Tropical sprue, not my favourite words…

I digress today from the normal run of slices to dwell for a few moments and then hopefully never return to it again, on tropical sprue.

I’d never heard of it until about nine years ago, when unbeknownst to me, it entered my life (no one really knows how it enters a person, so I can’t say more). I didn’t discover what it was, I just felt nauseous and food tasted like cardboard and my energy disappeared and I was trying to run a school! It lasted for months, I had to sit down while I was writing at the board and I could barely climb the stairs to our room. I was stubborn (it’s just another Indian thing, it’ll pass, but it didn’t). Finally I decided to go to a gastroenterologist specialist in Shillong. In India you can go direct to a specialist, he charges more than an ordinary doctor (but still very little) no referral needed.

He was working in a hospital and wanted me to get all these tests done, which the hospital charged for separately, an ultra sound, a blood test, an endoscopy. I had the blood test, but refused the rest, as I was really starting to feel so much better. He wasn’t very happy, but gave me some medication which I took. I completely recovered, back to normal.

Months later my husband started to have similar symptoms, he endured them for a while and then went to this specialist and had all the tests done. His diagnosis, tropical sprue. It’s very rare and he said doctors in the west would not pick it up. He sees about 25 cases a year, so it’s not common. He said prisoners of war in Burma building the railway often suffered and died from it. It causes malabsorption and you basically waste away. But it’s treatable. My husband was on medication for over six months until he was declared cleared.

Obviously mine was never properly cleared up and has returned. I have been going downhill over the past two years in cycles. The nausea has returned sometimes, I don’t like the taste of coffee any more (that makes me so sad), one time I got ulcers all over my tongue. Now my ankles are swelling with fluid and it’s painful to walk, my arms are bruising for no reason and my muscle fibre is disappearing!

There are little frondy things in your gut called villi and this disease stops them standing up and absorbing the protein and whatever else from our food. It just flattens them. And my liver is not coping. I’ve been tested for HIV, diabetes, coeliac disease, my arm has turned into a pincushion, I finally had an endoscopy and survived. My liver counts of various hieroglyphical bits and pieces are heading fast in the wrong direction, too high or too low.

I had this suspicion at the back of my mind, but my doctor kept saying ‘it’s a liver problem’, so today I went to a liver specialist and he agreed, it’s my intestines, causing the liver problem and he is fairly convinced it’s tropical sprue. Tomorrow (after he’s checked with colleagues and done some more research) he’s going to put me on a course of antibiotics, folic acid and whatever else I need to combat it.

Tropical sprue I hope this is the last time I ever have to write about you. And I’m closing with a picture of lovely Western Australian wildflowers. not you!

So fragile but so brilliant, a wild orchid

13 thoughts on “Tropical sprue, not my favourite words…

  1. Oh my gosh, I hope the course of treatment gives this “sprue” the boot. What a pain, and pain sincerely, for you. (I love how you close this post with the wildflower photo as if to say: “Sprue, you will not win this contest.”)

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  2. I’m sorry to hear that you are battling this illness. I hope the treatment you will receive will take care of it and you won’t have to worry or write about it again.

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  3. I am so sorry to learn you’re ill. Tropical sprue sounds horrible. There’s a subtext here I can’t help thinking about: Women often sacrifice their own care, but men don’t. I’ve become ultra sensitive to this for a variety of reasons, many related to aging, as well as based on my reading and study of gender issues.

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  4. Well, I certainly hope that you feel better – and soon! To be in pain or working your way through symptoms – it’s tough, and it saps away the energy you need for everything else you do. Here’s to a quick and complete recovery!

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  5. This sounds ghastly! I hope you won’t have to write about it again either (even the name has a yucky kind of ring to it). That wild orchid is just stunning, though – that color is so rare in nature!

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    1. Yes it is exquisite, I’m glad a friend’s camera captured it so much better than mine did! Yes I started treatment yesterday so hopefully within the next few weeks. Thank you for your concern!

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  6. I’m so sorry that you’re fighting this horrible sounding (in name and symptoms) disease! I think the most powerful world in your piece is “treatable.” I hope that now that you have a diagnosis and treatment plan, you’ll swiftly regain your health. Thanks for ending with that beautiful photo–a note of defiant optimism 🙂 Hang in there!

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