Once, we were in the hospital waiting for the doctor to explain the results of the previous day's colonoscopy. We were hoping that the colitis had cooled. I had not slept or eaten the previous night, choosing to neglect my health needs over that of my brother. Also, it was hard to sleep when I knew he kept having to wake up to use the bathroom.
When the doctor then walked in and shared with us that his colitis had in fact gotten more agitated, I felt a swell of dizziness. I let myself go limp as I fell to the floor. The nurses rushed me to a bed and gave me a sugary box juice while I remember thinking, "No not me, help him [my brother]."
Having a family member or close friend suffer a colitis flare up is a trying ordeal. Since I've been through the ups and downs of a few flare ups and remission periods I know a thing or two about what it's like to have the disease from the sidelines. You see, I don't consider that my brother has colitis: WE have colitis, though it's contained in his body.
I felt that from my experience I could share a few things with fellow sideliners and caretakers of ulcerative colitis patients out there who are feeling as helpless and lost as I did. Here are a few things that I have found help me in taking care of someone with colitis, help that someone, or even help both of us.
1. Foot Massage
I've heard that all of our body's nerve endings have a presence in the soles of our feet. If someone is having a difficult time with colitis symptoms and you can catch them between bowel movements, ask them if you can massage their feet. It's not rocket science, simply use soft circular motions in a predictable pattern around the bottom of their feet.
Should your colitis patient be ticklish at the feet, use olive oil and be more predictable with where your massage is moving on their foot sole. Being ticklish is a defensive reaction that's reduced when you know the touch is going to happen.
Rub your hands together vigorously to generate extra warmth before the massage for ten seconds and you'll be giving much relief to the person who you're helping out.
2. Head Massage
Similar to the foot massage but this takes place on the patient's head (well, shoot, it's called a head massage isn't it?). Be gentle, and start by rubbing the scalp through the hair with the ends of all of your fingers as both hands have fingers spread out a little. To get the right hands for this, pretend you're going to scare someone as a monster. Say boo and scare them with your hands as claws. See what you're hands are doing? That's perfect, that's what we'll use. Also, for the massage please have cut nails. Longer nails can be used for a different technique of massage but here we'll be using the tips of our fingers (where our fingerprints are).
Try this standing behind the patient (they're seated comfortable with their head rested on the seat back or a cushion so their neck isn't strained). Use wide circular movements outward (fingers move away from your body and then out away from the center of the head you're massaging, down along the sides of their head, and then back up along the back and sides of their head). Rinse and repeat adding slight variation to have the massage feel a little more interesting.
Then, try scratching up from the nape of the neck. Know the place where the hairline touches the back of the neck? This is near the nape of the neck and it's very sensitive. Scratch gently up from here with each hand following the other slowly up the back of the patient's head. If you can have each hand start the upward scratch before the previous one has finished then it will feel amazing.
Now, remember that nape? Grab the hair at it's lowest point and gently pull it upward. You don't want to pull the hair out but give a little tension. Ulcerative colitis makes people used to pain, but that also means that gentle pain can feel really good for patients.
Finally, massage the face with your finger tips. Maybe rub off the hair smell from your fingers first, but then soft circular motions on the face with the fronts and outsides of your thumbs. Certainly include the temples for twenty seconds or so (the temples are the bumps on the skull between the eyes and the tops of the ears). Also, massage down the sinuses from the bridge of the nose down and out to the cheeks. Soft circles at the corners of the jaw below and behind the ears feels good as well. Rub the earlobes as well since that is a nice way to relax (you can use this one on yourself if you'd like!).
The point of these massages is (a) to relax the patient and help them relieve stress, and (b) to distract the patient from constantly being reminded of their symptoms. If they can feel something other than urgency, pain, and irritable bowels, you've done well Padowan.
3. Soma Ras
Ok I've borrowed the name but it's a sort of tea I've found helps patients with ulcerative colitis. Warm up two cups of water (we aren't looking for boiling water, but something hotter than tepid please!). In the bubbling water add 4 slices of ginger, 1/2 a stick of crushed cinnamon, 4 crushed cloves, and half a cup of lactose free milk. Once the mixed solution is warm again, pour it through a strainer into a glass that has two table spoons of honey (local honey is best). Mix mix mix, then serve hot.
I called this soma ras because this is name of the legendary Ayurvedic nectar of immortality. However, I make no claims of immortality here, only a delicious drink that's soft on digestion.
If you have bael fruit tea, that is another good choice. Bael fruit is used to relieve diarrhea and dysentery. We use it in CC Compound as well.
4. Keep a Journal
This is for both the colitis patient and the caretaker. Both of you are facing a lot of difficult tension. Each day you are up against a disease that tends to have a mind of its own. Despite your best intentions you might get worse. Despite your worst fears you might get better. For a steady sail, it's helpful to keep aware of your emotions and difficult thoughts you are having. A journal helps you put words to what you feel and doing that helps you address your feelings.
5. Try Yoga & Meditation
This. Sometimes I wonder how I faced anything without being well set in my Yoga & meditation practices. Since this is an opinion piece, I will share that I feel something divine in the act of meditation and of Yoga. I started doing this and then introduced my brother to it as well. Now we both do a little meditation and surya namaskar (sun salutation) every day.
The body is taxed by constantly being flared up. Yoga and meditation are a wonderful way to allow it gentle healing and exercise. If there is nothing else here you try but this, I'll be happy.
6. Comedy & Laughing
Laughter is the best medicine, they say. They might be geniuses. Very quickly my favorite mode of entertainment is something that makes us laugh. In laughing loudly, we forget ourselves and our difficulties. Some great hormones are also released when laughing out loud. If there is something that makes you feel so great and helps you forget pain for a moment, it's worth doing.
Try it now, don't be shy. You don't need any video or joke to laugh. Start laughing out loud as loudly and strangely as you can. Even if you start by forcing it, eventually I hope you'll be laughing purely because you feel good.
7. Write Letters to Each Other
Similar to journaling, sometimes it helps to compose a draft of a letter to each other. You don't have to send it at all, although I ended up sharing mine with him. As you both travel through this journey of relief and healing you'll have much to say to each other and about yourselves. Let your emotions out, do not keep them bottled because that will be stressful in the end.
And stress might be the reason we're all here together right now in the first place.