Queuing for days to see a dentist

I came across a group of Americans who had queued for two days and nights to get some dental or eye care, in a pop up clinic in Appalachia.  The working poor, who can’t afford the health insurance for their eyes or teeth, and living with pain and headaches for sometimes years.  The clinic is non-profit, funded through private donations, and there is obviously a desperate need for it.   And all the while the Republicans are blithering on about ‘Orwellian’ healthcare.  Watch US television, and marvel at how it seems 80% of the ads are from insurance companies nimbly pronouncing long drug names and the endless side effects.   A woman carrying a huge plate of food addresses the camera: ‘My fibromyalgia muscle pain is REAL.  ‘I’m f***ed.’  (The last bit  was Sarah Haskins.) And who wants the horrifying side effects of being old?  So when I choose drugs for osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, I choose drugs with dynamic first syllables – like Re-clast.  Because it re-strengthens my bones and makes them re-sistant to fracture.  And I’m re-eally gullible.  There follows a long list of side-effects.  May cause lowered immune system, cardiac failure, low blood pressure, headaches, spinal lumps, achy breaky pelvis, tooth decay, hairy middle, Alzheimer’s, weight gain, weight loss, light-headedness, sudden death . . . .

Back in Blighty, I remember my miserable early dental experiences.  Despite mum thinking that sugar was the devil, I kept needing fillings.  Only years later did I learn that dentists were paid to fill teeth, and after my dentist  fixed a few broken fillings, he cheerfully told me that I never needed them in the first place.   I was, however, novocained up to my eyebrows so could only gloopily manage a ‘grrrr’.  Not free but £50 and yes that’s not a small sum but in the USA, a filling costs between $170 and $200 per filling, and a root canal is about $700.  Considering how much sugar and acid in soft drinks is consumed in the US, you won’t be surprised to hear that 92% of adults have suffered tooth decay.

Earlier this year, I was yanked into hospital with severe abdominal pain and bleeding.   After being attached to an antibiotic drip for a few days, I had what the doctor cheerfully referred to as a ‘top and tail’ or gastroscopy and colonoscopy (another friend calls them The Bottom Inspectors from Viz).   On the day itself, four people were looking after me.  In the US a colonoscopy would cost about $3000 and a gastroscopy, up to $10 000.  Some of the newer cancer drugs can cost up to $60 000 A MONTH.   And that’s just the drugs.  It doesn’t count lab tests, hospital visits, and blood tests.  I’m not surprised to hear that some sufferers choose to die, rather than struggle on in huge debt which will be passed onto their relatives.  If a sudden serious illness costs such big bucks then no wonder US citizens ignore their eyes and teeth.

It hit me hard because a couple of years ago, I woke with a stabbing pain in my right eye.  A contact lens wearer I was conscientious about washing my hands and using disposable lenses but I still managed to get a nasty infection.   Moorfields Eye Hospital found this infection so fascinating, I had doctors sticking their head round the door to have a good look at this Endophthalmitis with fluffy pigmentation which made it sound like something out of the Night Garden instead of a serious fungal infection.  I know!  And in the eye! And I wore daily disposable lenses.  So  after several days of blessed eye heroin and having my eye held open like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, my eye healed.  It still has a scar and I’m even more myopic in my right eye than my left, but Moorfields saved my eyesight.  I was so grateful I l am leaving them money in my will.

The NHS for all its flaws is one of the very best things in the world.  Nobody should be crippled by debt when they become ill.   Let us fight for it.

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Resting Granny Face

That moment where you see a really bad photo of yourself and think – oh my God do I really look that old/ugly/desiccated/ and the answer is a resounding, ego shattering ‘YES.’

My driving licence ran out and because I’m a foreigner – Irish actually –  it means I can’t sort out a new licence online – I have to send off a filled in form plus photo.   At first I thought I could just get one of those machine ID ones and duly nipped into the photo booth at Paddington.

Alas, I had to listen to barely audible instructions first about how to sit, not to smile, take off glasses, don’t wear a hat.  I then took my specs off and pressed the button, looking up at a blur.  ‘Are you satisfied’? came the voice.  I couldn’t see a thing, so I pressed yes.  Out came four identical photos of me looking droopy faced, and stupendously, shockingly (overwritingly) ugly.  The bottom half of my face sagged!   When did I develop Resting Granny Face?  My hair was beige-ing!  I thought of the dinner I’d had with the ex-head of BBC Comedy the previous week.  She had finally stopped dyeing her very dark hair and had gone a very sexy grey but swishy silky grey in an elegant bob.  Some women look great with silvery fox hair.  My hair was no longer red or auburn but a nasty tobacco stained bleige.  Ah nicotine memories.


