I’m not sure how long I had Crohn’s disease before I was diagnosed five years ago at age 75. And I still have many unanswered questions about what it is and how I got it.
All my life, I was in good physical shape. I managed my weight well and stayed active. I was never bothered by Crohn’s-like symptoms until much later. So, how did I get through 75 years of life without any serious ailments, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, get this Crohn’s diagnosis? What is Crohn’s besides just inflammation? And how did it get inside my body?
Looking back, I had it for about two years before I did anything about it. It was very unpleasant. I didn’t like to go anywhere because I never knew if my symptoms would erupt. I worried about things I used to take for granted, like whether there would be a bathroom nearby. Traveling was definitely problematic.
I don't like to go to doctors or hospitals unless I have a chronic problem; so you know the pain was really bad when I called my daughter and asked her to take me to the emergency room.
"It feels like there's something inside trying to eat its way out," I told her.
And that's really what it felt like.
In the emergency room, the doctors ran tests from top to bottom trying to discern what was ailing me. At long last, they said I had Crohn’s inflammation. At first, this sounded to me like a generic term for every gastrointestinal issue they didn’t understand.
They prescribed some medication, and I'll never forget: I took the prescription to the drug store, and when I came back to pick it up, the clerk said: "That will be $960."
I thought she’d made a mistake with the decimal point!
I mentioned I had a discount card on file with the pharmacy and she said: "Sir, that's with the discount. It normally costs $1,260."
I said: "Keep the medication. I’ll suffer."
But my children weren’t having that. With their help, I was able to find a way to acquire a lower-cost prescription and get the medication I needed.
On the medication, my system slowly — very slowly — seemed to make its way back to well-being. At times, I didn't think it was ever going to normalize, but with the medication, it has, thankfully. Getting to that point, some semblance of normalcy, was a difficult and arduous journey. It was a very challenging part of my life.
Crohn’s wasn’t like a toothache or having your finger caught in a doorjamb — those problems were remote and soon remedied. Crohn’s was a 24/7 problem, with maladies like extreme gas, bloating, diarrhea; of course, pain; and an overall feeling that the core of my body was out of order. I became despondent.
I've worked a lot of jobs in my lifetime. I was a printer when honorably discharged from the Navy in 1958. I worked as an electrician's helper for a while. I was a hair stylist, and then I went into sales, which I absolutely loved. That was the best of everything I’d ever done as an occupation.
I handled my Crohn’s diagnosis much like I handled rejection in the sales. If I lost a sale, I’d come home and replay the whole situation in my mind. Where did I lose it? Where did it go wrong?
With the Crohn’s, I wondered: What did I do? Was it something I ate? The foods today laden all those chemicals and pesticides — who knows what you're getting and where it came from?
I also couldn’t help but wonder if Crohn’s was just degeneration, a byproduct of my age. But then I remembered my niece, who sadly took her own life, had been plagued and distressed with Crohn’s for much of her young life. When she was in her early 30s, it seemed like she couldn't shake it. She seemed to have it much more seriously than I did.
Being 80 now, I know my days are numbered. But before I go, I'd like to get some answers for questions about my Crohn’s disease. I’d like to know where it came from. It seems today that so many folks are afflicted with Crohn’s, and there was a time in my life when Crohn’s was unheard of. So where did it come from?
I’m retired now, which means every day is Sunday. I’m feeling good overall. I eat basically whatever I want — everything in moderation — but I don’t glutton out. My weight is good, and I move well. I have two dogs — miniature schnauzers — and they’re a blessing in disguise. They really motivate me to get out of the house every day, whether I feel like it or not.
Another thing I’m thankful for is the computer, because I love to write. I write about anything and everything, from fictional stories to my own experiences with Crohn’s disease. Writing is a release for me, a way to vent. For me, it’s like cathartic therapy. I try to write every day.
I like to laugh, so I try to see something funny, some levity in everything. I try to incorporate that into my writing as well. I am comforted knowing that when I’m gone, my writing about my life experiences will still be here for my children to peruse, and my grandchildren and now great-grandchildren will have that part of me always. Imagine if you had your great-grandparents thoughts and writings to peruse and ponder.
When I was young, 17 years old in the Navy, I didn't value my life. But now, looking back, I realize it's so precious. I've seen so much: I've seen a biplane slowly making its way through the sky when I was a boy, and I've seen a man on the moon in '69 as an adult; I love life, and I’ve had a very special one.
Even with Crohn’s, I'm thrilled that I've had a chance to be here. But then there’s my now deceased niece. So young. So much to live for. For me, Crohn’s was a bother, for I was retired. But for my niece, it must have been dreadful to have such an affliction so young. I hope that for others living with Crohn’s, my words may somehow ease their sufferings and bring some comfort.