Welcome to Crohn’s Week!
My intention this week is to raise awareness of Crohn’s and IBD by sharing my story and the stories of others. I’m going to preface this post by saying that some of what I’ll be discussing will be graphic. I think part of the reason IBD falls under the radar is because people don’t want to talk about poo. We do it all the time, yet no one wants to talk about it, and that’s part of the reason my symptoms went on so long before I spoke up. So here we go, poo and all.
I was a fairly healthy person growing up. I had chronic earaches between ages 4-6, had the Chicken Pox when I was 10 (and proceeded to spread them to my entire class and family) and had a concussion when I was 13 (fainted in gym class). Beyond the typical colds, occasional flu and rounds of antibiotics there was never anything really wrong with me growing up. I began taking the birth control pill around age 17, but other than that had taken no regular medication.
As I’ve previously discussed, in 2006 I decided that I wanted to lose weight. I got to goal in February 2007 and became a Lifetime member in April 2007. I felt great. I was happy with my weight and was absolutely making better choices and taking care of my body. In June 2007 I performed in a recital with my singing group, Ashnaba. It had been a long day and I developed a migraine-like headache by the end. Joey and I walked home and I went to bed early so that I would be ready for work the next morning.
When I woke up the next morning, my headache was gone but I was not feeling well. I began to have diarrhea and called in sick to work. There had been a lot of people in my office the previous week for district meetings and there were quite a few people at the recital. I thought perhaps I had picked something up from someone or had eaten something that didn’t agree with me. I tried to leave the house to go to Shoppers Drug Mart for some juice, but the diarrhea was so bad I was unable to get out the door.
The diarrhea continued throughout the day and was accompanied by horrific stomach cramps. I was doubled over in pain and spent a lot of time in the washroom. By this point there was nothing left in my system because I was unable to keep food down. When I tried to eat I either had more diarrhea or vomited. By the following day, nothing had changed so I stayed home from work again. Joey was calling me every couple of hours to make sure everything was okay. He called me late in the afternoon to see if I wanted him to pick anything up on his way home. I asked him to pick up a thermometer because I felt like I was running a fever.
Joey brought home the thermometer and when we took my temperature we realized it was 104 degrees. I hadn’t had a fever since I was a child and both Joey and I were pretty freaked out. We weren’t sure what to do and at this point still had no idea what was causing my illness. We called the Telehealth nurse to determine our next course of action. The Telehealth nurse said that if it reached 105 we needed to go to the hospital, but until then we were to wait for it to break.
It was so scary. Joey was so calm that whole evening, but later confided that he was incredibly scared. Adults don’t just run fevers of 104!! My fever broke about an hour later and I fell asleep for most of the night. I woke up on Wednesday to more diarrhea, stomach pains and vomiting.
By this time the lethargy had started to kick in. My body was so tired and I hadn’t been able to keep anything but popsicles and gatorade in (and even those were exiting my body fairly fast) Joey took me to the walk-in clinic because I didn’t have a family doctor at the time. While I waited for my turn, I was lying on the floor of the clinic crying because I was in so much pain. It felt like we were waiting forever!! When a doctor finally saw us, I described my symptoms of the last few days to which he didn’t really have an answer. He told me to take some Pepto-Bismal, drink lots of fluids and sent me down to the lab to give a sample of my stool.
The stomach cramps and vomiting finally stopped the following weekend, but I continued to have diarrhea for 3 weeks. I kept taking the Pepto-Bismal, but stopped after a pharmacist told me that there was no point considering my diarrhea had gone on so long. I started eating again and started to get my energy back. After not eating for a week and another 2 weeks of diarrhea, I lost at least another 10 lbs. This was a little scary since I had just gotten to my goal weight, but gained a bit of it back once I started eating properly again.
Over the next year I would have a variety of day-to-day problems. Looking back on everything now I can see a pattern and also see that they were connected to my original illness, but like I said at the beginning: nobody wants to talk about poo. I suffered from terrible stomach cramps on the toilet and off, blood in my stools and urgency when I had to go to the washroom. I was also tired quite often and felt faint or dizzy a few times a week. For 14 months I let everything go on in the background. Everything was great in my life, I had started a new job, had become a Weight Watchers Leader, was performing in shows a couple times a year and was in a great relationship. I was 23 or 24 and therefore healthy, right?
In August 2008 I went in for my yearly physical. We went through the normal stuff and at the end the Dr. asked if I had any questions. I said yes, and proceeded to spill my guts about the pain, blood, urgency, tiredness and horrific tendencies of the last 14 months. He inquired a little more and examined my bum. He commented that there was a fissure/skin tag, which may have been causing the bleeding. We talked a bit about my mysterious illness from the previous summer at which point he realized the wrong test had been done with my stool sample, so nothing was found. He prescribed some antibiotics and ordered me down to the lab for some blood work.
Two weeks of antibiotics did nothing for me and the blood work revealed that I was anemic. With the symptoms I had described, the fissure and now the anemia, the Crohn’s and Colitis warning bells were popping up. He prescribed daily iron supplements and B12 for the anemia and set up an appointment for me to see a gastroenterologist. The doctor assured me that there was a chance it might be Colitis, but said it was probably nothing and seeing the gastro was just an extra precaution.
It was around this time that I started to feel upset and angry. I remember going back to my office that morning after the appointment and my boss nearly sent me home because I was so ticked off and on the verge of tears. I didn’t want anything to be wrong with me and I certainly did not want to have a Disease.
Check back tomorrow to read about my first visit with the gastro and the tests that followed.