I was diagnosed with Crohn's more than 40 years ago -- on January 1st, 1975. I was in my early 20s, and was admitted to the hospital with really bad stomach pains. The doctors figured it was appendicitis. It wasn't.
I remember it all vividly. I was in my hospital bed a day or so after the operation. The police doctor came in -- I was a police officer at that time -- and he told me I have Crohn's. I'd never heard of it -- hardly anyone had back then. I said, "Oh, what's that?" He says, "It's a disease of your small intestines. There's no cure for it. But it's not like cancer. You're not going to die from it. I'm going to send the gastroenterologist in to see you."
The gastroenterologist came into my room. His name was Dr. Feldman. He told me a little bit more about Crohn's. And then, I swear to God, he says to me, "Michael, there are three things you're never going to eat again. Corn, peanuts, and clams."
Where I live in Connecticut, back in 1975, there were farms and there was corn growing everywhere, it seemed. I have not had corn on the cob in 42 years. No clams, either. And I might put a peanut in my mouth, but I have to chew it up until it's like peanut butter. Anyway, it wasn't a big deal when Dr. Feldman told me that. He was such a good doctor. He treated me for decades, right up until he died, just five or six years ago. And, of course, the other doctors never did take my appendix out!
It's all relative, obviously, but I don't think I've ever suffered that badly from Crohn's. I had my first bowel resection in 1976 where I had three feet of my small intestine and about eight inches of my large removed. Then, for 10 years, I didn't even know I had Crohn's. I went to the bathroom six, seven, eight times a day, but I don't recall having flare-ups that put me on the couch for a week, like it does now.
I see my gastroenterologist -- he was a partner with Dr. Feldman, in fact -- every three months. If I have a flare-up, I don't eat for four days. Then I go to tomato soup, pea soup, sorbet, and I'm done with it. It's over in seven days, like clockwork.
I take Demerol for the first several days, for the pain. After four days or so, I stop taking that. I have a routine that works. Ten years ago, they put me in the hospital after a flare up and stuck a tube down my nose. I told my doctor I'll never do that again. It's barbaric. I found a routine that works -- Demerol, light soups -- and my doctor knows that I know my disease better than anyone else. He trusts me, and I have faith in him.
Since 1992, every day I record everything I eat in a journal. I can't tell you how many notepads filled with information I have in my office. I can tell you what I ate on July 1st, 1997. September 10th, 2009.
Now, I'm not bragging when I say that I don't think there are too many people who know more about Crohn's than I do, and after recording everything I've eaten for the past several decades I believe it doesn't make a difference what you eat. I've had a flare-up after I've eaten a hot dog and a hamburger. But I've eaten a hot dog and a hamburger 92 times before that. I eat a lot of macaroni -- once or twice a week. I can eat a thousand meals of macaroni, and then suddenly, after one meal, I'll get a flare-up. So I tell people, from my perspective, it's not the food. Don't think that because you ate something and you had an attack that it was your fault.
This is a monster that comes at you with no rhyme or reason. You won't know why, but every so often, it rears its head and reminds you, "Hey, I'm still around. Don't think you're cured." That doesn't mean it defines you. Try to live your life normally, but don't pretend it's not there. It will always be there.
I was a cop for 28 years. I had the keys to all the gas station bathrooms in town. I went on calls where I had to leave in a hurry because I had to go to the bathroom. I lived what I consider a normal life -- I married, had three daughters -- but I never pretended that I didn't have Crohn's. I just never let it control who I was.