On hearing the news that Manchester United and Scotland footballer Darren Fletcher is taking an extended break from football due to on-going issues with ulcerative colitis, my heart truly sank.
I will assume that for Darren to take an extended break his symptoms must either be severe or persistent, or both. For those that don't know what it is, or perhaps don't want to know, let me shed some light on what Darren might be going through, but be warned, this isn't going to be pretty.
Colitis is a terrible, debilitating condition that has the potential to be life-threatening. Much like cancer, it comes from nowhere and can totally derail your life. Let's be clear, this is not something that people bring on themselves through bad lifestyle choices such as drinking, smoking or eating 'the wrong things'. The medical profession do not understand what causes it, which makes it harder to rationalise the changes the body goes through.
Doctors don't know why, but colitis is becoming more common, especially in Western cultures. It is the disease of the rich and healthy, effecting more non-smokers than smokers. Norwich City footballer Russell Martin is a fellow sufferer. Since being affected by it in 2010, he has made a great recovery and now is in the form of his life as a linchpin at the back of the Norwich City Premier League defence.
Worst case scenario is that Darren has been hospitalised many times due to frequent bloody diarrhoea, severe vomiting and intense abdominal pain. Think about how you feel after a 24 hour bout of severe food poisoning and then imagine that hell continuing for weeks or months. That is the life of a colitis sufferer.
If hospitalised, he will probably be connected up to various bags of medication being pumped into his veins including steroids, antibiotics, fluids and anti-blood clot drugs. Moving around with all of that connected to you is a challenge, so he may well be spending most of his time in bed. This is hardly the activity of choice for a young footballer with infant twins.
There will be various doctors and surgeons (sometimes five at a time) turning up to review his progress and monitor him. He will have blood taken everyday and will be subjected to various extremely uncomfortable tests. If his blood inflammatory levels do not respond well to the medication, he may well require surgery. He will be at risk of catching other infections such as the potentially fatal C-Difficile and at a higher risk of bowel cancer.
When I was in the same situation 18 months ago, of course I was worried about being ill. However, part of me was more worried what people would think. This macho culture we live in, where illness is see as a sign of weakness, makes it difficult to admit to this kind of condition. I was worried friends would disown me, or that people would think I was not clean or infected. I dare say that some repulsive jokes have started at Darren's expense already.
Darren has been very brave admitting to this condition and deserves everyone's support and understanding. People would not be making jokes if he was suffering from cancer, and colitis has the potential to be just as bad.
For all the money and privilege that footballers have, for all the elitist medical care, sometimes serious illness pays you no respect whatsoever.
Get well soon Darren, keep strong and you'll beat it.
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