Slowly I combed my hair, pulled on my hat, replaced my specs and put on some lipstick, thinking of Bad Photos Over the Years.  I wondered if I might cry.  My First Holy Communion photo where mum had made my dress, an A line number that revealed too much of my skinny legs, as I had a habit of shooting up overnight.  Height wise as opposed to heroin.  Although that particular photo was enough to turn anybody into an addict.  If the pipe cleaner legs weren’t bad enough, the sunlight narrowed my eyes to slits.  I resembled a lizard in a dress.  My early attempts at a fringe which went all Dallas circa 1982 – fluffy wuffy, well it was 1982 but that fringe was terrible.  A particularly bad passport photo which my ex pointed out made me look ‘like a member of the Baader Meinhoff’.  And why did I always blink at the wrong moment so I resembled one of those dead relatives the Victorians would take pictures of?  Not only dead but in an advanced state of rigor mortis.  If only I knew the tricks of looking passably human in photographs.    There’s something to be said for the Selfie Generation – they instinctively understand about turning up the chin, and having the light behind you.

Then I thought about what a ridiculous thing – to go see the First World War Graves and to ‘honour’ the dead by taking a selfie.  Or to walk about with a selfie stick without even feeling stupid.  As though if you haven’t taken a selfie in front of ‘it’ – then ‘it’ doesn’t exist.

I looked at the photo again.  Still looked like shit.  I began to laugh.

At lunch I was telling my friend the story and found myself snorting with laughter again.  She looked at it and just said, ‘Your eyes are closed.’  The waitress came over with parmesan, and still coughing with laughter, I watched as my friend showed this photo to her.   The waitress laughed too.  ‘It’s not a good photo,’ she said kindly.  ‘But you look so nice now.’

It reminded me that faces are lovely in mobility and laughter.  Better keep my face moving then.

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The liberal elite that Republicans are always bitching about will have no say in the US government over the next four years.  Trump won on fear and loathing.  You wanted it – you got it. 


In the opening scene of the movie Downfall, Bruno Ganz as Hitler is shown being kind to Traudl Junge, his new and terrified secretary.  It’s a brilliant scene, reminding us that Hitler the mass murdering monster was also a human being, capable of kindness.  If Donald Trump was a character, a script editor would call him unbelievable and want him rewritten.  Nobody is like that.  Writers learn that villains have to be humanised or they become the other, unreal, inhumane.

It turns out this vain, monstrous man without any seemingly redeeming features is now the most powerful person in the world.  No wonder people are scared. Drain the swamp? He is the swamp.

Like a million other people, I’m trying to make sense of the defeat of the most qualified candidate by the least qualified.   And it wasn’t just angry ground down white people, as 48% of the voters earned more than $250K.  It points to a deeply ingrained misogyny in the US from men and from women.

During the campaign Hillary was told to stop waving her arms about because people found it scary.  She is still being judged for not changing her name over thirty years ago, for being too clever.  When has any man ever been accused of being too clever?  Trump attacked her for having nothing but gender.  She has spent thirty years in public office. She went undercover to report on racism in education.

We’ve all heard about Trump’s bankruptcies, his racism, misogyny, vanity and cruelty.  One story for me, more than anything else, tells us who Trump is.  When his father died, a nephew sued over the distribution of the will.  In revenge, Trump and two siblings deliberately cut off medical aid to the nephew’s baby son who had a life threatening condition.

I had a look at the Facebook page, Women for Trump and asked one woman (very politely) if she’d be happy if her daughter worked for Trump.   Back came the thoughtful reply:

F**k you c***

I tried again on Christians for Trump.  Even more bizarre as one of the few good things about this campaign was the candidates were not trying to Out Jesus each other.  So where did Christians get the idea that Trump was a godly man?  Could it have been that he promised to punish women for getting an abortion?  I asked someone on the forum.  Again I got a brisk response:

God don’t want lisbos.

It’s easy to mock some sections of the US electorate.  Fun too.

But attacks have come from the left too.  Bernie supporters were shouting Bern the witch.  So Hillary is a truly democratic hate figure.  Everyone hates her.  What for?

