Lessons from a Hospital Bed: Dating with Crohn's

By Sara Ghassemzadeh

Even before Crohn’s Disease maintained a presence in my life, I hated dating. Here’s a general picture of what my dating life used to look like before Crohn’s. It usually panned out in 3 phases:

Pre-date: I sit in my room deliberating what I want to wear.

Read as: Lie on the floor of my room yelling on the phone at my friend for setting me up with this guy in the first place when it is common knowledge that I haven’t done my laundry in 2 months and have been stocking up on $3.99 underwear from Rite Aid in the interim

Date: Get coffee/lunch/dinner with aforementioned guy. 

Read as: Contemplate whether it would be believable or not for me to fake a panicked phone call from my roommate begging me to rush home ASAP because the house is on fire as I watch aforementioned guy aggressively shove a burrito into his mouth.

Post-date: I delete his phone number and never speak to him again. 

Read as: This is what actually happens, no subtext. 

 Dating with Crohn’s is a different kind of nightmare. When you first start to date, you want to be perceived as the best possible version of yourself. However, there is nothing cute about getting up to use the bathroom 6 times throughout the course of a meal to shit your brains out, and nothing sexy about having a seton (the surgical equivalent of a plastic hairtie) placed in your rectum to allow for continuous drainage of your abscess. There’s nothing fun about a person who orders water when you meet up for “drinks” because you weren’t able to eat anything that day while you were in a mini flare. And it’s particularly hard to keep up the allure when you have a really bad day - where you run to the bathroom 15-20 times and become so dehydrated that you have to lie in bed chewing on saltine crackers and ice so you don’t faint when you finally decide you have the strength to stand up.

 I must have had a massive stroke because all of this logic flew out the window when I met someone I really liked. For the sake of privacy, I will affectionately refer to this someone as “Loverboy” for the remainder of this post. We have our first date, and it goes beautifully. No symptoms. No pain, no nausea, no diarrhea, no fatigue. Nothing. I tell him I have Crohn’s and show him my scar and he remarks that it looks kind of cool. Wow, I think to myself. Maybe it will be easy this time.

 Second date rolls around, and it goes something to the tune of this: I spend the night at Loverboy’s house, and have to wake him up at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday because I began puking in his bathroom from 6 a.m. with no end in sight. He needs to take me to the hospital because I recently had an ileocolic resection due to a bowel obstruction (a section of my intestines were so scarred, inflamed, and ulcerated that food no longer could pass through that section and it had to be removed), and although my vomiting was probably innocuous, a CT scan was necessary to confirm that I hadn’t developed strictures or another partial obstruction. I frantically explain this to him, as I shake him awake and pace impatiently in place as he groggily rolls out of bed and searches for his keys to drive me to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital.

The rules for dating with Crohn’s are no different than dating for any other human being: be with someone who accepts you wholeheartedly for who you are.

After about a million apologies in the car, I figured my last sighting of Loverboy would be from the back as his white Subaru rolled away from RWJ’s Emergency Room entrance. 

Instead, he tells me he’s going to go park the car and then come meet me inside.

The rest of the emergency room visit goes the way it always does: I change into a hospital gown, roll off my list of medications, rate pain on a scale of 1-10, give a urine sample, get some fluids, and finally my personal saviors: Dilauded and Zofran. Nothing out of the ordinary here, except for the fact that there is one Loverboy sitting next to me reading To Kill a Mockingbird. He smiles and laughs at the way I sigh with pleasure and relief when the nurse pushes the IV painkillers, and they immediately kick in.

My mom drives an hour down to the hospital to make sure I am okay, and Loverboy is still here in spite of the multitude of received warnings. I am wheeled off to get a CT scan for an inordinate amount of time, and Loverboy gets lunch and coffee with my mother. Upon my return, they are exchanging pleasantries like it is the most normal thing in the world.

I couldn’t think of a more wonderful gift to bestow upon Loverboy than a private meal with my mother on this horrifically extended second date. 

 When my mom leaves the room, Loverboy kisses me even though I taste like vomit and death, and I’m pretty sure there are still chunks of vomit lodged somewhere in my nasal cavity. I haven’t brushed my teeth in at least 24 hours, and he says it isn’t that bad. He sits by my bed and holds my hand, and we share headphones as I force him to listen to the score of the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie until the nurse comes back and tells me that I don’t have a partial obstruction, just that I need to avoid eating sketchy egg-salsa-mystery meat-bowls from diners at 2:30 in the morning.

 I go home from the hospital that night, and I think about the fact that Loverboy spent his entire Saturday by my side in a cramped emergency room cubicle. I wonder how he feels about that because it certainly wasn’t a strange way for me to spend a Saturday. 

I realize I’ve been to the hospital so many times this year, that if I had a punch card, my next (10th) visit would be free. I realize that this is probably not how Loverboy had planned to spend his Saturday or any day of his life for that matter. I realize I have spent about 3 months at an incapacitating level of illness  during the 2014-2015 school year (home sick, hospital admits, ER stays, recovery) and realize this sort of state isn’t exactly conducive to the start of a new relationship. In fact, I think it is the complete opposite. 

Crohn’s as a physical disease may be manageable, but I’ve often found the psychological and social impacts of Crohn’s at times to be impossible. It is frustrating, it is gross, and most importantly it is alienating. 

I mentioned earlier how when you first start dating someone you want to exist as the “best version” of yourself, preferably one that doesn’t spend Saturdays in the emergency rooms puking into a bedpan. 

Later that night, Loverboy texts me and somehow (like he always does) quells all of my concerns in a single message: “You managed to make seven hours in a hospital a really enjoyable experience. I like you and I like where this is going.”

 With that, I want to share my first lesson:

The rules for dating with Crohn’s are no different than dating for any other human being: be with someone who accepts you wholeheartedly for who you are.