Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Mother of All Tummy Aches

Imagine your digestive enzymes digesting your intestines instead of your food.  Your tummy eating your tummy because there are too many enzymes and not enough food to go around. This in a nut shell is the gist of Crohn's Disease, an auto immune disease that my mom has been living with for over 30 years.  Last week she underwent emergency surgery to have over 1 foot of her colon removed, also known as a colostomy.  Needless to say it has been a wild ride for our family, and has definitely been a reality check of epic proportion.

We were on a quick trip to Atlanta when we got the call Thursday night.  We packed the car and the kids up and shot down I 75 to be there to help.  I found my mom in the ICU in good spirits, and a lot of pain, with a foot long incision running the length of her abdomen.  On the table in her room was the booklet above.  You think they could have come up with a better image than a young man downing a hot dog for a post colostomy booklet cover.

My mother's entire adult life has been round after round of terrible steroids and immune suppressants in an effort to avoid this surgery, and at the age of 61 she lost the battle...or you could say that perhaps she is on her way to victory.   My grandfather, who suffered from Crohn's as well lived as an invalid for two years, in his 40's before he had part of his large intestine removed.  Once the toxic organ was gone his body began to heal and he lived a wonderfully active life.   

I have watched my mother suffer with quiet stoicism throughout my entire childhood, moving through life head first like any proper Taurus as a successful lawyer, professor, and strong mother and now it is my greatest hope that she will be able to finally find some relief from the chronic pain she has faced for three decades.

Crohn's disease is passed on through families like a silent plague waiting to strike most folks in their 20's.  My great grandmother passed it to my grand dad, who passed it on to 2 of his three kids.  So far my brothers and I seem to be in the clear.  

But it is not just all in the family.  It is mostly prevalent in westernized countries, primarily in North America, effecting 400,000 to 600,000 people...which means there is some sort of environmental factor involved as well.  I wonder what?

It is a disease that can go into remission, and then become inflamed again due to stress and other extraneous factors.  It can be kept in check through diet relatively well, but it is a miserable diet.  Imagine not being able to eat: butter or mayo, raw fruits and vegetables, red meat or pork, spicy foods, whole grains, fried food, or any high fiber foods.  What can you eat?  Veggies cooked, grilled poultry and fish, some dairy, and lots of refined flour.

My mom would go weeks eating little more than cookies or cake washing it down with a Boost for nutrition. The alternative would be jaw dropping pain as more difficult foods passed through the hot spots in her colon.

I will be caring for her over the next few weeks, and digestion will be on the mind.  She will be on a liquid diet for a while, so look forward to some yummy soup recipes.  I plan to be a master of the stock pot before this trip is through!

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