At the time of writing (in early 2020), my health has continued to improve and the ulcerative colitis hasn’t found a way back from remission. My haemoglobin levels were healthy once more, my weight on point and according to friends, family and my doctors, I was the picture of good health and vigor.
So it would seem that I’d been restored back to normal and rode off into the sunset in a flashy convertible but such wasn’t exactly the case. Not long after my January 2019 meeting with Dr. B a new challenger had stepped into the arena. This new challenger saddled me with floaters in the vision of my left eye, some subtle blurriness in my peripheral vision and a general feeling of irritation in the back of the eye, as though something – or someone – was tinkering around with the veins and nerves within. My watershed moment arrived when, sometime during the following month, I went to have my glasses upgraded which involved having to sit down for an eye test. The test results of my left eye revealed that while my vision had somehow improved (yay!) there was plenty of hemorrhaging within.
The optometrist that tested my eyes ordered me to see an ophthalmologist and upon doing so, I was diagnosed with Central Retinal Vein Occlusion (CRVO for short) in my left eye. The central vein in my eye had become blocked, causing blood and fluid to leak into my retina and messed up my vision as a result. According to the ophthalmologist (let’s call him ‘Dr. Q’) it is a common eye disorder for people aged fifty and over with health conditions like hypertension, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol and that cases among people my age in rather good health were extremely rare. I could only shake my head in disbelief upon hearing all of this, feeling betrayed by my own body all over again.
First colitis and now this shit? Man, what the fuck!?
The icing on the cake was when Dr. Q informed me that the treatment involved directly injecting some medicine into the affected eye that would ease the blockage and prevent the development of new veins that, while it would have kept the blood circulating through my eye, would have corrupted everything within, resulting in glaucoma or some other insidious eye disorder that could rob me of my sight. According to Dr. Q the blockage in my eye was serious enough to warrant a prompt injection, which he offered for free. I was naturally apprehensive about the idea of having a needle jammed into my eye but I was far less keen on the idea of losing my vision and Dr. Q had promised me that I would not feel anything. Might as well endure a minute or two of terror and discomfort rather than lose an eye.
Ok, Doc. Bring it on!
True to his word, Dr. Q numbed my eye with painkillers and eye drops multiple times over before driving the needle through. The procedure went ahead with no issues and pain but no amount of painkillers could spare my left eye from mutating into an ugly, bloodshot shade of red afterwards that Dr. Q assured me was not uncommon, merely a case of burst blood vessels that would heal in two weeks at most. I walked around with my eyes at half-mast behind my spectacles over the next fortnight to hide my mutated eye but I couldn’t keep it up forever. My parents and sister damn near jumped back in horror when they first looked me in the eyes post-injection, as did some of my peers at the Wing Chun Academy. Shoot, even Dr. G was startled at the appearance of my eye during a meeting with her one week later and I’m sure that she has seen and heard plenty of haunting and disturbing cases throughout her work as a general practitioner. I can’t say that I could fault any of them for their reactions, even I felt disgusted whenever I looked at my eye in the mirror. I looked like Kano from the Mortal Kombat series.
In addition to the jab in the eye Dr. Q also requested that I undergo a blood test and MRI in order to rule out other ailments within my body as possible cause(s) of that damn CRVO, both of which I did a week after meeting with Dr. G. Fortunately, the MRI found no irregularities in my body save for the swelling in the central vein of my bad eye while the blood test confirmed that my blood, cholesterol and hormones were top notch. I was healthy as a horse and it also confirmed that the medication I was taking for the colitis hadn’t set off a chain of nefarious activities within my body, much to my relief. Upon discussing my results with Dr. Q a few weeks later he tentatively cited my recent colitis battle as a probable cause, a residual effect if you will, although it wasn’t a definitive conclusion. He seemed just as perplexed as Dr. B had been when my father grilled him as to how I could have possibly been struck by colitis.
