As the saying goes, "You are healthy until, well, you are not." In July of 2016, I developed severe unrelenting abdominal pain. After swallowing some Tylenol, then an old Percocet that I had from shoulder surgery with no relief, I decided to go to the ER. I told my wife, who was half asleep since it was around 3 AM, and then did what I always told patients not to do-drove myself to the ER. It was only 5 minutes away but still not the smartest thing I have ever done. After checking in, and getting blood work and IV fluids and some Morphine, the pain started to ease. To my surprise a plain X-Ray of my belly showed a small bowel obstruction. I had thought it might be something more benign like my old IBS kicking up. Next it was on to the CT scanner where the diagnosis was confirmed and suggested the culprit was the end of the small bowel, called the Ileum. I was admitted to the hospital.
Sleeping fitfully in a room a surgeon saw me the next morning and said rather than do surgery, (great!), she would give me an imaging-laxative type goop to swallow and repeat my X-Rays. Several hours, and many bowel movements later, the follow-up X-Ray showed improvement. Yeah! No surgery. I was given a presumptive diagnosis of Crohn's Disease. Now GI medicine is not my speciality, but I remembered enough about IBD, (inflammatory bowel disease which encompasses Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis), to know that it was usually diagnosed when someone was much younger than my 68 years.
A few days later I saw my GI doctor who said indeed yes, although not usual, it can develop later in life. I had an MRI with more liters of horrendous tasting stuff that even Vodka would likely not improve, and my diagnosis was confirmed. A colonoscopy and biopsy confirmed the diagnosis as well. I was still in denial. I had a special blood test that was equivocal but there was no denying my other blood work that showed the level of inflammation in my body was high consistent with the IBD diagnosis.
I was still in denial, especially after my doctor suggested some of those expensive medicines you see advertised all the time on television. You know the ones with happy and healthy-looking people who take ABC drug for XYZ disease and are miraculously better or cured. And then they tell you that oh by the way, there is a chance you can get some unpleasant things as side effects, like TB and cancer.
What they never tell you is the cost. However, you can this it to the bank-if it is advertised on TV, it will cost more per month than your mortgage and good luck fighting with you insurance company to pay for it all too. I had been with no symptoms now for a month or two and went to a university hospital for a second opinion with an IBD expert professor of Medicine. She was very nice and said I indeed had it but as long as I was without symptoms, I could get by with Fish Oil supplements and curcumin, (the active chemical in turmeric spice). Both of these are thought to fight inflammation. I tolerated the fish oil but the other stuff gave me indigestion so that went bye-bye.
Flash forward about 15 months and I have had between 3-5 attacks, sometimes, but not always driving me to the ER. The most recent one lasted more than twelve hours and I finally consented to a course of steroids and Flagyl, an antibiotic that is good to control bad bacteria in the gut. However, my doctor has again brought up expensive meds and I am getting closer.
I am starting to behave like some of my former patients seeking to track down a food or foods that aggravate the condition and so far no luck. I have even taken to swallowing George's Aloe Vera water and it's too early to tell if that will help.
I can tell you that it is far more interesting to treat someone with a chronic condition than to be the patient who has it. Doctors are not immune to denial or searches for naturopathic remedies. My doctor says that ~80% patients with Crohn's will need surgery at some point in their life. I am clinging to the hope that I am one of the 20%. I am certain that there are far worse chronic illnesses that I could have developed and for that I am grateful. In the meantime, I will continue to muddle through the treatments of naturopathic and allopathic (traditional) medicine. I still hope I won't have to be one of those people who keep jumping out at me form the television ads.