So, perhaps I ought to start this off with a story. I’ve had these health problems, for about 1.5-2 years. It started around my last year of my bachelors. I was working out almost daily then, and I would get these awful cramps after I’d worked out, and have diarrhea. At first, I thought it was just maybe related to my period – I’ve been known to have really bad cramps, to the point of having a prescription for them, so I figured maybe that was it. But then it got to the point where I realized I was taking way to many of those pain meds for it just to be my period – menstruation is awful, but even it, thank everything, isn’t month long – and so I knew it had to be something else.
So, stress, I figured. I was under a lot of it at that time, and it seemed like a natural assumption. My working out was starting to dwindle because of the pain of the cramping, but for the most part the pain was manageable, so I let it rest.
It didn’t rest.
It, in the natural of chronic illnesses got worse, such to the point that a year ago I went into my GP and tried to figure out what I had. They did some blood work and an ultrasound, and said I was anemic, B12 deficient, and that it was probably IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome – the “good” kind of bowel disorder). That I should take my iron and B12 and avoid lactose, and that was that. The iron made me sick, as it often does, I learned from my preceptor in Labrador City. The B12 went up.
I got worse.
Med school has a lot of stress associated with it, and it’s a bit like living down the rabbit hole. We’re all mad here, as the Cheshire Cat says, and we all think we can take it. Wake up, vomit water and a morning vitamin into a snow bank? You get on the bus and go to school. Fugue like, continual tiredness? It’s med school, everyone is tired. Almost constant visceral abdominal cramps? It’s the IBS, you can deal.
I’m sure you’ve probably already guessed, it wasn’t IBS. No, it was always something else, and as of yesterday, I have a diagnosis for it.
I can’t say it was a surprise, or that I wasn’t expecting it really. When I went to the GP here that the school got me in contact with, she did a fuller range of blood tests, and explained the profile that had come back. Anemia, elevated neutrophils, a profile that probably wouldn’t have meant anything to me a year ago, but did now. “You must feel awful,” my GP said, just from looking at my CBC, and I joked with my friend about bedside manner to hide the fact that I knew that there were only about 3 things the colonoscopy she got me short listed for would show.
Given that one of those things was bowel cancer, the other two (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis) were the more preferred answers, if you could call it that. I have a family history of both – a maternal grandmother with Crohn’s and a paternal aunt with ulcerative colitis.
Crohn’s won out, I suppose disproving my father’s theories that his side of the families gene’s are stronger.
On one hand, I’m really glad to have a diagnosis – incredibly so that it isn’t cancer. This means I can start taking meds – as I already have today – to treat this illness. That I can hopefully get it into remission – something that can last for a decade or longer – and start living my life again. Working out, sleeping better, being more alive. This is a good thing, knowing.
And on the other hand, I’m still so overwhelmed with the knowledge that I have a chronic illness. It’s so stupid, but it’s the little things that are floating in my head right now. That the answer to “are you on any medications?” probably won’t ever be “no,” anymore. That things I never really thought about – kids, breastfeeding those kids – suddenly just got a bit harder. I just moved into a difference insurance bracket. That now I have 12 pills a day to take, and weekly blood tests to make sure those pills aren’t shutting my liver and kidney’s down, to say nothing of their “small risk” of lymphoma and “rare brain infection.” That is this a chronic illness.
There’s no cure for this.
There is an interesting dichotomy that occurs as a medical student looking at illness, I’ve found. It hit me yesterday as I put on the patient gowns they gave me and got my IV, not 1 hour after I’d passed in an essay about the dichotomy between the patient gown and the doctor’s white coat. Irony, thy name is med school I suppose. Part of that essay was about how the gown makes patients feel vulnerable, while the white coat is a symbol of the doctor’s authority and power.
But what happens when one person has to wear both? Physician heal thy self, they say, but I can’t heal this. I just have to learn to live with it.
And I know I can live with this. I know how lucky I am. I’ve seen patients just last week with illnesses that are so much worse than mine, prognosis and day to day life. I know I’ll get to the point where this:
Is my new norm. Where I’ll feel better, and more in control of my life. But right now, I just need a moment to absorb, to deal. Labels are useful in defining us, but they don’t make us. I am female. I am a medical student. I am a sister, a daughter, a friend.
I have a chronic illness.
I am not my illness, and in dealing with it, I can stop letting it run my life. If the first step to any problem is acceptance, then at least I’ve got one step I suppose, and that’s they way I guess I’ll take it.
One step at a time.