I have Crohn’s disease.
Even as I write that, I rush to add a lot of qualifiers: my case is really mild, I’m on a low-dose med. I hardly have any trouble. My nutrition is fine. I am not what you think a Crohn’s suffer looks like (especially if your mental image includes chronic diarrhea. My symptom of choice was compulsive vomiting, which for whatever reason is less embarrassing).
And once I write that, I’m desperate to qualify some more: I know I shouldn’t be complaining. Some people have things so much worse. It’s not fatal. Imagine the kids who have to suffer with this stuff when they’re so young! I would never get all woe is me over something like this. I’m not that kind of person.
I was diagnosed about two weeks ago, and went to the medical center one last time yesterday to have a CT scan done. I didn’t know much about the procedure, and I was relieved to get it over with knowing that after they took these pictures of my small intestine there would be nothing left to take pictures of, and I’d be done. My compulsive joke-cracking really rears its head in medical situations, and I was in fine form yesterday as I checked in and started pounding some barium sulfate. I was taken into another room so that they could insert the IV.
IV???? I thought in a panic. It’s not that I don’t like needles, it’s that they don’t like me. If I don’t drink a ton of water before something as simple as blood donation, my veins are undetectable. I hadn’t had a ton of water. This wasn’t a big deal. I’d been through this before. “Go straight for the hand” I told the nurse, “My veins are hard to find”. So he did. The vein in my right hand burst 30 seconds later and a blue lump formed just north of my wrist. He got someone else. Bam! My left hand vein burst.
And then it happened. I thought to myself “Oh shit I have a chronic illness. This is my life now. IVs and hospital bracelets and trying to entertain the nurses”. And I had the breakdown I had been putting off since the first time I couldn’t stop vomiting, months ago. The nurse (the second of three to take part in the six-attempt search for a vein) thought I was crying because it hurt. I felt weak. I’m not that kind of person.
I’m also not the kind of person who has a disease with a funny name. I have always been healthy, just like my parents and the rest of my family. It’s part of who I am, how they are. There is a part of me who would go back to vomiting every day, who would suffer every pain just to not have this diagnosis, to not have this label. In my crazy little head, vomiting isn’t the same as being sick.
There is a nice list of labels I have given myself, and I cling to them as if they are what make me myself. One of those is gone now, so who am I?
Still me. Because the million boxes I fit myself into aren’t who I am. In truth, I cannot define who I am. No matter how counter-cultural this may sound, the definition comes from outside me, in the eyes of the people and the God who love me. If my mom was asked who I am, she wouldn’t say “she is a healthy, independent singer with a great sense of humor”, no matter how valiantly I project those categories to the world. She would say “she is my daughter” and she would see me as more than a set of labels. Viewed through the eyes of love I become who I am: beloved.
So too in the eyes of God. Rare are the days when we can relax into God’s loving gaze. Rare are the days when we can accept that we are loved by the Love that made the universe. But the God who views each of us as precious children, who calls us by name, has made us into us, and that is who we are. Behold God beholding you…and smiling. (Anthony deMello).
The Latin term salus that in liturgical texts is translated as “salvation” more often meant “health” to the Romans. I have always viewed myself as possessing the latter. I am healthy. Even now, as I write, having taken my six anti-inflammatory pills today to keep the pain and nausea away, there is part of me that doesn’t believe there is anything really wrong with me. Yet it’s not health that saves me. It is God’s loving gaze, the glory of being created solely to be me, that in the end will be my salus.