For keeping her own name

For defending a man accused of raping a 12 year old girl.  She was a public defender.  It was her job.

For saying, during the Gennifer Flowers scandal:  You know, I’m not sitting here – some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I’m sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honor what he’s been through and what we’ve been through together.

For having ambition:  I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfil my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.

As Secretary of State she was personally blamed for the deaths of four US servicemen in Benghazi.

Hilary’s look had to be pared down – approachable, not too glitzy, warm, intelligent . . .but not too much . . . With fashion she can’t win.  Pantsuits mean she’s trying to be a man.  But when she wears more feminine clothes, ugly comments are made about her body.  Page after page is written about her clothes, her hair, her makeup.  Because if you’re not a cosy grandmother and you’re not hot (Trump’s definition of what women should be) then what are you?  A man?

Meanwhile Trump was stomping about mocking the disabled, vomiting racist bilge, openly boasting about sexual assault, and waving his tiny little hands about, a rancid wotsit in a suit.  What was he told to do? How was he ordered to behave?  He won’t even pose in a certain way in case it shows the line in his weave.  In the last week of the campaign, his Twitter account was taken away.  The USA have given the nuclear codes to a man not trusted to run his own twitter account.

Well the government is in Republican hands now, so they can’t whine about Democrats anymore.  The liberal elite they are always complaining about will have no say in the government over the next four years.  You wanted it – you got it.



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Why are we more protective of daughters when our sons are far more likely to be victims of criminal violence?


It’s half term so my daughter (12) and a close friend of hers (13) are both staying with my boyfriend and I in Manchester.  The Girl suggested a trip into town with her friend – let’s call her Molly, and we’ll call my girl, Lara as that’s her name.  When we suggested they might like to go on their own, with some money and maybe have lunch, they were both very pleased.  Had either of them glanced anxiously at each other or us, we would not have pushed them.  Let’s get that clear.  But armed with cash, phones, a map, and the knowledge that both girls get on buses and go to school every day by themselves into a world of weirdoes, pushy adults and misleading road signs, we figured a few hours by themselves in a small city like Manchester would be fine.

So full of pancakes and plans, the girls trotted off to get the train into town.  An hour later while the girls were in a shop, Molly called her mum to say she was having a great time.

Two seconds later, my phone rang and I was treated to a blistering invective from Molly’s mother of how ‘irresponsible’ I was leaving ‘two young girls alone in a city’. Did I have ‘any idea what might happen?’  I was shocked but also bewildered. ‘It’s all right for Lara.  She lives in a city!’ continued the outraged mama.  ‘What do you think is going to happen to them?’ I asked.  ‘They have money and fully charged phones and they really wanted to go.’

But Molly’s mother was scared and furious.  What she meant of course was the fear that roaming gangs of paedophiles on the lookout for young girls would grab Lara and Molly while they were browsing in a store.  This terrible fear that some sort of sexualised attack would happen – some monster crawling out of Starbucks would immediately spot the girls and whisk them off.

Parental terror of sexual attack on their daughters by Someone Out There is totally immune to actual facts.  Such as our sons are far more likely to suffer criminal violence      My son aka The Boy aka Ben, has been attacked twice.  Once aged 15 he and his friends were mugged for their phones.  A year later, he and a friend were chased by a group of lads.  Ben flagged down a car and asked for help.  ‘How did you know the driver would be ok?’ I asked.  He said that the driver was a woman and she had a baby’s car seat in the back so ‘she was less likely to be a psycho.’  Lara travels by bus to school every day (as does Molly) and sooner or later, someone creepy will clumsily chat her up, or say something offensive and I will not be there to rescue her.

Overprotecting your children leaves them anxious, uncertain and a pain in the arse to live with.  I know because I was overprotected.  I was that infuriating roommate who didn’t clean the bath and drank the last of the milk because my parents kept me in a little bubble; such was their fear of the world.  Thanks to my college friends showing their disapproval by saying: ‘Clean the f***ing bath you lazy bint,’ I learned and became much better at communal living.  But my dad in particular was very anxious about the world and what people might think, so whenever I tried to go out with my friends (believe it or not I had a few), he would mutter darkly about ‘wicked people’.  He never told me what these ‘wicked people’ might look like or sound like but assured me they existed.  One one occasion I got horribly drunk on cheap sherry and puked but managed to do so in the sink over the dirty dishes.  In terms of teenage rebellion it was pretty mild, but from my parents reaction you would have thought I’d been caught under a pile of men doing sex AND crack.  And in retrospect, their anger was more about the fact that I had been ‘disobedient’ than indulging in harmful behaviour.  Having learned I couldn’t talk to my parents, I became far more adept at hiding my harmful behaviour.  Overprotective parenting leads to sneaky behaviour.  I couldn’t talk to my parents about the stuff that really bothered me and I knew my dad in particular was concerned about my ‘innocence’ so I learned to lie better.

