26th August 1997 is the day I was admitted to hospital with symptoms that, 3 months later, led to my diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis. Although there are things I want to forget, there are things I can’t forget, things I have forgotten until I remember and that day falls into the category of things I want to forget, but can’t.
I was at school, not long started back after summer holiday, sitting going through my two times tables and, as I was a stubborn child, I didn’t want to interrupt the lesson by saying I was unwell, so I kept raising my hand in the hopes that I would be picked and I could let the teacher know I wasn’t well, that wasn’t the answer to “2×6”, but I was heard and asked to sit at my table until the maths lesson was over. During that time, my classmates looked after me. They fetched me wet paper towels when I was too warm, offered me their cardigans/jumpers when I was too cold and walked me round to the medical room once I told the teacher just how ill I was feeling and they gathered my belongings and sat with me until my mum arrived to take me home. Sadly I repayed one of them by vomiting all over her new school shoes (and managing to reach my mum’s in the process).
Once home, I was struggling to remain conscious, one minute it was me and mum, the next my GP was examining me, and then my mum was crying as she phoned for an ambulance. Then I woke up in the ambulance, vomited in the oxygen mask, and then my dad was with me and my mum in the A&E cubicle.
For a few months prior to that day, I had been experiencing a frequency/urgency in bowel movements, often with blood, or mucus and severe pain and cramping and my parents were worried, however on seeking guidance from out of hour services, they were advised that the blood would cease as it appeared that I had burst a blood vessel due to the increase in bowel movements, and that would heal.
For over two weeks I underwent a variety of investigations and examinations (scans, endoscopies, stool tests, blood tests) and thankfully my mum was allowed to stay with me in hospital. I was in a room by myself as doctors were unsure if I was contagious, or at a severe risk of infection. I always remember my brother coming to visit (bringing some school work with him) but he wasn’t allowed in my room for a few days after admission due to the uncertainty of my condition and I hated not being able to spend time with him, yes he mainly teased me, as older brothers do, but he also knew how to make me laugh and have fun and he was my friend. One perk to my admission was that he bought me presents, a lion teddy bear, which I called Leo, who was allowed into some of my procedures so I didn’t feel lonely, with the doctors and nurses even performing the procedure on him and a Get Well balloon, which is still intact!
Over the years I’ve realised that my inspiration for becoming a nurse came from the wonderful care I received on the paediatric ward, my maturity came from being classed as an “adult” at age 12 in the world of health care. My determination came from being so acutely unwell at the age of 19 that I was required to be placed in isolation at Ayr Hospital and being told that “surgery was my only hope”. Becoming a mental health nurse improved my confidence when talking to my care team about my health and reinforced to me that patients can make a change in the way they receive care, regardless of their diagnosis end encouraged me to self manage my conditions. I’m very fortunate in regards to my health as I have been able to have my condition managed with a combination of support, medication and self management and I am honoured to be a champion and an ambassador for Crohns’ and Colitis UK, The Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland and to be in a position where I can offer peer support. It has taken me a long time to be comfortable with my diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis, but it’s a part of who I am, and I’m going to do whatever the hell I can over the next 20+yrs to fight and win the battle against it.