#7: The Shitemare Before Christmas
Ul (ull) cer (sir) a (uh) tive (tiv)
Col (coll) i (eye) tis (tiss)
A lifelong, chronic illness affecting the large intestine and a literal definition of “shit happens”.
See Also: Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), diarrhoea, colon, rectum, embarrassing social stigma.
It took three days to fully recover from my colon camera caper, but no sooner had my body begun to forget about the purging, drugging and probing, I was heading back to hospital again.
Thankfully, it was only to meet my specialist GP for the first time. After spending the entire weekend fretting about being gutted like a fish before Christmas*, I was glad to be able to talk to someone who could set me straight about what’s going on; but first, I had to deal with the song selection being played in the specialists’ waiting room:
“All our times have come,
Here but now they're gone,
Seasons don't fear the reaper,
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain, we can be like they are,
Come on baby, don't fear the reaper,
Baby take my hand, don't fear the reaper,
We'll be able to fly, don't fear the reaper,
Baby I'm your man…”
Yup. I wasn’t even a week into my new life as an IBD patient, and Blue Öyster Cult were already telling me not to (Fear) The Reaper while I sat in hospital. What a time to be alive…
* ‘Gutted like a fish before Christmas’ is such a sixth-form poet line...
If I thought that would be the end of my current bout of WhatTheFuckeries, I was proven wrong soon after, when upon meeting my specialist for the first time, she began by saying the following:
Doc: “I’m sorry to tell you…” *Long pause*
Left Brain: Oh shit…
Doc: “…that…” *Longer pause*
Right Brain: WHAT? THIS ISN’T X-FACTOR, WHAT IS WRO-
Doc: “…we don’t appear to have your biopsy results back yet.”
Right Brain: OH FOR THE LOVE OF… THAT’S IT?! I ONLY HAD IT DONE THREE DAYS AGO, JESUS…
Thankfully, before I asked to be seen by someone who wasn’t like Dr. Hartman in Family Guy, the specialist informed me that I had nothing to worry about, and that there were many levels of UC treatment available before they’d even consider gutting me like a fish – so that was a relief.
Even better, I was told to carry on eating and drinking as I had been before. For now, there was no reason for them to do much, aside from giving me a sachet of Pentasa to ingest before breakfast and dinner. Thursday’s missing UC leaflets were in the post; everything was fine.
All what was left for me to do was to pick up my coat and awkwardly tiptoe out of the room while the specialist started dictating the appointment for my medical notes.
They could at least wait until I’m out of the room before talking about me… jeez.*
* To be fair, they did ask if it was okay for them to start dictating… but…
Just So We All Know:
Pentasa is a granule-based medicine that helps to reduce the inflammation and painful symptoms regularly associated with Ulcerative Colitis. It is often found in sachets ranging in size from 1g to 4g, and consists of an anti-inflammatory ingredient called Mesalazine.
To take the Pentasa, you pour the contents of the sachet onto your tongue, before washing it down immediately with either water or orange juice. Never attempt to chew the granules. First: because it’ll stop the Pentasa from working correctly. Second: because they taste like shit.
The Pentasa was a replacement of sorts for Fybogel, which, I later found out, can irritate the Gastrointestinal (or GI) tract, which travels from the mouth to the anus.
"Roses Are Red, I Violently Poo.."
With the weight lifted from my shoulders once again, I headed into town to buy a box of Roses and Quality Street for Christmas, because I know how to party. I finally knew what my illness was, I knew I didn’t have to be too worried about things at present, and I felt, with the help of the hospital, that it was a manageable condition.
I also felt part of a whole new group of people, too: people who were in the same boat, and would probably nod along knowingly if I said I had to poo in a bin bag once. I felt quite empowered...
The next week sailed by; but as we rounded the final corner onto the home straight for Christmas Eve-Eve, something felt odd. My gut felt full, bloated, currently stopping short of a dull ache. It was a heavy weight that had hooked into the lining of my colon and stretched it downward like a taught canvas.
