ImproveCareNow Pac


Laugh & a Half

It seemed like a good idea the way that all things seem like a good idea at first. I told my Mom, and this was her exact reaction, “What? You’re going to run a half-marathon?” My Mom laughing at me should have been - for a normal person - a road-sign to turn around, to rethink the plan. But no, instead I smiled and said, “Yes!”

 

But this story doesn’t really begin with me. It begins with an email. I met my very dear friend Taylor through The Gutsy Generation blog. Without fail, we would text or email daily - but we had never met in person. We were enthusiastic to meet in person (I know, it sounds like a cheesy romantic comedy, but stay with me), but it seem idealistic and near impossible between our school schedules and the geographical distance. But - if there’s a take-away message to this blog post - never, under any circumstance, underestimate two gutsy girls.

 

And so, one day in June, Taylor and I decided to run the Niagara Falls International Half-Marathon. Crazy? Yes. Gutsy? Certainly. We were both runners already and it was a fantastic excuse to meet in person. The preparation got underway with the creation of a ‘GUTSY MARATHON MIX’ (yes, in all caps!) and the continual sharing of songs to be vetted for the playlist. I booked my flights - it was all happening for real.

 

I’m not an especially athletic individual, but in the last few months since my surgery in January, I’ve hiked Machu Picchu and completed a sprint triathlon, so it only seemed right to continue on in my crazed athletic quest. I had told several people about the race, including my roommates who made the most adorable signs for me around our apartment. Jennie's SignEarly Thursday morning, I boarded a plane and met my very good friend in the flesh. And it was as if we’d always known one another. We continued to find little things that fueled our theory that we’re the same person (e.g. we use the same toothpaste, go to schools with the same initials, etc) - we might have become friends because of our IBD, but we remained friends because of who we are as people.

 

The half-marathon was not for IBD awareness, but that didn’t deter us. We made shirts that had our last names on the back, our year of diagnosis, and then ‘Colonless 1’ and ‘Colonless 2’ on the sleeves. In a word, we were psyched. Morning found us quite early on Sunday, and we gathered in the kitchen, making our marathon breakfast, grinning sheepishly at each other and trying to imagine completing the 21 km course.

 

The day was perfect - perfect weather, perfect scenery, perfect. The course followed the water and with the changing leaves, it was a beautiful (albeit very long) Sunday run. People were cheering, holding water on the side of the course, there was even a little boy with his hand out for high-fives (of course I stopped and had to restrain myself from asking his parents to take a picture with me). It was just me and my iPod and the bounce of my braid against my back as I ran. Just open road and sunshine and a very big, but attainable, challenge ahead of me. I began the race to “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, my ostomy anthem, and was ecstatic to be able to listen to my gutsy marathon mix during the race. There were moments when it was hard and my feet were sore, moments when I tried to drink the water while running and instead doused myself in it, and moments when the sound of the crowds cheering and the cow-bells ringing could only make me feel so happy to be where I was.

 

I felt this exact way in Peru and during the sprint triathlon - you look forward to the finish line so much because there’s a sense of accomplishment and awe, but those last few feet when you can see it, you want to turn around and do it all again. I sprinted the last 100 meters or so, crossed the finish line, which was amazingly at Niagara Falls, and was given a pro-style aluminum-like cape and a medal. I. Had. Done. It.

 

Jennie at the Finish LineNow to get all philosophical on you: In life, and especially life with IBD, there are no guarantees. There are ups and downs, times when you feel awesome and times when you’d prefer to pull the covers over your head and pretend the world wasn’t waiting. Taylor and I had a mantra the entire weekend leading up to the race, “Hell or high water”. We were both sick or injured in some degree, but were determined and completely obstinate - we were running the race and nothing could stop us.

 

Hell or high water, people. Hell or high water.

 

Jennie


What We Wish Our Parents Knew

Mother and Daughter not talkingAt ImproveCareNow’s Fall Learning Session, the Patient Scholars and parents had a special breakout session together. At the parents’ request, Jennie and I have co-authored a list of What We Wish Our Parents Knew navigating IBD through our teenage years:

1) Take a deep breath: Living with IBD as a teenager isn’t easy, but it doesn’t need to be figured out all in one day. There are going to be days that go according to plan, and those that really don’t - sometimes just getting through the day is the goal.

