Incredible Journey (without the submarine)
The last couple of weeks have taught me a couple of valuable lessons.
I won’t go into a huge amount of detail, but I’ve been suffering from some fairly uncomfortable digestive issues over the last few months. These have manifested as altered bowel habit and worsening pain.
Like many people I dislike discussing things of a deeply personal nature, and put off seeking medical advice. I tried various changes to my diet (in case I’d developed an intolerance to certain foods) and I gave probiotics a go.
Side note: The things are expensive! Considering that you can find bacteria growing on your bathroom taps, it seems crazy that you can pay upwards of £50 for a tub of pills.
The drugs don’t work
Anyway, the probiotics didn’t make a whole lot of difference and the pain was getting worse. So I went to my doctor. He examined me (not the most gentle of men – I know the NHS is underfunded, but one thing I would not skimp on is KY jelly), and recommended that I see a specialist.
Luckily my employer has health insurance for all of its employees, so I was able to get an appointment fairly quickly. The new doctor listened patiently to my symptoms and suggested that I have a colonoscopy to rule out anything serious.
A colonoscopy, if you’ve not heard the term before, is a procedure where the doctor uses a long flexible scope with a camera on it to look at your ENTIRE colon. Normally it’s carried out while the patient is sedated (more on this later), and the the doctor is able to take tiny samples of colon tissue to check in a lab for signs of things like cancer or colitis.
This is not something I’d ever thought I have to go through (although as a nurse I’d assisted in the procedure many times back in the 90s), but I felt that for my peace of mind I should go ahead.
Preparation if key
I was booked in for the procedure the following week and sent home with a box of powder that I had to mix up into a drink to be consumed the day before the colonoscopy.
To be honest, the thought of having to use this medicine (it’s called Moviprep) scared me more than the procedure. Moviprep is designed to completely empty the patient’s bowel so that the doctor can see everything clearly with his scope.
So the day before I drank the mixture (a litre of what can only be described as a cross between salt water and lemonade) and spent two hours in the loo. The next morning I had to do the same again before going to the hospital at 2pm.
Never stop learning
I learnt three things over the next couple of hours.
1 – Sedation doesn’t work for everyone. The promise of a drug induced haze followed by drug induced amnesia turned out to be a hollow one. I felt and remember everything.
2 – I never realised that I could, even with a meter of camera scope inserted, feel a small sense of pride at how clean my lower intestine looked on the big screen positioned in front of me.
3 – Despite making it one of my life rules that I should never see my internal organs, I’m weirdly pleased to have seen my appendix.
Opportunities come from unlikely places
You’ll be pleased to know that the doctor found nothing bad, and that the entire experience was nowhere near as bad as I had been imagining.
Having endured several days of a bland diet, followed by 24 hours of nothing but water and Moviprep, I took the view that this would be a good time to repopulate my intestinal flora with top quality bacteria. As unpleasant as the whole experience was I did feel weirdly reset. So I made sure that I had a good stock of moderately expensive probiotic capsules and have been taking them for the last week or so.
This experience has been terrifying, uncomfortable, and inconvenient. It’s also set my mind at ease, and allowed me to focus on other factors that may be affecting my digestive health.
The whole process has happened in a month where I am about to change jobs – a period of both stress and personal upheaval.
However, there’s never going to be a good time to invest in your health, and ignoring symptoms is a great way of storing up more serious problems for later.
I am starting my new job knowing that I don’t have bowel cancer, Crohn’s disease, colitis or any of the other conditions that my mind had dwelt on for the last few months.
Totally worth it.