Too Upbeat for Cancer - Detailing A Rubbish Year And A Bit

Chapter 3 - The Gastronenterology Ward, Sponsored By David Cronenberg


My stomach fully deflated I returned to the ward with a thousand yard stare fixed in my eyes. It was lunchtime and Ray had acquired a 2nd meal. It was a curry. Ray's colourful language, normally reserved for preserves, suggested it was a little spicy for his tastes.

As I say, I'd never had a hospital stay and seeing as how I'd been left in a corner of the hospital especially designed to keep me from getting an internet connection, I had a chance to observe the staff. I had some insight being married to a GP but I thought I'd give you a handy guide to the medical professionals, as I saw them, in layman's terms.

- Nurses. Nurses seem to do 95% of the work for 5% of the money. They work 12 hour shifts, take most of the abuse, mop up bodily fluids 24/7, make beds, never complain, have never ending patience and boundless compassion and good humour. If you're not a nurse, stop moaning about your job.
- Junior Doctors/Medical Students - Identified by their nice new comfortable shoes and fixed smiles. Frequently sent like Faye Wray to King Kong to deliver difficult news to patients. Permanently wild eyed. Inexplicably, the female of this species often has a little shoulder bag they clutch proudly like a life jacket. If all else fails, look for the disdain and pity in the eyes of the nurses when they speak to them.
- Consultants - Move at speed with a horde of the above dragged in their wake. Behave like the Wizard of Oz. Endlessly knowledgable. Can sometimes assume they know the answer because of years of acquired knowledge. No-one disagrees with anything they say.
- All other doctors inbetween - Smartly dressed, ground down, broken, overworked, in need of a hug. Do everything the nurses can't and consultants won't - apart from take blood. That's a cruel trick they like to play on the juniors.

We tried to entertain ourselves as the medical profession largely ignored us. I attempted to create a new trend on Instagram - #shitdinnersoninstagram (it didn't catch on); we tried to get our nurse who resembled Cheryl Baker to sing some Bucks Fizz classics, and I spent 16 hours downloading (legally, mind) the latest episode of Walking Dead from a windowsill.

Patients came and went without warning - presumably into a Franz Kafka novel - and I reached my third full day without having spoken to a Dr. That was when the medical WMD that is my wife decided to unleash itself. On Monday afternoon she stormed the ward. I heard her before I saw her. She had her 'ward shoes' on, you could hear the clack a mile off. I then saw a hapless doctor staggering backwards, I think my wife was unimpressed. Strangely, an hour later, another doctor came to speak to us. I say us, I mean 'totally blank me and talk about me in the third person'.

He (I have to say he, because he never told us his name. Why is that so challenging?) worked for the consultant whose 'care' I was under (I don't know his name either, I never met him) and explained that as I wasn't an emergency and there were no clear signs of immediate disease, my treatment would be slower. I asked why that wouldn't mean they'd want to get me sorted and free up the bed and his response was to respond to my wife, the doctor. If this were a cartoon the top of my head would have tooted steam like a portly steam engine. "She may be a doctor but right now she is this patient's wife - can you please start speaking to me, the patient, not her". By the look on his face you'd think I'd voided myself on his snazzy loafers. I think I should have been grateful for my bullfrog shenanigans that morning because it 'ruled out a serious bleed' and no, it wasn't cancer - I was too young for that and didn't exhibit all the signs. SO THAT'S OK.

The NHS must be effing brilliant at surprise parties because a nurse appeared that evening to proclaim at some point soon I'd be off to gastroenterology. They didn't know when, but it would happen. Oh yes, it would. Naive fool that I was, I got excited. At around 10 they came for me just as I was preparing for my beauty sleep. That hirsute prankster Jeremy Beadle had nothing on them. And off we go to Gastroenterology!

I think it was S Club 7 who sang 'there ain't no party like a gastroenterological party' and boy were they right. Cinemas pop popcorn at peak times to welcome patrons and this sprawling ward had, seemingly, hidden a few kilos of shit behind the radiators to welcome me, and then shoved me in a tiny cubicle -one of 8 - in the corner. But hey, I got a 3G signal. Bloody Sky Go still didn't work though. Before I recount my fellow patients (several of whom eerily resembled former Dr. Whos), let's applaud this decision. I like to call it 8 Broken Bowels, 1 Toilet. That's right, there were 8 men with a tenuous grip on their sphincters, and 1 toilet. It would be a Faecal Battle Royale. Whilst I had youth and determination going my way, I was furthest away. We began sizing one another up in our turd race.

Anyway, let's meet the gang!

