And Other Amazing Things
Note: Posting a personal blog five days before your book launch is not a great marketing idea.
That said, caution has been tossed to the wind.
Today is a noteworthy day at the Spinella house. Middle daughter, Jamie, graduates law school. Any parent would be proud. I mean, short of having to post bail, we’re all proud of our kids’ accomplishments. But unless you know Jamie—beyond a social media image—unless you were around during the terrific tumultuous years, you cannot fathom the unlikeliness of today.
Just the Facts
Not long after moving to Massachusetts, stomachaches and malaise hit Jamie harder than that first winter. Initially, we weren’t overly concerned. It was the move… It was her diet… (she remains a chocaholic) It was middle child syndrome, the Jan Brady effect.
It was none of the above. Eventually, Jamie, thirteen by then, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.
In terms of disease, this is not a devastating diagnosis. We assumed it would be manageable. She had a great doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital. But as brilliant as her doctor was, Jamie’s UC continued to spiral. Months became years, and low doses of prednisone were steadily increased to keep the disease in check.
If your UC knowledge base is TV commercials, know it is a relentless autoimmune disease with a host of unpleasant effects, many of them unrelated to the colon. Then there are the side effects of maintenance drugs. At the height of her illness, Jamie took 17 pills a day and injected shots of methotrexate into her abdomen. Easy was not among the options. But left untreated, UC likely results in colon cancer. For proponents of a holistic approach, please know this disease does not give a literal shit about diet. Unlike its autoimmune cousin, Crohn’s, the UC intestinal tract is not wooed by what you ingest. At its worst, UC is an indestructible, fire-breathing dragon.
And then this happened…
By 2007 Jamie was out of options. Interestingly, it wasn’t the disease that pushed us into a drastic decision, it was the meds. High doses of prednisone had taken a toll and we had to pursue the only alternative—take out the fire-breathing dragon, i.e., her entire colon.
Yup. The whole thing. All 5-feet of this 16-year old’s colon, in a tedious 12-hour operation. At the conclusion of the surgery, she was fitted with a chic colostomy bag—the dream accessory of every girl her age. The good news is the bag was a temporary adornment. Eleven weeks later there would be another six-hour surgery to “reconnect the plumbing.” You can watch a cool, head-spinning video on the J-pouch procedure here.
Get Your Rocky Music Grooving
“Forward motion,” that was the phrase on which we functioned. We just kept trudging forward. I can only speak for us as a family, because I won’t pretend to know what went through Jamie’s mind or how she coped. At times her mother did not, and I still feel badly about the nurse I lost it on after chicken fingers were served to Jamie’s hospital roommate, when my child wouldn’t get food for a solid week after surgery.
The operation was a success. Although, the internal J-pouch, formed out of small intestine, is not without obstacles, many of which Jamie continues to negotiate. By the conclusion of the second surgery, we accepted that a best answer is not always a perfect answer.
Everything Goes South, Even Non-Colon
Despite precarious odds, forward motion continued; surprisingly, Jamie chose to go to college 1,200 miles away from home. (Perhaps there was great appeal in a change of scenery) With only a few medical hiccups, she would go on to graduate, with honors, from the University of Georgia with a degree in economics.
Post-graduation, our Southern-bred Dawg decided she was truly a Northern patriot, and Jamie returned to New England. She’d mentioned law school now and again, though silently her father and I had hesitated. You can take the colon out of the girl, but ulcerative colitis is a genetic disease that is yours to keep. Non-colon effects remain active and stress can set off “pouchitis.” Pouchitis can become chronic and jeopardize the pouch. I thought it fair to assume law school came with a lot of stress.
Applied Lessons in ‘What Doesn’t Kill You…’
In the fall of 2015, Jamie began the one-hour commute each way to Roger Williams University School of Law, though most students lived nearby. Law school means spending three years of your life more attached to books and buildings than… well, an ostomy bag. But Jamie’s journey would not be without bumps and a significant volcano erupted in 2016. The not perfect choice of the J-pouch proved true, and a small bowel obstruction resulted in emergency surgery. But Jamie never stopped, she never flinched. She did bitch a good bit with the insertion of yet one more nasogastric tube.
I’m certain I would have done more than that, perhaps thrown my hands up in the air and said, “Forget this. It’s too damn hard.”
Yes You Can
Jamie is many things besides this story and aside from a defective part. (All Spinella children have many wonderfully defective parts ????????????) But I did feel today’s mortarboard called for a reminder of the impenetrable mortar that is the girl who loves a white board list and her father affectionately calls “Home.” Whether it was a hospital stay or a flight from Atlanta, Jamie has had many homecomings.
Today she graduates with her Juris Doctor, from the honors program, magna cum laude, and as a future prosecutor. Why a prosecutor? She can give you the intellectual answer to that. I say it is because, for so long, Jamie has perfected and excelled at the art of making certain the “bad guy” doesn’t win.