The cancer that never was…

NB: For new readers, APH is Arrowe Park Hospital, Wirral.


I’d barely got my bed warmed up in APH before I was descended upon by a consultant whose sole aim in life seemed to sell me on the idea that I had colon cancer.

Now I have to say that a colonoscopy is pretty close to the top of my personal list of Ideas Which Fill Me With Horror! so the prospect was never going to be received with enthusiasm.

However, he wore me down – mainly by scaring the shit out of me (no pun intended, thank you so much) – and I eventually agreed.

I already had diarrhoea (part of the problem with which I’d been admitted), and being force-fed 2 litres of hideously-flavoured laxative did nothing to improve the situation. And I mean nothing – against all the odds, nothing changed.

Wheeled down to the colonoscopy suite the next day, I was quizzed on the quality of my crap. When I reported that it was unchanged, I was then subjected to a long list of things that could go horribly wrong, as the laxative had clearly failed to evacuate my bowel. When they got to “major surgery possibly including a bowel resection and/or a colostomy bag for the rest of your life” I called time on the whole fuck-up.

At that point the theatre sister (a stroppy bitch), tried to go into you’re just the patient, what the hell do you know? mode. Those of you who know me will know how well that was going to turn out. And, hey, it did!

Cue surgeon. A very nice guy, as it turned out, if a tad bearish, who promptly sided with me, and when I asked why this litany of horrors hadn’t formed part of my informed consent, and been discussed in detail up on the ward, was seriously pissed off that it hadn’t been. Me too. So I apologised for wasting his time, he apologised for wasting mine, and the whole farce was abandoned.

Turned out, too, that the guy pushing the colonoscopy wasn’t a gastro-enterologist as I’d naturally assumed, but a respiratory consultant. So WTF was his motive? I’ll come to that.

It was shortly after this that I was waylaid by the now-known-to-be-respiratory guy and accepted (but subsequently rejected), the deal detailed here during which I agreed to a Virtual, CT-enhanced, Colonoscopy (in the event I was hard pressed to see anything virtual about it, but I’m coming to that, too).

It’s worth mentioning, at this point, that by now I had run out of accessible veins, and also had forearms like Popeye! This latter is because a CT scan had already  gone tits up, and ruptured the vein, in my left arm, into which the contrast medium should have been injected, pumping the crap into my arm and hand instead. And a conventional IV had earlier been messed up on the other arm by bypassing the electronic Ivac controller and dropping at maximum volume into my arm – where it blew out the vein. So here’s a tip kiddies, connect the goddamned Ivac THEN attach the feed to the cannula. Not rocket science.

I actually tweeted about that event, as it was completely inexcusable. APH’s response was to threaten me with legal action and eviction if I continued to tweet – how about an apology for injuring me you fuckwits?  Their gripe was that my tweets were offending staff. Asked to produce just one offended staff member, they could not. Nor could they produce anyone who actually knew how to use Twitter – that makes it rather hard to be offended.

It’s fair to say that, as a result of prolonged malnutrition (almost dying from starvation is what put me in APH), my veins weren’t in the best of shape, having shrunk to something resembling wet blue string. However, the biggest gripe was because I have “mobile veins”. This, apparently, made it very hard to get a needle in. Odd, come to think of it, as APH has had no problems getting blood from these same mobile veins for the past 28 years.

Anyway, I very quickly – it took two days – decided on a maximum needle-stick policy. This was quite simple – if the technique was tricky, like getting an arterial sample for blood gas monitoring (a procedure carried out entirely by touch on an artery deep among the wrist bones), then OK, you do what you gotta do (be advised, it hurts rather a lot – now you know, don’t pussy out and whine about it **). If you can’t get a needle in a vein you can bloody well see in two tries, you’re done.

**Sorry, I just got so sick of grown men crying (literally!), and bitching about this  – man up FFS!

My veins were ultimately classified as C1 – which means, in a nutshell, only qualified phlebotomists got to stick needles in them, not doctors or nursing staff, and even then the failure rate remained high. It also carries the dubious benefit of my being able to go onstage as a needle-scarred, terminal smack addict without make-up! My arms, even though they’re healing, are an absolute goddamned mess.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the virtual colonoscopy (every time I type those words feel free to mentally insert the sound of hollow, mocking, laughter). Virtual, my arse! So to speak…

Cutting a long story short, I was wheeled into the CT suite and told to disrobe. A mere flash of a nipple, a shriek, and the technician vanished from my side. “You haven’t got a gown,” came the despairing cry from wherever she was hiding. Bearing in mind she was about to shove a camera where I’d rather not have a camera shoved, this coyness struck me as extremely bizarre.

“Yes, thanks, I do know that . . .”

“And no cannula!”

“Yep, know that too.”

Reappears with a gown – and after all these years, it’s still one size fits nobody remotely human-shaped! WTF? How hard can it be?

Loaded, with considerable difficulty – my upper body strength was still zero at this time – onto the machine, and tech guy tries to insert a cannula. Oh, how we laughed (yeah, right!), as he tried five times – and failed (I still, three weeks and more later, have a bruise on my arm from this shambles).

OK, sez I, you have one more attempt, then we’re done – bending my own rules way beyond breaking point. So they sent for a doctor.

Gorgeous junior doc arrives. Tempted to say “Hey, take all the time you like!”, but bite the bullet and tell her she has one attempt.