So within the space of a year and a few months I, a proud man that had vowed a long time ago that he wouldn’t see the inside of a hospital as a patient, had undergone a blood transfusion, colonoscopy, iron infusion, MRI, eye injection and more blood tests than I can count all because I’d been diagnosed with two sucky ailments that seemed to be the result of sheer bad luck and my body’s betrayal more than anything.
Someone’s out to get me.
That was the first of many more eye injections to come. My eyesight has since continued to improve and Dr. Q has gradually spaced out my injections with the goal of eventually weaning me off the treatment and I am confident that it will be all over soon.
Fortunately, it was more good news on the colitis front.
During my follow-up with Dr. B in June 2019 (on the day before my mother’s birthday, actually) he revealed that not only were my bowels in great condition but that I was also, statistically, the healthiest patient that he had. If you thought that I was a happy camper following the January meeting you should have seen the smile on my face after this one, it was wider than The Grand Canyon and the same could be said of my father’s. Sure, being told that my bowels were healthy was great but it was an unbelievable feeling to be told that among what I assumed was a rather sizeable list of patients, I was the healthiest one.
The top dog.
The head honcho.
That’s right, get a load of me! I am the KING!!!!
But just when I thought I could finally let go of these chains and fly high into the sky like a bird, I fell back down to earth with a mighty thud.
Shortly before my father and I departed Dr. B’s office he asked me a question that I had a feeling he’d ask sooner or later but was silently hoping he wouldn’t;
“When was your last colonoscopy?”
Fuck….where’s he going with this!?
“August of last year,” I replied, the nerves within beginning to stir from their extended hibernation.
Dr. B took a deep breath before giving me a thoughtful look that, to be honest, made me rather nervous. For a split second he looked like a movie villain sitting behind his desk, peering through hands that were clasped right in front of his face, elbows resting on the table. What followed afterwards almost caused my heart to fall out of my ass.
“I think it might be time for a follow-up”, he said rather monotonously.
“Ok,” was all I could utter in response, wide-eyed as I tried to digest the fact that, months from now, I would have to go through that colonoscopy prep again though I did take comfort in the fact that I knew exactly what to expect and was hopeful that perhaps the prep will run smoothly this time as I would be in far better health.
We booked the procedure for early November and once D-Day had arrived following a rather easy prep the night before (yay!) my parents and I drove to the Lakeview Private Hospital, located not far from Dr. B’s clinic, for round two. Dr. B was already waiting in the operating room when they wheeled me in, dressed in his gown, mask and scrubs. Following an exchange of pleasantries he remarked that my arms looked muscular compared to the previous year.
“Oh, thank you,” I chuckled.
If he had said that to take some of the edge off it worked perfectly. The anesthetic kicked in not long after and before I knew it, I was waking up on the other side of the room from my medically-induced nap, feeling as though a building had collapsed on me.
I was chowing down on my post-colonoscopy meal when a nurse approached me to give a quick rundown of my results but first, she quickly explained that Dr. B had left before I had regained consciousness due to an extremely tight schedule and had asked her to discuss the results with me before making a mad dash back to his office. I would later find out upon e-mailing him when I arrived home that there had also been a power outage in the suburb where his practice was located, further exacerbating what appeared to be an extremely stressful day for him.
One of those days, huh?
Anyway, I am pleased to say that the nurse had good news for me and uttered the words that I’d been longing to hear for a long time.
“I’m glad to confirm that the colitis appears to be in complete remission,” she disclosed, a smile forming on her face
I almost choked on my sandwich. Had I not been groggy from the procedure and the lack of food and water I might have shot straight up from out of my chair and performed cartwheels around the room. At last, victory has been achieved!
“Thank you, Ma’am,” I replied, barely containing my glee, “I’m glad to hear that.”
“Dr. B says to maintain your dosages for the Imuran and Mezavant for now and to call him ASAP to book a follow-up appointment in six months’ time.”
