What happened to me

I still remember the words that came out of my mother's mouth in the early morning hours after a surgeon stumbled across a Crohn's disease diagnosis for me. The orderlies unceremoniously dumped me from the surgical gurney on to my regular hospital bed and left without a word, apparently unaware of the pain they caused me. Trying to catch my breath, I squinted at the hospital clock to see what time it was when my mother entered the room.

I asked her what time it was. Without looking at the clock, she said, "It's early. Your appendix was fine but you have an inflammatory bowel disease called Crohn's. Go to sleep and we'll talk about it in the morning."

Still woozy from the anesthesia and beginning to feel heavy lidded from the gentle relief of the painkillers, I drifted off, thinking, "Thank goodness my appendix didn't rupture." At the same time, I felt surprised-no, a little shocked-to learn that the symptoms I had earlier that day were not what my trusted surgeon, then so sure of himself, had anticipated.

The day of Feb. 1, 1989 had started with a Jane Fonda workout tape-remember those?-and a big bowl of raisin bran cereal. Three years prior to this day, I had been told by my doctor, an internist, that I had irritable bowel syndrome and needed to eat more bran to stave off attacks of diarrhea I had been having. He also had told me that I needed to not add so much stress to my life since that was a factor in this poorly understood motility disorder. A full-time scholarship student who was used to snagging straight A's, I lived with my parents and supported myself with a part-time job. Cutting out stress was like cutting out breathing. But I relented. Three times a week, I squeezed an hour with Jane into my packed schedule to help lose the stress.

After a quick shower, I was off to my college classes at Wayne State University in Detroit, a half hour drive from my parent's home. Halfway through my conversational French class, the pains hit, a wrenching pain followed by waves of more pain that took my breath away. Maybe I overdid the abdominal crunches, I thought. During my U.S. history class, the pain became stronger and I felt like I was going to throw up. I made it through the class but I couldn't stand up straight afterward. I decided to skip a journalism class and head home. Something told me this was nothing to mess with.

I made it home, barely. I found that it is hard to drive, hunched over in pain. Once home, I vomited several times, something I loathe doing. I occasionally joke that I would make a terrible anorexic because I love food too much and I would make an even worse bulemic because I hate throwing up. This vomiting, however awful it was to do, was different. In the past when I was sick with a stomach virus, I would throw up and feel better. That day, the cramps would not only return but also intensify. I felt like someone was sticking their hand into my stomach near my right hip and squeezing with all their might. It was awful but I had felt this pain before.

Almost two years before this fateful morning I had been hospitalized with similar symptoms. A high school student at the time, I thought I might have food poisoning from the cafeteria food. The surgeon who later operated on me consulted on the case but by that time the pain had started to subside; nevertheless, I spent the night in the hospital for observation and testing. An ultrasound the next morning revealed a small amount of a watery substance above my right ovary and below my intestines. The conclusion: a ruptured ovarian cyst. The treatment: daily birth control pills to prevent reoccurrence of the cysts.

But here I was, two years later having the same pains again. Knowing I was pretty religious about taking my medication, my mom figured that this bout was something different and possibly more serious.

"The pain worsened and you were hunched over. You were vomiting bile. You couldn't stand up straight," she told me later. "And you just looked awful."

So she loaded me into the car and took me to the nearby hospital where I took my place in line in a corridor swamped with elderly individuals who were among a mini-epidemic of flu sufferers, all of us with emesis basins in hand. The doctors pressed my abdomen in various places, asking if it hurt more when they pushed it in or when they released it. They took blood samples and asked me how many times I had thrown up. And I waited and waited, continuing to feel nauseous and crampy.

Click here to continue reading First Year: Crohn's Disease & Ulcerative Colitis.

All information is copyrighted by Jill Sklar, 2002. All rights reserved.

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