Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Noise pollution

Apparently in some former Eastern Block countries the dividing walls in apartment buildings were so thin neighbouring families could have conversations through them without having to raise their voice. A case not so much of Big Brother is watching you, but the kid next door’s big brother is listening to you. And the rest of his family. It’s a horrifying thought for someone with ulcerative colitis. I think I would actually have died of embarrassment if I’d lived there. The entire building would’ve known when I was on the toilet. Several times a day my comrades would be subjected to phhutt-phhutt-phhutt-parp-parp-parp-phhutt-phhutt-splosh, followed by an almost eerie, pre apocalyptic silence, which would inevitably give way to a further cacophony of phutting, parping and general trumping; all the sounds you could expect to hear if you lived next door to a reasonably large dinosaur with a dicky tummy. What was once a private matter between the four bathroom walls and myself has become a little more public. For want of a better sound bite, I defecate at a high number of decibels. If I’m visiting someone’s home and I need to use the bathroom, it can be excruciatingly awkward. I’ve tried various means of muffling, but all to no avail. I’ve run the taps, stuffed towels under the door, coughed at the optimum moment. It doesn’t matter what I do to camouflage my bottom noises, the simple fact remains if I can hear what’s going on outside the bathroom door people can sure as hell hear the carnage going on inside it. And so, more often than not, I emerge shame-faced and sheepish. It’s just another peculiar symptom of UC I’ll just have to get used to. But if I ever visit any one of you and I say I’m just nipping to the toilet, do me a huge favour and put some music on. Loud.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Greetings from Gilbert & George & me

Recently, and quite bizarrely, my life seems to have become somehow entwined with the artists, Gilbert and George. Since I started work in London's East End I see them everywhere. I pass them on the street most mornings. They go in the same greasy spoon cafe as me. Last week things came to head when George nodded and said goodbye to me as they left the cafe. I almost spat tea all over his smartly pressed suit in shock. So given this 'who's stalking who here?' situation it didn't really surprise me when I arrived in Munich to discover Gilbert and George have a large exhibition of their work showing at the Haus der Kunst. Obviously I had to go, so yesterday I went along to the art gallery and checked out the show. One of the first pieces I came across was the one above. It's like they were waiting to greet me. Of course I did have to use the rather impressive toilet facilities whilst I was there. And much to my relief neither Gilbert or George were on hand to dispense the toilet roll. But these days it wouldn't have been that unusual if they had.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wednesday's diary on a Thursday 0.2

Oh yes, it's that time again, a page of poo and pills fresh from the diary of my daily doings.
Wednesday 25th July:
4.55am Loose, gassy, heavy blood
6.35am Gassy, no stool, blood
8.15am Loose, gassy, light blood
10.55am Loose, gassy
2pm Loose, gassy
8.30pm Loose stool

6 x Mesalazine 400mg
4 x Prednisolone 5mg
2 x Predfoam squirts
1 x Ferrous Sulphate 200mg
2 x Calcium Carb 1.25g

Unfathomable day. Struggling to find any sort of pattern. Gurgling, uncomfortable tummy throughout most of the day.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A question of stress II

