A Brief History of a Girl Who Got Crohn's Part I
Updated: Apr 5, 2019
I was the intrepid, middle child; spending spring and summer months shoeless and wandering, grass-stains on my feet; rescuing abandoned puppies, straggling home at sundown with tangles in my hair.
I remember having tummy aches that kept me home from school. I remember glycerin suppositories
that no one in the family enjoyed making me use. Looking back, I seem to have had an excessive amount of childhood head trauma. Everything from bike accidents, to stitches in the back of my head, to falling head first out of a swing and landing on concrete. At the time this just seemed par for the rough and tumble course of my life. In hindsight it seems much more concerning. I was a sensitive child. I worried too much about other people’s feelings, oftentimes misplacing my own, losing track of them completely. I wonder now if I ever knew what my own feelings were, when I so often felt as if I was swimming in an ocean of emotion. I wanted to be liked. I wanted those around me to feel happy. I worked hard trying to please them. As I grew older, wherever I went there I was: Sensitive, empathetic, easily overwhelmed, and full of innocent curiosity about life.
At 17 I travelled to South America, never having set foot on a plane before. Alone, afraid, but self-righteously determined to be of service to my fellow human beings. I volunteered for 12 months in a school for indigenous children run by the Baha’i community of Ecuador. These were wonderful months full of unforgettable experiences, of learning and growth. They were also months full of unforgettable hours spent on the toilet, in pain and chronically unwell. What initially started as simple gastroenteritis from parasite or bacterial exposure eventually transitioned into something much more dramatic. About 8 months into this year of service I became quite ill. I still to this day do not know if it was yellow fever, typhoid or just a simple virus. I was delirious with fever, and bedridden for 4-5 days. My parents were coming for a visit and I had many adventures planned. I simply did not have time to be ill. So I got up, put on a happy face and entertained my family. Near the end of our time enjoying Ecuador as a family, I started to notice small painful red bumps appearing on my shins and lower legs. I said nothing to anyone and sent my parents on their way. The nodules grew increasingly painful to the touch and were accompanied by a deep aching in my legs. Over the course of about 7-10 days a total of 12 small nodules appeared, as well as a large ulcer in the middle of my left shin. This was accompanied by swelling in my leg and foot to the point that I could barely walk. I was transferred to the capital city and hospitalized for a week. I was quite the anomaly. I had recently spent time in the cloud forest and thus, most doctors assumed I had been bitten by some strange insect. I was pumped full of antibiotics and steroids. Within 7 days the swelling came down and I was sent on my way with a months supply of antibiotics.
From this moment on, my life was never the same. I returned from Ecuador convinced I must have some type of chronic parasite infection. I was plagued with abdominal pain, intermittent bouts of severe diarrhea followed by constipation, chronic pain in right upper and lower quadrants of the abdomen and mucus and blood in the stool. As the years passed I saw a multitude of practitioners. I had a partial colonoscopy performed by a gastroenterologist who decided I was stressed and had IBS. I had CT scans of my intestine that showed mild diffuse inflammation of the gall bladder and small and large bowel. I eventually settled into a reality of what I would now call chronic disease. At the time, however, this was just what my life looked and felt like. When I ate, I felt terrible. Sometimes if I didn’t eat I felt better. It was cyclical. I had no point of reference for what normal was anymore. Anyone from whom I sought help was unfortunately unable to provide me with answers.
From these struggles with my health grew an interest and a desire to learn about health and healing. I would go to the library and check out every book I could find on herbalism, nutrition, acupuncture, and natural healing. In this process I stumbled on something that changed the course of my life and my health. Growing up in central Illinois in the 1990’s you are not necessarily exposed to options for alternative medical care. Thus, when I found a book that showed different natural healing options for treating diseases, I was completely surprised to discover the profession of naturopathic medicine. As I struggled daily with my own chronic health problems, I was determined to learn as much as I could to find answers. This was the beginning of my journey toward becoming a doctor and a healer.