Living with IBD is no laughing matter. It’s like serving a life sentence, but while
murderers and pedophiles can get off early for good behaviour, for those unfortunate enough to be issued with the piece of paper branded IBD along with the complimentary hospital tag, life really does mean life.
Over the years I have been through some truly humiliating experiences and many of them have left me shaken and in floods of tears. The pain, the accidents and the true horror when you first realise that you’re going to have to live with this horrific condition for the rest of your life, would be enough to reduce even the most hard man about town into a blithering wreck.
If someone told me that one day I would be looking back and laughing, laughing so hard that my ileostomy scar split, at all the times when I stuck my bare bum in the air like a red bottomed baboon and let some student doctor pump gallons of air up my arse, or at the first time I tried to administer my own suppository and got it painfully wrong, I guess I would have laughed in their face. But while reading The Foul Bowel by John Bradley that’s exactly what I did.
I’ve seen a lot of comedians over the years, I’ve seen a lot of funny things, but I can’t say that a book has ever made me laugh that much. Sometimes it felt wrong to be laughing at something that has caused me so much humiliation and pain over the years, to laugh at the appalling things this condition has put me through and to marvel at the total incompetence of the doctors, surgeons and dietitians I have encountered over the years. Scrap that…it was just what I needed. Laughter really is the best medicine, and the way John described his barium meal experiences left me creased over in laughter at something I still consider to be one of the most uncomfortable and humiliating moments of my young life.
The subtitle of this book is 101 ways to survive and thrive with Crohn’s Disease, and in a way it is a self-help manual. I didn’t agree with everything John had to say, I didn’t agree with everything he said about wards verse private rooms, as I have had some hilarious and terrifying experiences on the NHS’s crazy communal wards, but I do agree that at least you can watch the world or the madness go by. The candid way that he talked about his work, coping with the disease, having a love life and basically surviving was refreshing, and it made a lovely change to read about the illness from a man’s point of view, something that rarely happens even in this newish era of blogging and the world-wide web.
I read the book on my kindle in coffee shops, hospital waiting rooms and in bed while recovering from my ileostomy op. People must have thought I was reading Jennifer Saunders’ autobiography or some new hilarious comedy from the way I was gripping my stomach and writhing around in pain as the fits of laughter tore at my stitches threatening to tear open my stomach and expose my insides.
This book should be in every gastro ward. No, I’ll go further than that. This book should be given to every single patient when they are first diagnosed with IBD. I guess if I’d read this all those years ago when I was first told I would have to live with an incurable illness for the rest of my life I would have realised I would be able to cope. I guess I would still have realised that having Crohn’s or Colitis is one hell of a rollercoaster, and that my life was going to be one massive battle, but I would have been able to say hey, this guy went through all that and he had time to write a book, he’s doing ok for himself. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if I’d had this at the time all of that was happening I would have been better prepared and it would all have seemed just a little bit less scary.
“Having Crohn’s Disease is like being transported back to being a helpless infant. People talk at you using an incomprehensible language. No one seeks, welcomes or values your opinion. Mummy, in the guise of the medical profession, most definitely knows what’s best for you. Your food is bland, mushy and generally appalling. Your poop becomes an object of fascination for others”., John Bradley, opening of the Foul Bowel.
Hats off to you John for being so honest.