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?