I grew into an anxious and insecure young woman, unsure of my place in the world, afraid of speaking up, convinced that if I took a small risk, then something terrible would happen.  In fact I was one big Moro reflex.  Even now if my boyfriend suddenly springs something on me, like ‘Let’s go to Reykjavik,’ I instinctively do ‘a Moro’ and immediately freeze, thinking of a million reasons why we couldn’t possibly.

‘Behold the wholly sanitized childhood without skinned knees or the occasional C in history,’ says Psychology Today who recently published a piece arguing that helicopter parents are raising A Nation of Wimps.  Parents are so geared towards academic achievement, they fail to teach their special snowflakes any actual life skills.  Or allow them to fail without rushing in to rescue them.

I met one such parent on University Open Day.   She pointed out most forcefully that her teenage son was a ‘poet’ and would he get some support if he worked on his first collection while continuing his studies?  I asked the boy what kind of poetry he wrote, and crimson faced, he muttered something that sounded like ‘feelings’.  The poor boy – with a mother like that, I’m sure he had plenty of them.

This is why I was determined that both my children would be confident, self-actualised people.  To do this their father and I made sure they went to pre-school to develop their social skills (and yes so I could work) and I’ve tried very hard to make sure that I show my faith in them – that they can do things and if they fail, it’s fine as long as they try.  And I want them both to stride into the world, not tiptoe.  Girls particularly alas, still absorb the message that they must be ‘likeable’, not take up too much space, not shout, or laugh too loudly, not to enjoy their sexuality too much – be sexy, yes but for boys, not for their own pleasure.  So to be this confident adult I believe Lara needs to test herself, to be able to brush off an unwanted approach, to explore on her own, to tell someone if necessary to f*** off or she’ll scream her head off.  ‘I got into some bad situations because I was far too polite,’ I told her.  Don’t put up with some berk sitting next to you and being offensive because you don’t want to be thought of as ‘rude’.  As this piece brutally explains, the overprotective parent is really really messing up their kids.

Take. A step. BACK. You’re damaging your child’s damn brain. Literally. What them young churrins need the most is the chance to be stressed, to be scared, and to be unsure of what’s going to happen next. They need to learn to adapt and grow and most importantly, they need to realize that while something might suck a whole hell of a lot, it’s not going to kill them. They need the opportunity to develop the tough skin that will get them through the black hole of awfulness that is adulthood. Do you want a fierce, self-actualized, confident kid or a floundering, mess of insecurity and self-doubt?

I really didn’t want to.  But on this occasion I had to rush into town and rescue Lara and Molly from having hot chocolate in a café while gleefully going through their purchases.


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I know how you feel when your work is judged


To my students.  I know how you feel when your work is  judged

This academic year I’m teaching the new Open University MA in Creative Writing.  I’m also doing some critical reading of the script materials.  And like thousands of other writers, I’m trying to get my own work off the ground.  When I wear my OU hat, I try to guide my students, offer support and constructive feedback when they want it.  And sometimes when they don’t.  But as a writer, I’m prepared to believe that the idea I’ve developed and lovingly shaped is complete shite if it’s rejected.  Maybe less so than I used to – sometimes I go through old ideas and surprise myself at how good they are.  I also remind my students that truly brilliant ideas have been turned down again and again by institutions who should know better.  Caitlin Moran’s Raised by Wolves was turned down by the BBC because they apparently had their one sitcom with women in it already.  And in 1974, Fawlty Towers was also turned down by the BBC

Last week, however, I girded my loins and asked for a meeting with a lovely BBC Producer to whom I’d sent some ideas.  It doesn’t matter how many times ideas have been accepted, liked or commissioned. It really doesn’t.  Because all I can ever remember are the ideas that were shot down in flames.  Or even worse on one occasion, I came up with an idea, the producer liked it and asked for a few scenes, so I wrote and sent them and the producer sent them back within a few hours saying she didn’t understand what I was on about and she didn’t like them. And it wasn’t funny.  As if not liking any of the scenes hadn’t convinced me of my worthlessness enough.  I emailed her back saying, thank you for looking at it anyway bitch, before putting my head down on the desk and crying.  That was a bad one.

