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 8:51am in Accident and Emergency, and just like every other day, it’s busy.
I just about manage to delicately shuffle over from the ambulance bed to the cubicle bed without any help, as my main focus is on keeping my gut as still and quiet as possible. Imagine an action film where the hero has to delicately move a bomb without setting it off, and that’s pretty much me – except I’m a million miles away from heroism… and I’m in a hospital gown.
The staff re-attach me to everything (but stop short of giving me any more oxygen[*]), wrap my name tag around my wrist and pull the curtains of the cubicle shut. My field of vision is reduced to a towering blue wall of fabric that surrounds my bed. The bed itself has been hoisted so high, I feel like I could suffer from altitude sickness at any moment.
Mum is sat on a chair behind me, which - thanks to the height and distance - feels so far away, it may as well have its own time-zone. We have to raise our voices to hear each-other, which, given our close proximity to other patients on either side of our bay, feels a little bit rude.
The patients on both sides of our bay appear to be inhabited by elderly women who are struggling to understand what is happening to them. Ethel, on our left, is finding things difficult due to her hearing, while Mabel to our right is becoming increasingly distressed as she can barely speak any English.
Family members on both sides of the curtains try their best to act as mediators for the medical staff and their loved ones, as requests to provide assistance are negotiated in raised voices or translated through different languages. Confusion and worry litter the intonation of their responses.
From the area of A&E where I was first placed, a woman begins to howl and pray for help. Her throat screams red raw, weary and wizened. After regular pleas for mercy, her words often descend into a maniacal, incoherent mantra, before calling for help once again.
Beyond the curtain, a nurse is overheard stating that the woman is addicted to methadone, and is going through withdrawal.
Not long after, another nurse is heard informing her colleague that main hospital reception is in lockdown because someone is threatening people with a weapon.
It’s barely 9:30am.
Sticky Back Drastic
A variety of medical professionals enter the blue cavern to ask questions, jot notes and look at me sternly. The heart monitor I’m connected to occasionally bleeps into life, and it takes me a while to realise it’s because my tachycardic heartrate has reached a level that isn’t very good at all, which, of course, elevates my heartrate further still.
Despite feeling tired, sick and in pain, I feel lucid. I feel ready to answer every question with clarity of thought and an assertive voice. These are the people who can fix me, so, like an F1 driver talking to their mechanics, I want to provide them with every tiny detail so they can put things right.
First off, I need a second cannula (aka, an IV). This one’s for my right arm. My unease of needles from a few months ago has finally departed – it’s funny what being very ill and no longer having an option to worry will do to one’s mindset. The nurse arrives, checks my veins, and begins to insert the needle:
Right Brain: Ow, you MOTHERFUCKER! SON OF A... OW! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!
Nurse: “Ooh... I think I’ve gone through the vein there. I’ll have to try somewhere else…”
The nurse hadn’t just ‘gone through the vein’; they’d done the equivalent of driving a tank onto M1 before barrelling straight through the central reservation and accidentally shelling Watford Gap Services. After making a hash of the largest vein on my arm, I’m not feeling confident about their chances on a smaller one…
Right Brain: HHHNGH. Ow.
Attempt number two is a success. Relief all round. It would be months until the M1 fully recovered; the prospect of losing the A1(M) for a similar period wasn’t worth thinking about.
Nurse: “Let me just check the other cannula on your left arm...”
Right Brain: BACK THE FUCK OFF MY LEFT ARM!
The nurse disappears back through the blue curtains, never to be seen again. Part of me wouldn’t be surprised to find out that they were the person threatening others with a weapon in main reception after all…
My right arm fizzed with pain. I was 0.5% plastic, sticky tape and cotton wool, or, alternatively, 8.5% Blue Peter Tracey Island. Next into the blue cavern were a gang of doctors and nurses who wanted to check me over for various things – and by ‘various things’, I mean, ‘various bum-related things’. One asks me if I would be okay with a prostate exam:
“Okay,” I say, “but I have haemorrhoids, so I’m not sure how you’re going to do that easily…”
“Can you not just push them back in?” asks one nurse, saying it like she was asking me to pop a stray bollock back into a pair of Speedos. They were already in, that’s the point - my bumhole doesn’t resemble a pauper’s vineyard…
Nevertheless, a prostate exam is required, so they…um… press on, and gently roll me onto my left-hand side, leaving me pressed up against the steel bars of my mountain bed. Previous prostate exams hadn’t been that big of a deal, so I’m sure that, somehow, this would be the sa-FUCK FUCK FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK FUCK FUCK FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!
