Day 2: Free wine that’s all I have to say on the matter #7daysofIBD #7daysofstoma


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Me at the office

I’ll keep this short, mostly because I’ve got a stinking hangover.

It’s day three, but I’m writing about day 2 of my blog a day for IBD awareness week, and I’m a year older.

All I can say is that I can’t handle a free bar – that’s not really to do with my IBD, more that I am simply not good with wine.

I’ve known that I’m a lightweight for years, but not drinking and journalism don’t go hand in hand, oh and I do love a good glass of cold white wine.

I want to put one thing on the record: just because I have Ulcerative Colitis it doesn’t mean I can’t have a good time.

I’m allowed to drink, eat the occasional bag of chips and let my hair down – I just have to be a little bit more careful than the average joe as I can get into sticky situations a lot more quickly.

To be honest with you that’s not really down to my illness, it’s more that I’m tiny weeny and often forget I can’t drink a lot of wine despite my best efforts.

It was one of my editors that once told me: “Rach you eat like a tiny little bird – you should drink like one too”.

I ignored those words of wisdom – sometimes they come back to me and echo in my brain in a Yoda like way when I’m getting in my third large glass.

At times when I am ill I often cut out drinking all together. I can and have stopped drinking for months on end. Stopping the booze does help a fair amount, and it is nice to go weeks without waking up once with a head like cotton wool.

But we live and we learn.

Winnie is not a fan of cheap wine, she goes green and sickly looking, and often has a right paddy. To be honest the only time she ever chooses to leak is when I’m hungover and it is literally the last thing I want to deal with.

Anyway, today I’m 28, and I have woken up feeling it.

 

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Argh I’m 27…an amazing birthday and the Pride of Trinity Mirror


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I can’t believe that I’m 27. Well, actually, if we are going to be pedantic about it, I’m 27 and two days old (which makes me sound like a little kid trying to sound older). I know it will sound silly, but I already feel ancient. It’s probably a combination of the left-over dregs of flu, far too much alcohol due to a number of booze-fuelled celebrations, and a lack of sleep taking its tole, but every day since my birthday I’ve woken up feeling on the verge of my 90th!

Looking back there is nothing that I really regret about my 26th year on this planet. I’ve had surgery, tests, blood, guts, gore. Met amazing people, told truly inspirational stories. Worked at the Mirror, stayed in London, met royalty, seen a Broadway show and hundreds of dragonflies. Rode insane rides, climbed the Empire State Building, appeared on the BBC, waved a wand in Hogwarts, been to Wimbledon – and many more magical things.

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For the second year running I celebrated my birthday surrounded by incredible journalists and editors who work for Trinity Mirror, rubbing shoulders with people who both inspire and astound me with their talents and passion. Last year I was honoured (and astounded) to be named the Young Journalist of the Year, this year I just drank too much and met the queen of Countdown.

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Joking aside, I was humbled to be highly commended in the New Reporter of the Year (regional) category. The journalist who won the title, Neil Keeling, is incredible – he continued producing exclusive stories for the MEN despite suffering from kidney failure. I felt embarrassed to even be put in the same category as him to be honest!

Anyway, on my birthday I woke up with a pounding headache, and a memory of far too much wine, talking, and general fun following a very glitzy awards do. I dragged myself to the conference and had to put up with my ostomy making the rudest noises ever (as per usual when I’m hungover) while sat next to a room of highly influencial people (as I tried to listen to the speakers) , who have the ability to hire me and fire me, many of whom were sitting within hearing distance – typical!

Returning home on the train, clutching my certificate and a notepad of ideas for the office, I wanted nothing more but to go to bed and curl up with a yummy hot chocolate. Instead I unwrapped gifts (yippee), opened cards and was forced back into the cold for a lovely meal with my boyfriend.

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It was a stunning evening, filled with laughter (especially when the waiter got the whole restaurant to sing to me in my old name as it was on one of my cards on the table) and surprises.

Andy – god knows why he sticks by me – managed to totally shock me for the first time in our relationship, by keeping a secret for months on end. He had managed to plan a five day holiday to Bruges, complete with a spa break, rail travel and stunning hotels, without letting slip at all. He even booked the time off for me – so my editor was complicit.

