When you are 22 you don’t generally worry about too much in life. I didn’t anyway. I’d finished university with a good degree in drama, was using my degree in my work running workshops for the local youth service and teaching drama at weekends. I was fencing, single (although I had just met a quite nice Irish girl) and life was generally pretty good. I’d been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome which came and went, but seemed to be well controlled with a pain killer called Buscopan.
So when I noticed upon wiping my bottom that there was blood on the toilet paper, I didn’t worry. It was a little itchy as well, and I thought it was probably piles. This carried on for a bit, and despite me using some over the counter cream (which reduced the itching) the bleeding didn’t stop. In fact it got a bit worse, now being mixed in with my poo. So eventually I took myself off to the doctor. I was given two things – a stool sample collection pot and an appointment for a colonoscopy at the local endoscopy suite.
Now if you’ve never had to give a stool sample, it’s quite an interesting experience. I got a little kit with a cardboard cup, a universal specimen jar and a little spoon like you used to get with a Screwball from the ice cream man.
So, I did that (and research shows lots of people don’t. That nice Irish girl wrote about it in the BMJ here, less academic version here) and sent it off, and awaited the day of my endoscopy appointment.
On that day, I had to prepare my bowel. In order to see what is going on, the bowel needs to be empty, as well as keep you off solid food for 24 hours, they achieve this with a bowel preparation. The one I was sent was called KleanPrep, which was 4 sachets to be dissolved in a litre of water each, and drunk at intervals across the morning (my appointment was in the afternoon). It said in the instructions to take time off work, and not be too far from the toilet. ‘Some cramping is normal.’ ‘You might want to have some Vaseline or Sudocrem to hand.’ Surely it can’t be that bad can it? Well the first litre didn’t seem to do much, so I tucked into the second. That was when things started. Any solid food that was more than 24 hours old was very quickly evacuated.
I’d never had food poisoning before, but I imagine it is not dissimilar to Klean Prep. I think it could be used as a method of torture. Up to that point, it was the most I had ever been to the toilet in my life, and by the end, I was passing a weird, jelly like substance. It must have eased up, because I went to the hospital OK, and had the colonoscopy. This is a procedure where they look at your bowel with a small camera, starting at the bottom end. If you’d like to see a video of a surgeon explaining what happens, the NHS provide one here.
They also take some biopsies. Now you can sort of see what they can see on the screen as they go up what is going on. I’d never seen the inside of a bowel before, and the surgeon was not giving much away – but there definitely looked to be something not right – little sore patches up my colon. I also remember they couldn’t get very far – only as far as the sigmoid colon I think before there was a narrowing, as despite pumping me full of air, the scope could not pass any further.
A few weeks later I was back to the GP for the results. I had Ulcerative Colitis. I had never heard of ulcerative colitis. I was given some suppositories to take/use/ administer and so off I went.
Looking back, that was a key moment for me. Not bothering to find out what this disease was. I kind of understood that it was a chronic condition (it’s not going away) but at that time things were not too bad, and the suppositories made me feel better after a week or so. So hey, nothing to worry about right?
If you’d like to know more about tests and investigations for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, then Crohn’s & Colitis UK produce a handy leaflet you can download here.
This blog post is part of a series I’m writing in the run up to my stoma surgery in January 2015. If you’ve found it interesting, please do share it, and if you can, support CCUK & the ia by donating at my Virgin Money Giving page http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/RichardHarris19