ImproveCareNow Patients


Here We Go

As I was driving from Nova Scotia to Boston for school, I tried to think of the first day of classes my junior year. I was struggling trying to remember, and then it came to me: I didn’t go to the first day of classes because my body decided the ER was a better place to be. Nothing like starting off the year on the wrong foot.

 

I can summarize the fall semester of my junior year in one word: awful. I had the classes I wanted to take, everything moved in and meticulously set up in my room, a growing contingent of friends to explore the city with. But luckily for me (irony never gets old), I was entrenched in constant mechanical ileum bowel obstructions and ended up spending 2/3rds of the semester slightly (or okay mostly) drugged and trying desperately to figure out how to get better. And as I write this and think back to that time, it makes my stomach sore and also makes me want to have someone playing a violin in the corner as I recount my sob story. But instead I’ll just say this - that was a semester to survive, not one to enjoy.

 

For a long time I thought that every new school year had an obligation to set loose a varying kind of havoc on my body. Every year was something a little different, a little more challenging, a little more tiring. And before this post turns into a sappy, soap-opera worthy story-line, let me say this: this year is going to be different.

 

I’m (mostly) fixed, having discovered the etiology of my mechanical bowel obstructions (who knew yoga could be so dangerous!) and am absolutely elated to say that I haven’t had an obstruction since December (minus my obstruction in April, but hey I ate about 7 apples so that was my fault). It makes a world of difference having my body back and being able to do what I want. As my boss this summer said, ‘planning is important, plans are useless’ - aka nothing goes according to plan, but learning to swing with the punches and expect issues is the trick. I’m not naive enough to think I’ll be completely honky-dorey the entire semester, or that things won’t be bumpy, but I’m ready for what’s to come.

 

Here’s to the new school year. Here’s to new challenges. Here’s to resiliency, perseverance, and courage. Here’s to making new friends. Here’s to learning. Here’s to hoping the most stressful event of the semester will be an exam. Here’s to my senior year. Here’s to getting back up when you fall. Here’s to scars that remind me where I’ve been. Here’s to health and happiness and hope.

 

Here we go.

 

Jennie


The Great Zip Line Misadventure of 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hardly consider myself an outdoors girl, but for five days this summer, I volunteered as a summer camp counselor for twelve to thirteen year old girls. We roasted marshmallows, performed in a talent show, and competed in “Camp Olympics.” The campers, aged seven to seventeen, were as enthusiastic, active, loud, and curious as any of their peers at typical summer camp experiences around the country. Yet, Camp Oasis is not your typical summer camp experience. All eighty campers had Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. Although I’ve lived with Ulcerative Colitis since fourteen, I had not experienced Oasis, but I know firsthand the value of camaraderie among young patients and fell in love with friends’ descriptions of Oasis’ impact on young patients. I believe every child should experience camp, but camps that serve chronically ill kids provide them with especially extraordinary experiences. That first bite of a roasted marshmallow tastes just a little bit sweeter to a kid who’s been NPO or on a liquid diet. The kid whose medical chart outshines their personality on a regular basis shines just a little bit brighter on stage. For the kid who has more hospital bracelets than sports trophies, “Camp Olympics” means just a little bit more. We give the campers the reins at camp, and the medical staff stay in the background, and that’s a freedom every young IBD patient should experience. It’s impossible not to look around you at camp and feel crazy lucky, even in spite of the disease that brought us all to a tiny rural town in Missouri.

 

I’d heard from friends at other Oasis camps that the zip line is considered the defining Oasis activity, and since counselors are allowed and encouraged to participate in activities with the campers, this was an activity I was also eager to try, if for no other reason than to say that my first summer at Oasis included that defining zip line moment. I felt like a proud momma watching every camper in my group conquer that wall and the zip line, which made the blow all the stronger when I didn’t. For a few seconds, it bothered me; here, all my twelve-year-old campers had made it up while I had succumbed to the pain. After pepping them up for this the whole week and encouraging them not to give, I had given up. I felt as if I’d let those kids down somehow as a role model, in hindsight a misinterpretation of those words. I didn’t get that defining zip line moment, but the self-pity was short-lived because it was replaced by an ah-ha moment. Through all this reflection over the kids succeeding where I had fallen a bit short, I realized that somewhere during the week, I’d stopped thinking of them as sick. I’m not quite sure how to express the magnitude of this realization. For years, I refused to attend Camp Oasis because I considered it a camp for sick kids - and yet here I was, there in the middle of Missouri at so-called Camp Whiny Sick Kid, and the last words I’d have used to define those kids were whiny or sick. Even the two girls in our and the adjacent bunk who needed to leave for medical reasons were anything but whiny; not to perpetuate the ridiculous stereotype of sick kids as heroes, but those girls were tough. Like I said, I maybe felt sorry for myself not making it up that wall for about three and a half seconds, and then I was over it. My defining camp moment didn’t come on a zip line like I expected; it came on the ground beneath it. Not only had I pushed myself harder than ever before to hang on to a rock wall, but I had finally been able to push past a label I’d stuck to Oasis four years prior. I absolutely expected to look at these kids and see “kid on Prednisone” or “kid who had ostomy surgery,” but instead I saw them as just kids at camp and often forgot why we were all at Oasis at all. I didn't physically land in a harness in the middle of an open field - but mentally, I landed somewhere so much more personally significant.

