Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 Review of the Year

That, then, was 2007. A year of ups and downs, mostly, it has to be said, for my trousers.

Little did I know what awaited me just around the corner. If I had known, I may well have concentrated all my efforts on inventing a time machine, and whenever 1st February approached I would set the dials for 1st January 2007, and forever live in that peaceful, illness free month.

The Return of the Blood, Part III. I assumed everything would sort itself out in a couple of weeks just as it had on the two previous occasions. It didn’t. But up my sleeve I had a secret plan of attack that couldn’t possibly fail; I would ignore the problem until it went away. Oh, the naivety.

For my birthday I had a trip to New York planned, and not wishing to take my ulcerative colitis along as a traveling companion, I finally went to the doctor. So, armed with mesalazine I looked forward to a Guinness or two on St Patrick’s Day in NYC. I had my Guinness, but I also had a mouth full of ulcers, night sweats, crippling fatigue and the usual bloodbath in the bathroom. It was starting to feel like I was fighting a losing battle.

The month the full force of my Flare Up rode into Tum Town looking for trouble; all outlawish swagger, lock-up-your-daughters menace and tobacco chewing bravado. I shat meself I really did, both metaphorically and literally. Mr Bottom was starting to get a little too acquainted with Mr Toilet-Seat. They met up about 10 times a day, with Mr Bottom doing most of the talking. Meanwhile I ping-ponged back and forth between doctors, growing weaker and more frustrated with each visit. I ended April in hospital.

The NHS released me back into the wild, or as the London A – Z prefers to call it, Walthamstow. Looking back now it seems crazy that no one really sat me down and gave me the UC version of the ‘Birds and the Bees’. I was as much in the dark about ulcerative colitis as ever. Google to the rescue, I started to piece together the jigsaw and a picture emerged of what life with this disease might be like. It was odd to think of myself as someone with a chronic illness. Arrogantly I had always considered myself a bit too rock and roll, windswept and interesting for something as mundane as a long-term health problem. Turns out I was wrong. (And according to my girlfriend I’m deluding myself about the rock and roll, windswept and interesting bit, too.) Ego firmly in check, I began making a record of my daily doings. I find there’s nothing more grounding than writing down how many times a day you do a poo.

Back to work, but otherwise living life at a pace more suited to a remote Scottish island than London. Even the smallest of tasks sapped my energy. I became the local mini-cab firm’s number 1 customer. Life was little more than work, sleep, work, sleep, work, sleep. On a positive note, I was making fewer trips to the toilet, but I was also making fewer trips anywhere. I made Howard Hughes look positively sociable. Boring, boring, boring.

Messing about on my computer one night, and without really thinking about the consequences, I lost my blogging virginity. The name of my blog was the first thing that came into my head; I thought I might change it to something wittier at a later date. Clearly that never happened. I had no grand plan, other than I was going to write about my life with ulcerative colitis and just in case anyone were ever to read it, I should probably try my best to be honest.

Coming off prednisolone was my goal. As my pred intake reduced, my visits to the bathroom increased. It became clear the drugs merely kept the symptoms in check. I had to come to terms with the fact that I might be dependent on medication for quite some time to come. Things pottered along and popping pills became as much part of every day life as brushing my teeth and cursing London Underground.

My girlfriend and I took a 2 week holiday in the Italian countryside. My ulcerative colitis tagged along for the ride, but pretty much kept a low profile and didn’t spoil a single sun-blessed moment. I had my first beers in 5 months, though I rationed myself to 2 a day. We swam and walked and read and listened to music and ate nice food, and I think all 3 of us thoroughly enjoyed our break. Unfortunately my UC decided after much deliberation, that nice though Italy was, it’d prefer to return home with us.

I tried and failed to come off the prednisolone. I think it was my 2nd or 3rd attempt. I had hoped that if ever I were to become addicted to drugs it would be something marvelously decadent, literary and mysterious, like opium, administered by a snaggle-toothed Chinaman called Ming, but no, I get my fix from a grandfatherly man in a white coat on the High Street. Pete Doherty I am not.

I’m not saying the doctors have chucked pills at me willy-nilly, but at times their eagerness to dish out new tablets has been a bit billy-nilly, willy-nilly’s slightly less slap dash cousin. And so it was I came to be prescribed azathioprine. Only time will tell if it’s a success, but if nothing else I’ve learnt a new word.