“Breathe! Martin! Breathe! You’re not breathing!” cried the shiatsu therapist. “Sit up and watch my stomach.” The therapist sucked a good lungful of air out of the room and I watched his little round tummy inflate to quite a surprising size. “You have to breathe right down into your stomach. You’re just taking little sips. You’re only filling the tops of your lungs. You must breathe deeper.” Alright, alright, you’ve made your point, I thought; what is it, have a pop at the remedial breather day? I stared the therapist in the eyes defiantly and filled my lungs noisily, like I was about to dive for coral. I knew how to breathe. I’d show him. Pah! I looked down to see if I’d blown my belly up big like his. The therapist followed my gaze and we both saw that I hadn’t blown my belly up big like his. “It takes a bit of practice,” he said kindly, “Now breathe out.” Discovering that you don’t know how to breathe properly at the age of 35 knocks the wind out of you a bit. I was a little deflated, you could say. And at that precise moment I’m sure the 0.00001% of stress I thought I’d got rid of re-entered my body. The therapist sat me down on a comfy chair and began to run through the rudiments of breathing. He explained that when you breathe correctly and fill your lungs right down to your abdomen it kind of massages your stomach. He said I should visualize the ulcerative colitis in my mind and imagine a pair of hands at the bottom of my lungs and use them to scoop out all the yucky badness. It occurred to me that if I was going to imagine my lungs with a pair hands stuck on them, then I might as well imagine the ulcerative colitis with a neck. That way I could wring the bloody thing. The hour session over I meandered my way through the backstreets of Hammersmith towards to the Tube station with thoughts of disembodied hands down inside me flicking the V’s at the UC. I practiced my breathing all the way home and found I really had to concentrate to get my tum to stick out. There’s definitely more to this breathing malarkey than you think. I haven’t been back to see the shiatsu therapist since, but sometimes when I’m sitting watching television and I notice I’m barely breathing at all, I remember what he said and I slip an imaginary knuckleduster onto each imaginary hand and knock seven bells of shit out of my ulcerative colitis.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A question of stress

It was a straightforward question and one I had no answer to. The man in the white pyjamas sitting opposite me raised his thick eyebrows and repeated the question, “Hmm, how do you deal with stress?” I squirmed in my matching white pyjama bottoms and shrugged a bit. “I’m a man,” I replied “I don’t really know if I get stressed. I have a drink, maybe?” That’s about as honest an answer as I could give. My interrogator smiled knowingly and nodded his head to show me that he understood. “Okay well let’s get started, if you want to hop onto the mat.” The mat was on the floor of a small room in a municipal building in Hammersmith, West London. And the man inviting me to hop onto his mat was a shiatsu therapist, recommended to me by a colleague. Not quite sure of which way up he wanted me I hedged my bets and opted to lie on my side demurely. The therapist pressed ‘play’ on a small portable stereo before kneeling at my feet. Soft birdsong and wind chimes emanated from the corner of the room. “Shiatsu is very touchy-feely, so if you do at any point feel uncomfortable with anything I’m doing, just say.” The therapist’s voice was calm and measured. I suppressed a giggle. “Now lie on your back and relax. Close your eyes if you like, all I need you to do for me is take nice deep breaths.” The shiatsu master sidled up and positioned himself behind my head and I closed my eyes to avoid staring up his nostrils. His fingers began to knead my scalp and my face and then tug at my ear lobes. I tried to remember to breath. As I began to relax, my mind drifted and I found myself pondering the question that had stumped me five minutes earlier. I still wasn’t readily willing to admit to ever really getting stressed. As I had said I am a man and men are supposed to be tough and brave and heroic. Our DNA woven from tightly wound Sheffield steel. We’re meant to be equal parts James Bond, Winston Churchill and Bear Grylls, with a healthy dollop of Biggles thrown in for good measure. Men don’t feel pressure; we shoulder it, we bear the brunt, our stiff upper lips take the strain. My fingers were being firmly tweaked when I had a moment of clarity (like the climax of Planet of the Apes where Charlton Heston stumbles across the half buried Statue of Liberty and discovers what planet he’s on.) Men aren’t heroes, we’re cowards. We hide from stress, we sweep it under the carpet, we bottle it up, we bury our heads in the sand. Now it all made sense. The reason I didn’t think I ever got stressed was because I hid it, I hid it from myself, I hid it so well I didn’t even know it was there…but it was…years and years of stress…all pent up inside me…squeezed in and tightly sealed like jam…no, like angry wasps...ready to burst free. I felt a finger wiggling in my belly button. I let out a giggle and with it approximately 0.00001% of my stress was released to join the birdsong and wind chimes in the ether.

