Two days ago I celebrated eight years of being hospital-free. As I wrote on my Facebook status update:
On May 3, 2003, I walked out of Georgetown University Hospital with a determination never to be admitted again as an IBD patient. I had been a “frequent flyer” at that hospital for almost 3 years due to severe Crohn’s colitis flares. Today I celebrate 8 years of being hospital-free. To my Crohn’s buddies and friends with health challenges: “Nothing is impossible” ~ Christopher Reeve
It is amazing to me that I actually was never admitted again to the hospital for IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). I was so terribly sick! I’ve written about the different causes and conditions that I believe helped me to recover, but the truth is, I really don’t know for sure. I found some combination of health habits that worked for me. And for almost exactly six years now I have been free of Crohn’s colitis. There are other milestones too: for almost three years I have been free of sciatica pain; for more than three years I have been free of migraine headaches; and for almost one month I have been free of chronic UTIs (gotta start somewhere!).
How do I celebrate such milestones? By eating lots of vegetables, fruits, and high-fiber foods! By thanking everyone who has been with me on my healing journeys. By appreciating the present moment. And by reflecting, at least a little bit, on what illness and pain have taught me.
I read through some of my past journal entries and almost exactly six years ago, I wrote the following in my journal:
Kitten Snickers (the pet name my sister gave to Crohn’s colitis) has taught me about life and death, as I have almost died from severe episodes. But Kitten Snickers has also taught me about love. When there was nothing else for me to hold onto — when I was floating in the moment to moment uncertainty of whether I would survive — when I was overwhelmed by pain and discomfort and feeling trapped — I kept coming back to the experience of love. It was something of a calling. A calling to be right there in the thick of the suffering and to make space within it. And the more I could rest there the more space there was. Sometimes I would close my eyes and feel like there was so much space in my body that I had expanded past the outskirts of the galaxy into nebulae. Only it no longer felt like me. It was the more than me that is love.
I reflect back on that last hospitalization for inflammatory bowel disease as well. It began at the end of April, 2003. In early April, my doctor switched me from Prednisone, a corticosteroid, to Budesonide, a corticosteroid that was “new” at the time. Budesonide didn’t work for me and my symptoms got worse and worse. After being hospitalized in February 2003 for almost three weeks, my doctor was perhaps feeling overprotective and wanted me to be admitted ASAP. So the docs starved me again, no food or water, but at least it was only for three days and not two weeks.
The moment the docs said I could eat again I called the nearest Chinese food restaurant and asked them to deliver a lot of Chinese food to my hospital room. When the food arrived with its amazing-”a thousand times better than hospital-food aroma,” the nurse peeked in my room and asked if I was allowed to eat real food. I think she was hoping she could confiscate my food. True, the docs probably meant for me to break my fast with something like Ensure (a disgusting protein drink), but by that time, I could not drink one more can of Ensure. I wanted to eat something nourishing. So I ate some delicious egg drop soup and rice. My sister and friends feasted on Szechuan culinary delights. And we laughed and played music and had as lovely a Friday night as one can have in a hospital room. When I look back on that evening I see that we had already begun a tradition of celebrating important milestones.
Celebrations are important and they can be for just about anything — a day of having less pain or no pain, getting test results that show less disease activity, being able to walk outside in the sunshine — anything! Celebrations shift our mind-set and help us to see all that we actually have, including the friendships and relationships that bring meaning to our lives. Celebration nourishes appreciation and a “big-picture mentality.” We are more than our diagnoses, our symptoms, and our pains. We are people living fulfilling lives, despite our pains, illnesses and fatigue. Nothing can keep us from celebrating.