Ever wonder what it was like to have that E.coli stuff that was all the rage in the beginning of Septmber?
And do you have an hour? Because if you DO, and you're the curious type with a strong stomach, I invite you to read the following. Because I had that crap, and I'm suing. To be completely honest, I'm not sure how I feel about the suing thing - it's hard to believe that it will make anything better, you know? It's also hard to really realize that my sickness was actually some one's fault. I mean, I realize it on an intellectual level. But on an emotional level, it's not as concrete. It's MY fault, right? I mean, I did eat the spinach...
Anyway, here is my personal statement. It's gory. It's loooonnnnggg. But every word is true. Here it is, enjoy.
Tuesday, August 29.
By the time I got home from work – around 5:30 – my stomach was hurting fairly badly. It had been bothering me since sometime after lunch. I did what I usually do when I have a slightly upset stomach: go for a jog. Normally, if something is wrong with my belly, a nice jog will get things moving, as they say. I assumed it was dehydration-caused constipation, something that I can get when I train hard. I was in the best shape of my life and had completed my first triathlon shortly before, on Sunday, August 22. I was working out five times a week without fail.
That run, I remember, was excruciating. I jogged for around three miles, but my stomach ache just got worse and worse. When I got home, I skipped dinner and went almost straight to bed. I had a lot of important things due at work that week, and I wanted to head off any illness so that I didn’t have to miss any time.
Also, my first rugby practice of the season was the next day, and I also had a very busy weekend planned. It was Labor Day – and I was going to go to the beach in Pentwater, Michigan, with my extended family. Also, while I was there, I would have a five-year reunion with my senior-year college roommates in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As it would happen, I had to skip all of those events.
Wednesday: August 30
When I woke up, my stomach was still hurting, badly. I normally get to work an hour early, at 8:00, but I could not get out of bed when my alarm rang. I let myself sleep for another 30 minutes, and then willed myself to get up – I couldn’t miss work. I went to the bathroom and took one of the grossest poops I had ever seen; it was huge and black and looked like coffee grounds. I convinced myself that the worst was over, and forced myself to eat half of a banana and half of a kiwi. I remember them so well because they came out of my body shortly after, almost fully intact.
When I got to work at around 9:00, the first thing I did was go to the bathroom. I had a meeting at 9:30, but I was in the bathroom with scorching diarrhea almost every 15 minutes. By noon, I decided that there was no way I could make it through the day. My drive home was miserable; I was trying to drive hunched over the steering wheel. It is, unfortunately for me, a 20 minute drive. Even though I went to the bathroom immediately before leaving work, I had to stumble from my car directly to my bathroom. I barely made it.
I was also getting worried. At first, I had tried to convince myself that the growing amount of red I left in the toilet after each trip was nothing to be concerned about – what was left of some spaghetti sauce, perhaps. I called my fiancé at work, who told me to stick it out. But by noon, I was pooping almost nothing but a gross combination of blood and scabs. I went back and forth between my bed, where I was curled in fetal position, and my toilet, in approximately 15 minute intervals. I find it hard to describe the pain I was in – but I do remember that I couldn’t stand up straight. I was literally doubled over.
I called the nurse hotline on my insurance card soon thereafter. I was in so much pain, but I’d never really gotten diarrhea of any kind before, so I didn’t know what I was supposed to feel like. The nurse on the line said that I should go straight to the emergency room. I balked, but I did call my fiancé who came home from work. We went to the Urgent Care center directly across the street from my house. Again, I went to the bathroom right before I left my house, and several times as I waited to talk just to the receptionist. I could barely fill out the forms. When I finally got them filled out, the receptionist told me the same thing the nurse on the line had: they couldn’t help me there. I had to go straight to the ER.
We walked - I was still doubled over - back across the street from the Urgent Care to our house, but I was worried about the drive. I was on about a ten-minute “diarrhea cycle”, and the drive to the hospital was about that. Lying on my bathroom floor (a place I would become far too familiar with in the coming days, to be painfully honest) I tried to convince my fiancé that I was clearly too sick to go the ER. He disagreed. I took one last awful poop and got in the car. I stumbled into the ER and straight to their bathroom.
I did learn one interesting thing – suffering from stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea bumps you right to the top of the ER waiting room queue. I explained to the nurse who admitted me that I had trouble with the standard 1-10 pain numbers game that they make you play in the ER by saying, “Well, I’ve never felt anything this awful, but I imagine that giving birth would be worse.” She told me I was a ten.
I cheerfully clung to my original self-diagnosis with every nurse that examined me. I had been training hard, and I was dehydrated. This gave me slight constipation, which had somehow...exploded my intestines.
