Learning to live with vomit (somewhat)
Living with someone with Crohn’s Disease for the past three years and dating for almost six has caused me to grow up pretty quickly. I mean, for those who know me, I’ve always been a 50 year old in a 25 year old’s body to some degree. I am an extremely anxious person with some pretty bizarre minor phobias (flying, drinking, boats, etc.) that all stem from one major phobia-VOMIT.
I have never thrown up (or at least that’s what my parents have claimed all my life- I have some vivid childhood memories that contradict that belief). And, as many people know, those with anxiety don’t like not to know what something will be like. So I guess, in a bigger sense, my phobia is a fear of the unknown that has manifested itself in a fear of vomiting. For the longest time, I couldn’t even say the word vomit. I had a therapist in high school who tried doing exposure therapy for me and as one of my first “assignments,” I had to sing the song BINGO but replace BINGO with VOMIT. Talk about bizarre (and surprisingly helpful).
I have done a lot of things in life to avoid vomiting. I don’t drink or smoke (fear of being hungover and vomiting). I have only flown once and hate going on boats (fear of getting motion sick and vomiting). I have a severe fear of going to the dentist (fear of gagging and vomiting). Everyone who learns the extent of my phobia is shocked that I married someone with a stomach disease where vomiting is a part of life.
To some extent, I am shocked too. Vomiting is pretty common when you have a stomach disease. I remember the first time Dan got vomit sick. He was visiting me up in Binghamton for Valentine’s Day and we had gone to Wegman’s (I know, super romantic) for food. Later that night, he got sick from his sub (I maintain it wasn’t food poisoning but we have no way to prove my hypothesis) and was vomiting. He told me to leave the room when he felt that he was going to and I sat in my common area twitching, scared to go back in the bedroom. I ended up calling my old roommate, Ali, who was a nursing student at the time, to go into the room at check on Dan.
Fast forward three years. Dan and I are married. A few weeks after the wedding (during the H1N1 flu epidemic), Dan gets the H1N1 vaccine at his doctor in NY. We drive back to Connecticut and later that night, he starts not feeling well. We immediately think it’s a Crohn’s flare, because he’s never had one and we didn’t know otherwise. Ends up that he’s having a reaction to the H1N1 vaccine and is having a week long flu bottled into 24 hours. I try to get him in my car to go to the ER and he ends up having to get out to vomit. In my calm state, I start panicking and call 911 because he needs to go there and I can’t drive him. In the ER, they hydrate him, give him some anti-nausea pills, and send us on our way back home. By the time the meds wear off, Dan is in the bathroom, puking his brains out, while I sit in the living room shaking.
Fast forward another year- now we are in 2010 and Dan has had his first colonoscopy in years. We’re in the recovery room and the nurse tries to discharge us. Dan gets dressed and gets up and all of a sudden starts feeling horribly sick. I begin to panic because I have no idea what’s going on. All I hear is him on the verge of tears, saying he wants to make himself vomit because he feels so sick. He doesn’t actually vomit, more just dry heaving due to the lack of food in his body from the colonoscopy prep.
Fast forward yet another year to April 2011. Dan, in his silly way, ate half a bag of raw carrots (a big no-no for a Crohn’s patient with a pretty bad stricture) and starts to have terrible stomach pains. We go to the ER (yet again) and are there for hours. I go home for an hour to take our dog out and try to rest and when I come back, Dan has an NG tube down his nose, draining his throat. Between the tube and the narcotics he was on for the pain, he starts to vomit so hard that it comes up around the tube. Luckily he told me to leave the cubicle because of how sick he was feeling. While it is gross and freaks me out, I’m at least not having a full blown panic attack and remain somewhat close to where he is instead of running for the hills.
I didn’t tell all these vomit stories to gross people out or make me seem insane. I told them because living and loving someone with a disease where vomiting is so common has made me more comfortable with it.
So I guess, in a weird, screwed up sense, caring for someone with Crohn’s Disease has helped me start to overcome my biggest phobia.