Our Stories: Firefighting and Battling Crohn’s Disease

These stories are shared by firefighters to enable, educate, and encourage other firefighters who have similar experiences, unique characteristics, or may not understand the adversity of their brother and sister firefighters. Many of these stories are submitted/shared anonymously due to the nature of the story and the need for anonymity. Do not assume you know or understand other firefighters battles. The degree of adversity in the stories cannot be judged by others, take them as they are shared and share them with other firefighters if you see fit.  If you have something to share, please email FireCritic@FireCritic.com with the subject “My Story”. Previous “Our Stories” articles may be found here.

The Firefighter Crohnie

our-stories-finalI am fairly new in the fire service. My dream as a kid was always to work in EMS, but I never thought I could actually do it. Firefighting was meant for strong men, right? So, I went years ignoring my dream and started down a different career path. I realized that I wasn’t happy with the way my life was going– and I decided it was finally time to at least *try* to make my dream come true. I graduated valedictorian from the EMT program and went straight into the fire academy. And I did it.

I am a woman. I battle severe Crohn’s disease.

But I am still capable.

I am a firefighter.

It took a long time for me to realize that just because I have obstacles to overcome, I don’t have to let them stop me. I have to work hard to compete with my brothers in the firehouse, but I know that if/when the time comes I have to go into a fire and save them, I can. If anything, my obstacles have made me even more passionate about my career choice.

I have a family in EMS. And every day I go to work, I remember just how lucky I am to be a part of it.

I’m not going to lie– the physical struggle in dealing with Crohn’s disease and balancing my work and health is hard. Sometimes I have to concede and give my body a rest, if only to keep my brothers at the firehouse safe. But I’ve learned how to listen to my body, and I’ve learned how to keep it as healthy as possible.

The incentive being that I get to save lives.

And that’s just awesome.

I’m not ashamed of dealing with Crohn’s disease, but I don’t want this to become what defines me.

As far as the Crohn’s is concerned, it’s complicated. I’ve been sick since elementary school, but didn’t have major problems until my late teens/ early twenties. Since then, I’ve had several surgeries and tried a variety of medications. Luckily, I was able to get my symptoms under control before I started the fire academy. I spent a couple of weeks in the hospital during my EMT class, though. My most difficult symptoms to control are abdominal pain, joint pain, nausea, fatigue, and diarrhea, none of which are conducive to fire scenes. I found a good combination of medicines that keep any big flares from happening without distracting side-effects. Whenever I have minor flare-ups, I try to get extra sleep, drink extra water, and alter the kinds of foods I eat. That’s worked pretty well for preventing hospitalizations. But the annoying symptoms that persist even when I’m not in a flare-up (pain and diarrhea) require a little extra effort. A lot of times, I just grin and bear it. Doing my job is usually enough to distract me from the pain. I’ve become the master of holding it until I can get to a bathroom (though there’s been some close calls on that one). A few years ago, I had parts of my intestine removed because they were too damaged to save– that included a major valve that is supposed to help regulate expulsion (if you know what I mean). So, I’ve had to compensate by strengthening voluntary muscles that help me in those dire situations. And I always come prepared with an extra change of clothes.

For the most part, what I’ve found to be helpful is to be open about my struggles. I joke around about those annoying symptoms, because I know that some of my predicaments make for great stories. Although I grin and bear it when I am working, I can talk about it to people I’m close to (whether it’s other people in the fire service or just my family). I definitely don’t like to dwell on the negatives. I just like to be able to use my experience to help others. If I’m running an EMS call for someone with a chronic disease, I can actually sympathize with them. I know what it’s like to be in their shoes. And I can show them that even if a disease wears you down, you can still follow your dreams. If you work hard, listen to your body, be knowledgeable (about the disease, your limitations, the job, etc.), and follow your heart, anything is possible.

– Shared by an Anonymous Firefighter

What is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. Inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease can involve different areas of the digestive tract in different people.

The inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease often spreads deep into the layers of affected bowel tissue. Crohn’s disease can be both painful and debilitating, and sometimes may lead to life-threatening complications.

While there’s no known cure for Crohn’s disease, therapies can greatly reduce its signs and symptoms and even bring about long-term remission. With treatment, many people with Crohn’s disease are able to function well.

This definition above and more information is available at MayoClinic.org

WebMD.com offers a health center focused on Crohn’s Disease as well. Check it out here