Most of my Friday nights as a 19-year-old evolved in comparable fashion: I’d deliver pizza until about nine and head home to shower off the tang of degradation before calling my friends and heading over to the local watering hole to spend all of my tip money on beer, nachos, and probably some more beer. Such was my life at that point and it served me just fine.
I was still deciding the future and was in no mood to disrupt my flow. The money was good, I was slothful, and I liked spending time with friends.
I think I started to feel different one Christmas at my grandmother’s house. I recall abruptly feeling a surge of demands that intimately resembled the charge to the last valued slices of my grandma’s rhubarb pie after the presents were opened. I had to go, badly, and rushed into the bathroom just in time to blow the porcelain lid to smithereens.
Within days, these surges became routine. I found myself racing to the toilet relentlessly, bowling over women and children on my way to pants-down, fist-clenching contrition for whatever blasphemous essence it was I consumed.
Questions flooded my head: was I eating something differently? Was it that shitty (pun moderately intended) powdered lemonade drink I liked? Were the preservatives playing fast and loose (pun absolutely intended) with my bowels?
I cut out the alleged evildoer and went about my merry way, but nothing changed. Days were peppered with more races to the restroom, culminating in mad dashes to the john that left me tempted to convert my entire trouser wardrobe to NBA-style tearaways. It wasn’t the damn powdered lemonade, it wasn’t anything.
It was getting worse, with traces of blood in my stool.
I didn’t have the internet to Google my symptoms and there were no half-sauced e-doctors I could sound out on behalf of my brushes with untimely release, so it was off to Dr. Cooper I went. I kicked my self for not going sooner.
After hearing the symptoms I was expressing to him fretfully and terribly as I sat in his office (sudden urges to “do number two,” fatigue, bleeding, abdominal pain, the feeling of never being “empty”), the Good Doctor sprang into action and ordered me through a volume of tests to figure out just what in the hell was going on.
Off I went on a mysterious voyage, providing stool samples in plastic cups to walk-in clinics and having blood drawn. My condition was getting worse, as I continued to deliver pizza in between tests and getting plenty of rest. My boss was considerate and let me take it easy more often than not. I was also getting quite pale and my cheeks began to sink in, causing one backslapping co-worker to observe that I was starting to “look like Skeletor.” I snapped back something about Skeletor being yellow, of course, but that's neither here nor there.
I was also up for X-rays, downing a mug of revolting chalk-flavoured crud in order to elucidate my insides.
After a brief period of time, I went back to Dr. Cooper’s office and took a seat in his office. “Jordan,” he began candidly, “you have ulcerative colitis.”
I had no idea what that meant and I stared vacantly ahead as he began to explain it. Dr. Cooper went on to tell me that ulcerative colitis is an inflammation of the colon, causing ulcers and inflammation along the inner lining of the large intestine. It is chronic, meaning I will never be rid of it, but it is controllable with apt attention and care. There is no particular known cause, although there are a few things that can cause the condition to “flare up.”
Dr. Cooper wanted me to have a sigmoidoscopy in order to check out the large intestine to verify that there were no cancerous growths. It would involve a flexible endoscope heading in through the out door to poke around in there. He mentioned that I would be able to see the procedure while they were “within” thanks to the endoscope’s camera.
I needed to perform a few enemas and make sure everything was thumbs-up in there first and then I headed to the hospital for the procedure. I watched them nudge around in my large intestine searching for polyps, bleeding, and other abnormalities.
After another brief period of time, Dr. Cooper told me that they didn’t find anything with the sigmoidoscopy and that it was time to try some medication. I was given something called salofalk, which was pricey as hell but fortuitously partly covered thanks to the notorious Canadian Health Care, and I began to take the pills in pairs four times a day.
I had enrolled in college prior to all of this colitis business became clear, so as the fall approached it was time to get down to brass tacks. I wasn’t going to let colitis stop me, despite having exasperating urges to go the bathroom. The salofalk was working pretty well, but it was no miracle cure. I had to watch my diet and I kept a food diary to determine that dairy wasn’t doing me any favours. With this newfound knowledge, I ventured to college each day.
The commute was hell and each morning became a ceremony of hammering on my steering wheel in fits of frenzy with hopes of magically removing the cars in my way so that I could find a bathroom. The freeway was jam-packed and immobile most mornings, but I was determined to prove to my family and my friends that I wasn’t going to let this thing take me down. It wasn’t going to change how I lived.
Everyone I have spoken to with UC has a different story of how the condition impacts them. I spoke to one guy who loved to jog every morning, but his runs became rituals of diving into nearby bushes to defecate. The indignity, that crippling fiend, was too much for him and he began to gradually file back the regularity of his runs. UC began to dictate when he could run, even with medication.
The easy refuge of being able to “hold it” was long gone.
Each time I witnessed a parent chastising a child in the shopping mall for not using the bathroom before she left the house, I’d squirm. Each time I’d see a cleaning crew place a sign on a bathroom door, I’d tighten up. Each time I found myself facing a long line-up to use the bathroom, I’d freak. Before I knew it, ulcerative colitis began to dictate to me too.
My own security was eroded over the course of time. It took two embarrassing instances of not making it to the bathroom in time, a mad-panicked endeavour to get at a staff washroom during intermission at a hockey game, and a new job that I thought I could handle in order to prove that UC didn't have its talons dug in.
Years went by and I made do with the changes, adapting my entire way of life, changing my diet where I could, and attempting to understand ulcerative colitis further. I saw my friends less because I’d wind up being too sick to make the drive out to visit and there’s only so many times you can force your pals to come your way. College was a chore and I got nothing out of it, wasting away in three subsequent programs. Dr. Cooper set me up on a round of different medication.
As luck would have it, I met Jennifer online and we began conversing. A relationship blossomed separated by a border and about four hours of driving time, but she sacrificed and came to my rescue when few others would. We got married.
Fast-forward to today and I have learned more about ulcerative colitis. I am no longer taking salofalk or any medication, I use new techniques like meditation and massage to control my flare-ups, and I have corrected my diet further with an infusion of organic food. I work from home and have ditched the panic trap that became my car, vowing to take a break from the concrete prison that virtually drove me insane on all of those commutes.
I have made mistakes and, looking back, I sometimes wish I had made some different decisions. Many, if not most, have worse cases than I do and I feel very fortunate to have made the progress I have. I couldn't have done it alone.
UC still dictates to me, though. Little things split and slit at the security I think I have, eating at my perception and spreading hesitation. One trip to a restaurant resulted in my detection of a pre-teen punk cramming toilet paper into the only john in the place. I almost threw him in it.
There have been more mad dashes and more near-misses.
I’m still learning to control it, but more significantly I’m learning how to not let it control me. As I write this, I wish I could express a happy ending of how I’ve licked the damn thing for now and how I’m feeling normal without the apparent hastening need to go to the bathroom. I can’t say that because it’s not true.
But it will be.