To be continued…

Along came Craig

Along Came Polly is a thought provoking and sensitive portrayal of life with irritable bowel syndrome and deals sympathetically with the pitfalls of dating and having IBS. Nah, not really; Along Came Polly is a sappy romantic comedy that hijacks IBS for no other purpose than doing a load of gags about embarrassing bodily functions. And that’s fair enough by me. But having an illness like IBS can wreak havoc on your chances of finding love. In real life it’s not such a funny situation to be in, as this article from today’s Metro shows:


I’ve added Craig’s website to my Links. Fortunately I met my girlfriend before my ulcerative colitis really became a problem. We have discussed it though, and we both agree had I been in a flare up when we met the relationship may not have survived. So I can kind of understand Craig’s predicament. Personally I’m not convinced specifically matchmaking IBS sufferers with other IBS sufferers is all that necessary. Sounds like double trouble to me. But that’s just me, and I don’t know anything; I thought Along Came Polly was quite good. So best of luck to Craig and everyone who signs up with irritatedbeingsingle.com

Friday, July 20, 2007

Keeping it in the family

When my doctor diagnosed me it wasn’t the first time I’d heard of ulcerative colitis. It was a name I remember from childhood. Two faintly exotic sounding words that had something to do with my grandma. This ulcerative colitis ‘thing’ wasn’t exactly hush-hush, but as a kid you pick up on which conversations are okay for you to listen to and which ones you make yourself scarce for. Ulcerative colitis conversations fell into the latter. So I didn’t really know what those two faintly exotic words meant until they suddenly became linked to me. Apparently it is quite common for more than one member of a family to have UC, but this doesn’t mean it’s strictly a hereditary disease. Though I do now wonder if ulcerative colitis has leapfrogged its way through generations of my family? Does it riddle my family tree like woodworm? If my grandma had it, and I’ve got it, surely some of my earlier ancestors did too? And what sort of life would they have had in the days before Mesalazine and Prednisolone? Below is a picture of my grandfather (in the middle at the back) on the family farm in County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland.

I’ve seen pictures of the two-room cottage my grandad grew up in. There was no indoor toilet, no running water and electricity was a thing of the future. Nine people lived in that house. Now imagine if one of them suffered from ulcerative colitis. The cold, draughty hours spent on a rudimentary al fresco toilet; the lack of privacy, coping with the day-to-day rigours of life; fetching water, cooking, cleaning, baking bread, farming the land, feeding livestock, walking everywhere. Things were already tough without the added problem of a chronic disease. I’ll never know if my illness is some sort of dodgy family inheritance, but if it has been passed down through the generations, I’m glad I’ve got it now and not back in my grandad’s day. They didn't even have toilet paper.

Not so fast you

amble verb to walk at a leisurely relaxed pace

Escalators are stairs that move. They move so you don’t have to. All you have to do is step on and step off. Lovely idea. A gentleman named Charles Seeberger invented the modern escalator in 1897. If he could see us now, hop-skipping down Tube escalators like man-sized string puppets he’d probably think we were deranged. He spent gawd knows how long perfecting his moving staircase so we can travel up and down without so much as flexing a calf muscle and here we are, us London loons, using his escalators like Evel Knievel launch ramps. Not me though, not any more. These days I stand on the escalators. I don’t hurtle down them, I don't fly at them two steps at a time, I stand, perfectly relaxed, just as Mr Seeberger intended. Ulcerative colitis has slowed me down you see. During the worst period of my current flare up I was too weak and in too much discomfort to go anywhere fast. I was forced to take it easy. There was no more rush, rush, rush, stepping into the road to overtake the dawdlers on the pavement. No more careering about like my tail was on fire. I just went from A to B at a nice, leisurely pace. And it was fine, nothing bad happened, the world didn’t stop; I didn’t turn into a pumpkin if I was 5 minutes late. It made me realize I didn’t need to dash about everywhere. So now even though I am a bit better and I can get around quicker, I don’t. Now I amble.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Wednesday's diary on a Thursday 0.1