How none of this leaked out totally flummoxes me! But he managed it, and it is the most stunning and magical gift I could have hoped for after our amazing trip to America earlier this year (which i am determined to blog about by the end of the week).

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So, despite feeling ever older and tired due to the Winter cold, this year I have had an amazing birthday, and got some lovely presents from my friends, family and colleagues… here’s to many more to come.

#Bonfire night – smoke, fire and an ostomy bag


I watch on as two brave firefighters battled to extinguish the roaring flames, their uniforms disappearing momentarily through the thick plumes of smoke.

The charred remains of shopping trollies emerge from the fire, I’m so close I can feel the intense heat of the flames as I peer in to see the skeleton of an ironing board sticking out from the embers.

Ash falls on my face as I look up to see the smoke billowing into the sky, colourful fireworks explode briefly illuminating the sky, their embers falling like drooping rose petals quickly engulfed by the smog.

It is Bonfire Night and I’m out with the fire brigade.

In the hours leading up to my night on shift with Ellesmere Port Fire Station I am snowed under at work. But as I get ready to leave the office I start to panic.

My fear? That I will be in the loo when the alarm sounds.

It might sound ridiculous, but my genuine fear was that I would slow them down, be a liability and ultimately cost valuable time that could put people’s lives at risk.

Or, what if my ostomy bag filled up and we couldn’t get back in time – then the firefighters would be dealing with a whole new type of explosion.

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I soon forgot about this when I got to the station – in fact I was so preoccupied I didn’t even find out where the loos where (which is a first for me in my entire adult life).

There wasn’t a moment to breathe. For hours we jumped in and out of our boots, and scrambled into the engine, racing off into the night, all sirens and flashing lights.

My suit was so heavy and big I felt like Paddington Bear.

I went at least three hours without even checking Winnie was ok, anything could have been going on, but the drama took over as I saw fireworks thrown in the direction of police and the firefighters face unbelievable amounts of abuse for putting out unsupervised fires close to people’s homes and gardens.

Hours later, as I clambered out of my suit during a much-needed moment’s peace, I told the firewoman (there was one lady and three men) that there was no way I could have done this two years ago with my Colitis – I would simply not have been able to cope for that amount of time, or I would have had no teeth left at the end of it from all the grimacing.

She seemed surprised but was lovely and sympathetic.

It was only then I realised that for the first time since my operation I had gone more than an hour without either thinking or checking on my ostomy bag – in fact it had been hours.

I guess it means that she can behave, and, for once managed not to choose the worst moment ever to throw a wobble.

But, despite this, I refrained from eating during the brief break. They must of all thought me a little odd sat there with no food, but I just knew that one crumb of food would start everything off and that would be it – I wasn’t going to test fate that night.

It was an amazing eye-opening evening, which left me both in awe of the firefighters bravery, and feeling slightly disgusted at the behaviour I witnessed.

But I also found out just what I could cope with. Now, thanks to Winnie, I can truly manage to do the job I love.

https://storify.com/ChronRachel/bonfire-night-in-ellesmere-port-how-it-happened

Westminster and Winnie – me and my ostomy head to Parliament for challenge #83


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If there wasn’t so much shouting in Westminster a lot more would get done. Those are my words of wisdom following what I saw yesterday as me and Winnie headed to Parliament as part of our time at the Daily Mirror.

Sitting in at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday I finally understood why a lot of the public think politics is a group testosterone-fuelled men, heckling and grunting to try and ridicule each other, and not something they should waste their precious time with. It’s a shame, because if you manage to shut out the din the whole process if frankly fascinating.

Walking into the press gallery as PMQs began yesterday I felt like a gladiator walking into a packed amphitheatre. As I stepped into the stairwell a wall of noise erupted all around me. I was surrounded by heckling, jeering and grunting so loud that for a moment I wondered if I’d taken a wrong turn and stumbled into a football match.

