Pick­led-onion rescue!

Doc­tors could only help me so far... So I set out to find my own ‘rem­edy’

Chat - - Contents - Rachel Bol­well, 20, Ar­gyle

Get­ting changed af­ter my dance class, I spot­ted blood ooz­ing from my hips.

‘What’s that?’ I mut­tered, con­fused.

My skin was pa­per thin across my hip bones and I reck­oned I must have cut my­self do­ing floor ex­er­cises.

It was Septem­ber 2015, and though I loved my food, my ap­petite had re­cently gone through the floor. My weight, too, ap­par­ently. Later, my mum Sylvia, 49, quizzed me over din­ner. ‘Why aren’t you eat­ing?’ Star­ing at the plate of food in front of me, I sud­denly felt ex­hausted. ‘I just can’t,’ I shrugged. Din­ner didn’t in­ter­est me... but there was some­thing I craved. Con­stantly.

Crisps or any­thing salty. Even odd snacks like pow­dered stock cubes!

For the past month, I’d also been suf­fer­ing con­stant nau­sea and fre­quent panic at­tacks.

It was drain­ing, and start­ing to af­fect my school work – as well as my danc­ing and swim­ming.

Doc­tors had no an­swers, so for a year I strug­gled on.

Un­til April 2016, when I came down with a vi­cious stom­ach bug...

For days, I drifted in and out of con­scious­ness, suf­fer­ing dread­ful diar­rhoea, vom­it­ing and hal­lu­ci­na­tions.

The hos­pi­tal wouldn’t ad­mit me in case I was in­fec­tious.

But when Mum and my dad Arthur, 55, found me passed out at the top of the stairs in the mid­dle of the night, they drove me straight to A&E.

I was ad­mit­ted, given a saline fluid drip.

Over the course of the day, my con­di­tion im­proved, con­fu­sion cleared.

Doc­tors were baf­fled, but I was well enough to go home.

Months passed and I still wasn’t my­self. I was ex­hausted, and my weight was still drop­ping – reach­ing 6st 13lb.

I’d been ac­cepted into univer­sity, but in­stead of look­ing for­ward to it, I wor­ried how I’d cope. Then... In June 2016, my sis­ter Ruth, 21, men­tioned my symp­toms to her friend, who’d just qual­i­fied as a ju­nior doc­tor.

‘She said it sounded like Ad­di­son’s dis­ease,’ Ruth said. ‘Oh re­ally?’ I replied.

Straight away, I logged on to my lap­top and be­gan re­search­ing on­line.

I learnt Ad­di­son’s is a very rare dis­or­der of the adrenal glands, the or­gans re­spon­si­ble for the pro­duc­tion of stress hor­mones like cor­ti­sol.

‘The symp­toms are the same as mine,’ I gasped.

I asked my GP about Ad­di­son’s dis­ease. She didn’t know enough but said she’d look into it. She called later, reck­oned it looked likely and in­sisted I go in for tests first thing. Only... I was due to be hav­ing mi­nor surgery to clear a si­nus in­fec­tion the next day. ‘That’s not a good idea,’ she warned. On her ad­vice, I called my sur­geon, who con­firmed that the op shouldn’t go ahead. He ex­plained that if I was miss­ing vi­tal hor­mones be­cause of Ad­di­son’s, the

Mum and Dad found me passed out in the night

anaes­thetic might re­act badly with my body. It could have killed me! The next day, a blood test con­firmed Ad­di­son’s. Fi­nally, I had an­swers. The doc­tor ex­plained that the ill­ness had de­stroyed my adrenal glands.

It meant my body could no longer pro­duce the steroid hor­mones cor­ti­sol and al­dos­terone it needed.

It even ex­plained the panic at­tacks, which were a re­sult of the miss­ing hor­mones.

And what we’d thought was a nasty stom­ach bug ear­lier in the year was ac­tu­ally an adrenal cri­sis.

Ter­ri­fy­ingly, that had been a med­i­cal emer­gency, could have left me in a coma.

It was a good thing I got to the hos­pi­tal when I did!

De­spite know­ing I’d live with the dis­or­der for the rest of my life, I felt relieved.

‘At least I know what’s go­ing on now,’ I told Mum. She shook her head. ‘You’ve had such a close call,’ she said, hold­ing me tight.

I was given med­i­ca­tion to counter the ef­fect of the miss­ing hor­mones.

Even with treat­ment, the con­di­tion still had an im­pact.

As Ad­di­son’s left my salt lev­els ex­tremely low, I was vul­ner­a­ble to faint­ing spells.

Low salt is com­mon in Ad­di­son’s, and when I told my doc­tors that I found eat­ing salty or sour food helped, they were happy for me to con­tinue, as long as I wasn’t eat­ing too much fast food.

I’d al­ways liked very salty snacks, but I now knew it was a re­sult of Ad­di­son’s.

But then I found a novel al­ter­na­tive. I be­gan eat­ing pick­led onions!

They weren’t an ob­vi­ous choice, as they have low sodium lev­els. Nor are they a treat­ment for the dis­ease.

But eat­ing some­thing with such a strong taste sat­is­fied my in­tense, un­com­fort­able crav­ings, which could of­ten be as se­vere as my symp­toms.

Pick­led onions re­ally scratch that itch!

‘Any­way, they taste re­ally good!’ I laughed to my friends.

I’d buy the strong­est ones I could find, putting away a whole jar each day. The smell wasn’t al­ways pleas­ant for my fam­ily and uni house­mates but thank­fully no-one ever com­plained.

I’ve since switched to a more ef­fec­tive hor­mone re­place­ment, so I’m eat­ing fewer pick­led onions. Much to the joy of those around me! Liv­ing with Ad­di­son’s means that there are still cer­tain things I can’t do.

I’ll never be al­lowed to drive and I can’t drink very much al­co­hol. And I can’t re­ally be left alone, as I’m at high risk of faint­ing.

But I don’t let it hold me back. I go rock climb­ing with my boyfriend Erik, 24, and now com­pete in open-water swim­ming com­pe­ti­tions.

And in Au­gust this year, Dad and I took part in the Great Scot­tish Swim to raise aware­ness of Ad­di­son’s.

We raised £1,500 for the Ad­di­son’s Dis­ease Self Help Group char­ity.

Help­ing oth­ers in this sit­u­a­tion is im­por­tant to me, so I’ll be shout­ing about it for years to come.

Buy­ing the strong­est I could find, I put away a jar a day

Me and Dad af­ter our big swim Look­ing good on my new diet!

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