Journey to the Centre of the Colon-a gastric Odyssey [with apologies to Jules Verne]

I made a promise when I began this blog-the ramblings of an ageing female-that health issues would not be at the forefront of every post. Every now and then, however there is bound to be some blot on the fitness horizon and this particular blot appears to have eclipsed normal life like a blackout curtain.

In an ironic curve the disease I have eventually been diagnosed with is not at all age related, more an unfortunate plague of a far younger demographic. What is it? It is ulcerative colitis; nasty and incurable, yes, life threatening-well no, supposedly not, except that the odds of more sinister complaints are increased.

Whilst Fiction Month was running its [highly satisfactory] course the writer was undergoing many weeks of initial terror followed by exhaustion and desperation as the slow wheels of our UK health service ground along; well-meaning and efficient but over-stretched and ponderous.

During the past two months life has shrunk back within the walls of the house, where access to bathroom facilities provides a secure reassurance-for now, the only factor that matters. This disease, as all inflammatory bowel diseases [Crohn’s is another] is neither romantic nor noble, reducing us, the sufferers to the most basic of needs- a toilet and means of cleaning up. A walk, shopping trip or evening out becomes an activity to be undertaken with trepidation and vast amounts of planning, but mostly not at all.

With Christmas rearing up I fall eagerly on the reassuring presence of the internet while fantasising about strolling around Christmas markets, choosing ‘real’ items, stopping for coffees, enjoying the ambience of the ‘Alpine Bar’ that popped up in our local town [according to Facebook].

Between sojourns enclosed within the shiny, tiled cell of the lavatory I have enjoyed the luxury of unlimited research time, during which I have discovered the unfathomable ocean of misery that is undergone by those who suffer chronic illness. I am castigated by the small but dedicated carers that are my immediate family for doing this, but to me, ignorance can never be a pleasure. The more I know, the better I am prepared.

The GP [local doctor] who was my first port of call has kindly followed up with inquiries regarding diagnosis and progress but clearly is at a loss to know how to provide cheer amid the gloom. ‘You are on a journey’, she tells me and I refrain from advising her that my travel plans have reduced down to the few steps it takes to achieve the safety of the loo. She does mean well.

In all I have not failed to recognise that I am extremely lucky to have Husband-supporting without false cheer, and Offspring-resilient in her newly acquired nurse’s knowledge. Messages, however brief, from some of those who I’ve plucked up the courage to inform are more appreciated than they can know.

So far treatment cannot be described as an unmitigated success, although I recognise it is still ‘early days’ and that there are further options along what the doctor calls the ‘journey’.

I am learning to appreciate home comforts and I am catching up [via the wonder that is ‘Blinkbox’] on TV and film I missed when I was engaged in more worthy activities.

One tragic casualty has been my writing, the pursuit of which has escaped me. This may change-who knows? What a blessing we none of us know what lies ahead!

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Notes on Decline

In her position as increasingly informed health professional, [regular readers will know that she returned to the maternal fold for a round of study for another degree], Offspring has mustered the kindness to advise me that I will know I have five years left before I shuffle off into the ether by the absence of my olfactory sense.
I have never been advantaged in my sense of smell. As a child I suffered with hay fever and spent weeks with a streaming nose and eyes during times of high pollen. An enhanced ability to smell can be both an advantage and a blight! I may be the last person in the hotel to smell the smoke but I am able to avoid nausea by being unaffected by the more unpleasant odours.
In the event that I might actually want to know when I am about to pop my clogs my sense of smell may not be a reliable indicator. Other factors, however may point in the general direction of snuffing it. To ascertain some of them it seems reasonable to look to your parents’ old age, the ailments they began to pick up, their lifestyles and their resistance.
In later life my father developed asthma-an unpleasant and often distressing condition-and also eczema. It is a mystery why all this descended upon him in his sixties, but it is now my legacy to have inherited the eczema, a complaint which is not in the least dangerous or threatening but which is, at times, torture.
At night, especially I began to wake to the sensation of thousands of small needles prickling my arms and back. I stayed awake-trying to defy the onslaught by employing ‘mind over matter’. I applied cold flannels, Calomine and ‘stop-the-itch’ cream. The hours passed in a turmoil of raking nails and tram-lined skin resulting only in an increase of the itch factor. I researched the internet. I sought help.
Initially I followed advice regarding liberal moisturising, eschewing soap and shower gel etc. The results were disappointing. I rushed out and purchased emollients of various types, slathering each in turn upon the offending areas of skin. For a few days sun block cream seemed like a miracle cure; then it didn’t.
At last I resorted to the GP, needing only a telephone consultation to be granted a prescription for steroid cream. I must admit I was disappointed, having considered I could beat the problem without recourse to professionals. But there is the inevitable and there is the view from the descent-the downhill slope; if only eczema were the sole ailment!
Not wishing for this blog to deteriorate into a hypochondriac rant I am reluctant to launch into all the other [granted-trivial] health disorders that have crept into my life in an insidious, sneaking invasion but there are times when an additional irritant, such as the arrival of the eczema serves as a reminder of the finite nature of lifespan and that, yes, it is all downhill from here!