- William Hartnell mainly lay there and crapped himself. He'd weakly cry 'nurse, I did it again' and a long suffering nurse would come and clean him up.
- Colin Baker is the only patient I met who I couldn't have any sympathy for. An alcoholic in grubby 'Beer Monster' socks, his gown didn't fit and he ensured I got to see his flabby arse at every opportunity. Happily, he also liked to shit himself.
- Jon Pertwee mainly screamed that motorbikes were trying to fly through the window and his catheter hurt. He also proclaimed very hour, like Big Ben, that his neighbour enjoyed 'a bit of slap and tickle'.
- That was Paul McGann. He was desperately ill. He'd been there a long time, was jaundiced and had tubes pouring out of him. I had a horrible vision of the future. He was only a few years older than me.

The other two patients kept themselves to themselves, like me, but there was an overwhelming sadness to the room. We were all broken and in different ways humiliated. Some had just given up, others had no choice. Hope wasn't in abundance there, and the steely eyed nurses worked hard to mop and wipe and tolerate and console and give hope. No pun intended, they took an awful lot of shit without batting an eyelid. It was a desperately hopeless place.

I settled down in the semi glow around midnight, exhausted. Hartnell voided himself. Pertwee said the nurses hated him and he shouted that he'd now let himself die, over and over and over and over. My neighbours multiple drips beeped and the air hung heavy with industrial strength air freshener. And I broke. I finally succumbed and sobbed my heart out. I wept in despair and self pity. I cried for my little boy who wanted his Daddy and for my wife desperately trying to hold everything together. I didn't want to die. I couldn't stop crying.

The next morning saw a glimmer of hope. I met my consultant Gastroenterologist and his UN delegation of young ladies with shiny new over the shoulders napsacks. He was a lovely, smart, articulate gent who swiftly diagnosed me with either Crohn's or Ulcerative Colitis. But not cancer. Too young for that. A flexible sigmoidoscopy should uncover the disease. Sounds great, whatever the hell that is, I thought.

The next day was pretty nondescript barring a visit from the in-laws and my boss, and a dietician. Because of my diagnosis I was to go a low residue diet. This is designed to keep you to easily digested foods to reduce toilet trips and consisted of either a) beige food or b) food I hated. But fine, whatever helps me get better.

The final hurdle was the flexible sigmoidoscopy. I'd googled it, and wished I hadn't. Beadle was once again about when on the Friday morning, a week after admission, a grim faced nurse appeared carrying a towel, a comedy sized syringe and a significant bottle of liquid. There was only one place that was going. I lay in the foetal position and proffered my peachy buttocks to the gods of endoscopy and thought of England. You know what comes next. It was over pretty quick and really just felt...weird.....

I sat for a while wondering why it hadn't worked. I asked the nurse a few times and she kind of smirked. The third time I managed to say 'honestly, nothing is...' At which point my eyes came out on stalks and I made a break for the loo. Pertwee best not be in there - I estimated I had maybe 20 seconds of bottom control at best. I'd move so fast the nurse could see my shadow hovering mid-air, Wile E Coyote style.

And I emptied half the planet into the loo.

And I got up, satisfied.

Then I went bug eyed.

So I emptied the other half of the planet into the loo.

Fully clear I strided off to manfully take a camera up the bum.

A flexible sigmoidoscopy is just the same deal as a camera down the throat, but up the other end. Same room, same camera, hopefully excellent camera cleaning techniques. The procedure is about 15 minutes of your bum hole panicking a your stomach feeling wiggly and full as they record the lower half of your digestive system. Biopsies were taken - basically a little click clack in my guts and a peculiar feeling for a moment. They essentially had little scissors snipping at my bowel lining. They saw nothing. Clean as a whistle. I always thought they'd find a semi digested heifer based on my meat consumption but I looked good.

Hang on, wasn't there supposed to be scarring or something? Where the bloody hell had the blood come from?

As the Doctor got to the last few cm of camera I experienced an incredible stabbing pain. A bit like a really sore blister being rubbed by a shoe, but in my guts. I shrieked like a great big girly-girl. Looking all clear the decision was made to save me any more discomfort and end the procedure.

My bloods and vital signs had improved and my guts looked clear and I had begun pacing like a caged lion (mainly because I thought I was going to miss my Derren Brown show I had tickets for that night) so the decision was made to discharge me. At 4pm on Friday 15th of March, I gently shuffled out of hospital with a sack of gastro tablets, painkillers and iron tablets (more on those bad boys soon), and a plan for a colonoscopy and follow up clinic. I even celebrated with a steak dinner.

Things were looking up.

Weren't they?

Coming Soon: Chapter 4 - ENTER CLARKSON

Chapter 4 - Enter Clarkson »

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