Wednesday, June 30, 2010

15th Anniversary of Life Without a Colon

Fifteen years ago, I wanted a BIG present to celebrate my birthday and graduation from high school; it cost more than both of their cars put together.

I was asking, pleading for a colectomy. Every year at this time, I think about this surgery, which for me, happened to be my cure from ulcerative colitis.

I am so lucky. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

Over the past 4 or 5 years, I've realized that now, I have lots of peers and dear friends who are far wiser than I--their struggles make this event 15 years ago look like a trip to Disneyland. That smug wisdom I had at 18 is over.

But, for a few years, that illness made me wiser than many of my peers. I learned about mortality. I knew, as only a select group of teenagers ever know, that sometimes, no matter how badly you want to live, your body won't cooperate. You'll keep bleeding, loosing weight, getting weaker.

No matter your positive thoughts.
No matter your prayers.

And, I learned that sometimes, for whatever arbitrary reason (because the older I get, unfortunately I realize that who stays and who goes feels terribly arbitrary), healing can happen, though it's often not in the form I originally thought it would come in.

Instead of the miraculous healing I prayed for, the one where my symptoms disapper, and I walk out of the hospital, leaving doctors scratching their heads... I ended up with a different result, one without a colon and a few adjustments to my life, but a healing just as miraculous because of the many lessons it taught me.

If I hadn't gotten so sick that summer, I think the life I led would have been very different. There are dear friends I would have never met.

I think it even had a profound affect on the person I chose to marry. Perhaps you've met Nate...We didn't (don't) seem to have much in common on the surface, but 1995 was a rough year for both of us. And the things we learned that year (though such knowledge came under very different circumstances) formed part of our immediate bond when we got reacquainted in college and still frames our lives today, carrying us through difficult times--perhaps you've also heard of June 2010? There have been days where I think it's trying to give June 1995 a run for its money as the WORST. MONTH. EVER.

Anyway, I wouldn't have gone into religious studies or found hospital chaplaincy. I don't think I would have applied to the graduate schools that I applied to and certainly wouldn't have had the courage to go to the one I ended up going to. In fact, my mantra for five years post-surgery was, "I can do that. I've gone without food or water for 40 days, I've been in the hospital for 2 months, and I've lost a colon. This is nothing."

That last flare-up taught me more about God and charity (and how God uses others to show love, do God's work, and comfort us) than I have learned before or since. It also taught me a reliance on God that I don't know if I could have learned any other way. I learned that when it's 3 am, and I had to wait 2 more hours before my next doses of anti-nausea medication and/or pain medication, well, there wasn't anyone else who was able to sit in that room and wait with me quite like Jesus did (though my mom was a close second).

And, on the lighter side, really, the excuse, "I can't...I don't have a colon," is just a pleasure to spout out every once in a while, even when it makes no sense.

A couple years ago, I had an ob/gyn give me an exam. She looked at my stomach 14 inch vertical scar and the 6 inch horizontal scar. She said (as most people do), "Oh my gosh! What happened?!"

I explained I had a colectomy. She said, "You know, they only make about a 4 inch incision now for the whole surgery."

But, I'm happy with my scars because a 5 inch incision just wouldn't do justice to the illness or the healing. As I've reflected all month on where I was 15 years ago (yes, I'm a little embarrassed that I have thought about June 1995 this much), I wish I could show that 18 year old Emily my stomach today, pregnant with Baby #3, with the faded scars and most importantly, I'd have her notice that there aren't any new scars. She never had another flare-up that would necessitate more scarring, she even got pregnant and that trusty pseudo-colon made it unnecessary for the Cesearans the doctors promised she'd need.

That ugly stomach would show her that she did what she feared she'd never be able to do when she got out of the hospital--grow up, move out, and move on.

Technically, this post should have been posted yesterday, but I was feeling just a little too tender to get it up.


Rachel said...

I have to testify you do use your "I don't have a colon," excuse to the fullest. It's amazing that it's been 15 years and what has happened over the years is unbelievable BUT what happened 15 years ago was a miracle.

Kate said...

Geez louise, didn't know this post would make me cry. It is very beautifully written. Good job.
It really was a miracle. Wasn't it a ground-breaking, new procedure back then? Crazy that you've almost lived as long without a colon as you lived with one. And if you subtract the time your colon was so sickly and holey... sheesh...
Your perspective on the whole thing is amazing. I think about June 1995 sometimes too.

sylvia/ticklethepear said...

But you'll be reunited in the afterlife, right?

Sheila said...

Beautifully written, Emily. I'm glad you went to that graduate school you did. (your thoughts on your pre-baby scar make me rethink my feelings on my own pre-baby scar). Hope that July 2010 is the best ever!

SLP said...

Oh I am there with you.

Though with the current status of my disease I haven't had my colon resectioned or removed, I can certainly identify with your feelings.

Congratuations on 15 STRONG YEARS.

Here's to decades more. Together. As friends with sooo many things in common.

Much Love,

sara said...

Wonderful post; I love reading about introspection and life-changing moments. We (my sisters) were just talking about this the other day (your colon) for some reason; I had forgotten how bad it was for you back then. So glad everything has worked out... and congrats on pending baby #3!

Nuestra Familia said...

I had no idea... hope things get better. Hope to see you sometime soon! Have you found out if you are having a boy or a girl? We should all get together with our prego bellies.

Mary said...

Thank you for this thoughtful reflection, Emily. It was a comfort because even now those dark, terrifying days are difficult for me to remember, though I can look at the round hospital windows without a panic attack.

As you so wisely conclude, you learned far more than you gave up. It was a transformative experience that helped change you into the lovely adult you are now. Scars aren't always a bad thing.

k said...

Emily, what a wonderful post. I love to hear your thoughts on practically anything, but reflections on something as life-changing as your surgery was particularly great to read. You have such strength and self-awareness. It is inspiring.

TYS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TYS said...

I was just randomly browsing blogs here but I have to comment on your post.

I am a graduate student studying immunology right now. One of the projects in my lab deals with colitis. We wish that one day we will find a cure to colitis. The path hasn't been easy, but reading your post has definitely motivated me. I notice that you seem to be grateful about your surgery 15 years ago, which I must say, is a good thing.. But it also makes me think that WHEN we have found a better treatment, people will suffer less..

I am not quite sure where I am getting to. (It is 1 am in my city now.) But thank you, thank you for making me feel like my work is not worthless

Stella said...

I didn't know this about you! Can I ask what had to change about your life? Do you have a lot of dietary restrictions?