Seven years ago, I was 19 years old and just deciding what my future would be. I had a job delivering pizza, I spent most of my Friday nights at the local watering hole with my friends, and most of my tip money went to beer and nachos. Such was my life at that point, and it suited me just fine.
That is, until I suddenly started to feel different one Christmas at my grandmother’s house. I recall abruptly feeling a surge of demands that intimately resembled the charge to the last valued slices of my grandma’s rhubarb pie after we’d opened all the presents. I had to “go” badly and rushed into the bathroom just in time to blow the porcelain bowl to smithereens.
Within days, these surges became routine. Questions flooded my head: was I eating something differently? Was it that shitty (pun moderately intended) powdered lemonade drink I liked? Were the preservatives playing fast and loose (pun absolutely intended) with my bowels?
I cut out the alleged evildoer and went about my merry way, but nothing changed. Days were peppered with more races to the restroom, culminating in mad dashes that left me tempted to convert my entire trouser wardrobe to NBA-style tearaways. It wasn’t the powdered lemonade – it wasn’t anything.
It was getting worse, with tiny traces of blood, so off to my GP I went. I kicked myself for not going sooner.
After hearing my symptoms, (sudden urges to “do number two,” fatigue, bleeding, abdominal pain, the feeling of never being “empty”), the Good Doctor sprang into action and ordered me through a volume of tests to figure out what was going on.
Off I went on a mysterious voyage, providing stool samples in plastic cups to walk-in clinics, having blood drawn, getting X-rays, and visiting numerous specialists. My condition was getting worse, as I continued to deliver pizza in between tests and tried to get plenty of rest. My boss was considerate and let me take it easy more often than not. I was also getting quite pale and my cheeks began to sink in, causing one backslapping co-worker to observe that I was starting to “look like Skeletor.”
After a short while, I went back to my GP’s office and took a seat. “Jordan,” he began candidly, “you have ulcerative colitis.”
I had no idea what that meant, and I stared vacantly ahead as he explained it. He wanted me to have a sigmoidoscopy to check out the large intestine and verify that there were no cancerous growths. It would involve a flexible scope heading “in through the out door” to poke around in there. He mentioned that I would be able to see the procedure while they were “within,” thanks to the scope’s camera.
After another brief period, my doctor told me that they didn’t find anything with the sigmoidoscopy and that it was time to try some medication. He prescribed something called Salofalk®, and I began to take the pills in pairs, four times a day.
I had enrolled in college prior to all of this colitis business, so as the Fall approached it was time to get down to brass tacks. I wasn’t going to let colitis stop me, despite having exasperating urges to go the bathroom. My medication was working pretty well, but it was no miracle cure. I had to watch my diet and I kept a food diary, which revealed that dairy wasn’t doing me any favours. With this newfound knowledge, I ventured to college each day.
Each morning became a ceremony of hammering on my steering wheel in fits of frenzy with hopes of magically removing the cars in my way so that I could find a bathroom. The freeway was jam-packed and immobile most mornings, but I was determined to prove to my family, my friends, and myself that UC wasn’t going to change how I lived.
Each time I witnessed a parent chastising a child in the shopping mall for not using the bathroom before she left the house, I’d squirm. Each time I’d see a cleaning crew place a sign on a bathroom door, I’d tighten up. Each time I found myself facing a long line-up to use the bathroom, I’d freak. Before I knew it, ulcerative colitis was calling the shots in my life.
My sense of security eroded over the course of time. It took two embarrassing instances of not making it to the bathroom in time – a mad-panicked endeavour to get at a staff washroom during intermission at a hockey game and a new job that I thought I could handle – to prove that UC had its talons dug in.
Years went by and I made do with the changes, adapting my way of life, changing my diet where I could, and attempting to understand ulcerative colitis further. I saw my friends less because I’d wind up being too sick to make the drive out to visit and there’s only so many times you can force your pals to come your way. As life went on, my doctor set me up on a round of different medication.
As luck would have it, I met Jennifer online and we began conversing. A relationship blossomed separated by a border and about four hours of driving time, but she sacrificed and came to my rescue when few others would. We got married. Her endless support through this experience has made all the difference.
Fast-forward to today and I have learned more about ulcerative colitis. With my doctor’s help, I gradually reduced my medication, and I now use new techniques like meditation and massage to control my flare-ups. I have corrected my diet further with an infusion of organic food. I have found my calling as a freelance writer. My wife and I have worked to cut stress out of our lives as much as we can. I work from home and have ditched the panic trap that was my car.
It’s getting better, but UC still calls the shots sometimes. Little things split and slit at the security I think I have, eating at my perception and spreading hesitation. One trip to a restaurant resulted in my detection of a pre-teen punk cramming toilet paper into the only john in the place and I wanted to throw him in it. There have been more mad dashes and more near misses.
I’m still learning to control it, but more significantly I’m learning how to not let it control me. As I write this, I wish I could express a happy ending of how I’ve licked it, and how I’m feeling normal without the apparent hastening need to go to the bathroom. I can’t say that because it’s not true.
But it will be.