Welcome to an exciting new weekly feature of my blog, Wednesday’s Diary On A Thursday. In WDOAT I will post my midweek bowel movements. Without putting too fine a point on it, it’s a list of shits. Over time I hope it will serve to illustrate my progress, or lack of it, or any weird and wonderful hiccups that may occur. It may also be useful to note what medication I am on. So without further ado, or should I say a-poo, Wednesday’s Diary On A Thursday…
Wednesday 18th July:
6.30am Loose, bloody mucus
11.30am Loose, no blood, gassy
6.15pm Loose, no blood
6 x Mesalazine 400mg
5 x Prednisolone 5mg
1 x Ferrous Sulphate 200mg
2 x Calcium Carb 1.25g
Worse in the mornings, back passage becoming swollen and sore again.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Crap jobs

The children are fanned out around the brightly coloured booth, kneeling or sitting itchy-bottomed in the hot sand. All eyes are fixed firmly on the tiny stage where two grotesque characters are having the domestic to end all domestics. They’re having a right old ding-dong. Frenzied wife beating ensues; it’s EastEnders with an 18 certificate. This is the wonderful world of Punch and Judy. And the kids can’t get enough of it. But then Mr Punch freezes, his truncheon left hanging ominously above his spouse’s unprotected cranium. She’s frozen to the spot now. Mr Punch lets out a pained squawk, which sounds a bit like ‘oh-oh’, before both puppets quickly duck out of view. The booth begins to tremble, the schlap-schlap of canvas flapping wildly can be heard, and then suddenly the puppeteer bolts out the back like a greyhound out the traps. He storms up the beach, arms pumping hard, Mr Punch and Judy still on his hands. He hurdles sunbathers and demolishes sandcastles underfoot. With the swazzle (that’s the device which gives Mr Punch his distinctive rasp) still in his mouth, the puppeteer starts screaming, “Get out the way! Get out the way!” The kids in the Punch and Judy Show audience crane their necks to get a final glimpse of the puppeteer darting into the public conveniences half a mile up the beach. Punch and Judy puppeteer, or Professor as they’re officially known, is not the best job to have if you suffer from ulcerative colitis. I imagine. There must be hundreds of jobs that are incompatible with ulcerative colitis. Train driver. Taxi driver. Those guards outside Buckingham Palace. Anyone who works behind a checkout. Radio DJ. Postman. Astronaut. The list goes on. So I guess the thing is, I should thank my lucky stars that I went in for a career which allows me to come, and more importantly, go whenever I want.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Social inadequacies

My social life really has gone for a burton. Category C prisoners get out more than I do these days. I’d love to go to a gig, but music venues aren’t exactly known for their lavish lavatory facilities. At these sorts of establishments pooing comes quite far down the list of cubicle activities, behind impromptu sex and casual drug use. So they’re just not set up to cater for your average ulcerative colitis sufferer; I need a door that locks, a toilet with a seat, plenty of paper and a guarantee that when I flush, it flushes, with the force of Niagara, preferably. For the life of me I can’t remember the last time I went to the cinema. Going out for a meal is fraught with complications. Even the most innocuous menu can be a minefield. The result is I tend to order what I think is safe to eat, rather than what I’d actually like to eat. Which is just downright frustrating. And as much as my girlfriend insists she doesn’t mind when I dash off to the toilet straight after I’ve eaten, I can’t help thinking the restaurant owners might not exactly share her sympathies. A manic-eyed diner ricocheting off tables at full pelt and disappearing into the gents for ages is probably the kind of thing they could well do without. The last time I saw some of my friends we were celebrating Christmas. My last alcoholic drink was on Saturday 31st March. I had to cancel a weekend trip to Munich. Ulcerative colitis is the ultimate party pooper. But I refuse to roll over and let it rule me. I’m not going to let it decide what I do, where I go or who I see, like some Draconian guardian aunt. Next weekend I am finally going to Munich. I’m going to Munich and I’m going to visit all the sights this fabulous city has to offer. Including a few of its public conveniences, no doubt.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's back to work I go

