IBD on the College Campus: The Challenge of Academics

You’re sitting in class. The abdominal pain starts drowning out the words your professor is saying. You have the urge to go to the bathroom, but you’re embarrassed because you literally just got back to your seat from excusing yourself minutes before. You’re struggling. E85DEFFBEA08446AAED0650FA09CCB0DYour disease is making the simple task of sitting in class alongside your peers an ordeal. While you may feel alone in this moment, thousands of college students around the world living with IBD can relate to this overwhelming stress and strain.

When I put a call out on Twitter and asked the IBD community what worries and challenges impacted college students, here are some of the responses I received pertaining to academics:

“Trying to balance wanting to do well vs. taking care of myself. I would try to push past a flare to study or go to class and would end up in the hospital (15+ ER visits and 5-6 hospital stays). In the long run, pushing past it was not the best idea. IMG-0787Balance is key. Health comes first,” said Aaron Blocker, a Crohn’s patient and IBD advocate. “It sucks to have to pause college because of your health, but school will always be there, and your health is important for long-term success.”

Kristin Harris has ulcerative colitis, one of her biggest worries was offending teachers by leaving multiple times to go to the bathroom. “Knowing I may dash out of class gave me major anxiety. I always tried to secure a seat next to the door. I was terrified I’d have to run to the bathroom during a test and that made me so anxious—which only made my symptoms worse.”

The same can be said for Rasheed Clarke. He too lives with ulcerative colitis and is a vocal advocate in our community. “Biggest worry was making it through each class without having to scoot to the bathroom. Somehow, I managed to make my bathroom trips in between classes…most of the time. I also kept spare underwear with me in case of accidents, and let’s just say I’m glad I did.”

Breaking down your walls and being open with professors

Similar to personal relationships and friendships, those on campus can only offer support and help to you if they are aware you have IBD. By openly communicating with your school’s disability office and getting the proper accommodations in place, along with informing your professors, you set yourself up for greater success.

“The hardest part for me was sharing a letter written by my GI with my professors explaining my medical situation and requesting classroom accommodations. IMG-0789As a straight A student, now struggling to pass classes due to an awful flare, I was devastated that I needed to ask for help. I was appreciative of my professors’ extreme kindness and that I was granted accommodations (deadline extensions, attending a different lecture on bad days, rescheduling exams, etc). This was a profound moment that taught me it was okay to ask for help,” said ulcerative colitis patient and IBD advocate, Jenna Ziegler.

Alex Beaudoin was diagnosed with Crohn’s during her academic career. She learned the benefits of communicating with professors. “I was shocked at how understanding everyone was. IMG-0788Ask for extra time, ask for a note taker. Get in touch with your school’s office for those with disabilities. Access the support you need to be on equal ground.”

Key accommodations to discuss with your school’s disability office

As people living with IBD, most of us strive to overcome our personal limitations. At the same time, it’s important to understand your achievements and accomplishments are not diminished when you ask for help and assistance. If anything, accommodations will help you reach your goals and get to where you want to be.

According to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act), public, government-funded institutions such as state and regional colleges and vocational programs, are required to make reasonable modifications and adaptations for students with disabilities that significantly impact their education, learning, or physical ability to participate in programs. Click here to learn more about disability services and your rights as an IBD patient. This pertains to all school-age children and adults, click here to check out the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundations Guide to Educational Equality.

I asked for disability accommodations which at my school, last one year and then you’re re-evaluated by their social worker for whatever your needs might be. For me, in writing-intensive classes, I was allowed extra time to submit papers. For classes with exams, I received extra time to complete the exam. IMG-7331I also can use the bathroom frequently without question, eat in class without any questions and I’m allowed more than the usual 2 absences allowed in most classes,” said Tina Aswani Omprakash, Crohn’s patient and IBD advocate. “If there are group projects and I can’t partake; I ask the professor if I can do something on my own.”

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s Mid-America Chapter is gearing up to a host a webinar tomorrow (Thursday, September 26, 2019) from 7-8 pm CT to address managing IBD while furthering your education along with finding the appropriate accommodations. Click here to register and stay tuned for Part Three of my series “IBD on the College Campus” next week.

When pain medication adds to your IBD troubles

It was one of those moments when you’ve exhausted all options for comfort and feel the need to turn to pain medication. As an IBD mom, taking pain medication is now my last resort, because it makes me feel less present and capable of taking care of my children. Luckily, this time around my Crohn’s symptoms decided to peak on Labor Day weekend while my husband was home.

I casually took a Tylenol with Codeine, expecting for the pill to take the edge off the gnawing pain in my abdomen that had been bothering me all day. Thirty minutes went by, then an hour, then a few hours, no relief. My mind started racing as to why I was feeling this way. Was it the fact I went out the night before and had a drink with friends? Was it because I had Starbucks hours before? Was it the rice cakes I ate that sometimes cause my stomach to hurt?

84910E13-824E-4856-BF44-D3BBBD5BCC1FAs the pain persisted and my little guy snuggled me on the couch, I was losing patience with the pain that was drowning out everything around me. I wanted relief and I wanted it quickly.

So, I went in my medicine cabinet and saw I had Oxycodone left over from my c-section six months ago. I grabbed a glass of water before bed and popped the pill without thinking twice. I assumed that little white pill would help me sleep and help the pain subside.

What happened was the opposite. What happened is something that still sticks with me now. I crawled into bed next to my husband and could tell something was off. I traded in my abdominal pain for much worse. It was a nightmare of a night filled with anxiety, nausea, and dizziness. I laid awake in bed for nearly six hours. I had to keep my hand on top of my chest because I was so anxious about not being able to breathe. I felt like I was suffocating. My mouth felt so dry, yet when I would try and drink water I would almost throw up. My thoughts raced. I felt so scared. So alone. Despite Bobby being right next to me. He held my hand, he tickled my back, he did everything he could to help calm me down.

IMG_9691Sure, I couldn’t feel the abdominal pain, I couldn’t really feel much below my neck, which added to my anxiety. My body felt like Jell-O. I felt like I was living an out of body experience. I was whimpering and whining at 3 in the morning that I just wanted it to be the next day.

These are the behind-the-scenes IBD moments that people often don’t hear about. These are the difficult experiences as patients and as parents that we often keep behind closed doors. Both my kids were under the weather, I felt so guilty that if they woke up, I wouldn’t be capable to take care of them, let alone hold them. Poor Bobby had to be all three of our caretakers that night.

The morning came and I woke up at almost 9 a.m. I had been dead to the world for about five hours. Never heard my baby on the monitor. Never heard my toddler across the hall. Never heard my husband get up to take care of them. When I walked into the family room, I felt the aftereffects of my stomach pain from the day before. I felt like I was still in a cloud. My head pounded. The headache persisted until dinner time.

pharmacy-3087596_1920This is not to say pain medication is always a no-go. I’m of the mindset that those of us in the IBD community should have access to opioids. At the same time, this is more of warning for patients to be mindful that the medication you take to calm your pain, may bring about side effects that are even worse than what you are dealing with in the first place. Personally, I’ll never take oxycodone again. You live and you learn. Sometimes with IBD unfortunately it has to be the hard way.