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Gcwizi Nkuhlu
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My battle with abdominal TB

23 March 2012, 11:10  - Gcwizi Nkuhlu
After my experience with abdominal TB I decided to share my story with other people as many may be clueless about it as I was. Where I come from it is an unusual type of TB and little or nothing is know about it. I would like to share my knowledge and experience so that a life today can be saved. This is a disease that is curable. The symptoms are not obvious that it took 6 months for me to be diagnosed with the disease. When I look back, there were signs which I ignored, which, if I had attended to, the disease would had never been so severe.

For one, I had a sharp pain just below my left rib which didn't go away for weeks. I ignored it and just believed it was gas. That came and went. Weeks later I developed a cough that wouldn't go away. Again, I ignored this and just took bottle after another of cough medicine. Since I didn't have night sweats, I just assumed it couldn't be TB. Soon I became lethargic and lost my appetite. Then my stomach started swelling up. It swelled up to the size of a belly of a 7 months pregnant woman. After going from doctor to doctor, one doctor eventually diagnosed me with peritonitis. This meant that there was fluid in the peritonial area. He did tell me that it could be caused by TB but at this stage I was in serious denial and was putting labels on it. The fluid was drained out and tests on the fluid sample showed no TB. I had sputum samples tested as well and they were negative too. I got better, got my appetite back and even gained back the weight I had lost during this period.

A month later I started feeling sick again and I couldn't eat. About a week later during this second episode of illness, one evening while sleeping I experienced a very painful burning or cutting sensation below the right rib. It went away as fast as it came. Then a few days later my belly button raptured, and out came a foul smelling creamy white fluid. A fistula had developed resulting from the advanced infection of TB. Basically waste from my intestines was going through my belly button. I was in shock and very scared I was going to die.

The worst part was to look at my 2 years old daughter and wondering what was going to become of her in my absence. I even thought about my 11 years old son who was hundreds of kilometres away. My mother's passing affected him so much, and now this! I gave in to my family's pleas for me to go to hospital.

The pain in my abdomen was unbearable all this time. It felt as if someone was blowing up a balloon and I was anticipating it to burst any second. I was afraid if I went to hospital I wouldn't come back alive. I started hallucinating and hearing voices in my head. I lost track of time, and by this time I couldn't eat anything. The fluid was still draining rapidly from my belly button. It took many tests, and I was admitted, before I was diagnosed with abdominal or peritonial TB. By then I had accepted my situation and was ready for the next step: getting better.

I had heard stories about how terrible TB treatment was, the side effects and everything. At the beginning of my treatment I weighed 45kg. My usual healthy weight is around 72kg. I couldn't believe it! A dietician visited me every day tracking my weight gain process, and it wasn't much because I couldn't eat. I would cry every time I heard the food trolley rolling down the passage. I wanted to eat, I had to eat, but just couldn't. I was put on low residue diet to decrease the activity in my intestines in an attempt to stop the drainage. I was too weak and thin to go for surgery to close up the fistula. For my kids I was ready to fight. It wasn't easy because I didn't get better right away. What is important is that I did.

It was a traumatic and emotional journey. I was discharged from hospital in time for Christmas and seeing my family all at home made me stronger. That was the best Christmas ever, bed ridden or not. I quickly got my appetite back and was able to walk around the house and even went outside for some sunshine. Two months later the draining in my belly button stopped and I said good bye to stoma bags. I live in a small rural town and the buzz about my illness was filled with negative perceptions and word was I was dying. I decided to live.The lesson here is, never ignore any symptoms you might have. It could be something serious.

Anyone can get TB. People must stop thinking it is a poor man's disease and that you get it if you are HIV positive only. I got it because my immune system was compromised as a result of alcohol abuse and bad diet. There are many types of TB. You can't fight TB alone. I had God by my side as well as caring and dedicated family and friends who chose to stick by me in my dark days. People must always remember TB can be defeated. I completed my 9 months treatment and I have fully recovered. I follow a healthy lifestyle and I thank God everyday for giving me a second chance.

- This article first appeared on Gcwizi Nkuhlu's blog.
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