The Other Side of the Scope

My broken colon has inspired me to pursue medicine as a career. I want to fix other people' s broken parts, which is ironic because not too long ago, I didn't think I could overcome mine.
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The kid's colon was a mess.

He'd been treated with all the high-class medications -- Remicade, Humira, Methotrexate -- but the endoscope clearly showed a battlefield inside his shrunken intestine. The footage on the TV monitor was fit for a war documentary.

In that moment, I stood out from everyone else in the procedure room.

Yes, my black dress pants clashed with their green scrubs. Yes, as a student, I was closer in age to the sleeping patient than the medical team. But there was another less superficial difference too, one you'd need an endoscope to see.

My colon is a mess too.

I shuddered as a wave of nostalgia ran through my body. "I've been there too, kid," I wanted to whisper.

I, along with the unfortunate patient whose colonoscopy I was fortunate enough to shadow, have Inflammatory Bowel Disease. IBD, also known as Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis, is a chronic incurable autoimmune disease of the gastrointestinal tract. A similarly disastrous colonoscopy diagnosed me in 2008 at 14. Although not terminal in most circumstances, IBD has no known cause, no cure, and imperfect treatments.

I've spent a majority of the past four years in remission. Many of my friends have been less lucky. I've been told I have a mature perspective. To be honest, I'm not sure I believe that. Like any teenager, I have my ups and downs. Nevertheless, my broken colon has inspired me to pursue medicine as a career. I want to fix other people' s broken parts, which is ironic because not too long ago, I didn't think I could overcome mine.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease causes diarrhea, abdominal pain, intestinal bleeding, constipation, urgency, nausea, vomiting, and other taboo gastrointestinal symptoms. They're not symptoms a 14-year-old is likely to chat about with her friends in homeroom. After I spent nearly a week in the hospital, rumors spread that I was anorexic or had a stomach ulcer caused by stress. I didn't know how to dispel these rumors because I thought the truth would be even more embarrassing to explain. My early treatments caused me to gain weight in odd places and joint pain that kept me out of track. As I faced these physical changes, I started to feel different on the inside too. I wanted to feel beautiful and social, not sick. My disease was a fault I couldn't shake off.

Then, in 2010, I joined Starbright World, an online community for chronically ill teens and learned my disease hadn't nearly changed me enough.

I've come to accept my disease as an opportunity rather than a fault. I can pity myself or use what I have for good. With the support I found on Starbright World, I felt more confident, more self-assured, and most importantly, more self-united. I didn't need to choose between sick kid and healthy kid -- I could build myself an identity in between.

Not so coincidentally, my social life started to blossom.

Four years past my diagnosis, I am now 18 and a sophomore biochemistry pre-med student at Hendrix College, an incredible liberal arts school in the heart of Arkansas. I am a counselor at Camp Oasis, a summer camp for kids with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and am working with friends on starting Disease On My Sleeve, an organization dedicated to supporting and empowering young chronic illness patients.

Most importantly, I've stopped looking at my disease as a fault. My (wonderful) friends know about it and, best of all, feel comfortable asking questions. Turns out I just needed to feel comfortable answering those questions. There's so much my fifteen year old self needed to learn. I'm sure there would have been easier ways to learn it all, but I learned it through Inflammatory Bowel Disease. I do hope for a cure -- for my IBD friends even more than myself -- but I have an outlook on life that I owe to my disease.

Any pre-med student can shadow in a hospital, study OChem, and read medical blogs. I have something incredibly valuable to a doctor that you can neither buy nor ask for -- the perspective of a patient.

I have seen life on both sides of the scope, and for that, I am thankful.

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