The season to eat, drink and be merry. Throwing caution to the wind I have indulged a little in the festivities, resulting in, rather appropriately, quite a lot of wind. Though I somehow doubt I’m the only one trumping profusely at this time of year. So, it’s been a funny old 12 months, really. My body has had me reeling at times, on the ropes I was, bewildered and befuddled and bloodied. But despite all the pain, confusion, worry and stress, I wouldn’t say it was a shit year per se. A year of much shitting, granted, but there have been many positives too. I no longer abuse my body in such wanton fashion, I’m far more respectful about what I put inside myself, and without wishing to get all evangelical and ‘born again’, ulcerative colitis has made me reevaluate my life. I have a better understanding of what’s important to me than I did this time last year. (Don’t tell anyone, but I think I might have grown up a bit.) And finally, without my UC I would never have started this blog. I’m quite proud of the fact I’ve written something like 27,000 words, mostly about poo. Before Christmas, I got speaking to someone who has written and published a book, and thinking he might have some advice that might help me write this blog, I asked him if he had any tips. He said the most important thing is to edit ruthlessly and cut out all the crap. I thought, that’s alright for you to say, mate, but if I cut out all the crap there’ll be bugger all left.

Happy New Year from Switzerland.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Ulcerative colitis travel tip

I’m off to Switzerland today for the New Year, but before I go I’ll leave you with a little travel tip. Take all your medication onto the plane with your hand luggage. That way if your bags don’t arrive at the same destination as you, at least you’ll have your tablets. Sounds a bit bleedin’ obvious, I know, but sometimes them’s the things you forget.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Boxing Day's diary on a Thursday 2.4

Turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, chipolata sausages wrapped in bacon, sprouts, some other vegetables, erm, new potatoes, gravy, Abbott Ale, Christmas pudding, brandy butter, chocolates, stilton, cheddar, biscuits all went let's see what came out...
Wednesday 26th December:
9.55am Loose stool, light blood
4.15pm Firmish stool
9.50pm Firmish stool

6 x Mesalazine 400mg
3 x Prednisolone 5mg
3 x Azathioprine 50mg
3 x Ferrous Sulphate 200mg
2 x Calcium Carb 1.25g

As I loosen my belt a notch I worry for my Vivienne Westwood shirt.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wednesday's diary on a Thursday 2.3

I found this quote from some UC website or other. It's quite a good way of explaining how food can affect things, I think.

As an analogy, think about a cut on the skin. If lemon juice is squeezed over the cut, the cut will burn and hurt. The cut skin is not necessarily worse in terms of inflammation nor will it take longer to heal, it just temporarily hurts more because of the lemon juice. The same is true of various food effects on the colon in UC. When the colon is inflamed, ingestion of gas producing foods containing lactose or high fibre products may result in abdominal cramping and discomfort. These foods, however, will not cause the lining of the colon to develop more ulcers or bleeding.

Well, on Tuesday night I squeezed lemon juice over the cut. My girlfriend and I had our Christmas early because she's going back to Germany for the holidays. So we had a very nice, fancy-pants meal out, which included a whole host of things I shouldn't really touch with a barge pole, let alone a knife and fork. And yes, the dreaded sprouts were consumed, along with a few pints of Christmas Ale. I paid for it yesterday mind, but what the heck, Christmas only comes once a year. Or in mine and my girlfriend's case, twice.
Wednesday 19th December:
4am Loose stool
5.30am Loose stool
7.30am Loose stool, light blood, mucus
12.10pm Loose stool
11pm Loose stool

6 x Mesalazine 400mg
3 x Prednisolone 5mg
3 x Azathioprine 50mg
3 x Ferrous Sulphate 200mg
2 x Calcium Carb 1.25g