2) I’m moody; get used to it: Regardless of my IBD, I’m still a teenager, and I’m going to be moody sometimes (or okay, a lot of the time). It doesn’t mean I don’t love you, it doesn’t mean I don’t need you; it just means I’m growing up.

3) Let me cool off: Between the stresses of growing up and dealing with my disease, there will be times I just want to be by myself. Let me take some time to calm myself down. I will come to you when I want to talk.

4) I’ll know when I’m ready: The second best decision I made after my diagnosis was to join a teenage support community. The first best decision was to wait until I was ready to make the most of it.

5) Forgetting is not failing: If I forget my pills a few times or make some choices I’ll regret on the toilet tomorrow, don’t assume you need to charge in and take control. I know it’s hard for you to watch, but you’ll make more of a difference if you ask me how you can help me do better instead.

6) One of these kids is not like the others: Especially when I’m sick, try to go easy on and make time for my brothers and sisters, even if it means taking time away from me. Remember that we all don’t know how it feels to be each other.

7) Caring isn’t always sharing: I know you don’t like when I don’t tell you about the blood or mucus or pain until it’s been happening for a few days – but until there’s something we can do about it, I’ve always felt it’s better for just one of us to be scared. Trust me to know when I need to come to you and when I don't.

8) It’s my body, and I’ll decide if I want to: I am going to be moving to adult care soon, and it’s important that I’m prepared to be my own medical advocate. Help involve me in my care, encourage me to call my nurse and refill prescriptions, listen carefully to my concerns and ideas, and help me make decisions with you and my medical team.

9) There’s nothing like a good IBDer: My IBD friends will just ‘get’ it, and it’s really important to have that social support - it helps me feel normal and social.

10) Hello, my name is IBD: If I ask you not to mention my disease in a public situation, it doesn’t mean I’m embarrassed. It may just mean I’d like to introduce myself before I introduce my disease.

11) At least it’s not ..... : Some of my friends with IBD or other chronic illnesses will be healthier or sicker than myself, but please don’t make comparisons. I know my worst may be someone else’s best, but that does not mean I don’t have a right to mourn my losses.

12) What hurts the most: When you say you’d take my colon from me and give me your healthy one if you could, I know it’s because you love me and hurt seeing me in pain, but I could never dump this on you. Some days, I wish you could see my perspective, but the thought of you feeling my pain makes me hurt more than anything.

13) Home is where your guts are: I don’t want to be defined by my disease, and part of that is going to school/work where I want. It’s possible to leave home and travel for school. With the right accommodations, I can do anything. I know my body and myself, and I can decide what I can handle.

14) Forever isn’t tomorrow: Sometimes, it’s okay to live in the moment, and make decisions for the next week or next month or next semester, without worrying about where we’ll end up. This is a forever disease, but we don’t have to make decisions for forever today.

15) A bumpier ride makes for a better story: Life is not going to be easy as pie living with IBD. Every year will be something different, but if we hold on and stick together, we’ll emerge one way or another.


Gutsy Friends + Geeking Out + Taylor Swift = A Great Weekend

I was standing in a dimly lit ballroom, full of researchers in their weekend clothes, eating celery when I saw her coming towards me. Her being my friend and fellow PACer Sami, a backpack on and a big bag over one shoulder, a wide grin breaking on her face. We ran at each like you see in those slow-motion movie scenes, met each other in a big hug, then, smiling at one another, introduced ourselves in person for the first time. This is the funny thing about gutsy people meeting - we know each other in a way that others don’t, even though we’d never met face to face. And just like that, it was a gutsy friendship at first sight.

 

We were abuzz with excitement in the nerdiest way - surrounded by researchers and GIs - we couldn’t keep from smiling at the scene. The ImproveCareNow Learning Session was completely novel to me in how Sami and I, as the two C3N Project patient scholars, were included in a conference designed for researchers. It was sort of like looking over the fence into someone else’s backyard, and all of the researchers were more than welcoming and excited to have us there. In case it is not abundantly clear by the end of this post, I am a huge researcher groupie - like huge, I was geeking out the whole time - and was so thrilled to be a part of the Learning Session.

