I explained my whole situation, while she helped me slowly down to the trailhead, and to the bathroom. At one point, she offered to carry me, but my dignity was already shattered and I declined.

It seemed to take an hour to walk a 10th of a mile. Brooke and I parted ways in the parking lot, but she seemed a little reluctant to leave me. I reassured her that I was going to be ok, even though I wasn’t really sure of that myself.

I rested for a bit before driving the one hour back to Fort Collins.

I didn’t eat anything for the rest of the day.

Figuring out what happened

The next morning, I ate a small bowl of cream of wheat. I dropped the kids off at school and headed straight to urgent care where I learned that I had two episodes of what’s known as acute gastritis. Apparently, my stomach lining had become so irritated and inflamed that it pressed against my vagus nerve, resulting in almost loss-of-consciousness and an irritable bowel.

My doctor prescribed me a month course of antacids, and told me to go straight to the ER if it were to happen again. In order to give my stomach a break, I have since made a few changes to my diet: I quit drinking coffee, I try to eat very slowly, and I added more easily digestible foods to my diet.

I am so grateful for Brooke and her kind, unwavering support while I was in pain. We really didn’t know each other very well, and if she was in any way uncomfortable by the situation, she masked it so well. It’s hard for adults to make new friends, but my gastritis didn’t affect our friendship at all. If anything, it brought us closer together!

In summary, let my experience be a warning to you. Don’t be like me and ignore your symptoms. Seek help right away! Additionally, there is apparently a clear correlation between AS and stomach issues, especially for those who have been on NSAIDs for a while. Those of us taking these medications should make sure to be kind to our stomachs and add tummy-healing ingredients to our diets if possible.

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