Bah, humbug.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I'm all ears

For many years I stubbornly refused to listen to what my body was trying to tell me. My standard response to any niggle, itch, twitch, twinge, throb or ache was la-la-la-la-la-la-la-can’t-hear-you- la-la-la-la-la-la- can’t-hear-you-la-la-la-la. My body’s cries for help would go unheard. Like many a man before me, I cocked a deaf ‘un. It’s what us boys do. Rather than face up to reality, we’d prefer to slip out the back door unnoticed, preferably to the nearest pub. But just as the habitual flat-capped drinker never escapes his rolling pin wielding wife for long, one can never truly hide from a nagging body. So it was only a matter of time before mine caught up with me and forced me to listen to what it had to say. Now this is where it can get tricky. If your body could sit you down and explain in plain English, maybe over a cuppa and a Rich Tea, exactly what was on its mind there would be no confusion. But your body doesn’t speak English. Instead it communicates in its own curiously oblique fashion. It’s a form of sign language, I guess. Like, you’ll suddenly get lots and lots of eye-wateringly painful mouth ulcers. This is your body speaking to you. But what’s it trying to say? That you have a problem in your mouth? Oh no, no, no, no, that would be far too simple. No, mouth ulcers might not have anything to do with your mouth at all. It could be anything. Imagine a red warning light appearing on the dashboard of your car, but it doesn’t tell you if it’s oil, petrol, water, brakes or the bag of Murray Mints in the glove compartment you should be worrying about. That’s how your body talks to you. So now every time I get a spot or blemish or my hair starts falling out, I have to try and interpret what it means. I haven’t the foggiest half the time. My body could be trying to tell me I’ve got bird flu for all I know. It seems mastering German is the least of my worries, first I need to understand body language.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A hairy tale

Could this be a precious lock of my truelove’s hair, kept inside a locket worn around my neck, a keepsake of our fervent union pressed tenderly against my fragile, fluttering heart for all eternity? Nope, I fished this little lot out the plughole this morning. They’re my hairs. By all rights they should still be on my head. That’s where they were when I got in the shower, but by the time I got out, they’d jumped ship. I haven’t counted them yet, but it’s a good old clump; more than an Action Man’s handful. At the very least a Bobby Charlton combover’s worth of hair. And this is from just one shower. If I carry on at this rate I’ll be able to re-thatch Right Said Fred before the year’s out. But why is my barnet doing a bunk? Naturally I’m keen to get to, ahem, the root of the problem. Is it a side effect of one of the drugs I’m taking, for instance? And if so, which one? The way I’m golliping down pills it’s hard to isolate a particular side effect and attribute it to any one drug. One thing I have noticed though, is since I started losing the hair on my head I’ve started growing it on my cheekbones. You may laugh at the irony of my predicament, but spare a thought for me. I’m the one who is going to have to go through life with the face of Teen Wolf and the head of Kojak.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wednesday's diary on a Thursday 2.2

If anyone ever finds my 2007 Diary in a hundred years time it's going to make for very strange reading.
Wednesday 12th December:
6.50am Firmish stool
4.10pm Firmish stool

6 x Mesalazine 400mg
4 x Prednisolone 5mg
3 x Azathioprine 50mg
3 x Ferrous Sulphate 200mg
2 x Calcium Carb 1.25g

Can't complain, but I have been here before...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

And your nearest toilet is...

I thought I’d give SatLav another whirl. So I’m on Oxford Street and I text ‘toilet’ to 80097. A few seconds later this helpful little message drops out of the ether into my Inbox.

Yr nearest toilets: Oxford Circus 0730 – 0000, Gt. Portland St 1000 – 1800. Leicester Sq & Covent Gdn toilets open 24hrs

All very impressive. Then after work, back in Walthamstow, I realise I haven’t thanked SatLav for their help, and not wishing to be rude I text ‘thanks!’ to the usual number. My phone beep-beeps, announcing the arrival of a reply.

Yr nearest toilets: Strand 1000 – 1800, Strand APC 24-hr. Leicester Sq & Covent Gdn toilets open 24hrs

How queer. SatLav must have mistaken my ‘thanks!’ for ‘toilet’ and according to them the nearest toilets are about 6 miles away. That doesn’t sound right, in fact I know it’s completely untrue, so I text back ‘you sure?’ Beep-beep.