She translates that as putting in the needle and rummaging around indefinitely, so quickly call a halt to that. Veins, at this point, classified C1 and further buggeration abandoned.

This meant that the colonoscopy – and it’s a reflection on my piss-poor state of mind, by this stage, that this didn’t register until far too late – went ahead without either the sedative or the contrast medium being injected. And yes, that was as much fun as it sounds – it hurt like a bastard and was bloody interminable!

They inject pressurised air to expand the colon. I said to the technician, “Is this supposed to feel hot?” as what felt like steam was pumped up my arse.

“Why, does it feel hot?”

“Well, YES – at increasing volume! – IT’S MAINLY WHY I’M ASKING!” Dumb fuck!

When they’re done, they say “Don’t worry if you feel distended, it’ll be absorbed in a day or so.”

“Well, as long as you’re sure, because I know my guts and they’re telling me they’re about to erupt all over your floor …”

And I was quickly hustled into a toilet cubicle – which was very lucky for them. And the guy pushing the wheelchair back to the ward.

There are very few diversions in hospital, but a favourite one of mine was watching doctors trying to communicate with patients with IQs lower than the beds they were on – I’d have just taken them out and shot them. And sent the beds home. I swear no-one would notice.

Anyway, it was apparent that colonoscopy results were ready in about 3 hours – so I wonder why mine took a week? Apart from a somewhat distended colon, present since 1985 and problem-free (which met with blank disbelief, but it is so), I now also have slight diverticular disease (this, apparently, is much less severe than diverticulitis, which I’d always thought was the same thing), we live and learn – and I have nothing at all to worry about.

The bearish surgeon brought the news and, looking very embarrassed, added the rider that the cancer-obsessed consultant still wanted me to have another colonoscopy. Flat refusal, end of conversation, exeunt Ursus in rather high dudgeon at his colleague. Again.

My theory? The consultant is a respiratory surgeon/tutor and he was collecting data from anyone he could coerce or bully into a colonoscopy.

Why do I think that? Well, as I was waiting to go home, he was chatting to other patients, so as I said, I kibitzed – and they, to a man, got exactly the same script I got. I don’t doubt that any recalcitrant ones would get the same disgraceful offer I almost succumbed to – though no-one seemed to want to back off – the fear of cancer is huge in most people.

I’m just lucky I got angry enough to see through the bullshit. And why does a respiratory surgeon have such an interest in  obsession with colon cancer anyway?

And I still don’t know what was virtual about the colonoscopy. They still send a camera into the heart of darkness, and still pump you up till you’re in serious pain – I suppose I’m lucky they didn’t send a sketch artist. (HT to Two and a Half Men.)

Given the addition of the CT scanner I’d tend to think of it as enhanced rather than virtual. But here’s a thought – the scanner didn’t utilise its contrast medium at all (never mind my bloody sedative!), so how much use could it have been?

Was I conned? Did I get a bog-standard colonoscopy with window-dressing? I mean, I can’t be the only person in the world whom the very idea scares shitless, so do they have a routine work-around like this for people like me? It wouldn’t be ethical, probably not even legal but, bottom line – who’d know apart from a few staff?

Yes, yes, I know it’s paranoid. You spend 6 weeks in APH – you’d be bloody paranoid too.


4 thoughts on “The cancer that never was…

  1. OMG! I’ve had 1 colonoscopy, very straightforward, apart from the scar tissue which blocked the way eventually. I swore I’d never have another. It was a walk in the park compared to your experience. What a farce eh and all for no apparent reason! Hey ho good old APH, always good for a laugh, except it’s just so not funny. xxx

  2. What a rotten time you had in hospital. I’ve had very similar experiences and this reminded me of the time I was told, at 2am on a bank holiday Sunday morning, that I would have to have an emergency non-reversible colostomy. A similar list of endless bullcrap led me to refuse treatment at the last moment and be on the verge of opening the window and legging it across the fields in my dressing gown. Surprise, surprise, on Tuesday, the same surgeon came to see me and declared my stomach (which had been massively bloated) to be fitter than his. I knew my bloating had been a response to the rubbish they’d been pumping into me. I know now that when they look at CT scans and see shadows, they are guessing at what those shadows represent. That was two years ago, and I’m still colostomy-free, so I’m glad I had the balls to tell them to stuff it, even though I felt really tiny and worn down.
    This is why I think it’s important that you blog like this. All this stuff needs to be brought out into the open and low standards exposed.

    • False-colour CT scans are pretty accurate at displaying tumours and other structures, while monochrome scans are very much as by guess and by god as they’ve always been.

      By the way, if you want the very definition of futility, use the phrase “by guess and by god” to a Muslim doctor – won’t have a clue if it’s the guy I got, yet I’d have thought a familiarity with colloquial English to be pretty damn essential.

      Something else which I’ve never had any faith in is the PSA test for prostate cancer. Or, more accurately, potential prostate cancer, because PSA is notorious for throwing up false positives. It’s also a fact that most men die with – not OF – prostate cancer. It’s a fact of male aging. The aggressive, potentially fatal, form of prostate cancer is much more rare, and PSA cannot distinguish between the two.

      Now the PSA test has effectively been terminally rubbished

  3. It’s been years since I had my colonoscopy, and not something I’d like to have done again, it being surreal to be lying on my side, with tube and camera ‘where the sun don’t shine’ and seeing the inside of my gastric system on TV.The weird situations we find ourselves in!

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