Posted by Jennie David on July 02, 2013
Picture this: you’re waiting for class to begin, or an elevator to open, or for a cashier to call you to the counter. Sound familiar? Welcome to my life. With a fair amount of time spent waiting, I often (along with the vast majority of my contemporaries) pull out my smart phone and start sifting through text messages and checking (and re-checking) my email. It kills a few minutes, and before you know it, class is starting or the elevator comes or the cashier calls out, “Next in line!”
Three summers ago after I returned home energized from my freshman year of college, I began a summer job as a babysitter to three one-year-olds. I love kids and these little ones – a pair of identical twin boys and a little girl – were as precious as they come (besides nap time when the boys would cry until their faces were red). I so enjoyed watching them discover the world and interact with myself and each other. I had just started a new biologic medicine before leaving school for summer break – it was going to be ‘the one’ (sadly, ‘the one’ in the chronic illness world rarely refers to a significant other, but instead the lofty potential of a medication to bring on the sought-after remission).
Spoiler alert: it was not ‘the one’ and one evening I found myself at the mouth of a toilet throwing up. I banged on the ceramic tile floor of the upstairs bathroom to get my parents’ attention downstairs in the kitchen, and after they ran up the stairs to see what the matter was, they found me in tears pleading to them that something just wasn’t right. A scope and lots of sedation later, the answer: severe inflammation throughout my colon. There’s a lot of ways to say it, but it came down to one thing – farewell colon.
There was a park a little ways away from the kids’ house and we would often walk there to play (note: a triple stroller with three kids is super heavy!). I recall walking home from the park one day and needing to go to the bathroom, immediately. I considered going to a random house and demanding to use the bathroom but decided against it. I made it back to the kids’ house and soon found myself housebound there with my three charges, herding them in the bathroom so I could watch them every time I needed to go (which was quite often). Between bathroom breaks I can remember standing in the kitchen with an Oreo on my tongue, trying to find the energy to play with the kids.
The question soon became how did I get so sick so quickly? The answer was complicated – first and foremost, I had never really been well. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I had become so accustomed to feeling ill and dealing with symptoms that the feelings of wellness, health, and energy were merely distant memories. I could talk about them, but could not really physiologically remember what it was like to be well. Going to the bathroom existed solely as a horrifying painful experience, but it was my daily reality. And somewhere along the way, my disease had made the transition from uncomfortable and unpleasant to unbearable and unrealistic.
Having Crohn’s isn’t my fault – but it is my responsibility to do my best to take care of myself. After some initial denial, I was a conscientious patient who asked a lot of questions and adhered to my medications and spoke honestly with my doctors. But I said farewell to my colon anyway. What had I done wrong? How could I have better predicted the steep descent of the flare that eventually took my colon? Another spoiler alert: it all ended up just fine, as I was able to squeeze in my ostomy surgery a month before my sophomore year; I returned to college that semester and I love my bag. But the whole experience made me think, there must be a better way to track my symptoms so that I can catch myself when I’m starting to slip down the mountain; so I can alert my doctors and put up the CAUTION signs and figure out a strategy to rescue me from a debilitating flare. You know, even without a colon, I still get flares.
Now picture this: you’re waiting for class, the elevator, or the cashier. You reach for your phone, but instead of texting a friend, or checking the weather, what if you took two minutes to track your symptoms? Well, luckily for us, there’s no ‘what if’ because it is real. It being Ginger.io, a smart phone app and ICN innovation that does a few super cool things. In honor of Ginger.io, I’ve made a list.
Ginger.io is Super-Cool Because…
1) It looks cool – it’s a sleek app that’s easy to use (in research geek-speak: it has a great deal of clinical utility because it’s feasible for participants to navigate).
2) It sends you push notifications when the surveys (which take an average of 2 minutes) are ready to complete, so you’ll never miss a beat.
3) It leverages your smartphone’s location services with the idea that when you’re feeling well, you’re moving all over, and when you’re feeling icky, you’re staying in bed with some Netflix (okay, so maybe the latter is just me….). The app literally tells you how much you travel so you can have a clue as to whether or not your ‘moving and grooving’ habits have changed (but don’t worry, it doesn’t creepily stalk you!).
4) Daily surveys capture the details of whether your pain is getting worse or better, whether you’re going to the bathroom more or less – in other words, it helps you become more conscious of your disease and any changes in your symptoms (i.e., giving you and your medical team the power to stop a flare in its tracks).
5) You get your info – you have a chance to receive a monthly graphic report of your answers to bring to your next doctor’s appointment.
6) It pays! A little moula never hurt anyone! Since you’re helping with research, there’s a financial incentive for every survey completed – and no, it’s not monopoly money!
Would my disease and surgical history have been any different if Ginger.io had been around 3 years ago? Maybe. But my point isn’t about rewriting my history; it’s about my ability to get engaged by tracking my symptoms and about being involved in health care innovation research in a way that is directly beneficial to me (and hopefully many others who live with chronic illness every day). In a busy world, Ginger.io is an efficient use of my time. I don’t mind spending a few spare minutes here and there to catch up on my health and assess how I’m doing.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, sign up for Ginger.io. Take a few minutes to dedicate to your health on a daily basis (and hey, it will come in handy when you’re bored and staring at your phone), it’s an app-solutely great idea!