I tentatively went back to work on Monday 14th May. After five weeks of being predominantly horizontal it was something of a shock to the system. Just getting out the front door was a job in itself. If my grumbling tummy didn’t wake me first, my alarm would do the honours at 6.30am. First port of call the toilet. Then the bath. Possibly the toilet again. Predfoam up the bum, the remainder of my medication down the hatch. Rest for a bit, wait for stomach cramps to ease off. By 8.30am I’m just about ready to climb back into bed, but instead I leave the house. The ten minute walk to the station turns into a fifteen minute slog. Quite unconcerned by who I might offend, I’m openly swearing and cursing with every miserable step, cajoling my weary body on like a potty-mouthed Grand National jockey. I arrive on the platform ashen. Beep-beep-beep, train doors open. Urine stained seats have never looked so inviting. Thirteen minutes before my legs are required again. Beep-beep-beep, train doors open. Last leg of the journey and I’m on my last legs. Five minutes later I arrive at the office and immediately flop onto a seat. A toilet seat to be precise. Start as you mean to go on being the mantra. Only eight hours to get through. Drugs helped; the co-codamol had a suitably numbing effect. And fortunately I have a job where sitting with your feet on your desk, staring glassy eyed into the distance isn’t necessarily seen as a bad thing. That first week back I managed to go in for just three days. It was the commute that was the killer. It exhausted me. I did some thinking over the weekend and on the following Monday I arrived at work in a nice, comfortable taxi. It cost £18, but it was worth every last penny.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

No man is an island?

I’ve been watching a series on telly recently called Coast. In it a tirelessly enthusiastic presenter with rubbish hair takes the viewer on a journey around Britain’s ever shifting coastline. He shows us where whole swathes of our island have been reclaimed by the unrelenting sea. Bit by bit the tide is redrawing the map of Britain. The Ordinance Survey mapmakers must be hard pushed to keep up. Pretty much as soon as they finish a map it’s out of date. Anyway, I was lying in the bath the other day, surrounded by water, a bit like an island, when it occurred to me that if I were to take a journey around the ‘coastline’ of my body I’d find it too had changed shape. My beer belly has gone for a start, mercilessly eroded by the ulcerative colitis. Journeying further north to my neck and face, any podge there once was has also gone. Venture south and we discover my bum has all but disappeared. Imagine Britain with Norfolk lopped off and that’s what I’m like at the back now. Straight up and down. The ulcerative colitis has caused the entire ‘coastline’ of my body to shrink. But it hasn’t all been take, take, take. Oh no, in a remote and isolated region of my body an interesting new feature has appeared on the horizon. Hanging out of my bottom I now have a flap of skin. A small outcrop of flesh about the size of your thumbnail presumably squeezed out during all those bouts of diarrhoea. Three different doctors have perused my skin flap and all three agree it isn’t anything to be concerned about. So I’m not concerned. There may be something attached to my backside that wasn’t there before, but that’s absolutely fine, nothing to worry about. It’s just a silly bit of skin, dangling there, not doing anyone any harm. A bit of my stuffing has come out. Some of my insides are now on the outside. No cause for alarm, it’s all hunky-dory, no need to panic. My ‘coastline’ has just been altered a tad, that’s all.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Some ins and outs

2.30am Watery, heavy blood
5.40am Watery, blood
8.55am Watery, light blood, loose stool
2.50pm Loose stool, light blood
7.45pm Loose stool, very light blood
10.10pm Light blood, bloody mucus

This is my diary entry recording my bowel movements on 4th May. It’s pretty typical of that first week out of hospital. I remember feeling very frustrated at how little progress I seemed to be making. Sores just inside my back passage made inserting the enemas extremely painful. The generous dollop of lubricant I squeezed onto the tip of the enema made little or no difference. I would psyche myself up for a good ten minutes before I could go through with the act. I had to sweet-talk myself into it. With a final murmur of encouragement I’d quickly shove the tablet as far up my bum as I could. Hooch! I’d then walk around in very tight circles with my legs bent stiffly like a flamingo until the pain subsided. I think it’s fair to say using enemas is a solitary, lonely and wholly undignified practice. In fact it’s probably illegal in some countries. So you can imagine my relief when I was given the option of using a foam enema. Foam? What, that lovely, soft, marshmellowy stuff? I’ll have me some of that, I thought. After the recent atrocities of the atom bomb sized enemas the Predfoam Rectal Foam 20mg was like having clouds of soothing fairy dust delicately blown up your anus by specially trained humming birds. The most uncomfortable thing about Predfoam was handing the prescription over to the young girl in the chemists. Now I’d found a way of administering a drug I was happy with I just had to keep my fingers crossed it worked.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fear and loathing in the Midlands

