Diana Spell Personal Illness Paper
It was just another hot day in the city of New Brunswick, New Jersey. I believe we were in the middle of the month of June of 2008, and I was just getting off the southbound ‘local’ train coming from Rahway where I spent forty plus hours a week interning for Merck & Co. There was a group of five of us that usually caught the early train home, and we all happened to be going through the medical school application process at the same time. One of my very close male friends, who is currently a part of the medical class of 2013 at Wisconsin Madison, and myself were faced with the daunting task of having to retake the MCAT for the second time, so we quickly parted ways with the other three to head towards the New Brunswick Kaplan Center. As we were just about to cross the street to distance ourselves further away from the bustling train station, I felt my phone buzzing; humming that familiar vibratory sound.
I saw that it was my brother calling, which was odd for him to do so, and I picked up. “Hello,” I said with sort of a what-are-you-doing-calling-me-but-hey-i-love-you-anyways type tone. My concerned yet jolly tone was met by a cloud of panic and despair as my brother began to tell me that something was wrong with Mommy. “Well what could be wrong? What’s happening,” I yelled as my mood quickly changed in a moments noticed. I soon felt a tugging on my shirt, and it was my friend John telling me to get out of the middle of the street for the light had changed and I was sure to be hit by a Jersey cab. I reached the curb safely and was able to hear my brother a bit better. He told me that he and my mother were on the way to the hospital after my mother became exceedingly ill. I was so confused, because I had sworn I spoke to my mother two weeks prior on the phone and she sounded fine. My brother explained that my mother had been experiencing some painful abdominal discomfort for some time now but did not want to tell me because she did not want me to worry, ending that I needed to focus on doing well this time around on the MCAT. By this point, John was repeatedly asking me what was wrong, my brother was frantically whispering into my ear, and the pavement around my feet began to be littered by what appeared to be raindrops.
I was crying. I was confused, but more than anything else, I was afraid! My mother is never known to be sick, so to hear that she was on her way being rushed to the hospital, made me want to be on my way getting rushed to the airport. I was able to calm down just enough to be able to tell my brother to let my mother know that I loved her and I would be waiting desperately for news before hanging up. To have your life suddenly thrown into a whirlwind is enough to slap you back into reality of what is important in life. I previously stated that I had not directly spoken to my mother on the phone for two weeks. Yes, we would text here and there, but we had not verbally spoken to each other on the phone for that long, because I was too busy worrying myself about how much time a simple conversation with my own mother would take away from me studying for an exam not even scheduled for another two months. I mean what was I to do but pray at the moment.
I was so distraught that I told John to go ahead to the center without me, and I turned around with tear-stained cheeks to head home. The thought process that consumes your mind after receiving bad news about a family member is an intricate puzzle that not even the smartest person alive could solve. I was overwhelmed by so many emotions: guilt, sorrow, fear, and uncertainty. Instead of devoting all of my sanity and worries to God for him to help work out, I began to blame myself as if my mother’s condition had something to do with me not calling or visiting her more often. The ‘what ifs’ were flooding my mental timeline, and these were what brought about most of my hysterical reactions. It had only been three minutes since hearing from my brother and I was a mess, but I knew that I had to pull it together and just hope for good news to come.
My mother has been obese for many years; in fact, I have never known my mother any other way. She grew up in the sixties and seventies when smoking cigarettes were socially acceptable, even for children, and had been consuming on average three cigarettes a day for the last thirty-five years. Even with my brother and me encouraging her to stop, she just could not give them up. It was the three of us for the most part growing up and my mother has always been strong, holding the family down on a solid foundation. We did not have very much money, nor did we have steady health insurance, so many sicknesses or ailments were stuck out and managed by in home care. My mother worked in a hospital a good majority of my adolescent years and I always attributed her good health to her supposedly strong immune system due to all the bugs she was exposed to on a daily basis. So when I heard my mother was being rushed to a hospital I began to act as if our family foundation became weak. I also began to run down what all my mother could be suffering from, but my lack of medical knowledge could only get me to the conclusion that whatever it was, it was powerful enough and silent enough to offset one of the strongest women I know.
My brother was able to call me within a few hours to update me and let me know that the doctors had admitted my mother into the hospital to begin working her up. He was able to share that our mother had severe gastrointestinal problems and was almost to the point of unconsciousness when they finally arrived to the hospital. The first thing I did after getting off the phone with my brother was cross out the idea that my mother was going to die. Most family members could probably relate to that overwhelming feeling of uncertainty about one’s health that the only two extremes they can muster to think of is whether that person is going to survive or die. If you have never experienced that feeling, then maybe you could relate to a time when out of nowhere your car would not crank up. You didn’t get into any prior accidents, you remembered turning off all of your car lights the night before, and you know you have a full tank of gas; and yet, your car will not start. For me, the unknown is a scary place, so I was anxiously waiting for the doctors to report back to the family on my mother’s condition.
