The Mariners are already seven games under .500 in 2011, so at first blush the news that centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez has been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a relatively common but potentially debilitating gastrointestinal illness, seems like the poop frosting on this season's crap cake. Fortunately for M's fans, though, an expert at a Seattle clinic that specializes in IBS says there is hope yet for the franchise and their Gold Glove-winning outfielder.
"I've been having this a long time and nobody knew what I had, so knowing now this is what I have [and it] can be treatable makes me feel better mentally, and now I want to feel better physically, too, to get ready and be here again," Gutierrez told reporters on Saturday. "It's going to take time for the medicine to work. Let's see how it goes."
IBS, according to the National Institute of Health, is "a disorder characterized most commonly by cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea." As if it weren't already obvious, the NIH points out that IBS "causes a great deal of discomfort and distress."
IBS is not fatal, however, and approximately one in five Americans suffer its symptoms. It is the second-leading cause of missed work in the United States (behind the common cold), accounting for 12 percent of doctor visits nationwide. Nevertheless, Thomas Mercer, Chief of Operations at the IBS Treatment Center, a specialty clinic in Northgate, says that IBS sufferers can go years without being properly diagnosed.
"We see here at our clinic people who have been sick for years, sometimes decades," Mercer says. "There's very, very few physicians around the country who are familiar with these issues."
The problem, Mercer explains, is that IBS manifests itself differently in each individual, and at times people are embarrassed and refuse to seek treatment or explain their toilet troubles in enough detail to determine the root cause.
"People don't like to talk about stuff having to do with going to the bathroom," Mercer says. "It can be embarrassing. There are patients sitting in the exam room with the doctor who are reluctant to describe their symptoms. They say 'I feel sick, then I go to the bathroom and I feel better.' That's all they want to say. As a society, we have sort of an aversion. It's not polite to talk about this stuff."
One of the most common causes, Mercer notes, is celiac disease or gluten intolerance -- the inability for the body to digest foods that contain wheat. An adjusted diet can be a solution, but sometimes medication is required. In Gutierrez's case, he has said that he now takes medicine before each meal. He is traveling with the team on the upcoming road trip, and should make his return to the playing field within the next few weeks.
A Mariners spokesperson declined to discuss Gutierrez's medical condition in detail, citing patient privacy laws, but Mercer cautions against pinning too-high hopes on the outfielder. "We have patients who have been executives in well-known companies who had to quit their jobs," he says. "Their IBS was significant and it was impairing them from performing at the level they needed to perform."
Still, Mercer points out that Guti is to be commended for outing himself as a IBS sufferer, even though he will now likely be taking shit (figuratively, of course) from fans and teammates.
"He has come out the closet," Mercer says. "It's one of those things where most people don't like to talk about it, especially people in the spotlight. I'm sure he'll get flack from fans who say suck it up, get out there and play, it's just a little diarrhea, deal with it."
Gutierrez, however, is keeping some pretty quality celebrity company. Other prominent IBS sufferers include Tyra Banks, Jenny McCarthy, and Kirsten Dunst. As for baseball players, perhaps Guti ought to call Royals legend George Brett and ask for advice on how to handle this particular situation.