I was shown to a bed, thankfully fairly close to the bathroom. They put me on an IV almost immediately, which was good for hydrating me (or so I hear) but added an extra thing I had to detach and carry with me to the bathroom every time I had to go. By this time, I was also in a gown. It took me approximately 20 trips back and forth to lose all dignity and therefore all pretense of holding the back of the gown closed. I was still not walking vertically and I could no longer straighten one arm because of the large needle in it. I was in incredible pain. More than once, I got back to my little ER room, lay down on my bed, and curled into the fetal position, and then immediately had to stand back up, detach my IV bag, and waddle my bare ass back across the crowded ER. I was in a new and unique circle of hell.
I was seen by a stream of doctors – first a generalist, and then a colon specialist. They both gave me rectal exams, which was delightful. They determined that I did have blood in my stool, which was no surprise to me. What was extremely surprising was their announcement soon after that I would be staying the night and receiving a colonoscopy the next morning. “But I’m just dehydrated,” I said.
It was during one of my many trips to the ER bathroom that I was reintroduced to the Kiwi, a spot of green in a sea of red. I was repulsed. But, I think the scariest moment, the moment when I started to panic, was when my pulse dipped to 50. The nurse told me this wasn’t unusual for “athletes,” but I know that my resting heart rate is usually much higher than that. I started worrying that there was something seriously wrong with me. They moved me to a room.
Before I got the colonoscopy, I had to drink 2 liters of a despicable, salty, colon cleaning liquid, even though I was sure there was nothing to be cleaned from my intestines. Mine was lemon scented, but the flavor did nothing to prevent it from making me throw it right back up. I spent the night drinking the colon cleaner and vomiting in addition to my original problem, constantly pooping blood. The consistency of the diarrhea increased, something that hours ago I would not have thought possible. Several times, I had to go to the bathroom, sit down so that I could empty my bowels, and throw up into the trash can in front of the toilet.
They also collected another stool sample during the night, which means that I had to go to the bathroom in something called a “hat.” A hat looks exactly like you would expect it to – and the brim fits under the toilet lid. When the nurse tech came to collect the sample, she had to literally ask me if the contents were actually my poop – they looked more like something that would come out of a bloody nose.
Thursday, August 31.
I barely slept, and I did not manage to keep much of the colon cleaner down. The colonoscopy was at 8 am, and the doctors proceeded even though I’d been vomiting most of the colon cleaner.
The morning is a blur, mostly because of the anesthesia for the colonoscopy. I do remember snippets from the procedure itself – I was kind of lying on my side, facing the monitor. The one thing I remember the doctors saying during the procedure was, “And look, there’s another one.” I remember thinking this meant I had cancer, but then not being able to care and dozing back off.
When I got back to the room, I was still really woozy and everything is hazy. I heard a familiar voice in the hallway – I literally shouted, “Mom?” and then was very embarrassed because it was so stereotypical, crying for my mom. Luckily, it was actually my mother. She’d driven up from Dayton, about an hour away, to “take care of me,” even though I had insisted that she didn’t have to. (“I’m only dehydrated!” I’d said.)
It was during those hours that I had my only actual bathroom blow out, where I was unable to make it to the bathroom in time. I was groggy, had recently had a hose up my bum, and was still carting around my IV – and I couldn’t get to the bathroom even though I had one in my hospital room. Almost there, I filled my underwear with blood and poop. It dripped down the inside of my legs and spilled onto the bathroom floor. For some reason, this devastated me.
I didn’t know quite how to handle it. I first threw my underwear into the toilet, and tried to shake the crap off of it, but really didn’t have any luck. I then threw my underwear into the trash can (the same one I’d been vomiting in all night, by the way, which is gross) and tried to clean the bathroom, the toilet, and myself, with paper towels. By this time, both my mom and my fiancé were in the hospital room, asking if they could help, but I couldn’t bring myself to have either one of them deal with me as if I were a child in a diaper. I still feel a little bad for the poor nurse tech who had to clean the bathroom.
A couple fuzzy hours later, the doctor who had performed the colonoscopy came to talk to us about the results. He showed me pictures of the ulcerations on the inside of my large intestine, and said that I had hemorrhagic colitis, which was probably caused by a bacterial infection of some kind, but might be caused by a chronic condition, probably ulcerative colitis. He prescribed an antibiotic (Cipro) and 2 days of pain medication (Vicodin), and said I could go home. He gave me nothing to stop the diarrhea, which would continue unabated for the next several days.
Recovery: Friday, September 1 – Present
The next two days were shocking in their consistency. I was still going to the bathroom every fifteen minutes or so. I moved into the guest room to be closer. I could not read, eat, or watch television.
For the first two days, my schedule revolved around my pain medication. I had exactly enough pills to take one every six hours for two days. I was petrified that this wouldn’t be enough, and I could barely go the six hours between doses. I took pain medication at 2 pm, 2 am, 8 am, and 8 pm.
For those 48 hours, I would take a pain pill and go to sleep for two hours. The pain would then wake me up, and I would have two hours that we uncomfortable, but bearable. The two hours before I could take the medicine again were awful, and I would basically lie in my bed and cry. But I couldn’t cave and take the pain killer early, or I might run out. This was true for all hours of the day. The two hours before 2 am were the hardest. I was lonely and exhausted. Sleep in that kind of pain was completely out of the question.
