Too Cool For Stool: My life with Ulcerative Colitis. 100% non-scientific opinion pieces. Expect pop culture, poop culture(s) and puns.
Image: Pixabay/They're There
Ch-Ch-Check it Out
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It’s strange when a paramedic (or three, in this case) enters your bedroom. In the two occasions I’ve had to call out for their help thus far, I’d spent the last few hours in my own world, attempting to block out various degrees of pain, sickness and everything in between.
During that time, your worldview steadily narrows as your options, strategies and hope begin to evaporate. Exhaustion and survival dictate your thoughts as you look toward the bright lights of hospital for salvation.
In these moments, I feel like I’m at the controls of a stricken airplane as it plummets toward earth, and I have no parachute. Everyone else has jumped to safety, and I’m left to consider my life and the choices I’ve made. The only options left appear to embrace the inevitable, or, hope for International Rescue to arrive.
Thankfully, my calls (so far) have been answered. Arriving to help in the early hours of this crisp Sunday morning were Scott, Virgil and Gordon.[*] Curiously, they appeared to be moving without the help of strings.
By entering the bedroom, they immediately puncture the bubble of survival I’ve lived in, as the wake of the cold winter air from outside follows them into my warm, lethargic world. With their costumes of thick green and yellow winter coats and green uniforms, fitted with all manner of bulging pockets and silver reflective stripes strapped with boxes of life-saving equipment, they appear like vast superheroes at a time when I feel two feet tall and shrinking.
The whooshing and hissing of waterproof coats and the tearing of Velcro strips uncovering heart monitors and blood testing kits are enough to startle weary eyes and pierce idle eardrums into brief, adrenal shock. They’ll be sure to tell you their names, and you’ll do what you can with what energy you have left to remember them. Relief begins to melt from your shoulders as you relinquish the controls of your life to trusting hands, rather than a rampant illness.
Scott, the methodical leader of the trio, comes equipped with unquestionable medical experience and a remarkable array of dad jokes: both of which are gratefully received. Virgil, his second-in-command, is his solid, dependable, trusty sidekick, while Gordon is their attentive trainee. As a newbie, Gordon’s first lesson is to study my sick bowl of coffee grains for “experience”. You’re welcome, buddy: they’ll be baristas in east London eager to make that into an artisan blend, y’know…
While Scott and Virgil set up the ECG and ask if I can have my finger pricked (they’re quite happy to take the standard index finger; no volcanoes for them), I suddenly become very self-conscious of how my room looks. It’s an absurd, vacuous and self-absorbed thought to have in a moment of crisis, but I became aware that the paramedics were struggling to find places to fill in their patient forms, while brief lulls in activity would see their eyes train on items placed on shelves: books, DVDs, photos…[**] I felt guilty and inadequate for not being able to provide them with ample writing space. Everything I owned looked worthless - a figure Chuck Palahniuk would love to hate:
“I am Jack’s morbid fascination for ample work surfaces…”
Since Alan’s visit earlier this month, I’d upgraded some of the cushions that resided in my room in an attempt to do something positive and assertive while I spent time in bed. They’d been low down on the mental list I had of ‘things I wanted to change because they looked a bit old and shit’, but as I didn’t have the energy to go to a tailor, nor the money for a new bed, I had to make do with small alterations. As insignificant as it seems, it provided a big boost in morale, as it reminded me that, despite evidence to the contrary, I wasn’t completely hopeless (yet).
As infuriating as it was to be judging my room like a contestant on Changing Rooms at a time like this, it was providing a welcome distraction as to why there were currently paramedics here in the first place. Scott and Virgil relay readings to one-another (“slightly tachycardic…”), and I occasionally ask, in as neutral voice as possible, what it all meant.
I’m desperately looking for answers as to why I’ve ended up in this skinny, lumpy mess. I’d followed all instructions handed to me thus far and ended up in a worse state. What had I done wrong? What were the medical staff doing wrong? Like Michael Gove discussing Brexit, I’d become suspicious of experts. These three men, independent of the gastroenterology department, could be my only hope to finding the answer.