The noise is really quite incredible. So is the notion of standing up, which sees MPs bobbing up and down like puffed up meerkats every time the PM finishes whatever point (if you can hear above the din) he is trying to respond to. First time journalists in the Commons must stand out like a sore thumb – I must have swallowed ten flies gawping in amazement at the spectacle going on below me.

Of course I knew it would be like this. We’ve all seen the rabble on the tv, the constant battle between the Reds and the Blues, the face off between Cameron and Miliband. But it is so much better when you are actually there. Of course it would be frowned on to join in (I wouldn’t advise it), but it rather feels like your at Wimbledon waiting for someone to tell you to shush as play resumes, until then it’s pretty much a free for all.

But despite all this rabble going on, a lot seemed to actually get done. Ok, there were a lot of snipes and harmless nips at each other from the opposing parties (some of which were rather amusing), but once you tuned out all of that some very important points were being made.

I heard MPs ask for harsher legislation for dangerous drivers, security for victims of terrorism charities, food banks, the secret letters and, most importantly, a lot of chat about our love of curling!

Earlier that morning I met one of the Daily Mirror political reporters and headed to a monthly press conference with Deputy PM Nick Clegg, who surprisingly enough still looks fairly sane and alive despite his time in Government. The system was fascinating. Questions were thrown at him left, right and centre, by the room of reporters and I left feeling like I’d just witnessed an amazing magic show, which I could go back and watch time and time again.

As I left parliament last night, I couldn’t help but think that a year ago I wouldn’t have managed to sit through all this. Something would have happened; a shadow across my eyeballs, blacking out, diarrhoea, vomiting or even dizziness. Whatever it was, something would have stopped me experiencing this. Ok, so I’m not feeling 100% at the moment, and I’ve been feeling worse every day, but right now I’m grateful my body is just giving me enough energy to get to work and experience this amazing job and see these incredible parts of society that most people never get the chance to.

The whole day was an incredible experience. I was amazed by the number of women in the lobby (Yes, there were only a handful, but that was more than I expected) I was lucky to have the guidance of James Lyons (Daily Mirror’s deputy political editor) and Tom McTague (political correspondent) who helped me coordinate my wave through the maze that is the corridors of power and settle into the hectic male dominated press corridor with ease.

And as if the fast paced day wasn’t invigorating enough, I was lucky enough to be visiting on the same day that the Chairman if the Press Gallery handed over his reign. This meant all the political correspondents gathering together in a ‘pack’ for drinks and salty snacks (I said no to a drink and I may as well have shot someone! But was forgiven when I said I had upcoming surgery) before listening to humorous speeches in a style reminiscent of those a best man would give to humiliate his mate at a wedding.

It was fascinating, and a great work environment. I have never seen so many reporters from different national papers and broadcasters together in one room – and all getting along. I loved the atmosphere, the attitude and the passion they all showed for their jobs. Everyone in that room, be it hardened hack, well known political correspondent from the telly or little me, truly wanted to be there and (seemed) to love, live and breathe their job.

They all seemed to be working together to demand the truth from the government, and to hold the people we elect to account.

Now if that’s not something to get better for and aspire to, what is?

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A senior reporter at last -overcoming the hurdle


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It’s been more than a week since my last blog. For that I can only apologise, but life has been rather chaotic over the past few weeks. I hope you are all well (as well as you can be) and none of you are reading this from the sorry prison cell of the hospital bed.

Last week I told you all about my celebrations following my surprise journalism award, and how humbled and shocked I was to be recognised for my role in the newsroom despite all my forced sick days (when I say forced I mean being told to leave as I’m so ill they can’t
stand to watch me battle through the pain anymore), time off following my surgery and slow return to the front line following numerous complications and a body which simply refused to heal.

I know I told you all I wouldn’t go on about this anymore, so I won’t. But something appears to be in the water right now. Indeed a person in the media company I work for, who also battles with Crohn’s, said that I appeared to be being looked after by “a very good fairy”… I’m just hoping my fairy godmother sticks around a bit longer to get me through Christmas – a dreaded time where my illness always raises it’s ugly head and lands me with a surprise vacation in hospital.

