A friend once told me, “You’re invincible when you’re 23.” A thought I shrugged off at the time, but it came rushing back when, weeks after my 23rd birthday, I became sick and then sicker.
It started as the flu, but by Valentine’s Day I was admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas with abdominal pain, a 103-degree fever, diarrhea, no appetite and a skyrocketing white blood cell count.
A few days later, my dad, who had flown from Kansas, and a nurse were persuading me to force the bitter lemon taste of magnesium citrate down my throat to prepare for my first colonoscopy.
The anesthesiologist told me that I would be put to sleep using Propofol. “It’s what killed Michael Jackson, but we’ll take good care of you.”
Results came back, but they were nonspecific. “Get rest. You’ll be better in a week or two.”
I lay in bed. I slept. I did not eat. I was too tired to watch Netflix.
A couple of weeks later, I was back in line at the Presby emergency room. Again I struggled to keep down the magnesium citrate that would cleanse my intestines. And again my dad kept watch over me from a cot at the foot of the bed.
“You have Crohn’s disease,” said my gastroenterologist as he scanned the room for a reaction.
“It is an autoimmune disease,” he said. “There is no known cure.”
Crohn’s disease may affect as many as 700,000 Americans, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.
Researchers think it is genetic, though no one else in my family has been diagnosed. It is caused by an increase in TNF proteins in the immune system. The body’s ramped-up immune system attacks the GI system, just like it would attack an infection. This leads to high fevers, diarrhea, inflammation and ulcers. The ulcers can eat through the intestinal wall and cause your abdominal cavity to become septic.