3am back in July and I woke, with crippling stomach cramp. I remember a doctor friend saying that 90% of stomach pain was wind and struggled to lay flat on my stomach, waiting for the agonising bunched fist to go. The pain suddenly morphed into nausea and my mouth soured as I vomited copiously. Odd what goes through you head – I suddenly realised why I dislike those poncy ‘foams’ that are perched onto your food in post restaurants – they reminded me of when you have nothing left in your stomach but are still being sick.
Two minutes later diarrhoea decides to join the party. It was like my own body was turning on me. What was it? Food poisoning? Trembling with something – cold? I climbed into a hot bath which soothed my stomach. An hour later, birds twittering, I staggered back to bed, waking in a sweaty tangle of sheets to see both cats curled up next to me. I like to think they were anxious for me, but it’s rubbish – the furry little gits were just hungry. It was comforting though.
The next day I felt mildly better, but was unable to eat anything apart from half a rice cake and some herb tea. ‘Go to the doctor,’ said my boyfriend, (we don’t live together) so I made an appointment for a few days hence. ‘Go and ask for an emergency appointment,’ snapped my boyfriend. ‘I’m feeling much better,’ I said nibbling at my dinner, a cup of tea. I realised I am my mother who if her leg was sheared off, would hop to the hospital so as ‘not to bother anyone’. The day after that, I felt much better and ate half a baked potato, only to throw it up two hours later. Still diarrhoea and now bleeding too. I entered my symptoms into google and wait for the word ‘CANCER’ to appear. Crohn’s? Bowel Cancer? Diverticulitis?
Half way up the road for an emergency doctor’s appointment, an iron fist gripped my stomach so ferociously, I doubled up crying in pain. Staggering home, I called an ambulance and spent a good five minutes apologising for doing so. I crawled around the flat, gathering money, keys and shutting windows. I texted my lovely neighbour asking her to feed my cats. Then after ten minutes, three of the handsomest paramedics I’ve ever seen marched purposefully into my flat. One of them carried a sideboard which opened into a Tardis of medical equipment. I started apologising all over again. ‘Oh don’t worry love,’ said Mr Handsome No 1. ‘We’ve got a lady who phones us about once a month saying her parrot doesn’t look well.’ Mr Handsome No 2 adds, ‘People are divided into two groups. Those who think of us as some sort of taxi service and people like you who wait till they’re practically dying before calling us for help.’ I asked why there were three paramedics. ‘It’s a code red,’ said Mr Handsome No 3. ‘Because you’re bleeding.’ He tapped the side of his nose.
I was admitted to Ealing Hospital for five days, in a blistering heatwave, attached to a drip, poked, prodded and pumped with an antibiotic which stopped the bleeding. The worst bit apart from the appalling food (Steamplicity ‘can change the whole patient meal experience’ they trilled in hideous management speak. Yes by putting them off food forever) was when they had to change my cannula. When you have a needle in your arm longer than three days, an infection can set in so they have to pull it out and insert the needle somewhere else on your arm. Unfortunately the new vein chosen by my nurse had a bone in the way. As the needle went in, the shock of pain was so blinding, I immediately dry heaved into a cardboard bowl. The nurses both looked at me in surprise as though a bedpan had burst into song. Being around people in pain must innur you in some way. And yet these same nurses were incredibly patient with the elderly lady in the next room who kept trying to climb out of bed ‘to go to a wedding.’
I’ve been diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis and am booked in for a colonoscopy in a couple of weeks. ‘Oh and a gastroscopy,’ said the Consultant cheerfully. ‘We call them a top n’ tail.’ I had a picture in my head of some wide angled lens up my bottom and something vaguely Deep Throat going on at the other end. ‘But not at the same time,’ he added. ‘Any questions?’ The million questions I had five seconds ago, are obliterated from my head. There’s something about lying half naked in bed,surrounded by doctors that does this to you. ‘So what can I eat?’ I managed to blurt out. ‘Oh just a normal diet,’ said Mr Consultant sweeping out, followed by a trail of doctors.
What is a normal diet? It seems I have joined a new club, filled with conflicting advice. Some say I should avoid the wholemeal bread and brown rice I’ve been eating for years. No peas, beans or raw fruit and veg? The most sensible so far seems to be to keep a food diary and just ‘enjoy your food.’ There are numerous books out on what to eat, but UC is an unpredictable beast and no two cases are the same. I’ve hardly touched alcohol since July, and I’ve avoided eat spicy food anymore which makes me sad because I love Indian and Thai food. But I still had an attack last week after a bowl of homemade tomato and fennel soup. Also part of that unpredictability are the side effects of UC, namely severe anaemia, mouth ulcers and exhaustion.
So I have a chronic long term condition. Bummer. People don’t make jokes about breast pain. Breasts are beautiful and nobody has an problem with wearing a pink tee or displaying breasticle related information. But I can’t see people proudly wearing poo brooches or celebs showing us how to check our bottoms. (Mind you I could see someone pointing at a lifesize cutout of Jeremy Hunt and saying: ‘Here is a massive arse. Let’s check him to see if he’s full of shit.’) The problem is that bowel problems are just not sexy.
I do, however, have a colonoscopy to look forward to next week. The prep apparently involves Not Eating for 48 hours and drinking large quantities of a sinister liquid laxative. Fun times.
If anyone out there has had a colonoscopy or gastroscopy, any tips or tricks please?