Flu or Flare?
It was a hot June morning when I was sitting across the table from a client at the local Panera Bread when suddenly, it felt like a cold heavy wet blanket was thrown over my shoulders. I remember being mid-sentence and having to pause because the sensation that had just struck caught me off guard.
I immediately felt achy and fatigued, and lifting my cup of tea was like lifting a 10-pound weight. I felt an onset of chills and could not stop shivering despite drinking hot tea and throwing my cardigan over my shoulders. There was only one explanation for all of this: I had a summer flu.
Or was it something else?
Aches, fatigue, fever, and chills
I drove home with all of the windows up and A/C off (despite it being a hot summer day) in order to stay warm, even putting on my seat warmers to soothe my aching back and provide further warmth. Upon returning home, I had some hot chicken broth and took Motrin, hoping my pain and fever would subside. My temp clocked in higher than 103ºF and simply laying in bed with my covers on was too much for my body to bear. And, despite having some mild pain in my lower right quadrant (where my Crohn's lives), I chalked it all up to a terrible flu – like nothing I had ever experienced before.
Upon waking up an hour later, my fever had actually gone up and my pain was not subsiding, so I called a cab and headed straight to the emergency room. This may seem overly dramatic to the average person, but for a Crohn's patient, you can never be too cautious. At this point, I just feared that if it was the flu, it could get worse and I wanted to be on top of my treatment plan as best as possible.
Not the flu, but a Crohn's flare?
A few hours later, I was drinking a solution to get a CT scan with contrast, and my dad had shown up to keep me company. When the doctor came in to read the results of the bloodwork, the first thing my dad asked was, "Are you going to admit her?" Before I could even process this question – hello, it was JUST the flu! – the doctor replied, "Yes, she is in a serious Crohn's flare and her white blood cell count is extremely high. We will be keeping her at least overnight."
I was in total disbelief. How could this be a flare? Unlike previous flares, I did not have diarrhea, I wasn't vomiting, I didn't have any bloating or excessive gas, I simply had a fever and chills. This isn't what a flare looks like! Or so I thought.
I quickly learned that Crohn's disease not only affects individuals differently, it can also affect individuals differently from flare to flare, and this particular flare was attacking my joints. The inflammation from my intestines had not been limited just to that area, and I felt the ramifications of having a high white blood cell count beyond my gut.
Taking symptoms seriously with Crohn's and colitis
What began as just a "flu" turned into a 4-day stay in the hospital and starting a new biologic. This is also proof that we as Crohn's and colitis patients cannot take "normal" symptoms lightly, as they may not be what they seem. The best thing I did was go to the ER and put my pride aside that I was being too dramatic over minor symptoms.
As you may know, there are rarely ever "minor symptoms" when living with IBD, and each off feeling in your body should be taken seriously. Flares present themselves differently throughout this journey, and you can never be too careful or too aggressive when seeking care should you feel ill.
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