I’m one of the lucky ones. I haven’t had Crohn’s since age 12. Since my teens, yes, but not starting in middle school. It’s an ugly disease, but it’s made me thankful for my good days, and above all thankful to be alive. It got close at one point…
In high school, track was my jam! I walked on the team and ran my way to the gold medal. I found my niche in my teammates, and distance practices built my mental strength, a tool I would need down the road.
Junior year the random stomach aches struck, accompanied by abdominal swelling that made me look 5 months pregnant. Daft me thought I had eaten too much! They never hit consistently that I could tell, so I kept it to myself.
Senior year marked my slow deterioration. My times slowed down. I took the bronze at State which, for me, was devastating. During workouts, Coach always gave us a break halfway through, in which I would sprint to the bathrooms. My stomach aches got worse and more frequent. Yet still I believed I was overeating.
I amazingly got recruited by a Division 1 college, who at the time had just taken its athletes to the Olympics. Star studded, I settled into my new coach’s work out regimen- 7 miles a day, 6 days a week, at 7-7.5 minute pace on average. My weight dropped. My times improved. My knees started acting up. My stomach aches continued. I distinctly remember looking at my swollen abdomen in the mirror in self disgust, taking off for a 7 mile run only to come home, flop onto the ground on my back and cry from the pain. Seriously, 17 year old me, how does overeating cause that much pain? *Slap myself upside the head.
Freshman year came, and coach put me on a special workout plan due to me knees. I thanked my lucky stars I had knee problems, because looking at my team mates struggle through his workouts terrified me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good challenge, but I knew my body wasn’t up for it. I just had no idea why.
One girl I ran with had stomach issues (she ended up with a diagnosis of a chronic issue-not IBD). Coach made her use the port-a-potty between laps. Since my knees were semi on the mend, I couldn’t lean on that excuse anymore. Deep down, my gut (ha pun here!) told me to quit. But again, I didn’t know why. Why was I bolting from my running dream?
Sophomore year, I fell apart. It started with using the bathroom 8 times a day. I finally graced the doors of the health center for medical attention. They gave me a nurse practitioner who prescribed antibiotics. And more antibiotics. And tested for parasites. And more antibiotics. Following winter break, I started going 20 times a day. The NP didn’t believe me, so I kept a journal tallying it for her. She prescribed more antibiotics, ordering a blood and stool sample be done. I gave both on sight, and had to sit there while the techs argued IN FRONT OF ME who would have to test my stool sample. Yeah, that didn’t make me want to sink through the floor.
More tests, more medications, and still the NP wanted to rule out minor possibilities before discussing the major ones. By this point I was having blood in my stool.
“Are you sure it’s blood in your stool, or is it blood from wiping so much?”
I looked at her like she had 8 heads. I may not have been the brightest patient, but I think I know the difference between all out blood in my poop and blood from wiping!
Now here’s the cool part. During this heinous mess, my brother was going through med school at MUSC, on his GI rotation. The doctor he was following had Crohn’s and told my brother with full confidence, without looking at any of my records, that I had Crohn’s. My family told me immediately, and I looked it up. Google did not paint a pretty picture of what was in store for me. I just couldn’t believe it. But then again, by this point I was beginning to think I was crazy. Like legit insane. I was missing classes (failing them from so many absences), calling in sick for work and therefore falling behind on bills. Was I just a lazy person whose mind was making all of this up?
Around my 19th birthday, I had my first colonoscopy. Joy. An ex-good friend of mine sat with me while I drank the prep. I remember we watched 300 and I drooled over Gerry Butler. Good times.
The doctor entered the room with that look. You know, the one where they want to let you down easy.
“It looks consistent with Crohn’s Disease.”
“It looks like Crohn’s or it is Crohn’s?” asks my mom. I love that woman.
“It is Crohn’s.”