“Ok, sounds good, thank you.”
“Well done again, Sir, on getting to this point.”
Ok, so my dosages weren’t reduced just yet but the confirmation of remission was still a massive weight lifted off my shoulders. Dr. B had mentioned during a previous meeting that there was a very real possibility that I may need to undergo a colonoscopy once a year for the rest of my life to keep my bowels in check and as sucky as that sounds, if that’s what it will take to keep the beast dead and buried forever then so be it.
You know, my mother told me not too long ago that, during a conversation she had with my father one day, he marveled to her how things always seem to work out for my sister and I whenever we run into a spot of bother. Sure, we experience our fair share of bad days and horrible situations but we would always manage to claw our way out of it relatively unscathed no matter how badly shit hit the proverbial fan. I put that down to our parents raising us both to always try to find a solution for every problem and also to stick it out during tough times but for me personally, I would say that my sense of humor also helped me navigate through the fiercest of storms and this ulcerative colitis battle was no different. Whenever I felt like punching walls in anger frustration I would think to myself, “Go on, tough guy. You finna kill that wall with your bare fists? Your sick ass prolly can’t punch through wet tissue paper right now!”
Whenever I felt like I was shitting out my entire digestive system from out my ass as those painful waves of cramps attacked during sessions on that porcelain throne I thought, “Oh bloody hell….literally!” or “2018 sure is turning out to be an annus horribillis – remove one of those N’s if you want to get literal!”
During my blood transfusion and then the first colonoscopy it was, “Heh, so this is what this feels like,” and in the case of the latter, “Ok, at least I’ll be a colonoscopy veteran once I am eligible for bowel cancer screenings”.
You’re probably also wondering if there are days where I find myself beaten down with fears that the colitis would return with a vengeance and perhaps evolve into an even greater monster like bowel cancer or toxic megacolon (go ahead and Google that one. It’s as frightening as it sounds). The thought does cross my mind every now and then, I can’t lie, but the belief that this body is strong enough to keep the disease at bay for good far outweighs any fears of relapse. At the worst of times, however, that same mind sometimes takes things to extremely frightening levels;
What if life decides to really fuck with you and slaps you with a cancer diagnosis or Motor Neuron Disease or anything else that threatened your ability to function and, perhaps, your life, forcing you to undergo tremendous, downright fucked-up levels of prolonged suffering before you finally take your last, agonized breath? You ain’t invincible, Buddy, and life can be a fucking jerk.
That fucking brain of mine, I swear to God. I’m fairly certain that I wrote somewhere in a past chapter that while my strength of mind has been a major ally of mine during hard times it does turn on me on other days. Consider this to be one of those moments where I wanted to rip the bastard from out my head and boot it all the way to Antarctica. To answer that twisted question, if I’m being brutally honest I can’t say I know for certain how I’d react to staring down such a grim diagnosis. As Mike Tyson once quoted, ‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face’. It’s easy to say that I’d fight back and win like I did before and I do believe that I would but truthfully I don’t think I’d know unless it happened for real and obviously, I hope I never find out.
Just as it seemed as though my head would explode from drowning in all of this shit my inner drill-sergeant sprang into action.
God dammit, why are you doing this to yourself!? Why are you wasting your time with these bullshit thoughts????
Good question. Why the hell was I flagellating myself like this? The weather looked nice outside and here I was sitting indoors working myself into an anxious mess.
Fuck living like Howard Hughes, I’ma head out.
I quickly hopped off the couch and headed out to the backyard and into the mid-morning sun to clear my mind. The morning dew on the grass glistened like tiny shards of glass, the leaves on the various fruit trees and plants that my father and I had planted and cultivated over the years shone a bright fresh green and the sky above could have easily doubled as the wallpaper of a baby’s bedroom, a resplendent blue populated by fluffy white clouds that resembled cotton candy. It had rained rather hard over the past couple of weeks and so the air was crisp and clean, seemingly immune from the fumes of passing cars.