Sadly, the only result that popped into my head was that I was dying for some water, but as I was currently ‘nil by mouth’, I sat quietly and attempted to be as enthusiastic and co-operative as possible when prompted. Scott then spots the football programme on the side and announces himself as an Arsenal fan, so I decide that this is a perfect excuse to start taking the piss out of him instead…
…for the rest of the night.
Flake It to Make It
Maybe ‘rest of the night’ is a bit extreme; but I do decide to give him a ribbing whenever the moment fits. Scott obliges with plenty of material, and like any sarcastic gobshite, I took the opportunity to add a response. In my mind, we were following the classic repertoires of Morecambe and Wise – to anyone else, it was a smart-arse heckling some well-prepared dad jokes. It helped lighten the mood[***], and in my current condition, I was looking for any chance to channel the current feelings of pain and fatigue into something less angry.[4*]
The ECG continues to beep like a supermarket checkout with laryngitis, and my eyes are checked over with the classic ‘torchlight in the eyeballs’ technique. My bed is covered with a plethora of cables, plastic coverings and padded green boxes; each with a labyrinth of hidden drawers and containers hidden within. Long after their departure, some of the discarded plastic needle covers and wrappers are found under the bed, in the same way a streamer from a party popper will be found under the sofa a month after New Years’ Day: a blameless mess.
Eventually, they’re happy enough to take me to A&E. With bag (complete with phone, charger, notepad, (two) pens and headphones) packed, my natty colonoscopy dressing gown and slippers put on (this probably isn’t the best time to see if I can walk down stairs in these slippers, but, YOLO), and with Scott and Virgil carefully making sure I don’t stack it down the stairs, we head toward the ambulance.
It’s a ten second shuffle from door-to-door, so I politely turn down the option of a wheelchair and head toward the ambulance. Scott says that they’ll occasionally see net curtains twitch whenever they bring a patient out of their house, so they like to make an effort to wave to them, whenever they can.
I steadily haul myself up the ambulance steps, and my ears attune themselves to the short, sharp echoes that ping back from within this TARDIS on wheels, as well as the disconcerting wobble that comes with alighting a vehicle with high walls and forgiving suspension. The paramedics no longer look like giants in here, but it does feel slightly claustrophobic with the doors slammed shut.
“Would you prefer to sit down, or lie on the bed?” asks Scott, as Virgil moves the bags of both Mum and I into areas better suited for safety and practicality. I elect for sitting, as the bed is faced away from the driver, and any recent attempts to sit backwards in a car have swiftly turned into a blind panic.
I decide to ask if it’s okay if I have a sip of water. At this point, my mind is punch-drunk and foggy, my legs feel like matchsticks and my mouth is begging, screaming, for hydration. Like a Thunderbirds puppet stuck in the desert, I just… want… water.
Scott and Virgil look at each other, and shrug.
“Yeah, I don’t see why not,” says Scott. “We’ve got all kinds of things in here,” he says, rummaging around. “This place is like an ice-cream van; we’ve got all kinds of refreshments available on board…”
To which I replied: “In that case, I don’t wanna know where you stick the Flakes…”
You probably had to be there, but it made us all laugh, believe me.
I’m handed a small sachet of water, no larger than a ketchup holder from McDonalds, and peel open the lid. I take a modest sip, and feel the cool water cascade down my throat and into an empty stomach.
That felt good.
…that doesn’t feel good at all…
“I need the toilet,” I say, interrupting Scott.
“Okay,” he responds, “let’s just find you a bowl…”
“Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck…”
The blood surges to the surface of my skin as my trembling hands frantically grab at the tie on my dressing gown that promptly knots at my urgent tugging. My body begins to stiffen in panic ahead of what’s about to happen:
“Oh fuck, shit, shit, shit, shit…”
Voices begin to raise slightly around me as my panic continues to escalate; my vein attempts to find my pyjama trousers are blighted by layers of polyester and cotton as I begin to groan in terror:
“Oh shit, fuck!”[5*]
Out of Scott, Virgil, Gordon, Mum and I, Gordon, sat in the opposite corner of the ambulance with his back to the wall behind the driver’s seat, is the only person not to get caught up in the resulting carnage. The bowl that Scott searched for is presented like a missed prize on Bullseye. If any of the paramedics thought I was exaggerating about only having seconds to reach a toilet…
I needed a change of clothes. Actually, Gordon aside, we all needed a change of clothes.