There was no movement; no growling or gurgling; no feeling of compliance if a change of posture was considered. Like the baddies in a psychological thriller; it just sat there.*
* Unlike the baddies in a psychological thriller, this one sat in my transverse colon. It would be weird if every psychological thriller had to start in my colon, and I currently have no desire to audition for that part… Unless you offered me millions of pounds. I’d probably consider that.
This feeling carried through until the evening. After heroically polishing off a plate of homemade spaghetti Bolognese, I sprawled out on the living room sofa and waited for nature (and gravity) to take its merry course.
At the stroke of midnight on the 23rd, it happened. A deep thunderclap rolled around my large intestine like a rider on the wall of death*. It was time to run to the toilet.
* The ‘Thunderclap’ noise is pretty common with my UC. The colon will quite often make a lot of angry noises shortly before needing the toilet (it’s usually wind-assisted), but the ‘Thunderclap’ is one that (literally) shakes your arse ropes and tells you, “You’ve got 10 seconds. Run.”
The outcome was concerning. The visitor inside my intestine unfurled a carpet of hot coals across the top of my colon, leaving the insides to swell with inflamed, bloated discomfort, meaning that every piece of digested food scraped along the intestinal walls like acid on exposed skin.
My heartbeat thudded through the thinning walls of my abdomen like a tribal distress call to the brain to send something – anything – to counteract this panicked, unrelenting, blood-tinged evacuation.
After thirty minutes, the tirade had paused, but my first flare-up had begun. Christmas (dinner) was cancelled.
Just So We All Know:
A ‘flare-up’ is the term used for when the symptoms of Ulcerative Coltis become acute (such as excessive trips to the toilet, diarrhoea (possibly bloody), extreme weight loss, fatigue, abdominal pains, etc). The symptoms, regularity, severity and length of a ‘flare-up’ will vary for every individual, and the direct cause of the ‘flare-up’ may not be clear*. The need to go to the toilet during a ‘flare-up’ can be very distressing, too, as the body may only be able to hold on for less than ten seconds before starting to ‘go’.
* A contributing factor of diet, stress or lifestyle can potentially contribute to a ‘flare-up’, but it’s not always definitive.
During a ‘flare-up’, it’s likely that a change of diet will need to occur. One such diet is the Low Fibre Diet, where high fibre foods along with other items that can cause irritation (such as alcohol and fizzy drinks) will be excluded until the ‘flare-up’ stops. Other anti-inflammatory medicines, such as steroid or mesalazine-based tablets, sachets, enemas or suppositories may be provided to help control the ‘flare-up’. If the ‘flare-up’ continues, other options, such as immunotherapy treatment or surgery may be considered*, although all of these options – dietary or otherwise – will vary on the individual’s needs.
* These options can vary, depending on your location (especially if you live outside of the UK).
Curiosity Killed The Shat
Despite this festive setback, part of me was quite intrigued and, naïvely, excited about the prospect of having a different diet over Christmas. Instead of the usual roasties, pigs in blankets and, well, more pigs in blankets, I’d be trying a new, flare-up friendly diet that arrived in the leaflets sent through from the hospital. Plus, it would mean that the usual Christmas dinner would taste extra wonderful once I’d seen off this flare-up and gone back to my usual diet once more – possibly in January, maybe February. The novelty of experiencing a later Christmas merely indulged my inexperience even further.
So far, everything I’d experienced or been told by members of staff was that there was nothing to be too concerned about. After nearly a year of considering the worst, having evidence that stated the contrary provided a joy and relief that masked the serious pitfalls of having UC - and as you can imagine, it didn’t take long for those illusions to be shattered completely.
THE SOng SUPPOSITORY
Every Too Cool For Stool story comes with its own mini-soundtrack - and it’s all available in the Song Suppository!
This week sees additions by Blue Öyster Cult ((Don’t Fear) The Reaper), Outkast (Roses), The Prodigy (Thunder) and Them Crooked Vultures (Mind Eraser, No Chaser).
All Stool songs are chosen because of a real-life moment, tenuous musical link or terrible pun. See if you can spot them all!