This week I passed my senior reporting exam. The news came to me during a bit of a delicate moment in the office, and was dampened by the fact that we were dealing with something which could ultimately have had serious implications. My editor told me just at a moment when I was sure I had, once again failed. He did that trick, you know the one where you look serious and upset as you deliver news only to change into an expression of joy and say “you’ve passed”. I was ready to burst into tears before he said those two magic words. I just don’t know what I would have done if he had told me I had failed and would have to take it again. Needless to say he would have had to send me home…. If I’d failed this time I don’t think I could have had the strength or determination to do it again.

I’m no quitter, but my senior exams have been a huge hurdle for me to overcome. I’m not blaming it all on my illness – as I don’t really believe it can stop me advancing if I really really battle through – but this exam has been the bane of my life for almost two years. The system has been against me, meaning that since the first day I misheard a figure during the news writing exam after a solid week of less than 3 hours sleep a night during a very bloody and painful flare-up, I have had this exam hanging over me stopping me passing Go and collecting my £200 – instead sending me straight to jail.

I took the exam twice. Both times were incredibly frustrating and stressful, and each time I failed the pressure I put myself under got considerably worse. Funnily enough the part of the exam which I seemed simply unable to pass was the part which should have been a piece of cake…the news writing exam…basically what I do every single day – but something about the exam situation made it become an enormous task which I quite simply couldn’t pass. I think I always put myself under too much pressure. I passed my law and editors’ panel first time round with no trouble whatsoever…but when the time came to sit down and write, the stress, combined with my deep fatigue, made it impossible for me to succeed.

According to Trinity Mirror law if you fail your senior news writing exam you have to wait six months to give it another shot. Rules are rules. But in my case this caused chaos. After waiting six months, I would no doubt be in the middle of a flare when my test popped up again. So I failed a second time. Then, when the third opportunity came round I was in a hospital bed awaiting having my bowel removed, I couldn’t even eat soup let alone travel to Liverpool and take an exam, so I didn’t take it. This meant waiting another six months. Personally I think that’s a little unfair, but rules are rules and there is only an exam day every six months for a reason – so I had to sit tight in the hospital knowing that my illness had well and truly scuppered my career and stopped me getting a very much needed pay rise. That will always stick with me as a dark day.

I’m not sure what I would have done if I hadn’t passed this time round. I suppose it isn’t worth thinking about, but even now, a few days after being given the news, I can feel the relief lifting like a great weight off my shoulders. My illness is not helped by stress, in fact I would go as far as saying it is seriously exasperated by it. And knowing that I no longer have that hanging over me makes me feel around a stone lighter. I was worried that if I failed I wouldn’t be able to take it for another year; due to having to have another load of surgery in the coming months I would probably be on the operating slab during the next examination day – something I just couldn’t bear to comprehend. Now I no longer need to worry. It’s all over, finally I can just get on with doing the job I love without worrying about exams or ticking boxes.

It may be a small thing to most people but to be able to officially say “Rachel Flint senior reporter” is worth more to me right now than any trophy, award or title. That tiny addition to my job title is like me sticking two fingers up to my IBD and saying “you didn’t kill my dreams, not for one second”!

A close call in court – the joys of court reporting with an ostomy and IBD


Before my operation my Crohn’s/Colitis made court reporting an almost impossibility.

Exactly!

Exactly!

I used to sit in agony in courtrooms wringing my hands together until they went white with pain under the press desk, jiggling my legs up and down to try to distract myself from the agonising need to go to the toilet – a need that never left me and always raised its ugly head at the most important moments of a case.

Covering the courts became both a joy and a punishment for me. The real challenge lay not in the reporting of the cases but the endless sitting and waiting, waiting, waiting for your case to come on. For most people the waiting would just be boring, for me it was agonising. While I was interested in the cases (if you have never sat in court and listened to mitigation and witnessed the general drama it is definitely a must – and is nothing like the telly) the constant need to race to the toilet every ten minutes made the waiting unbearable. I once dared to nip to the toilet after waiting through around three hours of driving offences, curfew amendments and restraining orders while feeling like my stomach was being ripped apart from the inside by a claw hammer. I remember racing out of the courtroom to the toilet – which is NEVER near enough to the courtroom you are in – thinking it will just be my luck if they finally hear my case now. I finally raced back to the courtroom five minutes later, still very much in the grip of the blood and pain, only to bump straight into the barristers for my case as they walked towards the Robing Room having heard the case – just typical.

