Jordon 1, Crohn's 0: The Coupon Kid is BACK
189 days barely eating, 120 days in hospital (five in intensive care), 41 X-rays, 18 cannulas, oh, and one major abdominal surgery.
12 months ago, had I known all of this, I’d have run a mile at the very first blood test. Even as I write this, I still can’t comprehend how I’ve made it to this point. I wouldn’t wish my experience of battling Crohn’s Disease on a single other person on this planet.
Yet here I am. Feeling proud, sat typing away at my desk at MSE Towers. Though there may be tears rolling down my face as I look back through the past year, I'm now tougher and more driven than ever. Knowing that just 10 months ago, I was only weeks away from my body shutting down completely. And to have got through it all makes me a very lucky man.
So, what happened?
If you read my earlier Coupon Kid vs Crohn’s blogs - from the start of my time in hospital and when I was released after 85 days – you’ll know about my fight against this horrible disease. By April, things were looking a lot better. I just needed to wait until my body was ready to have surgery.
Nearly everything was going great. Despite being on daily TPN (receiving nutrition through a tube into my arm instead of eating), I was recovering at home and I was in a good place mentally. So much so, I booked a trip to Jacksonville, in Florida, where I’d been invited to speak to teens at the annual Teenpreneur conference. Yes. I was the guy carrying two full bags of medical equipment around three different airports in the US (sorry if I got in your way!)
All had gone well at the conference. I was honoured to be a keynote speaker, telling my story, sharing how I’d managed to push on, keep blogging, couponing, entering competitions – I’d even written a book from my hospital bed.
The problems started when I landed back in the UK. Almost instantly, I was knocked out by sickness. No strength to leave my bed, no ability to attach my TPN to receive vital nutrients and I was generally feeling very unwell. An ambulance was called - they suspected it was sepsis. I was rushed into hospital and underwent some tests, which involved the removal of my PICC line (where the feeding tubes go in), and I was forced to go without food or any other nutrition for a whole week. This was all happening during the hottest week of the year. I lost two stone. Suddenly, it felt like I was back at square one.
Going under the knife
We were now in July and I’d thankfully been transferred back to a specialist hospital, where I met with my surgeon. It was the news I’d been wanting to hear for more than seven months, waiting anxiously and suffering the whole time. It was finally time for me to have the major surgery I desperately needed.
The surgery I was having is called an ileostomy, which consisted of removing the diseased part of my intestines and repositioning the end of my bowel to poke out of my stomach. A disposable bag is then attached around it to be the ‘end of the line’ as it were. It’s basically to give my remaining intestines a rest after being so badly diseased.
I had a couple more extremely tough weeks to go through, but once the time came around for me to go under the knife, I wasn’t scared, nor tearful or worried (my mother was!). All I remember is being wheeled down to theatre, hearing “We’ll see you later” and then nothing. Who knows what they were doing to me – luckily, I was totally out of it.
A few hours later, the faint sounds of beeping started to creep in. I was gently woken up from my drug-induced slumber. All I remember are the wires (a LOT of wires) and the bag that saved my life sitting proudly on my stomach. For five days, my temperature remained scarily high and I was very sick as my body recoiled from the trauma of surgery. Nothing going into my system would stay down and I could hardly even get out of bed for a while, which just made me feel worse.
Suddenly, about six days post-surgery, good health started to hit me like a (pleasant) ton of bricks. My bowel was working again and I had no pain. I had a new lease of life and felt the best I’d done in years. My first meal was a roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings. I’ll leave you to imagine the noises and faces I was making with every single bite (after nearly 200 days of no solids).
Promptly after, I was released from hospital, and I kid you not - my first week outside of hospital, I ate at every fast food restaurant I could find. Healthy? No, but after so long deprived of my favourite foods, I was drooling like Homer Simpson does at the sight of his beloved doughnuts.
On the road to recovery (again)
Following surgery, my total recovery time was about eight weeks, and during this time I took a massive ‘detox’ from social media and work. I just had to switch off and take a much-needed break. I caught up on my social life, ate food, revived my love of acting, ate food, played some video games, ate food… you get the idea! I was beginning to feel like myself again.
Strangely, as a result of my disease being removed, I also started to become more of a man (I’m not joking). My natural development had been slowed somewhat ever since my symptoms first started when I was 15 years old. So now, rather than the arms of a skinny pubescent boy, I’m looking ripped (by comparison!). My muscles are like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s! If I don’t shave my beard I look like Santa within days, and I’ve started sweating as if I’m constantly in a sauna. Not sure if that one’s a blessing or a curse!
After a totally horrendous year, I was able to go on a well needed holiday. I really didn't care what other people thought with my bag out by the pool. It saved my life, so I couldn't be more proud to be wearing it.
Back to being myself
So now I’m back, carrying a little extra baggage – in both senses of the word (I’ve gained four stone and one ileostomy bag) and I’ve gone from eating nothing at all to feasting on whatever I fancy, from barely staggering a few metres to walking miles. Just look at the difference. I’m horrified looking at photos of my recent past self, but it just shows how far I’ve come.
Unfortunately, before you ask, my fight against Crohn’s is still not over. In six months’ time, I’ll need to head back to hospital to have my ileostomy reversed, and return to being a normal functioning human being - bag free. That will of course mean more surgery and a month’s recovery. But I really do hope that will finally be IT!
Life with a bag hanging off of your stomach isn’t as bad as it sounds. When it’s a choice between no quality of life and being in constant pain - or having the bag and being pain free, the bag wins every time. I’d be lying if I said it was easy, because it’s not, but after everything that’s happened and what I’ve overcome, I feel incredibly lucky to be where I am.
It’s been a long, arduous road, but here I stand. I may have visible battle scars, but I can’t remember a time where I’ve ever felt this good. To use an Instagram expression, I’m living my best life.
How Martin helped me through it all
I have to end on one thing that stuck with me throughout all of this. While in hospital, I received a handwritten ‘get well’ card from none other than a certain Martin Lewis. The guy who inspired me to start saving money as a teenager, who offered me a job not long after my 18th birthday and who I look up to immensely. He wrote something that resonated with me, and helped keep me going when I otherwise might not have coped. “This is just a blip,” he said. “Everything will still be waiting for you when you’re back to health.”
Despite some dark days spent thinking my career could be over and all my dreams dead… here I am. Everything is still here, waiting for me - just like he said. There were times when the wheels were spinning out of control, but now the whole ordeal is in my rear-view mirror, like a bump in the road.
So if you ever have a dark period in your life, or a health struggle like mine, just remember it’s only a blip. Keep fighting, keep grinding. Soon it’ll be behind you as you speed off into the distance.
If you know someone who’s been through a similar situation, feel free to comment below or share your experience on Twitter @MSE_Deals or on Facebook. If by sharing my story I can help someone else cope, it will all have been worthwhile.