Yr nearest toilets: Strand 1000 – 1800, Strand APC 24-hr. Leicester Sq & Covent Gdn toilets open 24hrs

SatLav are sticking to their guns. They’re adamant that my nearest toilets are in central London. That would mean having to take the Victoria Line to Kings Cross and changing onto the Northern Line to Leicester Square. Only a 35 minute journey, then. That’s not going to a problem at all if I desperately need the loo, is it? Not wanting to get into a pointless texting argument with a satellite, I decide not to text SatLav back. And in future, if I need to find a toilet I might do things the old fashioned way and ask a policeman.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Treacley black ones, slimy ones, scarily bloody ones, spluttering ones, gassy ones, embarrassingly noisy ones, painful ones, encouragingly solid ones, disappointingly runny ones, did-that-really-come-out-of-me ones, Malteseresque ones, explosive ones, stinky ones, just-made-it-to-the-toilet ones and good old fashioned ploppy ones. Yup, it’s fair to say I have produced a wide range of faeces this year, but so far I have not had a virtual poo. But if I do, worry not, I am prepared.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A letter of complaint

I just wanted to mention the noise between the two flats as I think the ceiling is obviously very thin but I have been woken up several times when you’re moving about. Sorry to mention this and I know it is probably something you’re not aware of but I thought I had to say something.

This is an extract from a handwritten note stuck to my girlfriend’s fridge. It’s from her neighbour who lives in the flat below. When I read the letter two things occurred to me. One (pernickety): my girlfriend’s neighbour’s hearing is far better than her use of punctuation. And two (panicky): if she feels she has to complain about the noise my girlfriend and her flatmate inadvertently make “moving about” what on God’s Earth must she make of the hullabaloo I make when I’m moving my bowels? Because she’s absolutely right in saying the ceiling is very thin. Sometimes when I’m sitting on the toilet in my girlfriend’s flat, I can hear the neighbour switch the light on in the bathroom below. Now this is the sound of a light being switched on. An ordinary household light switch; we’re not talking powering up the generators at Eddystone Lighthouse here. It is not what you would describe as a loud noise. As far as noises go, it’s quite unassuming. Probably a little louder than a mouse’s fart but not quite as loud as a stoat’s sneeze. Certainly no one was ever deafened by the sound of a light being switched on. It’s not the kind of noise that warrants you sticking your fingers in your ears. But if the sound of a light being switched on downstairs is clearly audible to me upstairs, then it stands to reason that whatever noise I make must also be heard downstairs. And believe me, when I use the toilet I make a lot more racket than a light switch. Imagine a Tiger Moth biplane crash-landing into the world’s largest Whoopee cushion phut-phut-phut-phut-parrrrrp-parrp- parrrrrp-parrp. So if my girlfriend’s neighbour is looking for someone to blame for the noise, then I hold my hands up. It’s a fair cop. I am public enemy number one (or should that be public enema number twos?) If she had perhaps been more honest, the neighbour’s note may have read something more like this…

I just wanted to mention the noise between the two flats as I think the ceiling is obviously very thin but I have been woken up several times by what I can only describe as something akin to a volcanic eruption. But given we live in Peckham, not Krakatoa, there must surely be some other explanation? You’re not trying to land a Tiger Moth biplane on the world’s largest Whoopee cushion up there, by any chance are you? No, that’s just crazy, forgive me, I haven’t been getting much sleep of late BECAUSE OF THE EVIL CACOPHONY OF BEELZEBUB’S RAMPAGING ARMY RISING FROM THE BOWELS OF THE EARTH. Sorry to mention this and I know it is probably something you’re not aware of but I thought I had to say something.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Wednesday's diary on a Thursday 2.1

Hawk-eyed pill watchers will notice I'm now taking azathioprine. This means every day I have 18 tablets rattling around inside my belly. I am the human maracas.
Wednesday 5th December:
6am Loose stool
10.25am Firmish stool
4.40pm Firmish stool, gassy

6 x Mesalazine 400mg
4 x Prednisolone 5mg
3 x Azathioprine 50mg
3 x Ferrous Sulphate 200mg
2 x Calcium Carb 1.25g

Chica-chica-chica-chica-chica (that's the sound maracas make, I couldn't find an mp3.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What's in a name?