Lesson learned – in the past two years I would rather have passed out than nipped to the toilet again!

Yes, I admit it the fear was always very real that I would pass out through the sheer effort of staying up right in my seat, and I am sure there were times that a jury member or even defendant has looked at me and thought ‘dear God that woman is about to collapse’. I lived in fear of an accident, and in even greater fear of someone making me move whenever a wave of pain flushed over me – when I was still I felt slightly more in control. And I am sure that all the press benches in the magistrates and crown courts that I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in have finger nail marks indented so far into the underside of the wood their imprints could almost be seen through the top.

So after years of covering court cases with the nightmare of my constantly flaring Crohn’s/Colitis, dealing with my ostomy while doing my job seemed like a reality walk in the park. Yes there was always the slight embarrassment of having my ostomy bag changing kit searched through by the security team, (and once or twice having to hand in my rounded cutting scissors at security as a ‘dangerous’ implement) but apart from that attending court was a relatively easy experience. So imagine my surprise when today my ostomy started acting up while I was sat in court patiently listening to each case and waiting for a jury to return. I won’t go into details but I could feel something was going on, and going on, and going on…and boy it just wasn’t holding back, in fact Winnie was going hell for leather. And for the life of me I couldn’t understand why.

So the next two hours were quite frankly hell. I quickly realised that Winnie was going to have to be emptied or we could end up with a pretty crazy situation in the courtroom. Basically Winnie was a ticking time bomb, and I sat sitting nervously trying to concentrate on my shorthand and what the counsel were saying to try to distract myself from the imminent explosion that was building up inside me. The pressure was unbelievable…but I was determined not to leave the room..my old fears about missing things while on the toilet returned and after grimacing through some of the worse pain of my life, there was not a chance in hell that I was going to miss the verdict because of my ostomy – yes, that is how stubborn I am.

Ok, the situation was made worse by my remaining colon continuing to contain active Colitis and me feeling the need to go all the time. The whole thing was unpleasant to say the least, and I just knew I needed to rehydrated and possibly stuff my face with marshmallows to stop this onslaught from Winnie or I would be in a whole new world of trouble soon.

The moment the judge broke for lunch was a blessed relief. I think I actually sighed audibly. As I stood up the weight of Winnie was horrendous and I had to hobble like I had bricks in my pants down the stairs, round the corner to the loo. Court toilets are never an extremely pleasant experience, but I won’t bore you with that.

By the time the day was over I had avoided several natural disasters and learnt a real lesson. While I was in agony with my IBD and the urgency and pain often led to accidents, I could often cope even though it meant me almost passing out with pain until I had a chance to reach a bathroom – with my ostomy this is not the case. There is no grin and bear it. Yes the pain is considerably less, yes the blood is there but it isn’t by the bucketload, but no I can’t stop the flow or ease the pressure when its started…if I wait, sooner or later she will fill up and then, eventually….BOOM! (now that would be a story)!

I will have to learn to cope with it. I love court reporting and I love my job, but I have to keep a close eye on things and remember I’m no superwoman, I’m still human…and, well, Winnie is just a stoma bag she’s not a miracle worker.

A decade in the making – finally being diagnosed with arthritis


The first time my hands froze into a claw-like grip, curling up like the crazed witch in

Mugs can be too heavy to hold when my hands are bad

Mugs can be too heavy to hold when my hands are bad

Walt Disney’s Snow White as she gives her the poisoned apple, I thought I was having a stroke. I was sitting in a GCSE maths exam scratching my head as I tried to work out some crazy mathematical equation and suddenly my hand just wouldn’t move. I tried putting down my fountain pen, but my hand wouldn’t let go.  It was suddenly like my fingers had been glued to the shaft of the special pen my parents had bought me for school that year. I remember looking down in confusion and seeing that my hands had gone a skeletal shade of white. I remember prodding the death-grip hand with my normal fleshy coloured hand and the rising panic as my fingers started turning black as the blood failed to come back into my hand as I prodded and prodded.

