Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The not so great escape

Tuesday 31st March to Friday 3rd April

There is no rousing music. No crowd gathers to greet me. No one throws me a baseball mitt. But as I walk back into Primrose Ward I do, just for a moment, feel a bit like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. And like the Cooler King I even end up in the same old room. The very same four walls I escaped from less than a month ago enclose me again. Standing between me and freedom is a nasty pus-filled infection. Give me German guards any day; at least they might give you a bit of chocolate.

A cannula is inserted into the back of my hand and a line feeds the clear icy liquid into my veins. I shiver and pull the blanket up to my chin. I am asleep before the last drop of antibiotics filters into my bloodstream.

I have my usual hospital breakfast; cornflakes with hot milk and sugar, slice of brown toast and a cup of tea with one sugar. For some reason I have a sweeter tooth when I’m in hospital. My Italian surgeon arrives with an entourage similar in size to President Obama’s. Incredibly they all manage to squeeze into my room. The surgeon asks to see my stoma, which means taking my bag off. With the bag removed I suddenly feel very naked and embarrassed, vulnerable even. A couple of the junior doctors shuffle round to get a better look. My head buzzes. It’s an odd sensation having a roomful of people looking at a hole in your belly. I stare straight ahead out the window and pray my breakfast doesn’t decide to drop out my stoma now. The surgeon gives the inflamed area a cursory prod and hands me a dressing to hold over the stoma. I feel more comfortable covered up. It’s decided I am to remain in hospital until the antibiotics have cleared up the infection. If I’m lucky I might be out Sunday.

Time in Primrose Ward is measured not by the tick-tick of the clock, but the drip-drip of the antibiotics. The swelling has reduced considerably and I no longer feel headachy. I’m on the mend. But this is one stay in hospital too many for my patience. Nothing I do can relieve the boredom. I just want to go home.

“I’ve had a conversation with the pathologists and they say you have ulcerative colitis,” says the Italian surgeon. “Yeah?” “Yes, it is ulcerative colitis for sure, not Crohn's” he confirms with the tiniest hint of a smile. Well, well, well, what a turn up, surgery, pathology and gastroenterology all in agreement. The surgeon continues to talk but I am no longer listening. He may as well be singing this for all I care. I lean back in my hospital chair, simply happy in the knowledge that I have ulcerative colitis. Again.

It’s Friday and I’m told I can go home. As I leave Whipps Cross for a third time I think back on the last few weeks and it occurs to me that Crohn’s and UC are the Ant and Dec of bowel diseases – a pain in the arse and really hard to tell which is which.