My father, very much looking the part of a farmer with his sombrero, boots, shorts and old work shirt, was kneeling beside some of his shrubs and sorting through trays full of his latest harvest while my mother was inside the house taking a breather from morning chores and watching the news on TV. My father looked up at me with a big grin on his face as I approached him. He stood up and practically shoved the trays into my face.
“Check these out. Know what they are?”
Geez, Pops, we have so many herbs and plants in this yard that it’s hard to keep track!
He gave me a few seconds to guess the contents of his trays before revealing that they were lettuce, basil, coriander, and parsley.
“Ah ok, cool.”
He then marched triumphantly into the house like a returning war hero as I began to wander around the yard like a chicken on a farm, once again alone with my thoughts but this time the dark clouds of anxiety were replaced by the bright blue skies of positivity. Where I was previously disappointing the ghosts of Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus in addition to other followers of Stoicism by fretting over scenarios in my mind that may never happen I was now basking in the knowledge that I had proven to myself during The Great Colitis Battle of 2018 that I did have some semblance of spirit, fortitude and toughness within me. We all go through trials and tests in life, clichéd as it sounds, and some tests will call on us to dig deeper than ever before. Of course, some have it far worse than others and that is not an excuse to minimize one another’s struggles. Everyone is fighting a battle that others are not privy to therefore we should all strive to be good to one other.
Me myself, I can’t claim to have been a graduate of the School Of Hard Knocks so maybe I needed to go through this journey in order to find out how I would react when I was thrown into the battlefield against a formidable enemy and I remain proud of never surrendering and fighting back to ultimately come out on top. Given the nature of ulcerative colitis, how the cause and cure are currently unknown and that some sufferers do experience relapses and the bleak possibility of a partial or total colectomy, I understood that anxiety may pop up from time to time but I was ultimately responsible for how I chose to live with it and there was no way in hell that I was going to waste my time – no, my life – sweating bullets. Living scared and paranoid would only weaken the body and encourage the beast to reawaken so I might as well keep myself strong physically AND mentally in order to prevent a reincarnation of sorts.
Count your blessings rather than your misfortunes, Kid. Warriors don’t live scared.
But I couldn’t do it all alone. My family, friends and doctors definitely deserve all the credit and respect in the world for helping me get through it and pulling me out of the hole whenever I stumbled. It was my parents that encouraged me to see Dr. G when I finally came clean about my symptoms and it was Dr. G who introduced me to Dr. B and he more than lived up to the positive reviews that I read about him on Google. Yes, I know that it seems rather stupid on my part to wait until he was finally available to treat me, which took about a month and in the process allowed my symptoms to intensify, but I have no regrets over that. I wouldn’t have trusted anyone else to carry out a rather sensitive procedure on me and to this day, he and Dr. G continue to look out for me and make sure that my health remains at top notch.
Hell, Dr. Q is also familiar with Dr. G so thank God that, somehow, the optometrist sent me to him when he discovered an irregularity in my eye exam.
My sister visited every weekend to catch up with the family and to also make sure that her big bro was recovering just fine and my friends were also on hand to keep me from losing the plot, whether it was by sharing jokes, memes and stories from the world outside my home or just some good old-fashioned pep talk and virtual fist bumps and hugs. I couldn’t have asked for a better family and friends and thank God that I was treated by exceptional medical professionals.
I’m a lucky dude.
As for that other extreme scenario presented to me, all I can say is that I fought back from adversity before and I can do it again. And again. And as many times as I need to until they finally bury me in the dirt or spread my ashes over an ocean somewhere. To hell with being scared.
The morning dew soaked up my slippers as I walked through the wet grass, in turn also soaking my feet but I didn’t mind. I took deep breaths to lap in all of that fresh air as I admired the trees that sprouted from the wet soil and watched birds fly by, chattering as though they were discussing the daily lives of the strange humans in the big, fancy caves on the ground below.