I begin to squirm and scramble like a cat sliding down a pair of curtains. This seriously HURTS. All of these moments of pain in A&E are beginning to feel like methods of torture. I’m not sure what information I’m supposed to be withholding from them, but they sure as hell won’t find it stuck up there, at any rate...
After what feels like a lifetime[**], the doctor either: a) finds the nuclear launch codes, or, b) finds out what’s wrong with me, and leaves me to whimper and grumble for a while. I also realise that, due to the close proximity of the curtain wall, I was probably swearing right in Ethel’s face during the whole rigmarole. Poor Ethel.
Sometime later, I’m carted off to x-ray to have my stomach and chest ‘papped (apparently, they’re “not allowed” to give you copies to post on Facebook[***]). Scott, Virgil and Gordon are still waiting in reception, so I give them a salute and a cheery wave on the way there, and again on the way back. With a slight breeze again bothering my hind quarters, I concede that there can’t be anyone left in A&E who hasn’t seen it and try to relax into the freedom, in the most un-creepy way possible.
Anyways, the poor radiologist in the x-ray department had just found out that I was unintentionally going commando when helping me get positioned correctly for my scans, leaving him to utter the surprised “uuhooop!” noise[4*] that most people seem to make in hospitals when presented with an accidental gentleman’s sausage.[5*]
All of this unwanted attention around my ‘sensitive areas’ was beginning to chip away at my self-esteem, as being both ill and exposed can make you feel like you’re hopeless and incapable of managing yourself. I toss it onto the ‘loss of dignity’ pile, and bury it at the pit of my stomach for now: after all, I could do with the sustenance…
Soon afterwards, Scott brings through our (soiled) belongings in a bright yellow bag, and I’m given my first course of IV drugs: hydrocortisone (a previously-mentioned steroid that can calm the flare-up), and cyclizine, which helps to combat nausea, vomiting and dizziness – although at this moment in time, I struggle to remember their names.
The nurse tells me that some people can have a reaction to this combo, so after squirting the cold liquid into my veins, they look at me sternly for a brief period until I shrug and say that I feel okay. I don’t feel any less shit, so that’s a good start.
Scott returns, and tells us that they’re (finally) off. He wishes us all the best, and we can’t thank him enough. At this moment, I genuinely want Scott, Virgil and Gordon to look after me throughout my stay in hospital.
A brief interlude later, I’m told that I’ll be moving to a ward soon. The nurse pulls back the blue curtains in preparation (and probably to check that I don’t have a sudden reaction to the drugs) and says that they’d quite like my heartrate to go down a little bit more before they send me packing.
It’s nearer the 100bpm mark at present (quelle surprise), so I try my level best to control my breathing and help bring it down. I peer behind my left shoulder to see the heart monitor, which (foolishly) only makes my heartrate increase again.
95… 93… 91… 93… 91… 95… 97… 100 *BEEP BEEP* 101… *BEEP BEEP*
SHIT, SORRY… *Looks elsewhere briefly*
98… 94… 95… 91… 93… 91… 89… 91… 89… 88… 89… 93… 88…
Predictably, this went on for ages.
Thankfully, I had plenty to watch. With my curtains pulled back, and the rails acting like a border in my line of sight, the A&E appeared to look like my own personal documentary series on a giant TV screen. A nurses station posted opposite from my bay is a regular meeting place for staff to discuss their plans of action for patients elsewhere. When talking to a passing nurse about this, she tells me not to sue them before heading back off.
(She was only half-joking.)
Eventually, it’s time to be moved. The normally busy corridors of people have been replaced with rows of cages full of used laundry, making this part of the hospital feel like a backstage area to the real thing. The porter pushes me into the cardiac ward. Is this to do with my tachycardia? (Answer: No. It’s a Sunday morning; everywhere else is full.)
When we’d been taken in by Scott and co, he’d told us to make sure we ask for a side room. Although hospitals clearly aren’t hotels, a side room would make sure that I had my own toilet, allowing me to go whenever I needed in relative privacy – which, as I think we can all agree, is quite a bit. The idea of having to go onto an open ward had already been stressing me out for that very reason, so knowing I already had someone thinking ahead on my behalf was a huge relief.
I think any concerns I had were emphatically revoked when I decided to go through my spell of projectile pooping on the paramedics, as having someone like that on an open ward isn’t good for the health of other patients, let alone mine - but it was still a joy to see my bed being wheeled toward a set of doors at the end of the ward that bared the words “SIDE ROOM 2” on them.