There’s a bloke who drinks in a bar in Walthamstow called Mike, and to his friends he’s known as Funtime Mike. I think Funtime is a great prefix to be given; it’s the Ronseal of nicknames and tells you right up front exactly what to expect. It says this is a man who is going to be a bit of a laugh, a joker, a wisecracker, a raconteur, a wit and master of the art of barroom banter. He’ll probably know a few magic tricks involving matchsticks and beer mats too. Funtime Mike is going to be a riot, for sure. I have no reason to believe Mike was given his nickname ironically, as other nicknames in the bar are Big Paul, who is big (he’s also known as Roofer Paul, which is what he does), there’s Big Mo and Big Chris, they’re both big as well, there’s Drunk Dave, who is always drunk and there’s a teacher called Stephen that everyone calls Harry, because he wears little round glasses and has a scar on his forehead. Nicknames in The Stow (that’s Walthamstow’s nickname) tend to be quite unimaginative. Even Walthamstow’s most famous sons, East 17, named themselves after the postcode. It’s very much a literal ‘say what you see’ thing. “Paul’s a big lad, I know, let’s call him Big Paul.” So it came as a bit of shock to discover that I was known in the area as The Pervert. This, I learnt, is what the locals began calling me because when I first went in the pubs in Walthamstow I would sit on my own and scribble things in my notepad. And that in their eyes made me The Pervert. Not The Scribbler, The Jotter or even Padman. No, to all and sundry I was The Pervert. Talk about unfair. Mike gets Funtime on account of him being a fun guy and I get The Pervert on account of what, that I occasionally write things down in a pad? You figure it out, because I can’t. Anyway, what has all this got to do with ulcerative colitis? Well, there’s another bloke I know in Walthamstow called Mouse (don’t ask), and he phoned yesterday to tell me he’s just been diagnosed with UC. And aside from the good people that leave comments on my blog from time to time, Mouse is the only living, breathing, real person I actually, actually know with ulcerative colitis. So it now looks like I’ve got a partner. Pervert and Mouse. Got a kind of Batman and Robin ring to it, don’t you think?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Small blessings

Having a rough time at the moment?

In a flare-up?


Up and down to the toilet constantly?

6, 7, 8, 9 times a day?

Stools look like redcurrant jam?

Runnier than that?

Just blood?

Lots and lots of blood?

Well this may not be much consolation, but count yourself lucky.

You could be a gerbil.

A gerbil with ulcerative colitis.

Gerbils don’t have flushing toilets.

They’ve got walk-in lavatories that are stuffed floor to ceiling with shredded paper.

Not Andrex, newspaper.

Once inside they defecate anywhere.

Now imagine if you had to tunnel your way into a small room filled with poo-soaked newspaper every time you needed to answer the call of nature.

Euch, indeed.

Let’s face it, after a couple of trips it’s not going to be pleasant.

After a few days you’ll be wishing your nose would drop off.

On the up side, with all that newspaper lying about there’s always something to read.

Monday, December 3, 2007

It’ll be alright on the night

I’m on Great Castle Street just round the corner from Oxford Circus and I find myself in the rather unusual position of pretending that I urgently need to find a toilet. Having spent much of the year actually needing to find toilets urgently, it’s a role I think I can just about pull off. So there I am, method acting in central London with Gielgudian aplomb. I’m wringing my hands dramatically, biting my fist, criss-crossing my legs, hoppety-hopping from one end of the street to the other like a daddy longlegs. Hurrying office workers hunch further over their steaming coffee cups to avoid eye contact. A couple of secretaries link arms and cross to the other side of the road. A crowd of concerned faces appear alongside the shiny Christmas baubles in the window of CafĂ© Lido. Perhaps my performance is erring more towards ‘lunatic Macbeth’ than ‘man looking for loo’. Nonetheless I remain in character and unsheathe my mobile phone in theatrical fashion. Exercising poise and technique rarely seen in British acting, I deftly text ‘toilet’ to 80097. I fall still and wait. Beep-beep. Hark, a reply.

Sorry, we cannot locate your current position. You have not been charged for this reply.

That wasn’t in the script. I reread the message and give the screen a withering Oliver Hardy look. This new toilet locating service I’m trying out, or SatLav as it has been dubbed, is supposed to locate the texter and text back directions to the nearest public toilet anywhere in Westminster. But in this instance it appears they can’t. Looks like they're having teething troubles. So it’s fortunate that today is just a dress rehearsal and I’m only pretending that I desperately need the loo. Hopefully by the time I come to use SatLav for real, they’ll have got their act together.