Since then I’ve had work commissioned, work rejected, and I’ve toughened up.  I still feel that sinking gloom at a rejection and sometimes no contact at all – or – and I’m not sure what’s worse – flattery and faux friendship followed by the wheedling expectation that your work is meant to be free.  To both proposals I say f*** you.  If anyone thinks it’s reasonable for you to work for exposure tell them you’ll do it IF they can persuade your bank/landlord to let this month’s mortgage/rent go and in return they will tell all their friends what a fantastic organisation/landlord they are.  Fair?

The producer I was to meet was having serious last minute casting issues on another play but agreed to see me anyway. We found a coffee house and had one of their medium sized cappuccinos  (roughly the size of the English Channel).  Then she switched off her phone, got out her big notepad and pen and listened.  Horribly aware of the other pressures she was under,  I found myself blundering over a pitch that sounded good on paper but was coming out as what Cady in Mean Girls would describe as Word Vomit.

It’s about this woman . . . who . . oh no .  .hang on . . .what would happen if Mother Theresa was waiting in the green room . . (shit!  Shit!  She’s not laughing.  Or smiling. She hates me. Definitely) and this woman . . bugger . . then what happens?

I took a breath, and pushed the paper with my neatly typed proposals across the table.  Just read this? Please?

She did and she laughed and she liked them and we chatted about what was going to happen next.  Possibly.

But I’m telling this story because I made many silly mistakes and even though it came out ok, it might not have.

Firstly if you email a producer/director with an idea and they get back to you suggesting a meeting, don’t email back going all bleuggghhhh on them.  Which means – your first email is a polite, restrained and professional communication but your second goes all Girl Interrupted and you tell this person you don’t know at all that you have just broken up with your partner because he didn’t understand your writing passion and you were just about to give up and she’s like just saved you.  Stuff that will tempt the producer to close down the email account because the formerly professional writer whose idea sounds interesting has just turned into a crazed stalker.

If you agree to meet at a well known chain of eateries make sure you know exactly which one.  Don’t do as I did which was to arrive early and then wonder if I was at the right branch because there was another one nearby and if the producer emerged from the other side of the tube she might have gone to the other one . . .

. . . and then rush round the corner to see if there was another branch.  There used to be another branch but it had since been turned into a hairdresser.  I raced back to the first one, my table now gone, totally frazzled, so when the producer actually walked in, I was shaky and panting like the aforementioned crazed stalker.

Don’t apologise for taking up said producer’s time at least three times.  (I’m so embarrassed by this)  Instead say it once then shut up.

A meeting with a producer is a bit like a first date.  You want to make a connection but not come over all creepily agreeable like a nodding dog.  The best way to do this is to listen actively.  People who know how to listen are always described as being good conversationalists.

So I’m saying to my students, on the BA and MA course – I know how hard it is and how nakedly fragile you feel when your work is exposed and picked over.  And because I know what it’s like I think it makes me a more empathetic tutor.





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Things not to say to a person with Crohns or colitis

I’ve recently been diagnosed with Crohns.   It’s a new landscape and I’ve a lot to learn.  Like there are side-effects. To Crohns.  Not only do I have a condition – it has sucky side effects too!  Like mouth ulcers.  (A daily mouthwash with Corsodyl seems to help).  And anaemia because Crohns doesn’t make you feel tired enough.  One good thing though –  I’ve had anaemia for most of my life and like lots of people, just get on with it.  But it wasn’t until a doctor was standing over me in hospital and said: ‘You have pernicious anaemia,’ in a tone that suggested it was my fault, that I decided to get serious about it.  I now take four Floradix iron tablets a day and feel so much better for it.

Quick side note here: Ladies – don’t put up with anaemia.  Go see your doctor and get treated.  I’m furious with myself for semi-ignoring it and functioning at 60% for several years.

