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Why I'm regretting my latest choice—having surgery for UC

I’ve experienced the worst physical pain of my life.

This post appeared in June 2013 on

I have regrets about the decisions I’ve made in my life, I think most people do. But for the most part they’re “aw shucks” regrets, not Prozac regrets. Back in the fall of 2005, soon after I moved to Halifax for a new job, I was offered a job I applied for earlier that summer. The job offer was from a radio station in Fort McMurray, Alberta. I wanted to take it, but it would have been a real dick move to accept the job in Halifax and then bail after a couple of weeks, leaving the company that entrusted me with the new position scrambling to fill it. So I stayed in Halifax, and am in fact very happy I did. I got to work on-air full time for a couple of years, I made some wonderful friends, had some amazing experiences, and thoroughly loved living on my own in a one-bedroom apartment in a peaceful neighbourhood. Still, I wonder where my career would have gone had I taken the job in Fort McMurray. But more often, I wonder whether I would have developed ulcerative colitis.

My first bout with UC came in 2007, over a year after moving to Halifax. I had never had any notable gastrointestinal ailments before, and I do wonder whether it was something in the Haligonian environment that triggered the disease. It’s just a curiosity though; I haven’t tried to look for hard evidence, but I’d like to someday. And to be clear, I’m in no way suggesting that living in Halifax caused inflammatory bowel disease. I remember Halifax more for the great times – walks around the city and across the Macdonald Bridge, hours spent watching the waves at Herring Cove, playing on my workplace’s softball team (and posing for awesome photos), playing basketball at Halifax Commons, running up and down the hilly landscape of my neighbourhood – then the horrid couple of months during which I dealt with my first flare-up.

What’s all this got to do with where I am now? Well, just like I have regrets about my past choices on jobs and living locations, I find myself regretting my latest choice – to have surgery. Again, it’s not a Prozac regret, but again I do wonder what if I had stuck to Remicade for a few more months? What if I had tried Humira? What if I had enrolled in a fecal therapy study? Maybe my body would have been able to survive in a state far greater than the one I find it in now. I try to remind myself why I didn’t opt for these paths:

  • Remicade was already showing signs that it wasn’t working, and I had spent over a month in a flare-up while on the drug, even though there were some signs of improvement.
  • Humira would be another expensive drug that, knowing my luck, would wear off after a short time. Even if it didn’t, that meant a drug dependency for the rest of my life and one that carried side effects including an increased risk for certain types of cancers.
  • Fecal therapy is a pretty mind-blowing concept, as long as you don’t have some sort of hang-up about a stranger’s stool being injected into your body. I didn’t have any problems with the yuck factor, but my concern was that since this treatment is still at the research level, I’d receive a placebo instead of the real thing. Further to that, if the treatment worked, how would I get it after the study was complete?

I made the decision to have surgery because I was sick of going from one drug to another and having it fail. I was sick of my life being interrupted with flare-ups. I was sick of being dependent on medication. I was just sick of the five-foot tube of fuck ups that kept screwing up my body and holding me back from doing the things I want to do in my life.

While I was in the hospital, and even now as I recover at home, I wonder whether I made the right decision. I was persuaded to have the surgery from a number of people who have had it done and raved about it. I kept hearing things like, “It was the best decision of my life,” and “I only wish I did it sooner.” Plus other alluring statements like, “I’ll eat anything that isn’t nailed down,” and “Now I’m on a seafood diet. When I see food, I eat it.” Talking to folks who have succeeded with their j-pouches was encouraging but in retrospect, not a well-rounded strategy. I ought to have sought out the stories of folks who haven’t had it so well, to know just what I could really be getting myself into.

Over the last month or so, I’ve experienced the worst physical pain of my life, vomited litres of black and green liquid, had holes opened in my body, had tubes jammed into just about every orifice of my body, and lost 20 pounds. I’ve felt weaker and sicker and in more pain than ever before in my life, and that includes the six years since my first encounter with UC. The cure has been worse than the disease, in many respects, so how can I not regret my decision?

Well, the hope is that my body will recover. That I’ll regain my strength and vigor and yes even my weight, at least what little I had to begin with. That I’ll be able to run and work and rediscover my independence. That I’ll be able to live a life of value. Maybe years from now I’ll look back on this time of my life in the same way I look back on my time in Halifax, remembering the happiness much more than the hardship. And maybe someday down the line, I’ll be like those smiley, satisfied j-pouch customers who made my choice seem like such a no-brainer.

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