C. diff Can Be Debilitating
Clostridium Difficile (C. diff) is a bacterium in the colon that causes colitis or inflammation by damaging the lining of the colon. The symptoms of C. diff are watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, and possible fever. About 20% of the normal healthy population have this bacterium inhabiting their microbiome. Luckily, these people can remain asymptomatic. However, when the normal make up of the gut, specifically the colon is compromised, these toxic pathogens have an opportunity to bind to the intestinal wall and can cause extensive inflammation, tissue damage and fluid loss resulting in acute watery diarrhea.
I had the unfortunate opportunity to acquire C. diff from undergoing surgery and having to take a significant amount of antibiotics. Having surgery and taking antibiotics are two factors combined that create a very fertile space for C. diff to thrive and jive. And boy did those little microbes feast on me!
Here is what I learned: The emotional side of having C. diff is just as debilitating as the physical side. I’m here to start the conversation.
The Emotional Piece
- C. diff is very contagious. The microorganisms can be spread from person to person by the infected person having spores on hands or clothes from his/her feces and touching an object or surface. An uninfected person can then touch the same object or surface and then touch their mouth and become infected. Spores can live outside of the body for more than 90 days. Washing hands with soap and water and washing surfaces with bleach are the only ways to protect against spread. Because C. Diff is contagious and difficult to kill in the environment, emotionally it becomes a very isolating disease. I was very concerned about infecting my friends and family. Having C. Diff I isolated myself from others in fear that I would spread the spores. I was also very fearful of getting re-infected by someone else coming into my environment. In addition, our society is obsessed with cleanliness and germ free EVERYTHING. So the majority of my friends did not feel comfortable visiting me. Very well understood, but didn’t feel good.
- Having C. Diff is not very romantic. Never mind the frequent diarrhea but the smell of the bowel movements as the body mounts massive immune response is a characteristic of C. Diff that does not make for fun dinner talk. Once you know the smell of C. Diff bowel movements, you will never forget it. This is embarrassing and humiliating. Even as I write this, I feel shame in my body. Luckily, once the bacterium is killed by antibiotics, this smell goes away and you are back to having bowel movements smelling like roses. Shame and embarrasment can feel really heavy especially when one is not feeling well physically.
- I went from someone who washes my hands frequently to someone who is obsessed with washing my hands. It is common for someone with C. Diff or someone who is recovered from it to become OCD with washing hands and keeping the environment clean with bleach since bleach is the only thing that kills the spores outside of the human body. Being aware of this intentional OCD is one thing, letting it consume you and your life is another. Please understand that this is a normal part of healing. However, give yourself and/or your loved one an end time to being obsessed so that life can move forward and you are not in constant fear of being reinfected.
- Lastly, the treatment of C. Diff is antibiotics. Antibiotics are known to kill all bacteria, good and bad in the gut. This can wreak havoc on the body physically. In addition, 90% of serotonin is made in the digestive system. When the healthy microbes are getting killed the body’s ability to make serotonin and other healthy happy neurotransmitters is compromised. People with C. Diff can feel depressed and sad. They may not be able to control these feelings as it is coming from a chemical imbalance. It is real, and it is very difficult. Understand that this is normal and will clear when you repopulate your gut with healthy flora.
Continue the Conversation
If you are a someone who has had this disease, has it now, or if you are a friend/family of someone infected please open up this conversation and talk about the debilitating emotional side of having C. Diff.