How many signs do you need?

How many signs (or hints or warnings) do you need before you realize it's time to make a change? For me, a lot.

9 years ago, I started having problems with my digestion. After much misery, my doctor told me I was suffering from both IBS and GERD. Lovely. The typical "prescription" is to manage stress, change diet, and lose weight. And in my case, take a Prilosec every day.

So I did (actually, I lost the weight unintentionally when I changed my diet). I stopped drinking caffeine and alcohol, stopped eating after 7:00 p.m., started drinking more water, and either eliminated or reduced triggers: spicy food, acidic food, processed food, chocolate, wheat, raw or overly fibrous vegetables, raw garlic and onion.

It was a rough (and bland) year.

However, I got my digestion back on track and amazingly, lost 30 pounds. Which was pretty cool.

Time passed. A couple of years went by. I slowly started adding the offending foods back into my diet. Started going wine tasting a lot. Started drinking caffeinated tea in the mornings. Started buying such delicious tangerines at the farmers market... you get the picture.

And I started getting signs that my digestive problems were back. But only occasionally, so I could overlook them. One bad bout of heartburn here and there... so what? One day every now and then when my gut just wouldn't settle down. Big deal.

At the same time, my joints were becoming more arthritic (the result of a car accident 22 years ago) and my back and neck were constantly sore. I know I'm getting old, but I considered myself pretty fit and not overweight by more than a few pounds. But I know that digestive issues and inflammation are closely linked and wondered if my problems were related.

So I started toying with the idea of going back on my healthy digestion diet, and also started researching inflammation and foods that cause or reduce inflammation.

Then I was struck with the realization that I was having these digestive problems, not now and then, but every day. And my GERD was getting more painful. And I could barely eat anything anymore without some kind of flareup. Hello -- could this be a sign?

Yesterday I talked to BeTheMatch.org, the registry for the National Bone Marrow Donor Program, and that conversation sealed the deal.

Backstory: I joined the registry in 1990 when the community rallied around a local child who needed a transplant, and over the years I had received a call or two about being a possible match. I can't donate blood because of the mad cow disease scare in the 90s; I lived in London during a period of time considered risky for becoming a mad cow carrier. But that doesn't matter to the bone marrow donor registry, and since 1990 I've hoped that I could maybe help save someone's life with my bone marrow.

I got a letter last week from the registry saying that I'm a possible match, and that I should call in for more details and a health evaluation. Guess what health problem caused me to be deferred? No, not the digestive stuff -- the back and neck pain.

There are two methods of bone marrow donation. One is a surgical outpatient procedure where the bone marrow is extracted from the pelvic bone, and the other is a donation of peripheral blood stem cells in a procedure much like typical blood donation. The PBSC donation requires the use of a drug for five days before the procedure to stimulate the growth of these cells. Both the medication for the PBSC donation and the surgical procedure result in back pain.

Because my back pain is a recurring issue and not under control, I was deferred. So disappointed. But could this be another sign?

This was the push I needed to figure out how my diet is affecting my body physically through inflammation, including the back pain and the digestive problems, and to immediately shift my eating back to foods I know won't aggravate me.

I feel a little bit like an idiot for waiting so long to do something about it. But I'm motivated to get my health back on track -- for myself, and also so I can become eligible again to be a bone marrow donor.

I feel terrible that I might have been a match for someone and now I can't do anything to help.

How many signs do you need before making an important change in your life?

ETA: Today, February 27, I went to my doctor about the loud pulsating sound I've had in my left ear for two months. When she determined that I didn't have an ear infection, and started going down the list of possible causes, I just KNEW possible cause #3 was going to be GERD. Do I need any MORE signs?

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