In the following post, I will be trying to give you an insight into my experiences of being a first year student in college with Crohn’s/ Ulcerative Colitis.
I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis after a rough few months in the middle of my Junior Cert. I started on a course of medication that seemed to just about bring the condition under control.
“Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a long-term condition that results in inflammation and ulcers of the colon and rectum. The primary symptom of active disease is abdominal pain and diarrhea mixed with blood. Weight loss, fever, and anemia may also occur. Often symptoms come on slowly and can range from mild to severe. Symptoms typically occur intermittently with periods of no symptoms between flares.”
From the Junior to Leaving Certificate I had no major flare-ups, just ticking along, not really feeling that well, but not feeling too bad either. There were times where I was in bad form but I never ended up in hospital.
I got through the stress associated with the Leaving okay, and got my course in the University of Limerick that I was hoping for- New Media and English. Orientation week started in the last week in August. A nurse told me a couple of months later, while I was lying on a hospital bed that while in college she learned that people with inflammatory bowel disease are much more likely to flare up when big changes arise in their lives. Such a moving out from homing and having to cook etc. for yourself for the first time…
Freshers’ week, along with the sudden upheaval of moving to college, are, I would say two main factors in my first proper flare up, which hit me at the start of November. Without even having settled into college in orientation week, Freshers’ week began, meaning I started my first semester in college in less than ideal conditions. As the weeks progressed, my body began to decline, leaving me spending more and more time on the toilet.
I didn’t really pay attention to how I was feeling at the time, even when every day in college was planned around when I could make it to the toilet, where the closest toilet was, and whether I had left myself enough time to allow a stop off in a toilet. Eventually, probably half way through October my diet was very bad, and even going to college became too much for me. One moment that stands out to me is, heading into a 9am tutorial to give a group presentation. Being early enough in the morning as it was, ( I always felt worse in the morning) and feeling nervous because of the presentation ahead of me, I had to go against how sick I was feeling, and give the presentation with some terrible stomach cramps.
As November arrived, my body continued its decline, all while I ignored how sick I was feeling. It had gotten to a level where I struggled to keep food and water down. In work one Saturday I had to go home halfway through my shift as I felt on the verge of passing out.
I spent the following week in college bedridden, without the energy needed to even make the short walk over to my friends’ house. That weekend I was too weak to work, spending each day getting sick repeatedly. Whenever I ate or drank I vomited, cramps wracked through my body. I had so little food in my body I could barely stand up, with a fever following that.
On Sunday night, I went to A&E on advice of the local MIDOC. I was put on a drip straight away, all while still vomiting up the contents of my almost empty stomach. I got a bed sometime near 6am that morning and was given intravenous steroids, as well as a host of other tablets to take. I didn’t really leave my bed for the first two days in hospital, and watched, over the course of the week in hospital, and the weeks that followed, as all the fat and muscle wasted off my body. I tried going for a walk with my mother on Thursday, but barely made it to the Café when all the energy left me. I went straight back to bed and slept for the rest of the evening.
By Friday, fortunately, I had most of my appetite back, still vomiting occasionally. While I was there, I had an endoscopy, which showed that I indeed was in the middle of a flare up. I was let out of hospital a week after I’d come in, feeling much better than I had been for weeks.
I was given a course of steroids and other medications to try and get my body back on track. If I added up all the tablets I got through in a day, it came to 16 or 17. These tablets worked at first, but after a week or two my improvements seemed to plateau off. I got through college exams, which with the stress they involved, certainly did not help my recovery.
I started to decline again for a couple more weeks, not keeping down meals and so on, and was prescribed a new medication that I hadn’t tried before- Humira. I was also told that my IBD looked more like Crohn’s Disease as opposed to Ulcerative Colitis. This biologic medicine was slow to kick in and by December 28th I noticed I was starting to improve.
“Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus. Signs and symptoms often include abdominal pain, diarrhea (which may be bloody if inflammation is severe), fever, and weight loss.”
I regained my appetite and started to eat as much as I could, no longer having to get sick after eating. The cramps that had me doubled over in pain while using the toilet started to disappear and I slowly started to put on weight again. Normally I weigh around 65kg, which means I would be naturally quite lean, but after my flare-up I was 54kg at my lowest- it was painful for me to even sit down on a solid wooden chair.
Second Semester started on the 23rd of January, I entered it feeling healthier than I had in months, in years. So far, as long as I get enough sleep, avoid too much bad food, and eat good food regularly, I feel okay. I avoid foods with too much fibre and take care in what I eat and I largely feel like a new man.
If I could go back to the start of the first semester I would pay attention to what my body was telling me and not just hoping for the best. I would take my medication properly, and avoid eating junk food.