The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, 75 pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers . . .
And so begins Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson’s brilliant account of a drug-fuelled road trip. It bears many striking similarities to my own journey back to my parents’ house…
Inside the boot of my brother’s car was my duffel bag. It contained a pack of 400mg Mesalazine enteric coated tablets, a box of 5mg Prednisolone tablets, 100 200mg Ferrous Sulphate pills, a tub of 1.25g + 5 micrograms Calcium Carbonate chewables, Co-Dydramols, and of course, the enemas…
Uncanny, isn’t it? So there I was, back at mum’s with a bag of unpronounceable drugs; red ones, white ones, chalky ones and big pointy ones you stick where the sun don’t shine. Each had its own individual mission in the battle to beat my ulcerative colitis. The Mesalazine were the infantry, the solid, dependable backbone of the assault, the Prednisolone a crack squad of small yet powerful commandos. They say an army marches on its stomach; well this army would march in the stomach. I imagined my little soldiers advancing under the cover of darkness (well, it’s always dark inside your tummy) and overpowering the ulcerative colitis in a swift and deadly demonstration of sheer brute force. Like a V-2 rocket, the enema would be sent in to finish the job. Victory would be ours and peace would once more return to my belly. Maybe it was just wishful thinking, maybe it was the effect of the drugs on my imagination, I don’t know, but I like to think that somewhere inside my bowel, deep behind enemy lines, a little red Prednisolone tablet was giving the enemy a right good hiding.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The patient patient

As a nil-by-mouther the breakfast trolley was off limits, so I began my first morning in hospital hungry and thirsty. Riding in the slipstream of the breakfast trolley was the medicine trolley. The nurse wasn’t clear what medication I was supposed to be on and suggested I took my own tablets for the time being. FINE. Lucky I had them with me then. Later a gaggle of doctors of varying ranks encircled my bed. The highest-ranking doctor asked the questions. He too seemed very confused about why I was in a hospital in Coventry when I lived in London. He said he’d give me some tablets to stop me going to the toilet so much. The opposite of a laxative, I guess. As a parting shot he waved a dismissive hand at my nil-by-mouth sign and said, “No need for that, you can eat.” OKAY. But why was I put on nil-by-mouth in the first place?

One hospital day slowly became another. I took my new tablets and in due course they did indeed block me up. The same gaggle of doctors as before shuffled up to my bed. The previous day’s highest-ranking doctor was no longer head honcho and had been outranked by a very senior looking consultant. The very senior looking consultant now asked the questions and naturally, seemed very confused about why I was in a hospital in Coventry when I lived in London. In his genial Brummie way the very senior looking consultant explained there wasn’t really much point continuing with the tablets I’d been prescribed the day before and enemas might be a better bet. FAIR ENOUGH. Only the hospital pharmacy didn’t have the right enemas in stock. But they would. Soon.

My second day in hospital became my third. To bring to life the mood and pace of the remainder of my time on the ward you may find this piece of music helpful:


Life became a waiting game. My ears would prick up on hearing the trundling wheels of the medicine trolley in the next ward. Would it be bringing my long awaited enemas? Would it my arse. Speaking of which, I was by now defecating for Britain. I passed nothing but blood. I wasn’t really urinating at all. Still had the night sweats. The pain inside my back passage made the stomach cramps feel like a tickle by comparison. And still I awaited the arrival of the elusive enemas. Two more days passed. My stubble evolved into a beard. Now when the nurses passed my bed they didn’t even bother shrugging their shoulders. Of course, the gaggle of doctors dropped by daily. A doctor from the hospital’s gastroenterology department also paid me a visit. Needless to say he seemed very confused about why I was in a hospital in Coventry when I lived in London. JUST BECAUSE. The enemas finally arrived and as I pushed the first bullet-like pill up my bum I kind of wish they hadn’t. The next day I was informed I could go home. I had been in hospital just shy of a week. As I walked out into bright sunshine, in much the same condition as I had arrived, I consoled myself with the fact I would never again have to explain why I was in a hospital in Coventry when I lived in London.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Sent to Coventry

