There are certain days in a person’s life that alter their existence. A wedding day forever binds one human to another. A funeral forever separates. The birth of a child adds and multiplies love, while the birth of a disease subtracts hope. There are days we all know for sure are in our future, like the day our parents die, for instance, that devastate and leave you different than the day before. These are the days we don’t want to think about but we know are there. There’s another day, though, that’s never expected. It’s diagnosis day. That one always comes as a surprise.
I remember being wheeled back into my hospital room after a CT scan, groggy from the suffering and pain medication. A faceless, nameless doctor darkens the threshold and enters the room. “The results are indicative of what we find in patients with Crohn’s disease.” There it was. Finally. He continued speaking with my mother, who was sitting just to my left, but I tuned him out. Maybe that was to quell the shock of what I was hearing. I had heard of Crohn’s before, but I had no idea what it was. I had the next week to learn about it, lying in that hospital bed.
I had symptoms of this disease all throughout my life. Mysterious manifestations that were never defined. Overabundant nausea. Radiating back pain that moved from the back to the front, if that makes any sense. It didn’t to the numerous doctors I went to over the years tying to find the root to that pain. This disease would rear its head every now and again, but never enough to raise any alarms to my medical providers. That is until my marriage fell apart and I sank into despair, emotionally and physically.
My body began to scream, violently. I lost a lot of weight in just a few months. I had diarrhea that entire time, maybe even longer, but I didn’t really think anything of it. So much that it had become my normal. I guess I was under the assumption that it was all stress-related and I used over-the-counter medications for pain and bowel control. Seemingly overnight, my hair became brittle and thin and each day brought more exhaustion than I could ever explain in words. I started to look as sick as I felt, gaunt and pale from lack of nutrients. When the blood first arrived in the toilet I knew something was seriously wrong and I started actively seeking medical help.
I didn’t get any answers, not even a clue, until my diagnosis day. I was begging for help to anyone that would listen. I went from urgent care, to general physicians, to specialists, each to no avail. Maybe it’s an ulcer. Indigestion. Hemorrhoids. Take some acid reducers and call me in the morning. Needless to say that did not work. It was like trying to throw an ice cube on a forest fire to extinguish it. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and went to the emergency room where they performed a CT scan and later a sigmoidoscopy, which is essentially a shortened colonoscopy. The doctor that performed it could not go deep into my colon because of all the inflammation, but was able to take a tissue sample for analysis. The biopsy is what gave me the definitive diagnosis I had been searching for.
What followed was a strict diet of liquid and pills. Weeks of prednisone would leave me a puffy, sleep-deprived, anxious mess. As I sank into my hospital bed that week, trying to process all this information I was hit with, I mourned the old Kelly. The one without a chronic disease that would leave me with a 75 percent chance of needing major colon surgery. I was in a dark place and this became evident to one particular hospitalist who saw through the diagnosis and into my emotional pain. Dr. S., as he called himself, came to my room almost every day to check on me. He took the time to explain things and made sure I understood what was going on. He sat on the side of my bed and held my hand as I wept. I cried for the loss of the woman I was and I cried for the woman I had become. To this day, I have never encountered a doctor who showed more compassion. One day he came into the room and jerked the curtains open, letting the sunlight in, and made me get up out of the bed. My legs were weak from lack of use, but he forced me to find the strength to climb out of the pity party I was having and start rebuilding myself.
I started to see my diagnosis as comforting. All the years I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was always so tired, but I thought I was just being lazy or unmotivated. The back pain and incessant nausea made sense. I finally had answers, and though they weren’t what I wanted to hear, I was on the way to acceptance of my new life. The best things often come out of the darkest places. What I encountered before my diagnosis day made me strong enough to endure the woman I have become after. Now I am even more prepared for the next life-altering days that wait quietly in my future. Crohn’s can not take that from me.