Meet Chaya – 26 year old barrister with Crohn’s
Coming from a family with an extensive Crohn’s background, the older I became the safer I felt. Crohn’s conventionally strikes young children and teenagers, my parents were told. Life was colourful and marvellous, and having completed my degree in law I was finally ready to undertake the training needed to fulfil my ambition of becoming a criminal barrister. I had been bombarded with the statistics, the personal tales of woe and the overriding cynicism of attempting to get pupillage (“frum girls don’t become barristers”), so when I was successful first time round in obtaining a sought after place with the Crown Prosecution Service, I was ecstatic to say the least. My pupillage was based in Reading and the commute was around one and a half hours each way.
My husband and best friend Barry will tell you that my symptoms had been rearing their ugly head well before my time in Reading. A gradual (and celebrated) loss of weight in conjunction with a dwindling supply of energy I attributed to a stressful bar course, marriage, youth directorship and laziness. So I wasn’t the excessive social butterfly I had once been – this was life progression wasn’t it?
The journey to Reading was fraught with anxiety, making it in time to get to court was a daily struggle. The stomach aches became excruciating and I became a sloth, sleeping for hours on end. The moment clarity struck is vivid to us both. Barry was driving me to the station and I suddenly felt as if I was genuinely about to die. Internally I was exploding, my gut twisting and turning to cripple all my senses and ignite every nerve ending. I was rushed to hospital and the diagnosis was clear – severe Crohn’s. It didn’t make sense at first. How this could happen now, the precise moment that was the culmination of years of preparation and work? We were exceptionally blessed that the shul that we worked for is it seems the hub for every Jewish gastroenterologist and surgeon in London. I was treated like royalty and had whatever assistance I needed on speed dial.
I was put on a course of steroids and Infliximab. The CPS had me assessed and I was deemed disabled under the Equalities Act. They were supportive, accommodating and caring, promptly moving me to a team 17 minutes away from my home. However the damage that had been wrought could not be undone. Surgery was scheduled for October to remove the diseased area of bowel. We were adamantly told that my fertility was “in essence at zero” which was a further blow as a young married couple desperate to complete a loving relationship. My family, devastated to have yet another Crohn’s patient, rallied around us as did a group of friends that were available night or day.
However, before my surgery, disaster struck. A serious complication arose seemingly overnight and I was rushed back into hospital. I spent the most emotional Yom Kippur of my life on a ward surrounded by severely unwell individuals, which brought a profound reality to the words I fervently whispered. All preventative measures and minor surgeries failed and after a litany of discharges and A and E runs, I was facing an intrusive surgery to drain the stubborn abscesses that refused to go unnoticed. What followed was nothing short of horrific.
A nurse mistakenly removed my drains causing me toe curling, agonising, unendurable pain – my poor sister was utterly scarred by those moments of anguish and terror, and for a few days I couldn’t speak, eat, sleep or express any emotion.
A few weeks later I had the previously scheduled re-section which became a double surgery to rectify the preceding error. In the depths of that ceaseless and continuing abyss that I could not extricate myself from there were moments of pure hilarity caused by the numerous medicines and pain killers prescribed. I now understood some of the bizarre behaviours I had witnessed in court from drug addled defendants – Ketamine is one that had unbelievable effects.
I was discharged, signed off work for six months which included the period I had already been ensconced in hospital, and told that I shouldn’t entertain any possible notion of trying to become pregnant for at least six months. I retreated to my parents’ home, petrified of the outside world.
It seems so strange thinking back to that time, as if it took place in an alternative reality. I recall genuinely wondering for a few days if I would ever be able to simply walk down the street or eat in a restaurant again. The process of healing was gruelling and my body had become an unknown entity which was restraining me from doing things that I had never dreamt would be taken away from me. The patience, care, love, support and encouragement that was heaped upon me from loved ones is something I will never be able to repay. My every need and whim was catered for immediately and the days merged into weeks.
During those months in bed, in hospital and back in my childhood room shared with my sister, who together with my mother had metamorphosised into my own personal nursing staff, I questioned everything, my religious beliefs, ambitions and aspirations. The mire of woe that surrounded and overwhelmed me was at times unbreakable. In the midst of this I stumbled upon a blog of a young girl who had been diagnosed with cancer https://sharkyandwillow.wordpress.com/2013/05/. I avidly devoured every post and with each word I realised how lucky I was to not be as ill as her and the many others suffering more then what was beyond my comprehension. I sobbed when reading about her untimely death and resolved that I would make every single day count, regardless of my physical state.
My rather wise father has always said that his sagacious mother was adamant that illness is multi-faceted and the strength of one’s mental condition can make a tremendous difference in beating any disease. This rings true for me as from that point I really did get better.
I began to review cases remotely and moved back to the home I had created with Barry. I appreciated everything, from getting out of bed in the morning to sitting in a cafe with friends. When I was able to go for a walk around central London I knew that a new chapter had begun. Getting back to work in December, two months early, I revelled in my skeletal frame and new found energy. And then a miracle occurred and I became pregnant, five months after my last surgery. This was an unprecedented development and my medical team were astounded. All symptoms of my Crohn’s melted away like morning dew on a leaf in spring. Our cherubic baby boy was born 8 months later and it now seems that the entire journey was worth every ounce of torment.