Cows, Cud-Chewing, and Contentment: Phyllis’s Rumination Syndrome Story

Three large black and white beasts rest under a shade tree to avoid the sun’s hot rays. They appear to be chewing gum, although they are really chewing their cud. That’s the way God created cows to be.

An eleven-year old girl is dismayed that the mouthful of food that came up after one of her favorite meals has escaped out of her mouth before she had a chance to rechew and swallow it. She glances around, hoping no one has noticed, scuffs some leaves over the spot, and determines she must be more careful from now on. She thinks of the cows that she sees contentedly chewing their cud in the summertime, but she knows that God created her digestive system differently than the cows. Girls weren’t made to chew their cud.

That eleven-year old girl, now thirty-five, is myself. Let me share with you a little glimpse of the journey that God has led me on.

Though my cud-chewing issues, later diagnosed as rumination syndrome, started when I was around ten or eleven, it didn’t interfere much with my life. For the most part, I was a healthy, growing teenager, that is, until I reached my upper teens. Then I began experiencing pain in multiple joints and limbs, headaches, and fatigue. After several years of seeing multiple physicians, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. My doctors attempted to also treat my belly aches, reflux, and regurgitation (as I called my old cud-chewing issue) but the symptoms persisted.

I asked God to heal my pain and digestive problems. God gently told me, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthian 12:9) I am a Christian, and though I did not understand why God was allowing all the pain and sickness in my life, I chose to believe God’s Word when it says, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” (Romans 8:28)

The doctor visits continued as I cycled through good and bad spells, and my diagnoses list grew longer— irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, candida and so on. The digestive problems and regurgitation worsened and came to a critical point in my upper twenties. I had long ago learned that it was better to spit out the regurgitation, for if I reswallowed it, it only came up again. Tests were taken and medication tried, while my doctors remained confused and my weight dropped. After taking a gastric emptying study, my GI doctor called it gastroparesis but didn’t know how to help me because my body didn’t respond well to medications and often gave me side effects that outweighed the benefits.

I traveled halfway across the continent with my parents to seek help from an intestinal rehabilitation team in a university hospital. Many tests were taken and though they thought I had motility issues, they didn’t feel it was gastroparesis after all. They sent me home with more medication, which lessened my nausea and increased my appetite, but also increased my regurgitation.

Another test and several months later, I was back at the same university hospital for the well-known surgeon to do exploratory surgery. He found a mysterious kink in my small intestine and after two weeks, I returned home, full of hope that some of my problems were solved. I told my friends that it was so much fun to eat now!

Two months later I weaned off of the narcotic I was given after the surgery. Slowly my reflux and regurgitation returned until I was back to the same pre-surgery condition. Hope crumbled to the ground and tears wet my pillow, yet I stretched out my arms to God, believing that He would not allow any affliction to come to me without a purpose and design.

I returned to the university hospital for the third time. This time the surgeon reordered only two tests and then concluded that it was not a structural-based problem. Some research had been done in relation to opioid-receptor cells and he said that since I did better after surgery, he wanted to put me back on a narcotic. I took one little pill and immediately my food stayed down. Too good to be true! It seemed to help and I went back home. I managed the side effects with careful timing and naps. But the narcotic dosage had to be increased periodically and I was well aware that I could not increase it indefinitely.

I repeated more tests with my local GI doctor. He read the diary I kept for the pH study and told me it made him think of rumination syndrome. Ah, the connection to my cud-chewing, cow-like issue since eleven years old. I finally had a name for it. The doctor read a couple paragraphs out of his medical book, and although some of the symptoms were similar, I did not match other parts of the criteria. Of course not! I had long ago learned that I didn’t fit into any of the medical boxes and realized my poor doctors were puzzled, even though they wished to help me. I tried to remember that my doctors were not God, and that ultimately, any healing would have to come from God. And if healing was not His plan for me, I knew deep in my heart that He knew what was best.

I reached the age of thirty, repeated more tests, and lost more weight. I visited a neurogastroenterologist at a different university hospital. This specialist was more familiar with rumination syndrome and recommended some breathing techniques, but the techniques failed to help.

I became keenly aware that my body was broken. Though God could have performed a miracle, He had chosen not to grant my requests for physical healing. But in that process, I knew that God had refined and shaped my character to become more like Him, and that I would not exchange. I realized that there was probably no cure for my body’s many ailments, but that I would need to work with my doctors to manage the symptoms. Though the realities of a broken body caused many tears, I believed that God would hold me through the journey and not let go of me. So I grasped the hand of God and trusted His plan by faith.

Several years passed with cycles of ups and downs and I tried numerous medications for my multiple problems. Some definitely helped and I considered them a gift from God; many didn’t work well or caused too many side effects. Slowly the spiral wound lower and lower and I became weak and lethargic from malnutrition. It had happened before, but in the beginning of 2017, I knew it would take something more to break the cycle. I started parenteral nutrition, but after complications switched to enteral j-tube feedings.  A new GI doctor returned to the diagnosis of gastroparesis. Any way I looked at it, it was definitely motility issues of some sort affecting my life. The compassionate GI doctor was a God-send in my situation. He admitted that he could not cure me, but would gladly help manage my symptoms. The j-tube, though not complication-free, also proved a great blessing as it lifted me out of the cycle of slow starvation and malnutrition.

Today, the battle is not over. Many medications are needed to keep my rumination syndrome and other symptoms in reasonable control and I continue to depend on my j-tube, along with the small amount of food I can still eat. God continues to lead me on a journey of faith. But I have learned that He can be trusted even when I cannot understand His plan. Though my doctors are human and have made some mistakes, I know that God makes no mistakes as He orders the steps of my life. It is only my finite mind that cannot grasp His infinite ways! If He chooses to use a chronic illness to bring glory to Him and encourage others, I am okay with that. And so with my hand in His, I walk satisfied in Him—contentment!

This is only a little glimpse of my life. I have written a book entitled No Mistakes that tells more about the journey that God has led me on. It is currently at the publishing company and should be released by late fall. A following post will provide a link to where it can be purchased.

About Phyllis Miller: My passion in life is to glorify God in whatever situation He calls me into. As a child, my dreams were to teach school and serve on the foreign mission field. I thank God for blessing me with five and a half years of teaching before chronic health problems caused me to seek a less demanding job. I now work part-time as a graphic designer for a marketing company and find my hobbies in writing, drawing cards, photography, and plenty of other projects on my constant to-do list. Many years of visiting multiple doctors have produced diagnoses of rumination syndrome, gastroparesis, irritable bowel syndrome, Lyme disease (now in remission), fibromyalgia, and more. I began HPEN in 2017 and currently use a j-tube for a large part of my nutritional needs. My fervent desire is that Jesus can be seen in my life, even through the ministry of suffering.

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