The last four months have been an adventure. Between major life changes and a health scare in my family, during June and July I was facing an overwhelming amount of stress that led me to sobbing in the shower and brought my Crohn’s disease out of remission for about three months.
In mid-June, my husband and I made the decision to pack up our life in Texas and move to Florida for his work. Even though we were excited for the move that would allow us to live close to open water and be surrounded by palm trees, we knew it was going to be stressful. With our decision made, there was no reason to wait. I already had a trip to Utah planned for the end of June, so we booked our house-hunting trip in Florida for early July.
Then, the countdown clock started.
We immediately hired a realtor to sell our house in Texas and had our place listed online within a week. We chose a realtor in Florida to help us find our new home and the listings started flooding our inboxes from day one. Every minute outside of our work schedules, we packed, we cleaned, we sold our belongings and we searched for new homes late into the night. We were burning the candle at both ends and I could feel myself getting run down. I forced myself to do more each day, keeping the end goal in sight. “Put your head down and drive on,” was the mantra from my Army days that I kept repeating in my head. And after two weeks, my intestines started to bleed. It was the first time in about five years.
At the same time, my brother-in-law went in for surgery. There were complications, and for the next month my family and I oscillated between hope and grim thoughts as we all held our breath, waiting for better news each day. Fast-forward to today, he is doing well, but still recovering and has a long road ahead (this is his story to tell, so I will leave it here for now).
The stress and worry about my brother-in-law, combined with the ups and downs of selling and buying a house, was about all I could take. My intestines continued to bleed more and more, but I never went into a debilitating Crohn’s flare-up. I was still able to leave the house and go through the motions of everyday life. In late July, I decided to take the advice I would have given to any other person in my shoes and I called my gastroenterologist. Technically, I didn’t call, but I logged into the online portal I use to reach my providers at the hospital. Unfortunately in this instance, the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans’ Hospital is a teaching hospital and the gastroenterologist assigned to me was a fellow who only saw patients at the VA hospital one day each week. So, my message sat in waiting for almost the full week.
When the gastroenterologist called me after receiving my message, he ordered some labs and I went in to have my blood drawn. But, because I waited so long to reach out to him, it was less than two weeks until we were scheduled to head out to Florida and there wasn’t enough time to do anything else. When my labs came back, the only thing of note was my low hemoglobin; same as always. He urged me to try and get established with the gastroenterology clinic at the VA hospital in Florida as soon as possible, and then he said something that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. He reminded me that when symptoms of Crohn’s disease arise, it can be like standing on the edge of a cliff — the slightest thing might send you over the edge and into a serious flare-up.
I’ve been lucky to spend the past five years in remission. Having spoken to so many different people with Crohn’s disease over the years, I know that things can change in the blink of an eye. Even though I do a lot of things (sauna sessions, meditation, exercise, fasting, etc.) to help improve my health, I know that when it comes to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), our best efforts are sometimes just not enough. It is frustrating to not have control of a situation, and equally frustrating to feel like I always find myself in a strange purgatory where I’m not sick enough to receive treatment or helpful advice from my doctors, but yet there’s visible blood coming from my intestines and I don’t feel good. It’s no wonder why I questioned whether I should call my gastroenterologist before leaving Texas, the bleeding and low hemoglobin lab result didn’t actually require me to do anything other than talk about it.
The rational side of me still says it was a good idea to reach out to my doctor, after all, things can change fast with IBD. But the part of me that knows I’ve gone through this song and dance before is just tired. Therefore, I find myself turning back to the things I can control — outside of conventional medicine — to be as healthy as possible and get back into remission.
With my blood draw done and no other appointments to attend, we finished packing up our house in Texas, piled into the RV and headed out to Florida in early August. Since we weren’t scheduled to close on the purchase of our new home until the end of August, I didn’t call the VA hospital in Florida because I didn’t want to jinx anything. (I’m not superstitious per se, but I didn’t want to take any chances on our new dream home falling through.)
My husband and I spent the next three weeks living in the RV with our two dogs. Finally, we were able to close on the new home and moved in with just a few days left in August. Then, with my brother-in-law on the mend and our new house purchased, just as quickly as it had come on, my stress disappeared. Over the next two weeks, my intestines slowly stopped bleeding and the sunshine, open water and palm trees were helping me to feel more energized than I have in years. By mid-September, the bleeding had stopped.
It’s early October now, and while I still get run down easily, I feel happier and healthier in Florida. There is something that centers me as I stare out across the bay, feel the sunshine on my face and watch palm fronds swaying in the breeze. I was also able to get set up fairly quickly at the VA hospital here in Florida. I had a virtual appointment with my primary care provider a few weeks ago and she was able to put in new referrals for me to see the gastroenterology and renal clinics here. I see my new nephrologist this week and gastroenterologist next week. I’m curious and anxious to see how my new doctors will respond to me and what they will say about my labs. I worry that they will look at me with the same disbelief I’ve seen on so many faces before, and I worry that I’ll be dismissed. In the meantime, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.
One thing this summer has taught me, though: If you know what and where your happy place is, get there.