 

I believe that’s the beauty and power of Oasis. It may be a specialty camp for IBD kids, but it’s so easy to forget why you’re even there. And once you leave, it’s hard to imagine not going back. The lessons I learned in those five days are innumerable, but perhaps the most significant was the reminder of the first piece of advice to come with my diagnosis: IBD, whether mild or severe, should never define a personality. I’m so thankful Camp Oasis is around to help the next generation of IBD kids learn that too - and remind some of us older kids of what we ought to remember.


 

 

 


Toilet Seat Covers--Friend or Foe?

I’ve never been a fan of toilet seat covers. This goes back to my earliest experiences. You know the flap that hangs over the ledge in the front that, I guess, is supposed to protect your equipment from the Petri dish of germs in and around the toilet? I always thought that part went in the BACK instead of the FRONT. Why? Because my experiences with poop consistency (consistency as in “firmness” not “uniformity”) and my poop blowing all over the place, I thought that the flap was an attempt to protect the integrity of the bowl. I was also young, naïve and stupid.

 

I generally do not use toilet seat covers. In the nastiest of Alcatraz Bathrooms, my procedures are as follows. First, I wipe the seat with TP. I’m not shy about TP usage for this purpose—this is not a time to show how “green” you are. I must protect my hands. Then, I do one of two things. Either I use or try to use (more on this in a moment) a toilet seat cover, or (most often) I use TP (folded over two or three times, depending on the level of nastiness), over the seat and hanging over the front of the toilet (like the seat cover flap).

 

When I say I “try” to use a toilet seat cover, well, toilet seat covers and the containers that dispense them are fraught with design flaws. I think that, truly, the crappiest (pun intended) of engineers are assigned to crummy projects such as this. About half the time, the seat cover rips just exiting the mounted dispenser. I used to think that I was pulling them out incorrectly, but I follow the up-down, down-up, in-out, out-in whatever instructions, and the thing STILL rips. And what the heck is up with style that is folded over twice, essentially in quarters? I find these on airplanes mostly, and I guess that the design was driven by space limitations. That thing comes out of the dispenser just fine (usually), but unfolding the thing? I have nothing but scraps in my hands.

 

I cannot tell you the number of crumpled toilet seat covers I have thrown away, flushed or (forgive me) left orphaned on the floor behind an Alcatraz Bathroom toilet.

 

The ONLY good news here is that the most abominable of Alcatraz Bathrooms usually have industrial flush capabilities so that stopping up the toilet with all the extra paper (both unwiped TP and seat covers) is not a common occurrence.

 

I have to say, in cleaner Alcatraz Bathrooms, like at a friend’s house or at work, for example, I don’t usually cover the seat. What kills me, though, is that there is ALWAYS, ALWAYS one stray hair on the seat. Without fail. What to do about stray hairs? Listen, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and sometimes you’re wearing Milk Bone underpants (a nod to modern philosopher Norm Peterson). God help me, sometimes I just sit on them. I’m not proud of this, but we all eat plenty of rodent hairs in our food so a stray hair on the seat can’t hurt. Right?

 

And you kids out there, just to be clear—you can’t get pregnant from sitting on a toilet seat. Tinkerbell—you CAN get pregnant by being alone with a boy for over three minutes. That’s why your dad has to come with you on all future dates.


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.


Alex zips over to The Gutsy Generation

alex8799Awesome LOOP blogger alex8799 recently submitted 'Zip Lines, PICC lines and Tofu: Facing the Challenge' as a guest-post on The Gutsy Generation, an initiative by the CCFC YAC (that's code for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of Canada Youth Advisory Council).