So I had a Crohns attack yesterday, caused, I think, by the very medication I’ve been given to rid myself of two gastric ulcers – another side effect!  Omeprazole is prescribed to reduce stomach acid and yet one of the main side effects mirrors an attack of Crohns or colitis ie stomach pains, nausea, bleeding and diarrhoea.  I was prescribed four a day, and after a few days, began waking up at night with horrible wind and stomach pain –  Which sounds fairly mild until you’re in the grip of this nauseous knot of pain, lodged under the ribs that just won’t shift.  I spent most of yesterday rolling round on the bed clutching pillows and hot water bottles chewing on deflatine (total waste of time). Eventually I crawled into a hot bath and it gradually melted the pain away.  Here’s a thing.  As I sit here typing this, I get a small twinge and freeze.   It could just be a wee bit of wind.  Or the precursor to a full-blown attack.  Which sets my mind scuttling over everything I ate today.  Was it that ginger biscuit? Two bites of doughnut?  Apple?

No it was just wind.  Phew.

Crohns is so not sexy.

So side issue.  I have to get those gastric ulcers cured, but I can’t take any more omeprazole.  And I’m tackling the anaemia.

But one downside of a new diagnosis is the comments.   Because what with these ‘nutritionists’ everywhere (hey who needs actual qualifications when you have thousands of Instagram followers) plus friends and family trying to be helpful, you’re never short of an opinion.

You look ok.

Thanks.  Next time I have an attack I’ll take photos of me crying in pain and rolling round on the bed.

You’re so skinny.  Lucky you!

Hmm –  not absorbing nutrients due to my stroppy colon lucky? The agonising stomach cramps lucky? I love food.  I hate to think I may become paranoid about it.  And being too thin over 45 is not a good look.

You can’t be that tired

Yes I can.  Even with the iron tablets, after an attack I’m fit for nothing.

My friend followed a <insert batshit diet> and she’s completely cured!

It’s entirely possible that the person you mention felt much better on her batshit diet and that’s great.  But Crohns is tricky and what works for one person may not for another.  I am still finding out what works for me – via a food diary.  These kinds of dietary pronouncements are often delivered in a hectoring tone, carrying the implicit message – serves you right you have Crohns you filthy meat eater.

I know just how you feel.  I had terrible wind/stomach cramps/indigestion/verbal diarrhoea once.

Unless you’ve had a bowel disease you don’t know what I feel.

All useful tips welcome!


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Remember! Don’t go to bed until you’ve finished going to the toilet


Said my leaflet on Colonoscopy preparation.  Those useful nuggets of information just kept on coming.  I was very grumpy anyway because it was 4pm, the colonoscopy and endoscopy appointment was next day, I was starving and the only thing going into my stomach was two litres of a laxative called Moviprep.

I’d bought some concentrated squash in the hope of making the Moviprep taste slightly less grim.  It turned out to be an excellent idea.  I mixed up the first litre batch about 5pm.  Some suggest that it tastes better if its really cold (what – so you pretend it’s some kind of vile cocktail?) but I have sensitive teeth so I squirted in some squash and gulped it back.   Again some recommend you use a straw and suck it up as far back in your mouth as you can, the theory being that you avoid your tastebuds.  I preferred to just chug it back and then have a drink of something nice to reward myself.  Punishment and reward.  Those old Catholic habits run deep.

It was horrible.  Salty and faintly viscous.  With the added squash, it also had a top note of sickeningly sweet fake fruit.  But it filled me up.  Result.  I went off and read my book listening out for my stomach gurgling.  Twenty minutes later I walked to the bathroom.  If it’s going to be like this all the way, it’ll be a breeze I thought.  Oh foolish me.

My boyfriend was connecting my outdoor freezer to a covered socket and asked me to admire his handiwork.  This was ten minutes after my first lavatory visit.  Taking a step forward I felt my stomach contract, I belted to the bathroom and didn’t have time to shut the door.

Bloody hell said my boyfriend from the living room.  Oh the romance of it.  We’d had a conversation recently about how I would never cut my toenails in front of him.  ‘You have to keep some mystery,’ I said.  Trying to preserve the remaining shreds of my dignity I hovered in the bathroom for a bit and then sidled back into the living room.  Another half hour went by.  Time for the second litre.

So I made up another jug of the foul stuff, poured a glass, added a squeeze of lemon and chugged it down.  This time it tasted salty and viscous with a sour topnote.  You are advised to drink an extra 500ml of clear fluid as well, so I had a dreary lemon and ginger tea to follow.  All herb teas are dull but this one was particularly feeble.  Still it wasn’t Moviprep and that was good enough for me.