 

Sami and I begrudgingly discovered that we had been given individual rooms - a thought which would likely please someone else but not us - so we decided to remedy the situation and move her things into my room (because it would have been a tragedy to have lost bonding time!). The first night we stayed up way past our bedtimes sharing stories and showing off the things we had brought to put on our storyboards. Finally by 1:30 AM, we conceded that it was probably time to go to sleep since we had to rouse ourselves at 6 AM, so we climbed under the covers and said good-night.

 

Saturday was filled with so many incredible things that it’s hard to recount them all, for any words I pick cannot accurately describe my enthusiasm or the entire experience. Having been given access to the Twitter account so we could send real-time updates, I became (even more of a) Twitter addict, tweeting everything from that first breakfast (Chicago was so ready for me with all of the bananas!) to quotes during the opening remarks. As someone who has IBD, it was really humbling and phenomenal to see all of these dedicated researchers and doctors working to improve care in pediatric IBD. I have found myself over the years struggling to establish medical legitimacy for my disease, and yet amongst this group, everyone understood, encouraged, and believed in youth with IBD - it was unbelievable.

 

We got to attend a session with parents and it is something I will never forget. Their faces were bright with enthusiasm, their children so young and hopeful, but their futures unsure. There was relief in their faces when they saw me and the other patients - knowing that their own kids with IBD would be okay and happy and smiling and at school and living life. I had never thought of my parents in that way before - the uncertainty, the fear, the love for their children - and I was incredibly touched by their compassion and insight into what it is like when your child has IBD.

 

The patients and parents had set up storyboards on the periphery of the conference room, and I would peruse them with Sami at my side, the two of us falling in love with all of the children. There is something odd and unnameable about looking at a child and knowing some of the IBD challenges in his or her future - those nights when there’s nothing to do but cry, days in the hospital falling asleep to daytime television, and times when the very thought of leaving the house seems impossible. But I know too that there will be moments - bigger and greater than the moments of pain - where the world will open right up for these kids and they’ll be unstoppable. I wish I had met them in person - but that can be my next trip to meet my little IBD crushes.

 

For the last day of the conference, Sami and I had been asked to choose our ‘IBD theme song’. On Saturday night, Sami and I laid on our bed, exchanging song options until we had found the perfect ones. The big reveal of our IBD-theme-song-extravaganza had been saved for the very last part of the conference, and we handed over the songs on a USB stick.  But when it came time to announce the songs, instead they called Sami and I to the podium. We got up and began to laugh nervously as we threaded our way through the sea of chairs and tables. Sami went first and played ‘The Fighter’ by Gym Class Heroes and we began to dance at the front of the room. Upon introducing my song, I explained that it was an ode to my colon - and ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ by Taylor Swift began to play. The researchers laughed and clapped as Sami and I began to dance again and we were laughing with them.

 

ImproveCareNow Patient Advisory CouncilIt was the conference I’d be looking forward to for so long, enjoyed so much, and was over way too soon. Before I could blink, I was sitting on a plane bound for Boston. All of my roommates were out when I came home.  I unpacked and called my parents, telling them all about the trip and the countless amazing things that had happened. The next day, I went to the gym and just before I put my headphones in, a certain song came over the loudspeaker and I couldn’t help but grin. ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ was on and I briefly considered taking out my ostomy and dancing, but felt that the joke would be lost on my college peers. I put my headphones in, the smile stuck on my face, thinking of my weekend and the great things to come for all pediatric IBDers.

 

Jennie


Great Points

I'll start by saying writing this post has caused me internal agony - and I'm not talking about the gutsy variety, but more like the heart-wrenching writers' block variety. Why? I've been asking myself that from the time I first sat down to write this in the airport nearly two weeks ago. I think it's because I still can't comprehend that the Learning Session (henceforth known as ICNLS) is over.

 

As the inaugural Patient Scholars, Jennie and I traveled to Chicago the weekend of October 5 - 7 to work, learn, and represent the PAC, ImproveCareNow's Patient Advisory Council, at ICNLS. The "pack" is a group of motivated high school and college students with IBD, dedicated to paying our experiences forward to benefit ImproveCareNow's interventions and the next generation of pediatric IBD patients.

