When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s at age 15, I had absolutely no idea what that meant. For the first three months after my diagnosis I thought the medicine I was taking would just make it go away. I can still remember the day I asked how much longer I would have to take the medicine. My doctor looked surprised and then told me most likely for the rest of my life. After that I still lived in ignorance, thinking that taking the medicine forever would keep me totally healthy. It took months of intense illness to rid me of that notion. That’s when I fell into a deep depression. Everything seemed out of control and scary, and all I knew was that the rest of my life was going to be filled with this pain.
Of course I was incredibly angry about having the disease, but what made me even angrier was that nobody ever explained to me how IBD is not curable but it can be manageable. Nobody ever told me that while I will have it for the rest of my life I wouldn’t necessarily be in this much pain or this debilitated for all of it. Nobody ever invited me to give input into my own care.
I am not someone who takes well to being left in the dark so I starting spending all of my time stuck in bed researching and learning everything there was to know about IBD and its treatments. I read every study I could find and started bringing my ideas to my doctors. It was so frustrating because at every turn it felt like we were in uncharted territory and they didn’t know what to do but they still weren’t turning to me for help figuring it out. My opinions about what course of treatment I should take continued to form and in time I became more assertive.
I pressed my doctors to allow me to get a g-tube placed, something they don’t generally use in Crohn’s patients. It was the right choice for me. Despite resistance or at least hesitance on the part of my doctors, it ended up preserving my health during many periods of acute illness. There are other examples but I just share the g-tube as an example of why the knowledge and feelings of a patient are so important to consider in the decision-making process. I knew what my body needed and I was right.
Obviously I’m not a doctor and I should not be unilaterally deciding on the care plan, but I know that if I had not been advocating for what I felt was right for me in my unique situation, I would not be anywhere near as healthy as I am now. Now I feel like I have a really great team-based approach with my doctors. I want everyone to have that and I don’t want anyone to have to fight as hard as I had to in order to make that happen. I don’t blame my doctors for their resistance. I think they’re great and I believe they really respect me but including a patient’s perspective in decision-making is simply not the way things are done – especially in pediatrics. In my opinion having informed patients and a collaborative relationship between patient and doctor is the best, and frankly the only road, to optimum health.