January 13, 2014: Post-surgery, I woke up in my hospital room not feeling too different but knowing something was different. I was tired but excited. I knew my life had changed dramatically while I was asleep and I was looking forward to the journey ahead. I was hopeful but the feeling of things not changing much made me a bit skeptical and wondering if something went wrong. I moved slowly and lifted up my hospital gown and there it was; my ileostomy bag, protruding next to my belly button. I smiled and laid my head back on the pillow. “Finally,” I thought. It’s gone. Not long after, my doctor came in and told me that my surgery was a success with no complications. That day was the beginning of my journey post-ulcerative colitis. A day I never thought would come.
Thanksgiving week, 2008: I woke up one day that week not knowing that from that day forward, my life would be changed forever. I don’t know which day of the week it was since I didn’t think it held much significance and I figured that I would get over what was happening to me. At the time, my then-girlfriend, our (only, at the time) daughter and I were staying with our good friends Jennifer and Julian in their two-bedroom apartment in Nashville. It was quite the arrangement having 5 people living in an apartment like that but we were happy to be there as my girlfriend was having a child for Julien and Jennifer that would be due in a few months. I had a temp job that I never really got the hang of but it helped me out for the time we were there. All of that would be in danger due to the changes in my body that day.
I was hungry and felt my stomach rumble a bit so I went to eat some breakfast as always. I remember trying to eat one bite and...immediately having the worst diarrhea I’ve ever had in my life. It was quick, it was painful and it was bloody. Something that had never happened to me before. I thought it was just a fluke and tried to chill for a bit before eating again. I laid down but I was still hungry and eventually got back up and instead of eating whatever it was I had, I opted for oatmeal instead. I cooked it in the microwave, let it cool down, let it touch my tongue...and had the exact same thing happen to me again. After about 4 different times having this occur that day, I let Jennifer know as she was a nurse. We agreed for me to take in more liquids and lighter foods until this wore off and I was no longer sick. I drank a lot of water and juice but still needed some bread to get by, especially since I had to be at work soon and needed my strength.
I was never a sickly child by any stretch of the imagination. Even to this day at 37, I’ve never broken a bone and didn’t even have allergies. I had never been sick of any sort more than 7 days in a row and when I recovered it was like it had never happened. What’s better is that around 2006 I stopped drinking soda and all caffeine entirely, taking in mostly water, juice and milk. I probably wasn’t even drinking Kool-Aid at that time. I even started to finally do something I had never done up until that point and started to eat more vegetables. My mom and dad weren’t big on them (and still aren’t) so growing up I hadn’t eaten more than corn, peas, and green beans out of the can and boxed mashed potatoes. No broccoli, celery, salads, none of it. My diet was, as I called it, sweets and meats. I didn’t even drink water at all until 2006 when I realized that I wasn’t breathing as well as I could be. I was also having phantom stomach and chest pains that miraculously went away when I started drinking water. Now a couple of years later I was starting to incorporate veggies into my diet to become healthy on purpose. I wanted to change my life for the better and the first step was what I was eating. My timing couldn’t have been worse.
A week later and I was back working and not improving in the slightest. At my job, we needed to be seated a good amount of the time and paying attention to spreadsheets and contracts. It was bad enough I barely understood this stuff but now I was having to get up to use the bathroom uncontrollably 10 times a day and walk back to my desk doubled over in pain. Every single day was a tightrope walk of trying to be effective at my job and not trying to be noticed for leaving almost every 30 minutes to use the bathroom and faintly scream in pain. There wasn’t a thing I could do but try to suck it up and figure it out, which, in all honesty, I never did.
See, I didn’t have insurance at the time when I had been so used to having it regularly, even when I didn’t need it. This temp job was all I could get at the time and it didn’t come with benefits until they kept you on the project and made you full time. And right then I was getting screwed because I couldn’t go to the doctor to find out what was wrong with me. Around mid-January 2009 on a Tuesday (I remember I kept saying that it was a random Tuesday) I was let go of my job via phone call and was advised to come pick up a box with my stuff from the temp agency later that week and not the job. I wasn’t given a reason as to why I was let go but I know that I couldn’t perform my duties while I kept needing to hit the bathroom nonstop. I needed that job to get insurance to find out what was wrong with me but instead, I got fired due to the fact that I couldn’t go find out what was wrong with me. The irony wasn’t lost on me by a long shot.
Luckily several things fell into my lap around the same time which provided me an opportunity to get better. First, it was about to be tax season. I got my W-2’s back from both of my jobs pretty quickly so, although I didn’t have a job, I had a sizable return coming due to having a child. I filed my taxes later that month and never even missed a bill payment. Second, my girlfriend was having the baby soon. She ended up having her a month later on February 12th (two days before my own birthday) and so from then on we had more flexibility to leave. Third, and this is most important, my mom moved to Texas and was also getting deployed again. She got a duplex with her future husband and all of their stuff was in it living nicely. However, they didn’t want to have to gather it all up and put it in storage while they were gone and offered their home to the three of us while they were away, rent-free. This would afford us the opportunity to get on our feet, get jobs with insurance and finally figure out what was wrong with me.
While all of this was well and good, what really sold me on leaving was my best friend Deandre living down there. We went to high school together in Germany and always wanted to live in the same city. He ended up coming straight to Texas, I went to Tennessee and while he visited once, we never got an extended amount of time together. Now I was finally going to be living in the same area as my best friend, 9 years after graduating. That made it an easier decision so we set a leave date of March 7, 2009. I remember it because I wanted to go see Watchmen in IMAX on release day, March 6th, so we would leave on the 7th. However, we ended up seeing the midnight showing on the 5th and left promptly on the 6th instead.
Thirteen hours and quite a few bathroom breaks later, the three of us arrived in Killeen, Texas ready to work on the next phase of our lives. I was hoping to find out what was going on with my stomach so we could get it fixed, spend some time with Deandre and maybe start a new life in a new state. And while all of those things happened, nothing happened in the way or the time period I had expected.
The next 5 years were about to be a trip.
To be continued...