 

ICNLS is a semi-annual opportunity for clinicians and researchers representing ICN care centers around the country and London to come together to share and inspire each other. This Learning Session integrated Jennie and myself as PAC representatives to learn from the team presentations, participate in PAC leadership brainstorming sessions, and interact with the care teams. As the commencement ceremony of our initiatives as Patient Scholars, we hardly had a moment to reflect on our incredible circumstances. Yet, despite the restless nights spent in awe of our company, I couldn't have asked for a more energizing weekend in IBD wonderland.

 

Exhilarating. Fast-paced. Wonderful. Inspiring. Incredible. Over. When Jennie and I danced to "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," a song Taylor Swift wrote especially for Jennie's dear and departed colon, we didn't yet realize the words would later hurt. For the record, I don't expect to never ever see you again, but even six months can feel like forever when you know what's out there. A group of strangers never felt more like home. Thank you.


The theme of the Learning Session was Transitions, in hindsight even more appropriate than I initially realized because the Learning Session itself was a notable transition for me. A Great Point.

 

The first Great Point in my IBD career was The Diagnosis. My first night in the hospital I spent in room 310. Vulnerable. Alone. Guilty. Feelings I should have never felt, but I did. Vaguely hopeful. For what? I didn't know then. Remission? I didn't realize I could or expected to engage in a deeper goal. I thought Moving On meant fighting IBD until I felt as if the whole dirty mess had been a crazy dream. I wasn't a sick kid, not in my stubborn mind. There have been other significant moments in my journey since then (scopes, Camp Oasis, the first enema, the Prednisone Disaster of 2009, learning that perms do not in fact make steroid face look any better), but none as life-changing as The Diagnosis or worth the title of Great Point.

 

Until now.

 

I wish I could've known I'd spend two incredible days in a much nicer room 305, only five digits and (less than) five years off. I wish I could've heard the sound of Jennie and I laughing on the twelfth floor of our grand hotel in Chicago, sharing stories about flying with Miralax and ostomates climbing literal mountains. I wish I could've felt the rush of our breakout sessions, planning our initiatives for the coming months, feeling the most beautiful kind of butterflies in my stomach rather than stabbing pain. I wish I could have seen Molly, Diane, and Sydney holding up a beautifully ridiculous little sign in the airport and us laughing as we walked to the hotel - the beginning of the next Great Point. I would have smiled more. I would have reached out more. I would have felt okay more. Perhaps I would have known too much. Perhaps I needed the struggle to know why I'm working for change.

 

ICNLS is over, but this is just the beginning of a new Moving On. A more beautiful and hopeful Moving On.

 

Are you ready? We are.


Superman Syndrome

When the moment comes to explain to someone what IBD is, there is a second where I'm mentally debating between the 'real' answer and the 'nice' answer. The 'real' answer outlines, well, reality and what was happened to me, being gutted and all. The 'nice' answer is the 'Oh, it's not really a big deal, my bowels can be fussy sometimes'. Oh lies.

 

But how do you explain to someone the troublesome storm beating around in your abdomen when you look fine without causing them to tailspin into a reaction of pity?

 

And so when I was thinking about this the other day, it hit me - I'm like Superman. (Clarification: I wish I were, wouldn't that be nice!) We're all like the super-hero who is an ordinary kid, typically on a smaller side (think Tobey Maguire in Spiderman), and it's only in the darkness or night when we become our true selves. Not the become-the-massive-green-hulk, but the idea is that we look normal, we are (mostly) normal, but there is something different about us. What I love about my metaphor is that unlike other things I've heard, this is a positive way to describe us. We have super-hero courage and strength and passion about awareness and advocacy, so how are we not super-heroes?

 

In high school, I was the girl who was sick. The girl with the NG who was once asked if I snorted an iPod shuffle (which, to this day, I am not sure how that's anatomically plausible anyway), the girl who would vanish for long periods of time (aka in the hospital) and suddenly reappear (see, super-hero!), the girl who made it a habit to take ambulance rides from school to the local ER. When I came to college, I tried very hard to just be me - the person who is in love with Patrick Dempsey, likes to run, works in a preschool, and wants to get a PhD in Psychology. I am all of those things and the 'super-hero' part is my Crohn's and my ostomy, things underneath my clothes and inside of me that don't make me who I am but contribute to what my body is. You should never feel like you owe someone a confession of your diagnosis - because you're not your IBD, you're Sarah or Kate or Joey or Marcus.