Near the end of my pain medication, I began taking half-pills, to make it last longer. I called my doctor to see if he could prescribe more pain medication, but he said that I couldn’t get a refill of Vicodin over the phone. I would have to come in to his office, which seemed completely impossible. I would rather just make it on Ibuprofen after my medication ran out.
I had also, by this time, done a little research on ulcerative colitis, the chronic condition that I “might” have. But, for some reason, when you go through this kind of ordeal, you fear the worst. I was positive that I had something awful, something lasting. What I learned about ulcerative colitis was truly devastating. I would have episodes like this regularly. I would have real issues digesting my food. I would become familiar with the regular enema. What was worst, for me anyway, was that it looked like I would have to give up vegetarianism, as some of the websites I read espoused an absolute avoidance of vegetarian staples like dairy, wheat, and beans. I’ve been a vegetarian for almost ten years, but I would do anything to avoid going through episodes like this if I could.
The blood started to disappear from my diarrhea sometime late Saturday, which was a huge relief. I hadn’t eaten since the banana and kiwi on Wednesday morning, and I had moved beyond hunger into a dull numbness. My mid-section looked almost skeletal – I joked to my fiancé that I was on the supermodel diet: water and diarrhea.
I ate for the first time on Sunday morning. My fiancé bought a fridge full of things I thought wouldn’t upset my stomach: eggs, watermelon, and juice. Also, upon the recommendation of ulcerative colitis sufferers on the Internet, we purchased a $200 juicer, for colon health.
I ate a fried egg and a few chunks of watermelon. When I went to the bathroom soon there after (I was at about 30 minutes now), I was crushed to see the reintroduction of red into the toilet. But when I looked closer, I realized that it was just the watermelon – wholly undigested. In addition to being disgusting, I had learned that this was a symptom of ulcerative colitis. My confidence in my own, worst-case-scenario self-diagnosis increased.
I ate my first actual meal on Monday – Labor Day. I was determined to return to work the following day. I had run out of “sick time,” and moved into tapping my vacation time, which I didn’t want to do. So I left the house for a trial run for the first time on Monday, and only had to dash for the bathroom once while I was out. The pain had mostly subsided, leaving me only with a deep sense of worry. I felt betrayed by my body. And I felt like I was forbidden from eating anything that might irritate my condition. According to the ulcerative colitis websites, this meant I couldn’t eat almost anything.
I heard the word “E.coli” for the first time on Tuesday, my first day back to work. I got a message on my voice mail from the Health Department, asking about my association with the E.coli outbreak. I was literally astounded, and I assumed that they probably had a typo – I had colitis. I didn’t know much about the disease, but it didn’t take much research to determine that, indeed, my symptoms were consistent with E.coli.
I know this sounds funny, but I was elated. I would heal! I would recover! I could eat!
The anger set in a little later. I had a hard time blaming someone else for my own sickness, until I learned that E.coli largely comes from feedlot cattle, something I’d been conscientiously boycotting for almost a decade. And now I’d gotten sick from it? I was even angrier when I learned that, in essence, irresponsibly produced cattle had tainted spinach – the world’s healthiest food. Was it too close? Had the growers of the Spinach not done enough to ensure that their product was safe? Clearly not.
The worst consequence of E.coli was that my body was completely devastated by the ordeal. I tried to go running for the first time later that week, and could barely make it down the street. I had been so strong, and now I got dizzy lifting a basket of laundry. I tried to keep working out, and I do still work out. But even now, three months later, my physical fitness is nowhere near where it was. I was in worse shape after E.coli than I had been, years before, when I quit smoking and started running. In just 7 days, I went from being strong to being very weak. I felt like a kitten. I ended up missing the entire season of rugby, which was very sad for me. But I played one half of one game, sometime near the end of October, and was awful – I couldn’t accelerate into my runs, and I couldn’t take a hit (both of those are very important).
It took a long time for my colon to normalize, too. My poop quickly became much less liquid than it was when I was really sick, but it took about a month for it to solidify again. And even now it doesn’t seem “normal”. I’m more prone to diarrhea, something that I’d literally never experienced before my illness.
I do wonder what would have happened to me if I hadn’t been so strong when I had E.coli. I have learned that it kidney failure is a possible outcome, and I will never know how close I came to that. I cannot imagine it being any worse, actually. I try to make the best of any situation – but there seems to be few silver linings to this illness. The recovery was slow, and I’ve become a little more paranoid about the food I eat. I was in a lot of pain, though I am better. I’m angry, and there don’t seem to be many answers. Is this just some thing that…happened to happen? To me? Will it happen again?
I hope to do another triathlon next summer, by the way. I have a long way to go, but I think I’ll get there.