University Hero - Little Girl with breathing tube

Why taking medical leave was the best decision I made last year

Published 22 September 2020

Last year, Leanne-Sydonie made the difficult decision to put her studies on hold and focus on her health. Now, she is reaping the benefits of the time away and getting ready to head back and finish her degree.

Leanne-Sydonie can also be found on her blog, where she writes about her lived experience.

For many people, 2020 is the year of working from home, virtual meetings, and a toilet paper shortage. For me, 2020 is the year of shielding while adjusting to tube feeding.

In March 2019, I was diagnosed with Crohn's, along with the stomach condition Gastroparesis in the October. My Crohn's wasn't responding to treatment and in the space of a year I had five emergency hospital stays for gastrointestinal symptoms. For the longest stay, I went into hospital in October, and stayed there until December. I left with a feeding tube, three months behind in my university studies and too unwell to try to catch up. I decided the best thing to do would be to take a year of medical leave from my Scots and English law degree. This would be a year to recuperate without studying, rather than trying to catch up after missing so much.

I packed up my flat and (temporarily) left the life I had built for myself in a city 400 miles from home.

Back at home, I met a new dietitian and medical team and was told that not only was this probably going to be my life for the foreseeable future, but surgery was also likely on the horizon too.

I had only just gotten myself used to the diagnosis of Crohn's, which had an impact on my second-year studies, but I thought I was able to keep going. I thought at that time that if I were to take time out of my studies, I would never make it back. I also feared I wouldn't be 'cut out' for a career in law, knowing that this involves long and unsociable hours, and is competitive even for the most able candidates.

To no-one's surprise, a year of medical leave has been extremely beneficial: I've been able to re-evaluate what I really want, learnt how to put my health first instead of burning myself out.


Living with Crohn's

When I came home on medical leave, I expected some sort of new normal for myself - volunteering in the community and doing shifts at the local supermarket. I would want to take myself to the cinema, do anything that would show me that life with a feeding tube could still be 'normal'. Instead, I got months of shielding and delays in my treatment that couldn't be helped. In the last month, my feeding tube has changed to bypass my stomach (nasojejunal instead of nasogastric), and each day gets better health-wise, but I'm still not where I thought I would be if my treatment had gone ahead in March. It's very hard not to wonder how things with my health might have been without the events of this past year taking place.

It is now time for me to travel those 400 miles back to university, to go into completely virtual learning. Given that everything is remote, my family tried to encourage me to stay at home, but I wanted to go back to be close to my friends and university campus resources like the library.

To be honest, I am still terrified. I've been isolated since March and can count on my hands how many times I've left the house, even just to walk my dog, and my university as a whole is adjusting to online learning. How will I cope being away from my family, who I've relied on so much? How do I adjust to a busy city post-shielding?

There is a little part of me that is extremely happy that lectures are now online. When I was flaring at my worst with my Crohn's, I couldn't leave my flat because I was running to the toilet up to thirty times a day, and this meant I missed over forty contact hours in my second year. A part of me looks forward to being able to do lectures from bed if the fatigue is bad. This is certainly going to be a more accessible year than my second-year studies.

For anyone wondering if they should take medical leave: absolutely.

Hopefully, your medical leave will give you the sense of normal you crave, but either way, I can honestly say I'm now even more dedicated and determined. When returning to your studies, keep contact with the Academic Skills department, your adviser and student support, as well as the disability department. The support my university have put in place as I come back to my studies is great, and even though I'll graduate a year later than my friends, there is nothing to be ashamed of when taking medical leave. You are still a capable student, and to keep pushing yourself does your health no good.

Taking a break is just that: a break. It's not the end of your career, and your health should always be the priority.

Information for students

Hear how you can make the most of your time as a student, while also looking after your health and accessing extra support in our blogs written by students with Crohn's and Colitis:


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Helpline service


We know it can be difficult to live with, or support someone living with these conditions. But you’re not alone. We provide up-to-date, evidence-based information and can support you to live well with Crohn’s or Colitis.

Our helpline team can help by:

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