I was admitted, for the first time in my life, to the hospital. I was instantly hooked up to an IV and given medication to help dull the pain. Needless to say, I was terrified. As soon as we got a moment alone, we called my dad and told him the news. His heart sank to his stomach as he heard the words, “she’s going to have surgery.” He worried about what to do, asking if he should come to the hospital? We told him no, there was nothing he would be able to do here. Before hanging up he told me he loved me. We said goodnight, but we both knew nobody was going to get very much sleep.
For hours, I waited to go in for surgery. Each agonizing minute felt longer than the last. The pain medication helped dull my senses, but I was still very uncomfortable and very nervous. I fought back tears by trying to make light of the situation. Odd, I know, but I always laugh when I’m nervous. Mostly, I joked about how student teaching had literally become a pain in my ass. I also made sure to email all of my teachers to fill them in on what was happening and explain that I wouldn’t be back to school for, what I assumed would be, a few days. My mom chuckled slightly and said, “Only you would be concerned about school at a time like this.” I forced a tight smile and nodded in agreement. The day had taken its toll on us; we were both exhausted.
Eventually, I was taken for surgery. It was a quick procedure. The surgeon drained the abscess and packed it with some gauze. I thought that I would get to go home immediately afterward, but they kept me in the hospital to monitor my recovery. The day after my surgery, when I finally awoke from my groggy, drug-induced slumber, I met with the surgeon who had worked on me. He introduced himself, explained what he had done during the procedure, and told me that he had some bad news for me. He explained that I had Crohn’s Disease, a chronic autoimmune disease and that it was the contributing factor in the formation of the abscess. I was devastated. I was confused. I was scared. I was bewildered. I was at a complete loss of what to do. “Crohn’s Disease? What does that even mean? How did I get it? What am I supposed to do now? Am I going to be okay?” I questioned. The only answer my surgeon had was that I would need to follow up with a GI. I would know more once a specialist took a look at me.
I sank back into my bed, devastated, scared, and tired. I covered my face with my hands and bit back tears. Out loud, I moaned, “What does this mean? What’s wrong with me? How did this happen to me? Did I cause this? Is it because of something I did?” There were no answers. Suddenly, overcome with fear and anxiety, I burst into tears. Sobs wracked my body as I cried hysterically, while my mom rubbed my back. I had absolutely no idea what to do. I felt scared and alone. And, honestly, I didn’t even grasp the full gravity of the situation. I didn’t quite realize what having a chronic illness meant, how it would affect me, how it would change me, the impact it would have on my life. Lost on me was the fact that this wouldn’t just go away, it would be something I would have to live with for the rest of my life, which was more than I could fathom at the time.
Eventually, I calmed down. My mom assured me that everything would be okay, that the surgeon had fixed me. Her words worked on me. I was convinced that I would be okay, that this was something easily treated. Neither of us had any idea how wrong we were. At the time, I was uneducated on chronic illness and Crohn’s Disease. It wasn’t anything I had ever heard of before. To my knowledge, I had never met anyone with a chronic disease or with Crohn’s. In my mind, it was just another sickness, like getting the flu or something.
While recovering in the hospital, I received a response from the advising teacher from my college who was in charge of my progress throughout student teaching. In her email, she explained that since I missed the last week of student teaching, despite starting a full month ahead of the scheduled start date and receiving straight A’s the entire time, I was going to have to redo the entire practicum. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Panic and frustration washed over me. How was I supposed to deal with this on top of everything else? Not only was I trying to cope with being diagnosed with a chronic illness, being in the hospital for the very first time, and the incredible pain in my butt, now I also had to deal with the possibility of not graduating on time and having to pay for an extra semester of college because I got sick, something that was totally out of my control. Gulping back tears, I put on a brave face and got to work. I fought hard from my hospital bed, making frantic phone calls to try to sort everything out, all the while being pumped full of pain meds and heavy-duty antibiotics. I cried, a lot.
Once I was finally home from the hospital I figured this whole ordeal was coming to a close and that I would be back on my feet in a matter of days. Ha. There was a brief moment of peace. I felt “normal” for about two weeks. In those two weeks, I wrapped up all loose ends for student teaching (I passed with an A), I went to a Cubs game (they won), and then I crashed. Hard. A few days into the third week of feeling “normal” again, I began to notice the same butt pain starting to creep back into focus. I felt it, I could tell something wasn’t right, but it wasn’t severe so I tried to ignore it. Again, I came up with excuses to explain away the pain, like maybe I had done too much walking around at the Cubs game, maybe I drank too much beer, maybe I sat on those uncomfortable bleachers for too long. It wasn’t until I could hardly walk without crying that I finally broke down and told my mom that the pain was back. I felt like it was my fault, like I had somehow done something wrong to cause this. Why was the pain coming back?
Nervously, I explained to my mom that I had the same weird butt pain again. It was in the same spot as before, despite being promised the fiasco was over. I didn’t know why it was back or what caused it. I felt like my body had betrayed me. Why wouldn’t it just heal already? In addition to the pain, I was also feeling really, really tired. Like totally exhausted for no apparent reason. So exhausted that I needed to take a nap after I showered because I was just that wiped out. My body felt heavy and fatigued, like I had worked a 12-hour shift on my feet without a break, even though it was still early in the morning. At this point, it was no surprise to me that I had to get back to the hospital; something just wasn’t right.
This time the surgery to drain the abscess was a little easier, but being new to the whole “being sick” process, I was still terrified. I wasn’t yet used to dealing with doctors and surgeons, I wasn’t used to being in a hospital, I wasn’t used to being put under for surgery, I wasn’t used to being stuck time and again with needles. Trying to find a bit of comfort through the whole ordeal, I used the same hospital and surgeon as I had the last time, and this time I was scheduled for an out-patient procedure. At this point, I was just relieved I didn’t have to stay in the hospital and be poked and prodded all night long.
After my out-patient procedure, I was again told that this should be my last visit and that the packing should do the trick. The surgeon seemed convinced that this would be his last time seeing me, he said goodbye, and we parted ways. I was sent home with instructions to stay off my feet as much as possible and rest for the next few days while the wound healed. I was told that I should feel fine by the end of the week. Feeling confident that this whole mess was behind me, I relaxed, thinking this had to be my last surgery. I was getting pretty tired of dealing with the literal pain in my ass, anyways. In reality, I didn’t have the slightest clue that this was only the beginning.