The porter labours to unlatch the two doors, before struggling to get all three sets of lights to switch on in the room. For some unbeknown reason, the trio of lights only have two switches to turn them on and off, meaning that one requires to flick them on and off in a variety of combinations that would stump some of the contestants playing The Crystal Maze.
With an automatic lock-in avoided, I transfer myself from the A&E bed to the cardiac bed. Shortly after that, the porter calls out “uuhooop!” while making sure I was tucked in correctly, and the classy transfer into my new surroundings is complete. Mum puts my few essentials into the wooden bedside cabinet, and I start adjusting the bed because I’ve watched far too many episodes of The Simpsons to miss this opportunity.
I’ve lucked out by being in the cardiac ward: due to recent renovations, this room is large[6*], modern-looking, air-conditioned, and comes with a free-to-use TV high up on the wall, rather than the pay-per-channel systems that appear on a lot of wards. The placement in the hospital means that there’s no natural light, but the trio of clear lights give the room a friendly, inviting feel.
A steady procession of doctors begin to file into the room, and my once-lucid brain begins to flag under the detail of repetitive questions. The last few weeks had taken a toll on my perception of time, so I was beginning to confuse when certain events had occurred. Thankfully, Mum was able to set the timeline straight, although at the time it was a source of minor frustration. In my head, I knew I meant to say the right thing, but nothing made sense when I began talking.
Irrelevant details, such as whether or not they would class Sunday as the start - or the end - of the week were doing nothing to help my clouding thoughts.
A nurse helpfully turns the TV on, and we stare at the near-muted screen for a few moments. Neither of us is particularly bothered about what’s on: Terry Wogan appears to have been interviewed - so far, so Sunday. It’s too early for Points of View, though. Hang on, do they still show Points of View? Surely that’s what social media and comments sections are there for nowadays…
Other well-known faces appear on screen. Everyone looks solemn.
Mum finds the volume button on the side of the TV before the headlines are read out:
“Terry Wogan has died…”
It’s nearly midday.
Mum pops down to the hospital shops and brings back a copy of Q, which this month has a free Empire to go with it. Tributes flood my consciousness: both magazines carry obituaries for David Bowie and Alan Rickman. Q also carries a piece about the passing of Lemmy; although his inclusion already feels cruelly outdated.
I’m left to my own devices, as Mum decides its time for her to head home. Neither of us has had anything close to a semi-decent nights’ sleep since Friday; she says she’ll be back in tomorrow. I reach for my phone and begin informing people that I’m: a) in hospital, but, b) not to worry, before working out the fine margins between getting to the bathroom whilst being attached to a drip - while making sure that the drip doesn’t block the view of the TV...
The moments after I’d defecated everywhere inside the ambulance had been one of the worst culminative experiences I’d experienced, so I enjoyed the chance to reclaim a bit of control and harmony over my life - no matter how trivial it appeared.
Hospital Feng shui complete, I turn my attention to the TV. With no remote to use (it is the NHS…), I look for the power button, but come up empty. Where in the hell was it?!
It’s not on either side…
…not on the front…
How in God’s name is this the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with today?!
It’s 12:30pm on a Sunday afternoon…
* Bastards… [Top]
** Probably 5 seconds. [Top]
*** Bastards. Again. [Top]
4* It’s a confused flurry of ‘oh’, ‘uh’ and ‘oops’ that blurts out at the same time, while the brain scrambles to unsee the last few seconds of its existence. [Top]
6* It appears to have room for two beds, as well as an ‘en suite’. I can honestly say that I’ve paid to stay in hotel rooms that weren’t as good as this, but that says more about me, I guess… [Top]
THE SONG SUPPOSITORY
To shake rears, apply liberally to ears.
Joining our Sound Suppository playlist this week:
An iconic effort by Jimmy Eat World (A Sunday), a suitably unhinged System of a Down (Needles), an 8 minute gem from David Bowie (Absolute Beginners), a star cameo by Zack de la Rocha on Run The Jewels' Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck), and a false-ending frenzy, courtesy of Motörhead (Overkill).
Click on the appropriate pictures below to play the Stool mini-soundtrack experience!
Added This Week:
Jimmy Eat World
Added This Week:
System Of A Down
Added This Week:
Added This Week:
Run The Jewels
Close Your Eyes...
Added This Week:
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