Shockingly I didn’t fail that GCSE. I managed to battle through, but not until I had painstakingly prized my fingers apart, slowly moving my stiff joints until they were flat on the desk next to my incomplete test paper. It seemed to take a life time as the exam clock ticked slowly away and my future seemed to be literally slipping through my wax-looking fingers. I remember thinking that everything would be ok as long as I could finish the exam – and as long as my fingers didn’t snap off!

I was just 15-years-old.

My hand - when it broke two years ago and osteoporosis was discovered

My hand – when it broke two years ago and osteoporosis was discovered

Over the years this joint stiffness intensified until there were days when I literally felt like a tin man needing oil just to move. Every bone, joint and muscle felt like it was made of stone. I creaked when I moved, and when stretching in certain ways my bones made a sickening snapping sound.

Some nights, after gripping a pen all day or spending hours shading and sketching for my GCSE and A Level Art coursework, my hands would freeze solid when I was trying to eat. My dad would have to prize my fingers one by one off my knife and fork, pulling my joints painfully back into position. I still have to do that now. But back then it all seemed so much more frightening.

My hands went through their most challenging few months when I was learning shorthand for my journalism course. I would spend hours every day scribbling the hieroglyphic like symbols, forcing my hand to move faster and faster across the page in an attempt to get up to the required 100 wpm. It was agony. In some of the exams I had practiced so much before the test that my hand simply wouldn’t move across the page. Every second was agony. Of a night after hours of practicing i would lie with my hot water bottle pressed against my wrists trying to ease the pain shooting through my joints…I often dropped wine glasses, pens, handbags. It still happens now after long days in court, but I guess I’ve just got used to it.

Learning shorthand was like boot camp for journalists…survival of the fittest, but it was torture for my hands, and the more they stopped me progressing the more frustrated and depressed I became.

Me on the PA course for Journalists - best 17 weeks of my life but most taxing on my hands

Me on the PA course for Journalists – best 17 weeks of my life but most taxing on my hands

Over the years the pain that started in my right hand and wrists has spread to most of the other joints in my body. I often lie awake at night due to the pain in my lower back, my knees sometimes give way and my blood in my wrists sometimes feel like its burning as it travels through my veins. My shoulders are the worse, they always feel like they’re dislocating, and I can’t undo my bra from behind.

Despite all these obvious joint problems, and despite complaining about them to my gastro consultant, IBD nurse and surgical team, I have never had any treatment for my joints. I have always been fobbed off with the bog standard “It’s all related to your Crohns/Colitis” reply to my pleas for help. This has been going on for almost a decade.

Last week I finally got an appointment to see the Rheumatologist. I was astounded when I opened the letter, if anyone had been watching they must have thought I’d won an amazing prize from the delighted look of astonishment on my face. I went along to the appointment and after being stretched sideways, backwards and forwards by a very lovely consultant I was told I had Rheumatoid Arthritis – possibly induced by a decade of steroid treatments combined with the side effects of my Crohns/Colitis.

I would have punched the air if I didn’t have such bad joints. It was a ‘I told you I was ill’ moment that would have made Spike Milligan proud.

I already have osteoporosis, and now I almost officially have arthritis. I say almost as I have to get some tests done before anything can be certain, including a scan of my back, bloods..etc. But I am finally getting the treatment I need, and amazingly enough I have been signed up to get physiotherapy – at last.

IMAG0310I guess only time will tell how much damage the doctors ignoring my symptoms for the past 10 years has done, but for now I’m just happy that someone has finally listened to me. I’m hoping that the injections (humira? – which I have already been there done that) will not only mean I can finally open a bottle of pop without knocking on a neighbour’s door for help, but control my IBD which is on the verge of an especially nasty flare at the moment.

Meanwhile if any of you have any advice for things I can do to ease the constant joint ache and pain please let me know.