Hard to Accept: An IBD Soldier

I recently had the honor of talking to Reddit User /u/JustSomeoneWhoCares, who is submitting the first Contributor Content for GUTS.

His story about his struggle with Ulcerative Colitis, as previously posted on /r/CrohnsDisease:

I’ve just recently started using reddit. I’ve used it for awesome videos, funny pictures, interesting facts and tidbits of information, but I never thought about using it to vent until now. My story is one of disappointment, frustration, pain, agony, defeat, destruction, and finally, redemption.

I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis when I was 16. It started out as a little pain. Then a little blood. Then more pain. More blood. I was embarrassed. I had no idea what was going on. I’ve always been a quite person. I flourish in social scenes, but I keep my cards close to my chest. I didn’t tell anyone. Not even my mother who is also a UC patient. I suffered in silence.

When I was a boy, I had always dreamed of being in the Army. Not the Marines, or Airforce, but the Army. My father was in the Army. My uncle was an Army medic who was killed in Vietnam. My grandfather had just been drafted into the Army during the Korean War until his experience as a car mechanic made him eligible to work on a thing called a “computer”. I had always dreams of being a military man. Back straight. Eyes forward. Chin out. I wanted to be something that little kids gawked at. I didn’t want to join for any other reason other than that was what I felt I was born to do.

I began physical training when I was 14. I began running to school, going to football practice, then running home. I mowed lawns to buy a weight set and began lifting. I was focused on becoming the quintessential picture of a soldier. I had dreams of being Special Forces. Those unnamed faces. Those shadow warriors. I wanted to lead the fight against my country’s enemies, because I felt, and still feel, America is the best place on the face of this Earth. I had already become a regular at our local recruitment office, just hanging out, getting to know the slang, seeing the way soldiers bred soldiers. I wanted to be them.

When I turned 16, nothing had changed. I was in top physical form. I had a wonderful girlfriend, fantastic grades, and was on track to joining straight out of high school.

Then I got sick.

It started as some pain in my abdominal region. I shrugged it off as the stomach flu. But the pain persisted. Become worse. Then the blood came. Just a little at first. Barely a tinge of red. I’m ok I told myself. It’s nothing. I’ll be ok. It’ll be ok. The first month passed with no relief. The pain only got worse. The water more red. After three months, I was barely standing. The body I had worked so hard to perfect was a shell of its former self. I had lost 35 pounds and enough blood that I had a yellowish tinge to my skin. My mother finally took my to the doctor where I came clean about when I had been suffering through. While relating my story, my mother began crying. She knew the reason for my pain. She had suffered through it herself. She knew I had Ulcerative Colitis.

How could this have happened? I wasn’t meant for this. I was meant to be a warrior. I was meant to be that man on the poster, that soldier on your campus. I was meant to be a soldier. I wasn’t meant to get sick. To bleed from invisible wounds. I was meant to defend my country. To fight for what I believe in. I wasn’t meant for this.

After a few tests, the admitted me into the ICU of the hospital. This was the first time I had morphine, and god it was delicious. The pure rush of nothingness and everything all at once through IV and into your soul.

I laughed and laughed.

Then came the blood transfusions. A stranger’s blood is all the stranger when it’s slowly sliding its way through your veins, becoming part of you. And oh the delicacies of hospital chicken broth. I was miserable. I longed to run. To jump. To fight. But “no” says the doctor. You need rest. “No” says my doctor. You need these tests. “No” says my doctor. You have Ulcerative Colitis.

What the f@#%.

And oh god, the tests. I can’t quite remember any of them save one.

The berium enema.

I’ll make a long story short.

They make you drink metal 7-up that makes you have to crap acid. “Just try to keep it down.”

They tell you not to use the restroom. “But I have UC doc, I shit regularly!”

They stick a plastic tube into your rectum. “…”

They inflate the tip of the tube that’s in your rectum. “!!!!!!!”

Then they have you walk over to this space age torture device that’s made out of the shiniest metal.

“Hold still”, says the technician. “And try not to move.”

I’ve never though myself a great multitasker, I usually focus on one task till it’s done. But trying to focus on not moving, while a balloon is inflated inside your inflamed rectum, while lying on a cold, flat, metal surface, while it’s rotating to various 45 degree angles, you tend to learn to multitask.

Because after all of that, you just really don’t want to shit yourself.

One thing that kept my spirits up in the midst of all of this, were the visits from Angie. Her raven hair. They way she always smelled of cocoa butter. Her shining, newly braces-free smile. She was the best part of my day. A kind word. A kiss on the cheek. She always was the best.

She brought me a giant card made out of a brown paper bag you get from the grocery store that a bunch of people from school had signed.

