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.



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.