I awoke on a trolley bed in a small observation room and I was indeed being observed. The head popped back behind the door, having seemingly grown tired of eye-balling a slightly sweaty looking bloke in a blue and yellow striped jumper. I had dozed off whilst waiting to be seen by a doctor. Everyone who works in a hospital is really busy all of the time. Looking through the gap in the door was like watching a speeded up film of a hospital. I wondered if the doctors and nurses even spoke with high pitched speeded up voices? After a while, a young doctor appeared at my bedside and introduced himself with a normal speed voice. I answered the same old questions with the same old answers. The doctor seemed very confused about why I was in a hospital in Coventry when I lived in London. It’s a funny old world was what I wanted to say, but instead I explained to him the reason why I was in a hospital in Coventry when I lived in London. His curiosity satisfied he pulled on a pair of rubber gloves. Instinctively I checked his hand size. Smallish I gauged, almost girlish. I’ll make no bones about it, small girly hands or not, having his index finger prodded into my nether regions brought tears to my now ever so slightly bulging eyes. He thought there might be some scarring in my back passage and I should stay in hospital to have it checked out. They would also try out some different medications to bring my bowel movements under control. Sounded like a plan to me. An hour later I took my place in a small ward, which held six patients. As luck would have it my bed was closest to the toilet. I was put on nil by mouth, hooked up to a drip and as I rested my head on a perfectly soft pillow I felt a sense of relief that now, finally, after weeks of making no progress I was in a hospital (in Coventry by jiminy, not London) surrounded by the best possible people to make me better. As if controlled by a dimmer switch the sounds of the ward became distant and sleep overcame me.

The Big One

Buttocks clenched I raced into the office like an Olympic speed walker. Instead of turning left out of the lift I darted right and into the toilets, urgent fingers fumbling at my belt. No time to unbutton my winter coat, so I flicked the tails up behind me, very much in the style of a concert pianist taking his seat. My bum cheeks had barely touched the toilet seat and it was bombs away. It was late February and my third flare up had begun. My mouth became a snake pit of ulcers. Acne the like of which I haven’t experienced since Wham! were last at number one erupted all over my face. I spent enough time on the loo to read the collected works of Dickens. Cramps grabbed my insides with an arm wrestler’s grip. My clothes were getting baggier. I had night sweats. My bones ached. I had no energy. Going to work was a no no. The previously miracle working Mesalazine had little effect. A hefty course of steroids were prescribed. Calcium and iron tablets followed. I think I was popping something like twelve pills for breakfast. The strain of moving my bowels ten plus times a day made it feel like my bum was being ripped out. My poor derriere was in a very sorry state indeed. Life was put on hold, my body had grounded me indefinitely. I decided I needed some home comforts. If the Mesalazine don’t work, maybe mum will. The person my mum opened the door to was grey skinned and weak and there was two stone less of him. For the first time I Googled ulcerative colitis. Diet apparently didn’t play much of a part, but fish was good, so I ate a lot of fish. I found out tomatoes were bad and peas were evil. I switched to soya milk. I didn’t budge from the sofa except for the obvious. Despite the home cooking and rest the pain and discomfort continued. I was writhing on the sofa when my dad decided I should see a doctor. No longer having a doctor in my home town the only alternative was Accident & Emergency. The nurse nodded and jotted in her folder as I explained how I came to be sitting opposite her. Half an hour later I was rattling along in an ambulance on my way to another hospital twelve miles away in Coventry. It was 24th April and everything was all getting rather silly.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The low down on my flare ups