 

And you're a super-hero.

 

Jennie


To Listen

I am perhaps the proudest a sophomore could be of her undergraduate institution, and every year, I have the incredible opportunity to share my passion for Hendrix through a little event called Phone-A-Thon.

 

Yes, I see you cringing. I apologize if an overly enthusiastic student such as myself has called you just as you’ve sat down to dinner to tell you my story and ask for your support. I promise, some conversations feel as awkward for us as for you.

 

Sometimes, though, there’s that conversation that flourishes - that reminds me not only why I love interacting with alumni, but why I’m passionate about sharing my passions with strangers at all. The conversation where someone just “gets it.”

 

Tonight, an elderly alumni struck up a conversation with me about my minor, Medical Humanities, which explores the human aspects of medicine. I soon found myself sharing with him my role on ImproveCareNow’s Patient Advisory Council and my IBD advocacy efforts. I never expect anyone to have heard of IBD or, if so, to appreciate my passion - but here was someone who just “got it:” he has several friends with the disease.

 

This, on the same day that we talked about Miralax in Organic Chemistry class, and a girl on my campus approached me to let me know my Huffington Post article really inspired her family because her little brother has Ulcerative Colitis? Today has been a laundry list of unexpected happenstance. (Did you know that the main chemical compound in Miralax can not only relieve my constipation, but also contribute to a Suzuki coupling reaction? Neither did I! Found that out while drinking my daily Miralax-Gatorade breakfast oddly enough.)

 

Back to the story, we struck up a conversation about the significance of strong communication skills in medicine. He shared with me the story of a doctor of his who takes the time to sit down and ask him a simple question at the start of each appointment: “How’s life?” Not in a friendly-opening sort of way, but in a genuine I-am-truly-curious sort of way. Five extra minutes of this doctor’s time, he shared, give him that extra push to stick to his treatment regimen. Five minutes every three months remind him that his doctor truly cares about him, which in turn, makes him truly care about his treatment. In turn, I shared the story of a resident who treated me during my initial hospital stay and shared her experiences living with Crohn’s with me. She is the single most important factor that determined my attitude from that day forward. She took the time to return to my room after rounds and really listen to my feelings about my diagnosis. Fifteen minutes of her time changed my life as much as my diagnosis.

 

Five, ten, or fifteen minutes of just listening can profoundly change patient outcomes. It’s incredible, but I believe it’s true.

 

ImproveCareNow believes it too - creating innovations and changing the system to give every patient a voice and the chance to feel heard - and conversations like the one tonight remind me just how proud I feel to be a part of an organization dedicated to giving voices to young IBD patients and their families all around the country and England.

 

In the words of a wise old stranger, “It’s not just medicine that will cure people. It’s doctors who will listen, believe, and give hope.”


 

 

 


You're Making Me Crazy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, I can remember it like it was yesterday.

 

I was at the hospital - again. Missing school - again. In pain - again. And had just been told I was fine - again. And somewhere in between beginning to cry and trying to re-explain what was going on, the thought occurred to me, am I crazy?

 

They call it the ‘med student syndrome’, but let me tell you, this is particularly contagious in the world of Psychology as well. In fact, a good friend of mine is convinced she has every disorder the professor lectures about until I talk her down from her multiple psychopathologic diagnoses. But I was beginning to feel the same way - I knew I was sick, I knew something was terribly wrong, but the doctors didn’t and they were content with sending me home. So again, I asked myself, am I totally off-the-wall-in-need-of-serious-medication crazy?

 

If living with IBD were a job, that might be one thing. If I could spend all of my time and energy and resources on feeling well and resting and recovering, hey, it might just work. But then there’s that thing called life - with classes and homework and friends and responsibilities and jobs and you name it. Most of my friends living with IBD have their plates piled insanely high with activities, and their reason is that there isn’t a moment to lose. But there’s something to be said for deep breathing and going to bed early and sleeping in. Because when you’re running neck and neck with the road runner and your bowels are misbehaving, it can take of all your energy to get through a minute without thinking about your dysfunctional immune system.

