“I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright…” chants the skinny old man two beds down. He’s lying on his back hugging his knees right up to his chest repeating the same trancelike mantra over and over. “I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright…” Personally I think he’s kidding himself. I’m no expert, but curling oneself up like a ladybird on its last legs and muttering, “I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright…” suggests precisely the opposite.
All those hours of sprint training on the rugby training ground as a schoolboy are suddenly paying dividends. As a fledgling fly-half it was drilled into me that it was all about the first 10 yards. I needed to be explosive. Well if my old coach could see me now, I think he’d be proud. My arms and legs are pumping hard, powering me down the full length of the ward towards the toilet. Behind me, slightly obscured by the whoosh of air buffeting around my ears, I can just make out the Sister’s voice ringing in my ears, “You can do it here!” By do it here she means do a poo. Seconds earlier she administered a particularly effective enema up my bum. Now, I may well be far less embarrassed about all things bum related than I was 3 years ago, but I draw the line at projectile pooing blood, shit and God knows what all over the bed in front of the Sister and a young Polish student nurse. Do it here indeed, I have my standards. So I opt for the 40-yard dash to the toilets. I make it with no time to spare. The instant my bum cheeks make contact with the toilet seat I spray the bowl with a full on torrent of nastiness. Imagine opening a shook up bottle of fizzy Cherryade. My whole body is trembling with the sheer force of it. And Sister wanted me to do this is my bed? The blast would have ripped the goddamn curtains clean from the railings, plastering everything in 10-yard vicinity with shit. They would have had to hose clean poor old Mr Stout in the bed opposite. And in his condition I’m not so sure he’d survive the ordeal. Weak-kneed and drained of all colour I am now ready for an endoscopy. Technically and medically speaking I’m ready, but mentally I don’t think one is ever quite prepared for the paparazzi to go up your Gary Glitter.
“I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright…” This time it’s not the skinny old guy two beds down chanting, it’s me. I’m in an endoscopy room watching a TV monitor showing a camera snake it’s way up my colon. It’s not just uncomfortable viewing, it’s plain bloody uncomfortable. Which is why I have adopted skinny old guy’s mantra for my own. “I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright…” I figure there’s no time like a live broadcast of your guts to try out the power of positive thinking. As I watch the camera slide past the blotchy, blobby, maggoty sections of bowel inflamed with ulcerative colitis it occurs to me that every meal I have ever eaten in my life has passed through this way. My Dougal from The Magic Roundabout birthday cake I had when I was 4, the lamb doners the kebab van man in High Wycombe, would sell me for whatever money I had left in my pocket at the end of the night, my mum’s toad-in-the-hole, all those life affirming scotch eggs (yes, a good scotch egg can be life affirming), they would have all made this journey. And very soon, if I have the op, no food will ever travel this way again, because the section of bowel I’m watching on the screen will no longer be there. I find the whole thing oddly emotional, like a sad farewell to a friend. “I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m alright…”