 

Alex had also shared this post with us here at LOOP, but instead of just re-posting it I wanted to take the opportunity to send you over to The Gutsy Generation.  It's a great blog!  The contributors are young people, just like Alex, who live with IBD and have decided to share their stories with the world.  They all definitely get two enthusiastic thumbs up from me!


On Top of the World

[slideshow]Two and a half months ago, I was in a hospital bed weeping. Surgery hadn’t gone as planned and suddenly the horrific semester I had just overcome seemed to loom before me. My heart felt like it had been split open, my dream from the summer of going to Peru seemed torn apart. Life was unfair and overwhelming and painful.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned, if you wait a few minutes, take in a big breath, and remember who you are, things become a little more possible.

So now, as I sit here writing this, I will try my very best to relay the amazement, wonder, joy, and peace of my recent trip to Peru. Warning: there truly are no words, so whichever I find will not do it justice.

First of all, the people were wonderful. There were ten of us including myself and the group was comfortable and hilarious, comforting and encouraging. We sang songs and joked and had serious times when we related stories of pain and discouragement. It was a group of people who had every reason to be bitter and angry and discontent with the world, but somehow there was so much joy.

We were broken in easily to the challenge that was steeped in front of us. After a couple of days of touring around Cusco, wrinkling noses at the cooked guinea pig, and grinning over adorable Peruvian children, we donned our backpacks (which seemed to get heavier everyday!) and took out our trekking poles. I’ve never been to South America before, but the sheer vastness of mountains and the glaciers standing triumphantly in the background, the laziness of the cows grazing in the fields, the rumbling of the river as it fell over itself - all of these sights and sounds I tried to commit to memory so I would never forget. It was, in a word, beautiful.

There are too many details to try to write down, too many things I will not be able to aptly describe. On the third - and hardest - day, we climbed to the peak (4200 m) to ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’. After climbing the ultimate StairMaster (thank you Incans), I climbed to the top of a big rock with a fellow young trekker. We looked down at the stairs, winding in the distance, saw the Incan irrigation chevrons carved into the landscape, and cheered for the trekkers behind us to make it to the top. There aren’t words - it was gorgeous and glorious and empowering and exciting. We sat there and breathed, inhaling and exhaling, unable to find words to articulate how our hearts were singing.

Even with the chilly nights wrapped in sleeping bags and the midnight journey to the bathroom tent with only a headlight, the trek came to an end way, way, way too fast. We reached the Sun Gate and took countless pictures, so proud of one another and the journey we had completed. I looked down at Machu Picchu, the postcard picture I had seen online so many times, and couldn’t mesh the real and surreal elements of the moment. I had made it. I was on the top of the world. And as happy and proud as I was, my heart ached that the trip was nearing an end and I would be leaving the people I had come to care about so dearly.

Besides crying as I left Peru, the most vivid memory I have at the end of the trip was the bus ride from the train back to Cusco. It was dark and everyone was tired and plugged into their iPods or falling asleep. The bus drove along, the lights of the surrounding towns twinkling. I was listening to my music, grinning at the joy of the occasional person who would break out into song or the laughter that would warm the bus. I closed my eyes so tight and promised to remember what it felt like to be there and wished the bus ride would last forever. If I close my eyes now and listen to my heartbeat I can still feel the sway of the bus and the hum of laughter and the peace that blanketed us all.

It was the best experience of my life, though I wish I could say that more eloquently. I am so happy to have been healthy enough to go, but now sad that it is over. But I know that there will be new challenges, new mountains, and new friends.

And when I get nostalgic and wish I was back on the trail, hiking steps and laughing, I’ll look at my pictures and smile, and close my eyes and be back in the bus, happy and whole and healthy.

Jennie


Jennie | Story of Self

jendavid91Years ago, a doctor asked me to draw a pie-chart and shade in how much Crohn’s affected my life. I remember hesitating and then looked up and said it was impossible. There was no way to decide where my life and my Crohn’s didn’t walk hand-in-hand, they were as intertwined as written words on paper. Alone it might just be blank pages and a pen, but together they make a story.

 

I had just turned 12 when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. This is what I remember most about that time: being scared, confused, alone, angry, lost, lonely, and feeling robbed. I didn’t know what Crohn’s was before my diagnosis and thought that it meant taking a pill and not eating broccoli. I did not want to be sick, in fact I refused it, and wished that I could rewind the past few months and never be diagnosed.