 

How does one ‘keep on keeping on’? Short answer: I have no sweet clue. But this is what I do know about the exhaustive mental fatigue that belabors any IBD patient: sometimes, you need to check out and put your head down and call it a day. Don’t throw in the towel, just turn out the lights and try again tomorrow. At the end of the day, you’re the only person living in your body and you do know what’s going on, medical degree or not. Call a friend, laugh at a joke, eat a really good piece of cake. Do whatever it is that makes you feel like yourself and gives you the strength and courage to get back up.

 

And remember, you’re not crazy. You’re gutsy.

 

Jennie


 

 

 


Adulthood

On the day before my 21st birthday, my Mom informed me that I was now an adult and that I didn’t have to listen to my parents anymore (folks, you heard it here first!). I laughed at this, and inside I thought, can I really be turning 21? How is that even humanly possible?

 

As part of my summer research job, I was headed out of town on my birthday for a project. Everyone at work was apologetic about the untimely trip, my parents disappointed that they wouldn’t get to spend the day with me. I was unperturbed - completely happy and willing to travel for work on my birthday. And here is why:

 

I spent my 16th, 17th, and 19th birthdays in the hospital. I couldn’t eat the birthday cake, and all I wanted to do was stay wrapped in my covers and continue to watch McDreamy save lives on Grey’s Anatomy. My 19th birthday was particularly memorable. I was just under two weeks away from my ileostomy surgery, which I was so excited for I probably qualified for some diagnosable mental condition. The GI finally convinced me to try some pain medication, after I had refused it for some time (note: not because I was stoic, because I’d never had it for IBD before and thought it would be as effective as Tylenol for a massive head injury). And once I had the pain medication, life was awesome (pain control, where had you been all my life???). I was still in pain, but all of a sudden I didn’t care so much and my eyes just went a little blurry and I was instantly more comfortable. Everyone I had possibly ever known (and maybe even some people I didn’t know) came to say happy birthday and give gifts. I promise (sarcasm implied) if you want gifts for 6 months, have your birthday in the hospital and then get an organ removed. An appendix will do, no need to go for the colon. So if you can imagine me, sitting on my bed, happy as a clam and slightly (or okay, mostly) out of it, with gifts piled around me and people everywhere - then in walk people with guitars and they start singing happy birthday. I asked my parents about this, I swear I didn’t hallucinate it. As crazy and silly as that memory seems in hindsight, the very idea that two years later I could be pain-free and working on my birthday flabbergasts me. I was too sick to work, too sick to travel, too sick to enjoy my birthday.

 

So cue my 21st birthday: I was serenaded with happy birthday at work (being sung to by the chief cardiac surgeon was hilarious), piled in a car with my co-workers, had dinner, went for a run, watched the Olympics, and went to bed. A normal day. An ordinary day. But those of us with IBD know that normal is extraordinary, and days like that don’t come as easily or frequently as we’d like. As I was running, I took this photo and couldn’t help but smile at where I’ve been, and more importantly, where I’m going.

 

I know my future with IBD still exists, there are still uphill battles to lose and conquer, scars to earn and strength to be lent to me by those I love. But today, I am 21 and things are bright and shiny.

 

Fingers crossed, eyes wide open - adulthood, here I come.

 

Jennie


Miralaughs

My college roomie does not have Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Yet, I’m convinced that if anyone stole my phone and read our daily text message exchanges, they would wholeheartedly believe that we both have a strange obsession with poop. We talk about poop a lot. More specifically, we make poop jokes a lot. Usually inappropriate poop jokes that I wouldn’t even repeat here. That’s not too much of a tragedy for you, since like most inside jokes between friends, you probably wouldn’t find them funny. Really, our sense of poop-humor is akin to the average six year old’s, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s an incredible feeling to receive support from a friend without IBD. It’s even more incredible to laugh about poop with that friend. That’s the sign of a true ally, and it’s rare to find those outside of the IBD community. To get back to the recurring theme here, I’m crazy lucky.

 

Anyway, I started using the stool softener Miralax today to help with some IBD-related constipation. I texted from the parking lot outside the CVS: “Some have a closet full of beer at college. We’ll have a closet full of Miralax.”