The greeting in it said, “Sorry you have leukemia.”

I laughed and I laughed.

Fast forward to graduation. I’m not as strong as I was, and I get winded a little quicker, and I’m still bleeding here and there, but I’ve got stranger’s blood. I’ll be ok.

I miss going to all the grad parties because I’m so weak. Angie falls asleep with me on the couch. She always was the best.

Two weeks later I stretch my legs and slowly make my way down to the recruitment office. My birthday was a week ago and I’m 18 now.

“Hello Sgt. Mendoza.” “Jesus, what the f@#%¬†happened to you?” “Leukemia. Can you believe it?”

I open up about my diagnosis. The medications I’m taking. The stranger in my veins. My immune system that’s so bad ass it tries to f@#% me up. I lay it all out.

“Ok”, Mendoza says. “Let me talk to the doc and we’ll see what we can do.”

“Sounds good sir.”

We shake hands. It’s last time I’ll see him.

Two weeks later I get a call.

-beep- You have one missed call. -beep- Hello. This message is for Jacob. This is Sgt. Mendoza. I spoke to the doctor and unfortunately you will not be able to join. If you have any questions, feel free to call. Goodbye. -beep-

I sit in that 6 o’clock haze. The kind when the sun and the night are battling for dominance, and everything just gets grey.

But what am I supposed to do now. I call him back.

“But I haven’t planned for anything else. Is there anything I can do?” “Kid, you can’t even join the Coast Guard.” -click-

Fast forward two years. The decent was quick. I blamed myself. I blamed my mother. I blamed God and all of his f#@%ing infinite bullshit. I blamed Angie and the stress she caused. She left me. She always was the best.

Whiskey became my compatriot. My brother in arms. Marijuana became my unwinder. My chill mode. Ecstacy became my f#$% yeah. My OH F@#% YEAH.

I partied. I boozed and schmoozed. I laughed and I laughed.

The pain was constant, but I had accepted that it always would be, so why the f#%@ try.

I still read up on the war. I still called everyone “sir” and “ma’am”. I tried community college, but I couldn’t stay focused. It always seemed as if the classes were quieter. My stomach liked to party and wanted everyone to know.

I raged. I beat myself up. I stared at a knife, and wondered what it would be like to bleed from somewhere else.

I had been taking prednisone since being diagnosed, since there wasn’t much else to take.

I raged. I roid’ raged. I beat my fists and cursed the world. I spit and slavered. I shouted and seethed. I was frustration incarnate. I was crazy.

I had become a shell of my former self. Skinny and sad. Weak and wicked.

I stayed up late and slept in later. I thrashed and pushed my way to a greater high. A better time. All to escape the pain.

It all came crashing down around me one night. We were in L.A. We were f#$%#@ up on ecstacy. And I just remember holding hands with this girl while watching the paramedics try to revive this little raver girl who forgot to breathe. She didn’t make it. Something inside me cracked that night. I left the next morning with no word.

I told my mother of my drug-fueled rampage of self-loathing and remorse. She said it’s ok. We’ll get some help.

“So, tell me how you feel.”

That doctor wasn’t prepared. My fear. My hate. My sadness. My happiness. My crazy side. My compassionate side. My wild side. My calm side. “F#$% the world and f#$% UC.”

After a while, I finally got all of the hot air out of my lungs and finally had time to listen.

She was right. I shouldn’t blame myself. She made some sense. I’m not the first person to feel crazy because of things that are out of my control. She tried to talk to me about God. “Not really my bag doc, but I’ll listen if you talk.”

And listen I did. And it helped.

I quit the drugs. I quit boozin’ every night. I stopped hanging out with people who promoted my craziness. But most of all.

I stopped blaming myself.

Fast forward to now, I’m 3 years sober, with only the occasional Johnny Walker Black neat.

I smoke cigarettes, a nasty habit leftover from the crazy days, but I’m hiking every chance I get.

And lo and behold, my UC has been in remission for 2 years. It seems that my own blame I had placed upon my shoulders caused my system to get all screwy. I had nowhere to turn to send the blame. Blame for getting sick. Blame for losing Angie. Blame for all of the bad things I had done. But most of all, blame for not being able to pursue my dream. I wanted to be soldier. I wanted to be that man that kids stop and stare at. I wanted to be someone that could be idolized. Yes sir. Yes ma’am.

So I do, everyday.

I’m polite to everyone I meet. I open doors and offer it to anyone who’s behind me. I lead by example. And just because I don’t have a uniform, it doesn’t mean I can’t act like I do. I try to do my best in every aspect, in every way. Every single day.

Because that is what being a soldier means to me.

Thanks again to /u/JustSomeoneWhoCares for allowing GUTS to share.