After you drink the first litre your body expels any remaining solid food.  Once the second litre is chugged, frankly you might as well sit on the lavatory for the next couple of hours because you get ZERO warning.  Put a cushion against your back, get in a supply of baby wipes and read a book.  That way you can listen to the gurglings and fire hose gushings of your body with mild detachment rather than the horror of being caught with your pants up.

I drank the second litre at 8pm and got off the lavatory at 10.30 feeling very tired and thirsty.  Chronic diarrhoea is very dehydrating.  So I went to bed and fell instantly asleep.

What the leaflet didn’t tell me was if there is even the slightest amount of liquid left to come out, it sometimes doesn’t emerge for a few hours.  Why? How? Where does it hide in my poxy colon? At 3am, I don’t think Mo Farrah could have moved any faster to the bathroom and lucky for me the seat had been left up.  So I would suggest –  however grim it sounds – to keep a bucket by the bed (sexy).

Next morning my boyfriend drove me to Ealing Hospital where I was looked after me so well when I was admitted with suspected Ulcerative Colitis.  I found the endoscopy and colonoscopy department, suitably located in the bowels of the hospital.  I settled in for at least half an hour with Take a Break (My amazing sex with a wall! My Ninja Kitten left me for dead! Psychic jellies! Farting parrots!) when I was grabbed by a nice Irish girl and hustled into the ward (‘Let’s go . . . we’ve had some cancellations . . ‘) and before I knew what was up, I was changing into my hospital gown and sexy colonoscopy pants, complete with velcro flap at the back.

A friendly nurse whisked over and did my cannula with great efficiency.  The Gastroenterologist came over to talk to me.  He was lovely and talked me through the whole procedure, including risks (1 in 14000 chance of them perforating my bowel).  Did I have any questions? I mentioned that there seems to be a lot of research into the gut.  ‘Are you a doctor?’ he asked.  It’s funny how a basic interest in medicine brings forth this question.  I mentioned that I’d just read of some research linking change in the gut bacteria to M.E.  A writer friend of mine has this and it’s decimated her life – she is only in the last few years properly moving forward and what makes it worse is that some people think it’s all in the head.

I was wheeled into theatre to meet the rest of the team – all five of them.   Harvey the technician, Melanie the nurse, Dr Gordon the gastroenterologist, Andrew the student and the guy sitting, ignoring everyone and texting on his phone was the Professor.  ‘We’ll all be looking after you,’ said Melanie cheerfully.  I thought of how much this would cost in a US hospital and my heart swelled.

First the endoscopy.  I had five squirts of a throat antiseptic.  It tasted faintly of banana wrapped in a chemical plant.  When the endascope was gently put into my mouth I didn’t choke or feel ‘choky’.  It was slightly uncomfortable and lasted about five minutes.  Discomfort on a scale from 1 – 10 it was a 2.

Next came the colonoscopy.  The colon is roughly five foot long.  Mine is also particularly twisty which meant I had to keep turning over on my back, my side, and back again while the Professor pressed down on my stomach, causing pockets of severe wind pain.  They were very thorough and when it began to hurt they upped my sedative but it all took about half an hour and was uncomfortable.  But thanks to their thoroughness they found two gastric ulcers.  And what about the colitis – did I still have it?

‘No,’ said the Professor.  ‘We think you have Crohn’s disease.’

‘Oh,’ I said.  ‘Thank you.’  Befuddled I was wheeled back to the recovery room and a nurse brought me a cup of tea and a chicken sandwich (both ambrosial) but I couldn’t get a signal so was unable to look up the symptoms of Crohn’s.  The Gastroenterologist came to talk to me.  He told me that Crohn’s is a tricky beast and can be very mild in some patients.  Into the silence fell the obvious opposite – the terrible debilitating kind.   I follow Sue Marsh’s blog, Diary of a Benefit Scrounger and she has very debilitating Crohn’s.  I still remember the post where she had to drag herself across town for an Atos interview, bringing all her medication – which she then spilled across the desk.  She hasn’t updated her blog for a while but wrote movingly and without a shred of self-pity about the crippling pain, the opiate haze, the diarrhoea.

I picked up medication to get rid of the ulcers and my boyfriend took me home.  I was tired from the sedative, but otherwise felt fine.  Today I went to a yoga class.  I still feel fine.  After my hospital stint, I stopped eating spicy food and because I was a little paranoid about processed food, stopped snacking.  I had one attack and that was after a bowl of homemade tomato soup with fennel – maybe it was too acidic.

I’ve been newly diagnosed with something that frightens me but I feel fine.  Now what?

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