Crohn’s and Hospital Adventures

Hospital Self Portrait

Stuck in the hospital, sans NG tube.

This is a pretty personal post that I’m writing more as a PSA than anything else.

If you follow any of the Facebook or Twitter feeds, two weeks ago I was stuck in the hospital. I have Crohn’s disease, and I had a flare up. What’s Crohn’s? That’s the first thing I thought when I was diagnosed almost four years ago.

It’s an autoimmune disease that affects the small intestine. If you think of your intestines like pipes, Crohn’s inflames a part of the small intestine, narrowing the opening and making it harder for food to pass through. Eventually it gets so inflamed that the passage is totally blocked, leaving only one place for the food to go – up.

Before I was diagnosed I was getting extreme stabbing pains in my stomach. It felt like the Alien trying to bust out of my chest with a samurai sword. I went to some doctors, but since I was in college they just assumed I was eating poorly and it was a result of that.

And this is why I share my experience, because I still feel like there’s some taboo on people talking about medical conditions, when instead if we shared the knowledge and experience we can gain more from it.

Had I known what Crohn’s disease was, I could have gotten treatment the first time I started vomiting and getting pain, and not letting it sit to the point that I was stuck in the hospital for a week. I was actually relieved to be in the hospital and getting properly diagnosed, because it meant the pain would finally stop.

Similar to Crohn’s is Colitis, which affects the colon.

This is the third time I’ve had a flare up and had to be hospitalized. I also have little doubt that it was coincidental that I literally finished Bots High a week earlier, had a sigh of relief, and then got sick.

Future Engineers, We Need Your Help

Alright, so for those budding future biomedical engineers, there is a way you can help.

First off, the treatment for a blocked intestine is one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve ever had to go through.

NG Tubes Suck (Literally and Figuratively)

NG Tubes Suck!

So blockage doesn’t happen over night, it builds up over a week or so until the intestine is completely shut. So there’s all this build up of fluid that needs to be relieved. The treatment? A NG tube (nasogastric intubation). It’s a tube they stick up your nose, down your throat and into your stomach. It gets hooked up to a pump and starts sucking the fluid out. For days.

It’s one of the worst things ever. Please, someone come up with a better solution. If they can stick a camera down your throat for an endoscopy, why can’t they just knock you out, stick a high powered vacuum down there and just get all the fluid out in one go? Why the long, torturous process?

For days you’re stuck in bed with no motivation (or ability) to do anything but watch Bravo marathons and Jersey Shore.

Next on your list, though probably more importantly, is a cure. Crohn’s is treatable, not curable. Even more information about the disease would be helpful – no one even knows how you get it.

Luckily I’ve been able to keep it under control just with medication, but with this latest flare up that might change, and the future options gradually get more extreme.

Some Hospital Fun

So there was one highlight to this hospital stay – a test I hadn’t had before that was pretty cool. I’ve had endoscopies, colonoscopies, camera capsule endoscopy, CT scans, nuclear CT scans and lots of blood work. Every inch of my intestine has been photographed, which I find pretty ironic and funny.

X-ray Head

Let's take a look inside...

But this time I got a GI Tract X-Ray through fluoroscopy. Lying on this Frankenstein-like movable x-ray table, I would drink a liquid contrast while under a live x-ray, watching the contrast go down my entire digestive tract to eventually see where the blockage is. The x-ray head and table would rotate in all sorts of directions to get the best angle. I felt like a piece of metal on a CNC mill.

Watching it go down the hatch

Coming to you live...your intestines!

With all this radiation pretty soon you’ll be able to see me glowing from space.

All I have to say is having an iPad this time around made everything much better.

Thanks to everyone for all your well wishes online. If you have any questions just leave a comment or email me. For one of the best resources on Crohn’s and Colitis, check out the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.