By: Charlotte Rensberger

When you have a chronic medical condition, having a background in nursing can be both a blessing and a curse.

I have been battling Inflammatory Bowel Disease since I was 16 years old and graduated nursing school when I was 19. Even before I began having symptoms, the science of how the human body works, or doesn’t work, was something that fascinated me.

As a patient, I like to know everything I can about my situation, diagnosis, treatment options, and prognosis. I often ask to see pictures of scopes, surgeries, etc. As a medical provider myself, I know that not all patients feel the same way, so in approaching this I always asked how much patients already know and how much additional information they would like me to provide.

I have been working as a nurse for more than 15 years and during this time have had several Crohn’s flares and surgical procedures. There have been times when I wondered if I would be able to continue my career. I know that some patients are physically not able to work. I always try to be a good patient, follow medical directions, rest, and take my time getting back to full speed. It’s not always easy; as I nurse, I am usually running at top speed. I must make a conscious effort to slow down and listen to my body.

My ostomy doesn’t consistently cooperate with my long work hours. Nurses always joke that they don’t get bathroom breaks and this is a real concern, but when the bag needs emptying, you run the risk of an explosion if you don’t listen. The same goes for eating and being able to drink water and stay hydrated. I have learned to carry water and a spare change of clothes just in case!

Sometimes, straddling the line between patient and provider can be a blessing. I usually feel well informed and when I am not, I know what questions to ask and where additional resources may be. I also feel confident advocating for myself, because I know that’s an option.

I have heard from many patients that they didn’t even know that they could advocate for themselves and that often they feel overwhelmed and confused. Every patient should feel empowered to ask questions, as many questions as needed to gain understanding. Patients need a clear understanding of all aspects of their health so that they can take control of their life and be active participants. Take it from this nurse that no question is off limits and you can never ask too many questions! We have heard it all, I dare you to try to shock me!

As a nurse, I am all too aware of all the possible complications that could occur. I know the worst-case scenarios, and sometimes that can be scary. There have been times when I have talked myself into thinking that I was experiencing some horrible illness, when really, I just had a cold!

I am still fascinated by the human body and love my nursing career. I hope that my body cooperates and allows me to do this job for many more years.