Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My life with IBS (Part 2)

Oh goodness, I've hit a rough patch with my IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) again. I've had a few unpleasant evenings to say the least. I'm currently trying to eat gluten-free to see if I have a sensitivity, but I'm wondering if maybe I have excess gut flora or a problem digesting sugars, or both. But, I'll post on that as time goes on. For now, my second scary IBS experience. If you missed part one, you can read it here.

This happened only a few months ago. I was into the second round of midterms for my classes, and I had been doing fine. Stress was starting to rear it's ugly little head, I think, but I was doing OK. I had done well on the first set of midterms, but had a lot of studying to do again.

Warning: this post is slightly graphic, and might be a little too detailed for some people, so maybe don't read on if you're sitting down to lunch.

It was the day of a friend's baby shower, but just after breakfast I had diarrhea, so I told my husband to go without me. I had to run to the toilet all morning, until I thought I was finally empty. Then I continued with a clear mucous. There was blood on the toilet paper. And little strings of blood in the mucous. Of course, I was terrified.

I took a few moments to panic, then I went online and scared myself some more. These symptoms were typical to IBS, and also to colon cancer.

It was a Saturday, I had several midterms to study for, and I did not want to waste my entire day sitting in the emergency room if I could avoid it. I wanted desperately to pretend nothing had happened and go about my day. I also couldn't help but remember hearing about people who didn't go to the doctor and died of cancer, and those who did see their doctor were doing OK. Of course it could be nothing... My thoughts jumped from one to the next.

I decided not to ignore it, and called Health Link Alberta. This is a toll-free phone number for Alberta residents where they can speak to registered nurses about any health questions they may have. I think every province in Canada has this, because I have called Telehealth Ontario in the past. I told the nurse my symptoms and asked her if I should get to an emergency room, of if making an appointment on the Monday to see my doctor would be OK instead. We chatted for a while, and she was very helpful. She told me that as long as I went to see my doctor in the next few days it was alright.

So I made an appointment, and recounted the event to my doctor. He told me that we could just monitor the situation if I wanted to, he could do a quick check for hemorrhoids to see if that could be it, and/or I could go for a barium enema to rule out all possibilities. I decided to continue full steam ahead, since I was scared. He left the office while I changed into a gown, and then did the hemorrhoid check - a finger inserted up my anus to feel for hemorrhoids. He found nothing. I left his office with a requisition for the barium enema.

When I booked the next appointment there were some instructions for me. I had to fast for two days, and take a series of medications to flush out my colon. It was quite miserable. I hated eating jello for two days. I hated the laxatives I had to take. I hated the night of explosive diarrhea that ensued.

The procedure itself was easy enough. I again donned the gown and lay on my side on a table. The nurse inserted a tube up my anus and inflated a balloon to make the entire ordeal easier to complete. It felt a little strange, but nothing terrible. Then the doctor pumped air to expand my colon - that made me feel like I was very gassy. I could feel the air bubbling and moving around inside of me. Next he started pumping barium into me, to coat the walls of my colon and allow for X-ray images to be taken. I had to roll around on the table to ensure I was entirely coated on the inside. Once that was done the X-rays were taken. I rolled some more, and the table also moved around (much like a dentist chair is electric). At times I could see the images on a screen the doctor was watching, which was very cool. I strained my eyes trying to look for anything that could be wrong with me, but saw nothing. My colon looked like a healthy one to me, but I didn't know what the doctor was looking for.

After it was all done the nurse pumped as much barium out of me as possible, removed the tube and balloon, then sent me off the adjoining washroom to clean up. I farted and farted and farted as much air out of me as possible. I would have been embarrassed if I didn't realize that they probably hear that several times a day after patients are done (I could hear them chatting, so I knew they could hear me).

I was given a paper that told me to drink lots of water to help flush out the barium over the next few days. There was a risk that it could harden within me and cause me problems on the way out. For the most part I was ok, but I did feel a surprise now and then. The barium was white and would accumulate in the bottom of the toilet bowl, so it took a few days to flush it away. I explained and apologized to my husband, who was a good sport.

I got a call back a few days later - no abnormalities. I was relieved. My husband and I had both been worried, and tiptoed around the topic the whole time. It was a relief to say out loud "Oh, I don't have cancer." So much worrying. It was the first time I had experienced those symptoms. I'm glad I went for the testing. It was a little uncomfortable, but completely worth it. I hope that anyone reading this who may have experienced similar symptoms decides to go see their doctor and asks for testing. It was all a bit uncomfortable, but I'm so happy that I know I'm OK. And even if I wasn't, I would have a good chance with treatment for anything they could have found.