Up to May 2022 I was living a normal healthy life and had no warning signs of what was due to happen over the course of the next year.
The first weekend of my holidays I started to experience stomach pains and felt very weak. I started passing blood which led me to visit the doctors and I was referred for tests. The doctor was concerned it might be an autoimmune disease either Crohn’s or UC. At this point you think “couldn't happen to me”. My condition deteriorated quickly and I ended up in A&E.
After going through multiple x-rays, CT scans and a colonoscopy to retrieve biopsies it was confirmed that I had ulcerative colitis. I was given the rundown on what happens in the body and how it can be managed through medication and diet, but also the cause is unknown and there is no cure. Getting news like this makes time slow down and every sense is heightened.
I was discharged with medication to take everyday and enemas to do twice daily. The pain got worse and I couldn't sleep or eat for the week I spent at home. Then one morning the pain became too much to manage and I could feel myself losing consciousness. I booked an Uber to the hospital where I passed out in the A&E. When I came around there was a team of doctors giving me pain management and hooking me up to IV lines. I spent the next few weeks lying in the hospital bed and lost my condition quickly. The doctors tried a course of infusions called Infliximab but unfortunately it did not help me. I began to pass significant amounts of blood and the pain became too much to move meaning doctors had to lift me from the bed to the x-ray and CT machines.
I was introduced to my surgery team who explained the potential surgeries I may have and after one final CT scan it was confirmed that the colon had become toxic. I had my family on video call when the surgery team told me this, it is the moment that sticks with me most. I was then brought in for an emergency surgery to remove the large intestine.
When I woke up from that surgery I had a rectal drain, catheter, stoma bag, oxygen lines, NG tube and four IV lines. I hadn't moved in weeks and had lost 23kg. It was the lowest point in my life.
As days went by the nurses helped me to stand up again and walk around my room. I progressed to walking the ward and when my bloods came back ok after 10 days I was discharged. This was around the time my mother arrived from Ireland.
I spent the next month with her and progressed to walking outside and built back my strength to look after myself. I wouldn't be here without the love and support she gave me.
In my first meeting post-surgery it was confirmed that the colon had perforated meaning my condition was life threatening, hearing this helped me to process the mental trauma of what happened to me.
You no longer feel a victim of a disease but a survivor with an obligation to endure whatever lies ahead.
Fast forward 3 months of nurse visits to change dressings and ostomy support I was cleared to go back training. This is when I felt the biggest boost in my mental health. I accepted that what happened to me wasn't my responsibility but how I went about healing was. I created the page Reprisal_Redefine to track my journey. I kept it private because I get a lot of power from privacy and wanted to focus on myself without any outside voice.
November came around and it was time for my second surgery. The J pouch creation, this was a 9 hour surgery where the rectum is removed and the end of the small intestine is fashioned into a new large intestine/rectum. This must heal before being connected up. I only spent 3 days in hospital this time and being in healthy condition for the surgery helped me to push on with the recovery. I was not allowed to train again for 3 months which mentally set me back but the surgery was a major leap forward on my journey.
I spent Christmas at home with my family then flew back to New Zealand for my reversal surgery. This was a much shorter three hour surgery and everything went smoothly. I spent four days in hospital while I got to terms with my new biology and once I was confident to go home I was discharged.
The initial few months with a J pouch are challenging because you experience a lot of cramping and urgency as the small intestine is now stretching to accommodate its new function. I was fortunate that I did not experience any issues regarding continence however, the frequency of bathroom visits in the early days is challenging. 15-20 times in a 24 hour period meaning sleep is non-existent. After 3 months I was given the all clear to go back training again. I spent a lot of time working on my core to help rebuild the muscles that had been cut through and progressively moved up in weights in my resistance training.
Fast forward 5 months and I feel I am living a normal life, of course due to my biology I must use the bathroom anywhere from 5 - 8 times in a 24 hour period now but that is a new normal I am happy with considering my health prior to surgery 1. The frequency of bathroom trips will reduce further as the body adapts. I feel more resilient and now can reflect on my journey so far and have gratitude for the opportunity to grow through this experience.
I am forever grateful for the work my surgery team did and the medical staff that supported me on this journey,of course my family and friends who held space for me. I hope that my story reaches those who need it just like I did.