Confession of a Hypocrite

                Anyone who has followed Anecdotage since the start will know what my opinions are on the National Health Service. It was a wonderful concept and is a precious resource to be preserved at all costs. I still think this. But after eight months of crippling heel pain and having followed all instructions as to exercise [no impact, stretch the Achilles, roll the instep, bottle of ice] and having exhausted all the options the NHS can offer [ultrasound and steroid jabs], I am now faced with waiting yet another 6 weeks to see a specialist or going against my principles and seeing someone privately.

                I wouldn’t be doing this but for the facts that: a] I have yet to see the same GP twice regarding the problem, b] I have had to return to the GP surgery despite the physio’s recommendation for referral and c] The latest locum doctor-a young man called Sergei, handed me some sheets printed from a website with information I had ingested many months ago at the start of my own research and d] He concluded this brief consultation by shrugging his shoulders, indicating in no uncertain terms that he is unable, unwilling and uninterested in the difficulty.

                Of course I do understand that the condition is not life threatening. It is neither high profile [as, for instance, cancer] nor unusual. It is, however debilitating, painful, miserable, quality-of-life depriving and impacts hugely on overall fitness. If you are unable to exercise over a prolonged period you become unfit. Does it not make sense to enable people to exercise and thus keep themselves as healthy as possible?

                In a similar, parallel action I succumbed to my long-held, shallow, frivolous desire for whiter teeth by setting up an appointment with my own National Health dentist. Motivated by an approaching wedding, I was unaware that a certain amount of time would be needed to complete this cosmetic treatment, so waited one week for an assessment appointment to be told there was not enough time!

                I rang a local private practice. ‘Of course!’ affirmed the receptionist immediately-‘and we have a special offer for April!’ Result! My appointment was next day. I sank into a soft, leather armchair and watched TV until called. I was offered tea [rejected due to having clean teeth]. The dentist took photos-‘Yes-there is still time!’ BUT [of course there is a ‘but’] you will need this, this and this done before the process can begin’. This, this and this, naturally, cost stadium proportions of money. Still-there is TV on the ceiling above my head where I lie in the chair, Robert [the smiley dentist] and Lara [the smiley nurse] are friendly and reassuring. ‘Bread’ plays quietly in the background. It’s just as well it is comfortable, given that I will be spending almost as much time there as at home next week, that is, except for the sessions at Physiotherapy having my heel pummelled.

                So there! My principles are compromised. What is a health hypocrite to do these days?               

 

Stick a Plaster on it!

For anyone who is in any doubt that the National Health Service in this country is worth preserving I recommend that they read Lionel Shriver’s ‘So Much for That’. Set in the United States, it tackles the grim subject of terminal cancer and the awful reality of paying for the astronomic bills that such a complex health issue presents. The book illustrates the stark, cynical way in which health insurance providers work to fleece hapless patients and their families and serves as a salutary warning.

                The pressures on a large organisation such as the NHS can only increase as the number of elderly increases [I include myself in this number]. Despite assuming responsibility for one’s own general health by eating sensibly, exercising regularly, rejecting smoking and attempting to curb alcohol consumption the issues of wear and tear begin to surface. This poses a dilemma I am unable to resolve. Until a few years ago I prided myself on the infrequency of my visits to the GP. Having grown accustomed to this lack of medical intervention in my life I continue to avoid making appointments, even when problems, [such as joint failures] interfere with normal life.  

                The result of all this procrastination is that problems begin to stack up, providing an even more complicated predicament. This is not good! When I do, eventually make it into the consulting room I find I’ve compiled a ‘list’ of complaints, which I’ve had to prioritise. I describe the main problem and then ask for other issues to be taken into consideration. I can’t help feeling this is a sneaky way to go about a GP appointment, but the alternative would be to schedule several, separate meetings. I imagine these visits in the future, pencilled in on the calendar with depressing frequency as I grow older.

                So I prefer my current approach; but what does the average healthcare professional think? Would they rather us wrinklies waited and piled up our complaints in a bulging package of ailments? Or would they prefer to become increasingly familiar with our wrinkly chops as they see us on an almost daily basis?

                I am, nevertheless very glad to be able to call on their services, as should we all be. The NHS faces a huge challenge as the population ages, but it is worth preserving, for sure.