Although getting a nursing education is a challenge for most, Marilee Bauer plans to finally complete her undergraduate degree after 13 years this October. While trying to complete her coursework and clinicals, Bauer also has been working around the challenges of Crohn’s Disease, a chronic illness that causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Much like other autoimmune diseases, she experiences flare-ups of the illness followed by periods of remission.
Bauer was first diagnosed with Crohn’s at age 13 when she got sick at a volleyball tournament; she was admitted to the hospital where her condition was identified. Since then, she has worked hard to obtain an education despite the obstacles her illness sometimes creates. During her senior year of high school, she missed 100 days of school, much of that time in the hospital. Although her teachers were aware of her condition and made allowances for her, she did not talk about it with others because many of the symptoms of Crohn’s are embarrassing and not what someone talks about in polite conversation.
Bauer began her nursing education at another local university. Two years into her journey, her illness flared up, causing her to miss class. Although she kept her instructors well aware of her condition, they did not seem to be very understanding. She left after one of them told her she could never become a nurse if she couldn’t attend class.
Once she began her temporary leave from nursing education, Bauer took time to get back into remission, changing her GI specialist and her medication in the process. After she was feeling better, Bauer enrolled at Columbus State. In the fall of 2011, she transferred to MCCN. Two years later, she experienced another flare-up, which required hospitalization. Her instructors advised dropping her classes for the semester and trying again the following spring, which delayed her education another year. Now she’s back and on track to complete her degree in October.
“It’s challenging because I’ve missed classes and no more than two clinicals a semester, but the instructors help me catch up,” Bauer said.
Although she obtained the required physicians’ excuses for her absences, she makes a point to introduce herself to instructors at beginning of each term to explain her situation and that she might need to miss classes or leave class to use the bathroom. “Communication with instructors is critical,” she said. Even though she’s currently in remission, there are still challenges. “Some days I’m exhausted or can’t leave the bathroom, and some of my meds are immunosuppressants, so I get illnesses easily,” she said.
In fact, her relationship with instructors is such that one gave her the name of a GI specialist who diagnosed and treated her for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) on top of her Crohn’s Disease. Another instructor has approached her saying there are a few other MCCN students with similar situations and wondered if she would be willing to be a sounding board and share her experience if the other students wished.
Beyond understanding instructors, being at MCCN has been encouraging in that in a nursing school environment, people are a lot more comfortable talking about matters like bowel movements, so she can be a little more open with others.
In that spirit, Bauer offers to speak and offer encouragement to any other students who may be suffering from Crohn’s Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease or a similar chronic illness. She can be reached at email@example.com or at (614) 483-1716.
In the meantime, she offers this basic advice to others in similar situations: “Talk to your professors, have a good communication system with them. You can’t stress yourself out – sometimes your body won’t do it. You have to treat your body okay. You can’t help others out if you’re not helping yourself out,” she said.
Bauer also mentioned there are a lot of resources available through the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation (CCFA) at http://www.ccfa.org/chapters/centralohio/ and online support with other Crohn’s patients through CCFA’s Facebook group. “You don’t have to suffer in silence,” she said.
After graduation, Bauer wants to get some initial experience in a hospital environment, with some realistic parameters. Other nurses suffering from Crohn’s have advised not working in a rigorous ICU environment. “Luckily, there are lots of avenues with nursing. Eventually, I’d like to become a family nurse practitioner specializing in GI issues. In the meantime, I want to take some time to build up my knowledge. I really like community nursing. I could work in a clinic, hospice, preventative or primary care environment,” she said.