SurgeonI do try to look after myself. Getting some exercise during the hot season is asking a bit much at my age, but we eat a balanced diet and take Fish Oil each day. If a sniffle is coming on I beat it right away with huge doses of vitamin C.

But early in December I began to feel unwell. The holiday season was upon us – I had a houseful of people to attend to, and so, as one does, I shrugged the feeling off and ‘got on with it’. However once the festivities were over; and loved ones had departed for other shores; and life had slowed to a more normal pace, I realised that I was very unwell indeed.

The symptoms were disparate and quite weird: nausea, dizziness, headache, lack of appetite, trembling, hot and cold sweats, racing heart-beat, terrible diarrhoea – and total lethargy. It was all I could do to put a foot on the floor each morning. I was feeling utterly dreadful.

A browse through the symptoms charts of our medical tome proved conclusively that I had every disease known to mankind; but, to my surprise, a pretty thorough check-up from the quack found nothing wrong with me at all. It was decided that the heat had got to me and I was firmly and kindly reminded that I am now in my seventieth year and must not expect to feel as if I were seventeen.

I bought an extra fan just for myself. I used cold packs. I rested. I tried to eat a little. I took cool showers: but I still felt awful. So, after another, very thorough, examination, I was sent to Suva Private for a stomach ultra sound; and there were dire mumblings about endoscopies and colonoscopies, and other nasty invasive procedures.

Then – about a month ago, my brother wrote from the UK asking if I was still taking Zyrtek, (our father had bequeathed to us his disfunctioning-sinus gene) and if so, was I OK. He had been advised by his ENT specialist to stop taking that pill in the belief that it was the cause of his chronic diarrhea.

He had been advised to use a sterile saline spray (Sterimer) and told me that it worked well for him. It is not available in NZ but a friend brought me a substitute (FESS). I dropped the Zyrtek and took up the FESS and within 48 hours my stomach, after years of problems, was back to normal. The saline spray subdues the hay-fever very well, too. So at least that problem was sorted out; but all of the other symptoms persisted – I still felt dreadful.

Then, all of a sudden, and for no apparent reason at the time, I had five straight days of feeling really good! Normal! Bright and perky! It was all behind me at long last. Perhaps it had merely been the heat after all. Wrong. Day six found me right back where I had started.

Back to lying flat on the bed at 9 in the morning, feeling nauseous and with a splitting headache, I tried to work back through the preceding five days. What had I done, or not done, that was different? Had I eaten out at all, and if so, what had I eaten? Indeed, what had I been eating? And there was the answer.

Sunday is cooked breakfast day, but on the other days of the week I breakfast on fruit and cereal – my favourite Nestlés cornflakes with pure honey and soy milk. But for five days I had been unable to find soy milk and so had not had cereal, boiling an egg or slicing tomato onto toast instead. However, on day five soy milk was back on the supermarket shelf, so on day six I was happily back into the cereal. And half an hour later I was feeling terrible.

I had a light-bulb moment! Remember those labels which carry allergy warnings? They go something like…Processed on machinery also used to process nuts, gluten, soy…WHOA!

Since I am allergic to grasses; and sensitive to mangoes and strawberries, that thought was cause for concern. Allergies and food sensitivities can come and go at any time for no apparent reason – that had been explained to me several years ago at the Auckland Allergy Clinic.

I spent most of that sixth day feeling utterly grotty; but next morning I awoke feeling as good as I ever did – before breakfast that is! So I tucked into avocado and tomato on toast and felt great for the rest of the day. I’ve been feeling great ever since.

My son has urged me to have just one bowl of cereal with soy…’to make sure’…but no way! No way do I want to have even one more day of feeling so totally wretched.

We are, indeed, what we eat – or swallow. For years I had taken Zyrtek for hay-fever, and for years I had been assured by doctors, and even a stomach specialist, that I suffered from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Phooey! I had been advised that dairy products would exacerbate the hay-fever, and told to avoid them – that was why I used soy milk. But I’m back eating yoghurt, and cheese occasionally, and I’m fine.

I am wondering how many people there are with inexplicable symptoms, and general malaise, who suffer as I did. If you are one of them, perhaps take careful note of what you eat and drink, and the medications that you take, and you might have an answer. It is also a good idea to take another look at the info sheet that comes with your medication. I always discarded the Zyrtek sheet with its box – but a quick Google proved that most of my adverse symptoms could be caused by the drug. As for soy – that can actually cause anaphylactic shock to those who are particularly sensitive to it.