It wasn’t until the next morning that my brother called me back. He stayed with my mother overnight and told me that they had her pretty drugged up for pain, so she was soundly sleeping. He described her as looking frail for her size, and a bit pale. The doctors told him that with the symptoms that my mother was experiencing, over what turned out to be the last six plus months, were pointing them to the possibility of her having either ulcerative colitis (UC), Crohn’s disease, or colon cancer since she was a smoker. My brother added that the doctors seemed confident that my mother would be fine, but said he could sense that they seemed a little uneasy in their delivery. Hearing any news from a doctor, I will say, calms nerves instantly. Even though the doctor on my mother’s case may have been a little weary on the cause of her presenting illness, I felt good knowing that they had at least narrowed the differential diagnosis down to three things. I never heard of UC or Crohn’s before, but I did know that a diagnosis of cancer would not be good.
I decided to look up information on each of the three possible diagnoses, hoping that my mother would get the least severe. It was hard during this time not being able to hear my mother’s voice, because if I did, I knew everything would be okay and back to normal within forty-eight hours. Whenever I’m freaking out about school or relationships, I could always count on my mother to give me some guiding advice that would help push me into better days. I longed for some of that advice at that moment. It wasn’t until the next day when my wish was granted, but the voice I heard over the phone was not that of my mother’s. She sounded so weak that I wish I could just reach over to her bedside and take away some of her pain. She told me to stop worrying and that everything would be alright. Even through all of her misery, she was still able to be that parent I always counted on and convinced me to stay in New Jersey and not fly home, which I had been planning on doing. If at that moment I believed that by taking my mother’s orders would help make her better, I did what she asked and told my brother to keep being there for her since I couldn’t physically do the same.
Coming from a single parent home made finances tight, and after four days of my mother being in the hospital, I began to worry about the expenses accruing under her name. Luckily to my knowledge, my mother had just signed onto a new healthcare plan at her job, and all hospital charges would be taken care of. In total, my mother was in the hospital a little over two weeks. My brother was not lying when he said he could tell that the physicians seemed a bit puzzled by my mother’s case, because they ran so many tests and performed many more procedures, leaving them to diagnose my mother with an over reactive colon. She was discharged from the hospital with steroids to take to help with the inflammation in her colon, and was told to schedule a colonoscopy so that the doctors could make their final diagnosis.
I was happy my mother had returned home with my brother able to be look after her. She later had her procedure done and the colonoscopy results came back inconclusive, only eliminating the possibility of her having colon cancer. The doctors were still stuck. They said that she had all the right symptoms of having Crohn’s disease but her pictures leaned more towards the UC spectrum. My mother and I became frustrated around this time, because for my mother, it meant that she would have to prolong her steroid treatment, directly antagonizing her attempts at losing weight; and for me, I was frustrated because it was still that situation of the unknown looming over our heads. I just wanted my mother to be my mommy again, back to her nurturing and strong woman ways.
Months have passed by and the memory of that day with all its emotions has begun to fade. My mother is living with an autoimmune disorder where her antibodies attack her colon, affecting its ability to reabsorb water and help maintain homeostatic electrolyte balances. During her attacks, she is in a lot of pain, unable to eat, and has horrible bouts with the restroom. She was diagnosed with UC with a likely possibility of developing full Crohn’s disease. The doctors said that her smoking is probably what caused her condition to manifest when it did, and surprisingly, quitting smoking might aggravate it even more. However, my mother made the decision to be through with smoking the day she had to be rushed into the hospital. Today, my family is a lot closer from that day, and I am a lot stronger by getting through the whole situation. My faith was tested but never wavered, and I am glad to say my mother is doing really well. She has lost seventy pounds and is in remission for her UC. This scare definitely put my longing to become a physician and possibly a rheumatologist into overdrive so that I can one day better understand the medical aspect of autoimmune disorders. This whole experience also allowed me to see the limitations of others, as well as of myself. Doctors, for one, are mere human professionals who work really hard to know any and everything about medicine, but are limited to understanding only the laws of science, incapable of predicting destiny. I realized how fragile life is, and quickly straightened out my priority list so that no matter what, family came first. My mother will have UC the rest of her life, and I need her to know that through no matter what, I will be there for her, as I know she would do the same for me.
Diana Spell Personal Illness Paper