 

But a lot can happen in 9 years, and indeed a lot has happened. I tried every medication to little avail, spent copious amounts of time in the hospital away from school and friends, dealt with people’s ignorance about bowel disease, and acquired a medical vocabulary. I’ve lost count of the PICC scars on my arms and the medications I took. I have boxes of medical ID bracelets and needle caps and finger puppets (the reward for a blood-draw at my pediatric hospital). And even though it’s an enviable collection, what I am most proud of is being involved in awareness and advocacy through Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada (CCFC) and our Youth Advisory Council (YAC) here.

 

When I was applying to college, people who didn’t know me well would timidly warn me, “Oh you should stay at home for school. You’re sick”. I absolutely hate being told what I cannot do, because no one else can tell me what I’m incapable of. I left Nova Scotia for Boston University, where I’ll be a senior in the fall. I’m studying Psychology and plan to apply for a clinical PhD in pediatric health psychology in the winter. It’s a mouthful, but I want to be a pediatric psychologist for chronically ill children.

 

After my freshman year at BU, I became extremely sick during the summer. I had spent so long feeling unwell that it seemed ordinary to me. My GI scoped me and saw the inflammation in my colon was severe and the bowel had begun to die. I was so relieved to hear the news because it meant that something drastic would finally be done. I chose to have a proctocolectomy (aka everything after the small intestine is gone) and a permanent ileostomy. I love my bag so very much, it was the right choice for me and my disease, and wouldn’t trade it for the world’s best working colon.

 

I think that one of the hardest parts about living with IBD is understanding that it’s chronic. I don’t think we ever have a solid understanding of the word since there is virtually nothing in our lives that is stays the same forever. We grow, we move away, we meet new friends, we watch new television shows. Even though it’s been almost a decade of being an IBDer, there are still mornings when I remember my ostomy and can’t believe what’s happened to my body.

 

I was recently in Peru to hike Machu Picchu to raise awareness about IBD and ostomies. People asked me if it were possible go back and take away my Crohn’s if I would. I said no, because I wouldn’t trade the clarity that living with IBD has given me on my life and what I want to do for anything. I am not my IBD, I’m just a girl who likes to run, loves Patrick Dempsey, and could probably win a banana-eating contest. And everyday I do my best to live by the words I wrote to myself after being diagnosed, “You hope to rise above your disease and excel”.

 

Jennie


The Plan (according to Alex)

alex8799For a teenager with IBD, life has its “ups” and “downs” like it does for everyone else, but I bet the “ups” are better for me than others – or maybe I just appreciate them more. With awesome “ups” … the “downs” become a little more tolerable and no matter what, the “ups” and “downs” and how you handle them is what shapes your life.  Recently I had a big “up” - not a big turning point in my life, but it certainly reaffirmed a couple of my life ambitions - the first being to set goals and the second, to make my mark on the world.

 

The second to last weekend in June, I spent four days at the Hugh O’Brien Leadership seminar (HOBY). It was a great experience, a lot of fun; I met new friends, and learned the principles of good leadership. Leadership is important to a community, to an organization, to me … to everything really. At the HOBY seminar, we learned about the different areas where leadership can be applied and different elements that define a good leader. HOBY taught me a thing or two about my own leadership development – they suggested in the seminar that in order to exemplify good personal leadership you must first know yourself.

 

It took me some time to realize who I was as a person and what I have come to know as my goal in life.  Maybe this is just part of growing up, but I have to wonder if the ups and downs of having Crohn’s disease have not played a part in that process.  Over the past several years, things have become very clear for me - my goal in life is to help others - using my experience and my disease to help others through their “downs”. For the longest time, I denied the fact that I had Crohn’s; I did not want to be different and just wanted to fit in – I guess I was in denial. However, over the past few years, with the support of friends and family, living with Crohn’s has helped me discover myself and I have turned what some might consider my weakness, into my strength.

 

My goal in life is to become a gastroenterologist and to use my experience as a patient to better my patients’ experiences. My life ambition includes two important ideas that we covered in the HOBY seminar last weekend. The first is to always make SMART goals. Without goals, life has no direction and someone without goals will very often not accomplish anything. The second of the two topics we discussed at HOBY was the more important one in my mind - that is to make your mark on the world by changing and inspiring others lives.

 

My plan: to touch the lives of as many patients as I can in my lifetime.

 

[Editors note: read more posts by alex8799 in his archive]


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