 

A year ago, I sat at home crying and desperately searching the Internet for advice as I packed for my freshman year of college. I had a flare that wouldn’t let up and would need to use nightly enemas in my dorm room. I was convinced my roommate would think me a freak. What eighteen year old admits to using an enema? Who even uses an enema every night? For someone who claimed to be okay with her IBD, I really let my fear of rejection kick my rationality out the window. I practiced holding in an enema while sprinting from my bathroom to my bed. I bought a huge box to hide the prescription boxes. If I had known that over a year later, I’d still be using enemas nightly, I would have absolutely freaked.

 

Then, I got to college. I met my incredible friends. I realized I had blown the whole situation way out of proportion over the summer. When I first confided to my best friend that I use enemas, she barely blinked an eyelash. I was shocked. After all that panic, it turned out to be not a huge deal at all. A few weeks later, we watched “Dracula: Dead and Loving It” - which is a terribly funny movie I totally recommend that also happens to poke lots of fun at enemas (as a supposed cure for vampirism) - and I can guarantee that movie would not have been nearly as funny for us if I hadn’t (quite literally) let my enemas out of the box.

 

A year ago, I couldn’t have sent that text from outside CVS. I would have been terrified to bring packets of Miralax into my college dining hall. This year, I’m not even phased. I know it won’t be a big deal to her or any of my friends. In fact, I know there’s a greater chance of someone at the table making a joke over the white powder than anyone giving me a funny look for it. It’s just the way it is. My friends know me, know I have IBD, and know that it’s a serious disease that I’m okay with taking lightly sometimes. I am in a wonderful place that I wish was available to every IBD patient.

 

UC and Crohn’s are serious diseases. Chronic illness sucks and shouldn’t be taken lightly. That said, I think humor can make a world of difference in how a patient copes with their disease. I know I find it liberating to have a go at the disease that makes me go. I think nocolon33’s hilarious Alcatraz bathroom series is a great example of this. Humor is just another way I fight back against my disease. It may have my colon, but it’s got nothing on my spirit.


Disney and Doctors

This summer’s family vacation was a trip to Disney World!! I had an awesome time. I watched my sister ride Mount Everest roller-coaster seven times.  I got to ride some rides myself;  my favorite was the new Star Wars ride.  The rides are good but the thing that stuck in my mind the most about the trip was an experience I had during one of the meals.

 

My parents bought a meal plan for us while we were there and this allowed us to enter into the Disney “system” that I had some food concerns.  This was cool because it meant the chef came out to our table for every sit-down meal we had, to talk to me about what foods I could eat. There was one particular chef at an Italian restaurant that we ate at on the last day that I really liked. All of the chefs before him, at other restaurants, were great and very pleasant, but they all seemed preoccupied with the food that they had left in the kitchen. This one chef was different – when he came to our table he took out a pad of paper and wrote down what my dietary needs were as we talked to him. Maybe it was his manner, or his attention to detail, but somehow he made me feel like I was his one and only concern at the time.

 

This experience confirmed in my mind something I learned from my experiences at Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati; it is the little things that matter; it is the little things that make or break a patient’s experience.

 

Last summer, at the same time as our family vacation this summer, I was in the hospital getting ready for resection surgery. One of the little things that I remember the most from that “vacation” was meeting the surgeon for the first time. My surgeon had a New York Yankees lanyard with his ID on it. I instantly could relate with him because I had something outside of my medical care that I could talk to him about – not that I am a Yankees fan; I am a Toronto Blue Jays fan so that made the conversations even more interesting. It is that personal touch, that relating to the person that was caring for me, that made a difference.

 

In a similar experience last year, I have a friend who on his first appointment when he met his new doctor, talked to that new doctor about Harry Potter for half of his appointment.  The  doctor was wearing a Gryffindor lanyard. I know another lanyard story; I am convinced lanyards are magical! The magic is in the conversation they bring.

 

It is the little things that count.  From food to lanyards or chefs to doctors ...  it is these little things that patients remember and make all the difference in the world to the overall experience.  Whether you are going through the trauma of a hospital stay or the trauma of an IBD patient trying to eat out, it is these simple things that make the patient see the caregiver as a person; someone that cares about you and even a little less scary.


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