Don't let your Crohn's win. Beat the Crohn's.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Status: Lab Rat

I have learned many disturbing things about our medical system as a lab rat.

Currently, I'm on my second clinical study; when no other options exist, clinical trials can feel like a godsend, especially if the medication works.

No one tells you what it's like to be on a study when you need more help than purely receiving the drug. After finishing my undergraduate career, I will move to another state. Months ago, I asked the nurse on the clinical study about switching to a closer clinic. Her original response was that it wasn't possible. Thankfully, my boyfriend said that you can usually transition and I pushed. Finally, she gave me a website and told me I needed to look up whether the clinical study was offered near my medical school. I was flabbergasted. As a health care professional, was it not her job to help me? I called a nurse I trust, and she helped me locate other sites.

The clinical study nurse then checked into that site and told me I was unable to participate in a clinical study there. She said I could continue going to the same clinic I've attended - four hours away from my medical school. For monthly visits in which I would need to miss class, this option seemed unacceptable. She said I could call the insurance company and see if they would cover this experimental drug - I have now been talking with the insurance company for over an hour, and still have no answer.

To many people, this situation may seem reasonable. The nurse has done her job and now it's time to do my part. I don't know how to fully explain how difficult this situation is. After 10 years of never achieving remission, I have now been on a drug for over 2 years that, for the most part, keeps me out of the ER and reasonably healthy. However, that doesn't matter to the clinical study. I understand that data collection is important for the scientific process, but that doesn't make my life any easier. At what point are patients treated as people who deserve health just as much as anyone else? The coordinator has treated me as an expendable lab rat that has completed her time.

Even if I can convince the insurance company to help pay for this drug, I have no idea what dosage I'm on, or even how often I receive this drug. And although I will have to go off the clinical study, they will not release any of my personal information to me to help the transition. I will need to start from scratch with 2 possible dosages and 2 possible time frames. They will put me on the low dosage to start, but who knows if that will work. The danger of going off-label is that some people start a flare-up, become sick, and then potentially the drug stops working.

This system holds no compassion for patients. When I've spoken with people who work on the study and insurance companies and mention the importance of staying on a medication and dose that works for me, they don't even apologize. Their response is, "Oh well, we can't do anything for you."

I don't feel as though my health is important to these people - I know it's not them in particular; they're just doing their job. We have a broken system that doesn't help the people who truly need it.

As a lab rat, I've learned that science, over health and all else, is most important.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

I Can

Recently, a friend told me her theory that people age themselves by telling themselves they're too old to do something. Rather than enjoying life, people let their age define them.

"I can't"

This seems like a simple phrase, but it has the power to stop a person in life. Many of us fall victim to these two words. For the last year, I have let Crohn's use these words to define my life. 
In November 2013, I reached my first non-surgically induced remission. I ate healthy and exercised every day. I never felt so alive. Then, a study abroad program (which I'll never regret), caused my disease to spiral out of control. As symptoms worsened, I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted (telling myself that anything would make me sick). As the binge-fest continued, I became more fatigued and symptomatic; the summer of 2014, I rarely worked out.
The fall of 2014 became the worst time for me. At 21, I needed to wear adult diapers. I never exercised. I had pain all the time. I told myself I couldn't work out. I couldn't eat healthy because it wouldn't help.
Then, I switched physicians and my new medical team helped me find a new treatment plan. By January 2015, I started to feel better. However, months later, I'm still trying to find the perfect treatment plan, causing me to still have regular symptoms.
Although I've felt better these last few months, I've let "I can't" rule my life. I can't run as fast or far as I used to - I'm easily fatigued. I can't lift as much as I used to. I didn't want to do anything because I knew I couldn't participate in activities for the same length of time, or at the same intensity.
Then, I thought about what it meant to age oneself. By telling myself I couldn't, I didn't go to the gym. Obviously I wouldn't become stronger by sitting around in my dorm room.

"I can"

The start of this attitude has helped give back so much of my life. Rather than saying how much I can't do in an exercise, I tell myself what I can do. I can go outside and run until I'm tired. I can try higher weight sets. I can try.
With this attitude, and the help of family and friends, I can slowly feel my strength returning. I have set many new goals and stopped looking at what I used to accomplish. I have more important goals for my future that only present me can start achieving.