I’ll never forget the twinkle in that homeless man’s eye as I tossed him a Sacajawea dollar coin outside Temple Sinai in Oakland. It was a Wednesday afternoon, right after Hebrew School, where I’d just learned the true pronunciation of Tzedakah. He seemed like he had an ethereal, timeless knowledge, and with one crooked finger he beckoned me closer. Close enough to see the track marks where the train had run him over, close enough to hear his prophecy, close enough to smell—a mere fifteen feet away. He mumbled something ridiculous about a black president, a blond James Bond, and then he said something I’ll never forget:
“You, Michael Levine, will never get any serious diseases in your twenties.”
Okay, maybe that didn’t happen. But it sure as hell felt like a cosmic injustice when my Dad told me over the phone that I had Crohn’s Disease, a disease even less fun than it sounds. My Dad is a vascular surgeon, savvy enough to know that my own doctor’s “most likely’ was medical mumbo-jumbo for “yes, yes, you have this disease”. I’d heard him use his Serious Diagnosis Voice on the phone with his patients but never before with me. So I tried not to cry as horrifying phrases like “no known cure” and “minor lifestyle changes” rang in my ears. My trifling life had gotten serious way too fast. I’ll readily admit I’ve led a privileged life – hell, I’ll even confess to abusing those privileges to feel like a big man. But now reality had reared its ugly head–and stuck it right up my ass.
Wikipedia told me that Crohn’s is an inflammatory disease that “may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus,” and that I needed to seek both treatment and citation immediately. It also told me that I was in the esteemed company of indie-comics darling Jeffrey Brown, as well as Louis the XIII, Dennis Kucinich, and Shannon Doeherty. What a ragtag gang of bowel-inflamed outsiders! I can’t really describe the myriad symptoms without throwing up; I’ll just point out that the chestburster scene in Alien, written by suffering screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, illuminates the pain with subtlety and grace.
Like most forms of misery, Crohn’s Disease affects Jews disproportionately. Bizarrely, this actually gave me some solace. Pass a buttload of pain down through several generations, wrap it in a special diet, spin it in a gripping tale, and suddenly you’ve got a chronic case of tradition! C’est L’Chaim.
But Jewish identity didn’t really help me when I was the youngest, hippest guy in the waiting room for Colorectal Surgery. One’s mid-twenties is an awkward age to go under the knife–too young to make a will, too old to Make-A-Wish. Frequent surgeries were something my uncles endured and/or performed. Casually. But they had plenty of practice. Honestly, I was fucking terrified. Wit and wisdom don’t help when you’re surrounded by gauze and blood and contradicting specialists and have needles in your spine.
As I adjusted to my inflammatory lifestyle, however, the immature question “Why me?” transitioned into the slightly more mature “Why not me?” (and the questionable “What other drugs can I trade for all this valium?”). It wasn’t ridiculous injustice that I had a disease up my ass, it was ridiculous that I ever thought I wouldn’t get a disease up my ass. As a Jew, even a Reform Jew, I really should have seen this coming. In the absence of real persecution from outside, where else would the problem come from? What makes my Hebrew asshole different from any other Hebrew asshole?
Absolutely nothing. Good God, y’all.
All images excerpted from FUNNY MISSHAPEN BODY by Jeffrey Brown. Copyright © 2009 Jeffrey Brown. Reprinted with permission from Touchstone, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Jeffrey’s next book, A MATTER OF LIFE, will be out in June, 2013
Welcome to the club! My husband has been similarly blessed (despite the fact that he’s the half-Arab and I’m the full-on Jew). I love his colostomy bag because it gave him back his life. We make beautiful music together.
Go Paleo brother. Either that or Perfect Health Diet. Crohn’s is not only manageable, but curable, if you’re willing to do the extreme work in changing everything about yourself. What you eat, how you live your life; all up for grabs. Lose the inflammation, lose the symptoms of the disease. Some of us have been maintenance drug free for years. Of course, it means no wheat, artificial ingredients, processed foods, beans/legumes, etc, and you’ll become very friendly with all sorts of gut flora, there is another way, that doesn’t involve suffering.
I’ve had three small bowel recections and am currently 56. I’ ve been under control by remicade for the past 20 years. Keep me disease free, but not symptom free.
I’ve tried other immunosuppressants with poor results. Probiotics are vital. Diet helps, but had never been sufficient alone. At 56,I appear healthier than most, hike and workout frequently.
Most times especially when hiking or sailing on a small boat I manage to not need the bathroom while one is unavailable. I carry moist wipes at all times which are very helpful. Good luck
Love the prose.. you are most certainly the coolest kid in the club.
I have been through similar and agree with Jonathon. You’ll find what works for you to stay away from inflammation into remisson. For me: I eat roasted carrots at the hint of a flare and soak mung beans at night (found not as harsh like other pulses, soothing for gut lining infact). My sister was so sweet “Tanya your supermarket shop should be the most important part of your day”… but really I wanted my old life back. I have been symptom free since stumbling upon ampfloracel and receiving regular craniosacral therapy.
I hear you on the absent persectution / ancestral trauma- I think cranio tackles this patterning in the nervous system. So have a look at Ampfloracel (but to not slay me as spam – check their rival Serovera). My testimonial is up there along with many many others. Here’s hope! L’chiam!
I was diagnosed with Crohns 25 years ago and had a resection ,I am currently in remission .I read the comments and 2 of them concern me dramatically because the comments are wrong and could lead to more severe problems and undermine the medications necessary to manage this disease. THERE IS NO KNOWN CURE FOR CROHNS DISEASE,No diet no medicine, to say so is highly irresponsible.Crohns can be managed through medications and some dietary changes but there is NO diet or alternative treatments that exist nor is there any cure . I have been a reader of Heeb since it’s inception but I am also the President of the NYC Chapter of the Crohns and Colitus Foundation .I have spoken to almost every specialist ,tried different medications till I found the right “cocktail”. CCFA sponsors over 100 research teams working on finding a Cure ,as we always say we are in the buisness of putting ourselves out of buisness. To say there is a cure, is doing a deservice to the 1.4 Million Suffers of this disease .Using a mixture of medications and holistic drugs ,what we call integative medicine,is fine .But to be off medication and relying on diet or holistic treatment alone is a recipe for more complications some of which may be fatal.Thank you HEEB for publishing this article,there are a lot of people who dont even realize they have Crohns ,but new Diagnostic tools and research have made dealing with this disease manageable
I also have Crohn’s. I have had 1 small resection and have since been on natural health journey (mainly trying to balance my biotic levels through diet (SCD) and healthy lifestyle changes (exercise, reduction of chemical exposure, new ways to relieve stress). While I don’t have the history Jefferey Justin has, I have been symptom free for a few years now with my natural approach. I agree there isn’t a “cure”, but it can be managed. I was also a member of my local Crohns and Colitus Foundation and ended up quitting after I went to a meeting where they were serving Little Ceaser’s pizza. Couldn’t take them seriously after that, with the research I have done into being healthy. Everyone must make their own decisions and do their own research. To each his own how they end up managing Chron’s. It can be an enlightening journey.