The paramedics dutifully mopped up the worst of the mess, and went back to what they were doing before I made a literal mess of things. Shortly afterward, Scott tells a terrible dad joke, and I ask him if he could open the blind on the side of the ambulance, so I can watch the tumbleweed go by. (Ab)normal service had resumed.
I Can(‘t) Hear The Sirens Comin’
I stood there in the ambulance, cold, wet and rooted to the spot, as my transverse colon continued to ache with intense disapproval. Thanks to the spike of mild trauma, my nausea returned. The chair I was due to sit on was now out of bounds, so the bed is swiftly arranged for me to lay on. For an extra special treat, they allow me to lay facing forwards, with my head nearest the rear doors. Given all of what’s gone on, it probably seems like the best way to stop me from pebbledashing any more equipment…
My clothes are bagged up, I wipe myself down, and I’m helped onto the bed. The ECG is re-attached (still tachycardic), Scott hands me an oxygen mask and switches on the tank. A gentle hissss of the oxygen and the smell of rubberised plastics greet my face upon application of said mask. The cool breeze upon my nostrils feels like the purest air I’ve ever inhaled (yeah, yeah, I know), and begins to calm me down. I never thought I’d need an oxygen mask for a flare-up, but I wasn’t going to complain – and if I did, I’m pretty sure everyone else on board would happily take the mask off me.
Following my previous exploits, Scott elects to hydrate me using an IV solution instead of the now-infamous ‘water blaster’ technique. With the oxygen perking me up, and after a very long time (sorry everyone), we finally set off. Virgil sets off carefully, and soon flicks on the blue lights. After a few seconds (and a few more gulps of oxygen), I consider asking if he could flick the sirens on for a moment, just for fun (after all, it’s not every day you’re carted off in an ambulance – unless you’re a paramedic, of course), but I realise that it’ll probably get them in a whole world of trouble.
Much to everyone else’s relief, the journey goes without a hitch (I quite enjoy it, actually), and I feel a little sad when Scott takes the oxygen off me upon arrival. My IV bag is placed on the bed, I’m unplugged from the ECG (still slightly tachycardic), and I say that I won’t blame them if they elect to use my head as a battering ram to open the hospital doors. Upon leaving the ambulance, my newly adorned NHS gown informs me while I lay on the stretcher that it is a lot colder now than it was when I left home by way of my freshly exposed backside.
The clock on the wall reads 8:45am as I enter A&E. It’s early Sunday morning, and the reminders of a heavy Saturday night are dotted around blue curtained cubicles. I’m wheeled into one bay, and exchange pleasant nods with an elderly man in an open cubicle opposite, before being switched to another bay further down the ward. Scott, Virgil and Gordon are waiting by the reception desk as I’m wheeled out, so we exchange cheery waves once more. I’m also convinced - more so than ever - that my backside is still on show to all and sundry.
Scott tells Mum that they’ll be in soon with our belongings once the clean-up team have done their job.
It’s now 8:50am in A&E, and I’m exactly where I need to be.
* Not their real names… but you knew that really, didn’t you? [Top]
** My CDs are housed in CD tower units, and were being used as makeshift tables… I’m so on-trend… [Top]
*** This is questionable. [Top]
4* Around this time, Scott mentions (when asked) that they’ve just come from taking a little girl who was “very poorly” to A&E, so this trip was “much lighter” for all three of them to deal with. (And no, this hasn’t been added as some kind of humble-brag…) [Top]
5* I’ve always had an eloquent way with words… [Top]
THE SONG SUPPOSITORY
To shake rears, apply liberally to ears.
Sliding into the Sound Suppository playlist this week is:
A sprawling 10min bug-out, courtesy of The Roots (Water), some debut album classic cuts from Interpol (NYC, from Turn On The Bright Lights) and Bloc Party (Blue Light, from Silent Alarm), a banger from Dizzee Rascal (Sirens), and a song written by a young Willy Mason (Oxygen).
Click on the appropriate pictures below to join the Stool mini-soundtrack experience!