Friday, July 20, 2007

Keeping it in the family

When my doctor diagnosed me it wasn’t the first time I’d heard of ulcerative colitis. It was a name I remember from childhood. Two faintly exotic sounding words that had something to do with my grandma. This ulcerative colitis ‘thing’ wasn’t exactly hush-hush, but as a kid you pick up on which conversations are okay for you to listen to and which ones you make yourself scarce for. Ulcerative colitis conversations fell into the latter. So I didn’t really know what those two faintly exotic words meant until they suddenly became linked to me. Apparently it is quite common for more than one member of a family to have UC, but this doesn’t mean it’s strictly a hereditary disease. Though I do now wonder if ulcerative colitis has leapfrogged its way through generations of my family? Does it riddle my family tree like woodworm? If my grandma had it, and I’ve got it, surely some of my earlier ancestors did too? And what sort of life would they have had in the days before Mesalazine and Prednisolone? Below is a picture of my grandfather (in the middle at the back) on the family farm in County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland.

I’ve seen pictures of the two-room cottage my grandad grew up in. There was no indoor toilet, no running water and electricity was a thing of the future. Nine people lived in that house. Now imagine if one of them suffered from ulcerative colitis. The cold, draughty hours spent on a rudimentary al fresco toilet; the lack of privacy, coping with the day-to-day rigours of life; fetching water, cooking, cleaning, baking bread, farming the land, feeding livestock, walking everywhere. Things were already tough without the added problem of a chronic disease. I’ll never know if my illness is some sort of dodgy family inheritance, but if it has been passed down through the generations, I’m glad I’ve got it now and not back in my grandad’s day. They didn't even have toilet paper.