Okay, lads and ladies – before we go any further (do you love me? Will you love me forrrrrrreverrrrrrr? That’s one of my party pieces with my brother-in-law, but I’ll leave those tales for another time), I’d better warn you that this post is probably not that attractive. It’s about irritable bowel syndrome and related maladies, and is likely to involve discussion about shit. I mean ‘shit shit’, not just shit, as in, “oh, that’s a bit rubbish”. Okay? I’ll put the ‘more’ tag in right under this paragraph so as you can do a runner now. Sorry to those of you that subscribe by email 😐
You’re brave then. Well, ooooookaaaaaaaay…
I remember when I was in about fourth year at school – what’s that, 15, maybe? A good friend’s obsessively studious older sister (who was in upper sixth at the time, which is obviously an important year) started to started to miss quite a few days. Quite a few days turned into quite a few weeks. When I asked my friend what her sister’s illness was, she said, “irritable bowel syndrome.”
Naively, I replied with, “what’s that?” She laughed and told me that I didn’t want to know.
A few weeks later I happened to be at their house visiting my friend. For some reason the two of us were standing on the landing when her sister exited the bathroom. Although academically attentive, she was not in any way a ‘goody two-shoes’ type, so when she said to us, “you can’t imagine the shit I’ve just taken,” I wasn’t terribly surprised by her candour.
“It was just like the snot that surges out of your nose when you’re dying with the cold,” she continued.
“What, literally?” my friend enquired.
“Yes – off-green, mucusy, slimy on the outside like crude oil.”
I remember being genuinely perplexed by this. I couldn’t understand how faeces could possibly take on these features – excrement, in my adolescent mind, was a standardised bodily fluid (save for short-term bugs and suchlike.)
God, but I wish that I could still not have this understanding 😦
I don’t know when I began to notice my bowels were behaving strangely. I do recall being in work about five or six years ago, and someone vaguely alluding to her IBS, and wondering if she was afflicted with the same kind of symptoms as I’d noticed in myself, so it must have been evident by that stage. I don’t know. Perhaps The Man would remember better than I – we’ve been together for 10 years, so if it began in that time, he probably noticed.
Because, honestly, it’s so troublesome that you couldn’t spend any time in someone’s company and not notice.
There are three types of irritable bowel syndrome:
- IBS-C, in which constipation is the primary complaint;
- IBS-D, in which diarrhoea is predominant; and
- IBS-A, which is characterised by the alternation of both of the above.
The condition is also agonising. I know I’m childfree so have absolutely no authority to speak on this, but I honestly and truly cannot imagine for half a second that childbirth is any worse – or even as worse – than the pains inherent in IBS. They are absolutely excruciating – and of course when it’s at its burning peaks, it won’t co-operate and let you go to the toilet for even a modicum of sweet relief.
Anyhow, there’s a history of issues in the family; bowel cancer, crohn’s disease and colitis are all things that close-ish relatives of mine have suffered from. I never thought that I had anything like this, but when earlier this year my cousin had a massive operation to remove a substantial part of her bowel and close her anus, it was her that told me I should have my own gastroenterological problems investigated.
I went to my GP for something else a month of so later and casually mentioned it. He said he’d get a referral sorted for me, and a couple of months later I was invited to an appointment with a consultant working within a private healthcare firm (a great spend of the NHS’s precious capital there.) It went well enough, but I was in and out within five minutes. The bloke said that under normal circumstances, he’d have attributed my complaint to “a simple case of IBS, which is highly correlated with mental health issues,” but that since I not infrequently pass blood, he would have to investigate further.
I had the colonoscopy last week. I had expected to be shaking with nerves at having to go through such an unpalatable experience, but in the end I was fairly relaxed about it. In fact, speaking of ‘unpalatable’, the worst bit of the whole experience was having to take the viciously repugnant laxatives on the Sunday evening. I know medicine is supposed to taste vile, but this was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before. It tasted like stale piss extracted from a battered mattress that had been sitting in a skip for a year and a half; putrid beyond anything else in the known universe.
I opted for a mild sedative during the procedure, which predictably didn’t work at all (I have a very strong resistance to medication) and which wasn’t necessary anyway due to the fact that they…um…have KY-esque stuff. So the device easily entered and all seemed fine – for a minute.
The next thing I knew I was in such awful pain in my lower stomach that I involuntarily cried out – something that almost never happens to me. I deal with pain through tolerance and winces; I don’t call out or anything normally. Yet it must have happened three or four times in this instance. The nurse kept telling me to breath and to relax, which irritated the living shit (well…) out of me; she had no understanding of what the pain was like, or where it was or anything, so how had she the authority to patronise me with the perennial ‘breathe’ nonsense?
Anyway, it passed, and the presiding doctor explained that the cable had become tied whilst…er…working its way through my system. He had to fiddle with it to release the cross-overs and knot-like things, meaning that it kept hitting the walls of what it was passing through and causing the pain. It was rather annoying in the sense that this kind of thing really shouldn’t happen, but since it had, there wasn’t much the man could do about it. He couldn’t pull the cable out with knots in it, could he?! I doubt my body would have easily tolerated that…
Once that had passed, though, everything was fine. I could hardly feel the colonoscope at all, and indeed found it rather interesting to observe my insides on the adjacent monitor. Perhaps I’d have given a toss about science in school if you could have seen things like that; biology in living action, not just some shite diagram and the needless death of a small animal.
After the tube was withdrawn, I was taken to a recovery room (for what?), given a cup of tea and a slice of toast, and then I was gladly able to go home. As I did, they handed me a few sheets of A4 with the results.
Apparently, for as far as the colonoscope moved, the examination was ‘normal’. The doctor couldn’t see everything though, because the hateful, despicable laxatives hadn’t entirely worked and there was still…matter, let’s say, remaining 🙄 Nonetheless, he was fairly confident that things seemed clear.
To that point, as noted. There are two things that require further examination; the biopsies he took whilst performing the procedure and the area beyond the distal intestine (or some such point, the medical jargon went in one of my ears and out the other.) I’m not sure when I’ll hear the results of the former, but I need to have a barium swallow to look at the latter, and I don’t know when that’ll be yet.
So. Based on the initial findings, it looks like nothing serious is wrong with me. Don’t get me wrong; that’s great. However, it’s also highly frustrating, in that it means I’m back to square one in terms of finding something to treat this heinous affliction. Crohn’s or colitis would be extraordinarily hard to deal with, and not having either of them is of course a huge relief, but what am I meant to do about what I do have?
Edit, 00:19, 2nd October:I meant to note in this post that my IBS is so debilitating – and has been so debilitating for so long now – that even if I miraculously gained every thread of sanity existent across space and time and my mental illnesses were completely removed forever, I still couldn’t work beyond home-based freelancing because of this bloody disease (potential psychosomatic links aside – you know what I mean.) Not only would little work ever get done thanks to my constant toilet excursions (except in the occasional constipation-only periods, during which my gastrointestinal sluggishness would be mirrored in my character too), but with the majority of my bouts of diarrhoea being so urgent and violent, I’d be terrified (as presumably would my employer, even if they weren’t aware of that fear) of not even getting to said toilets – that the walls (well, my clothes and the carpet, I suppose) would get redecorated. Sorry to be so hideously graphic, but this is the mortifying, second-by-second reality of living with this condition 😦
This week’s embarrassing medical examination is a mammogram (on Thursday morning.) I have a lump that apparently required further investigation 😦
Next week’s embarrassing medical examination is a bloody smear test! Maybe I’ll have some peace by the end of the month – but I think there might be decent odds on something else coming up 😐
Picture credits: see outgoing links.