A ‘flare up’ is the term I use to describe the periods of time when the ulcerative colitis symptoms kick in and I’m not going to the toilet normally. I’m not sure flare up is strictly speaking a medical term, but doctors seem to understand what I mean by it.
In the two years I’ve been suffering from ulcerative colitis I’ve had three flare ups. Of course I didn’t know my first flare up was a flare up. A flare up of what exactly? One day I was doing my business in the same old bog standard way, the next the toilet pan resembled a scene out of Psycho. Obviously I was slightly alarmed. Facing up to my new found problem like a true man I vowed to cut down on the Guinness and let nature take its course. After two weeks off the black stuff and still only red stuff in the toilet, I conceded to nature and finally took myself off to the doctors. The doctor asked me lots of questions, some of which I answered truthfully, some I didn’t (I told a bit of a white lie regarding my fondness for Guinness). The doctor then examined me. Rubber gloves were involved. I seem to remember ulcerative colitis being mentioned and something about Crohn’s Disease being bandied around all rather casually. I was sent on my merry way with a prescription for Mesalazine tablets and a referral to the gastroenterology department at the hospital. The tablets soon did the trick and everything was back to normal. All tickety boo. So tickety boo in fact, I didn’t even bother going to my appointment at the hospital. Why should I? After all, I was cured, wasn’t I? Wrong. About eight months later, right out of the blue, the water in the toilet was red again. Flare up number two. This time I went straight back to the doctor for the magic Mesalazine tablets and a stern ticking off for not keeping my appointment at the hospital. Again, the pills quickly cleared everything up and another date was arranged for me to see the gastroenterology doctor at the hospital. Taking things slightly more seriously this time I kept my appointment. The doctor asked me lots of questions, all of which I answered truthfully. I hadn’t lost any weight, it didn’t hurt when he poked me there, I didn’t feel tired and I hadn’t lost my appetite. Fit as a fiddle, really; strong as an ox, you could say. A strong ox that just so happened to poo blood from time to time. No big deal. Still, the doctor decided he’d like to stick a camera up my bum and have a nosey around anyway. An appointment was made with the Endoscopic Department and despite knowing full well some sort of camera device was going to be inserted into my anus remarkably I actually kept this appointment, too. The nurses said the procedure was going to be uncomfortable more than painful and reassured me that any time I wanted them to stop, they would. So with me apparently holding the reins the tube which housed the camera was slipped up inside me. I could watch its progress on a small colour monitor. It’s not everyday you see your guts on telly, so I was glued to the screen. I saw that the walls of my intestines were blotchy and red. This was ulcerative colitis apparently and the camera wormed its way through more angry blotchiness for a further 50cm before finding some nice healthy stomach lining. I cried ‘whoah boy’ at this point and just as the nurses had promised the camera came to a halt. On the return journey the camera stopped every now and again and I watched in near horror as a mini robotic claw reached out of the camera tube and tore a bit of flesh from my stomach lining. The nurses had failed to mention beforehand that they might be ripping chunks out of me, which thinking about it now, was really quite clever on their part. So, with a slightly sore tum I left the hospital kind of thinking I might have ulcerative colitis. Whatever that was? But as I wasn’t passing blood any more, I put the whole thing to the back of my mind in a box labelled ‘Weird Bum Experiences’, forgot about the whole ulcerative colitis business and got on with life normally. Until February this year, that is. That’s when my third flare up flared up. And this time it was a bit different.

Thursday, July 5, 2007


You can spend a lot of time sitting on the toilet if you suffer from ulcerative colitis. I was sitting on the toilet when I had the idea of writing this blog. Well, I say I had the idea, it was actually my doctor who suggested I keep a diary of my daily ablutions, though I doubt he meant go and publish it online. I think to save blushes, mostly my own, I won't actually be posting how many number twos I have a day and of what colour and consistency. I'll keep that between me and my other, real diary for now. What I will try to write about here are my day to day experiences living with ulcerative colitis. I'm afraid that's about as far as I've worked it out for now. I'm glad I ditched my first idea for the title though: The Diarrhoea-y of Samuel Poopys. Crap, eh?