It’s so funny ... but no laugh­ing mat­ter when it saves your life

For­mer Let’s Talk ed­i­tor Neil Haver­son man­ages to raise a smile while deal­ing with an un­savoury, yet very nec­es­sary health test. Why not fol­low his in­struc­tions?

Let's Talk - - Contents -

If you’re set­tling down with a cup of cof­fee and about to bury your teeth into a choco­late Hob­nob, I sug­gest you turn to the cross­word; come back to this page when you’re not eat­ing.

What I am about to write will cause know­ing nods if you are 60 plus. For those ap­proach­ing that mile­stone, I hope I can al­lay any trep­i­da­tion that you might feel when a cer­tain en­ve­lope drops through your let­ter­box.

I am re­fer­ring to the bowel test. Ev­ery two years from the age of 60 to 74, the op­por­tu­nity to be tested for bowel can­cer is of­fered by the NHS. I would urge every­one to take ad­van­tage of this pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sure. It could be a life-saver.

But per­form­ing the test is both undig­ni­fied and hi­lar­i­ous.

For those yet to step into this world of self-ad­min­is­tered test­ing, let me set the scene. First a let­ter ar­rives with a pam­phlet telling you all about bowel can­cer, how they test for blood in your poo and that if your re­sults are not clear you should have a colonoscopy.

A week later a test kit drops on the door­mat. You must take two sam­ples three times so there are half a dozen card­board sticks – small spat­u­las - with which to do this from what is re­ferred to po­litely as “your bowel move­ment”; a card with three tabs un­der each of which you smear two sam­ples and de­tailed in­struc­tions on how to ob­tain them.

The bowel move­ment must not plunge into the toi­let bowl. Sug­gested ways to catch it are hold­ing folded lengths of toi­let pa­per, cov­er­ing your hand in a small plas­tic bag or us­ing a mar­garine tub.

At this point you may well be start­ing to waver as the mind fills with un­savoury im­ages of you locked in the loo per­form­ing fae­cal gym­nas­tics.

Well, fear not, here is the Haver­son tried and tested method of per­form­ing the bowel test.

In­vest in three foil roast­ing trays 8” x 8”. These will fit in the pan above the wa­ter­line but low enough not to hin­der the move­ment.

In­form any­one else in the house you are en­ter­ing the toi­let and you may be some time. It might help to have some mu­sic play­ing in the back­ground. Gen­tle mu­sic that is, I wouldn’t rec­om­mend some­thing like Ride of the Valkyries.

Get a cou­ple of wooden sticks in readi­ness, place the first roast­ing tray in the pan. You are now ready to per­form.

Do your busi­ness in the tray. The first time you do this can be a tense mo­ment. Your thoughts will turn to how you will deal with the next stage of the pro­ceed­ings. Don’t worry, us­ing the Haver­son method of fae­cal cap­ture, it is easy to ob­tain the sam­ples.

When you’ve com­pleted the test,

the kit has to be posted to the lab. I re­mem­ber drop­ping it into the post box think­ing my best ef­forts would be nestling among greet­ings cards, bill pay­ments and tax re­turns.

If all is well, a let­ter ar­rives giv­ing you the all clear. Or, like me on one oc­ca­sion, you get in­formed the test was un­clear so you need to have the dreaded colonoscopy.

At the first ap­point­ment I saw a nurse who ex­plained that a small cam­era was go­ing to be thrust up me and would ex­plore ar­eas I didn’t know ex­isted. To ease the pas­sage, so to speak, I could have a a shot of some­thing. Ap­par­ently some ma­cho in­di­vid­u­als waive this of­fer but I gladly ac­cepted.

The nurse in­sisted I must not come to the hospi­tal on my own. For a few hours the seda­tive would leave me think­ing I was fine but in fact I would not be fully in con­trol. She re­called one pa­tient head­ing un­steadily off to the car park.

She in­sisted I shouldn’t worry about it as most tests were neg­a­tive, only two in 100 will have an ab­nor­mal re­sult. But in the next breath she told me if it was se­ri­ous I’d be taken “straight up to the ward”.

The fun started a day or two be­fore the pro­ce­dure. The bow­els must be empty so I was al­lowed only wa­ter or, for some rea­son, beef broth. Then, the day be­fore, I had to take a pow­er­ful liq­uid to com­pletely clear them. I was ad­vised to wear jog­gers for easy es­cape and set up camp as near as pos­si­ble to the loo be­cause when the stuff worked, time would be of the essence as there would be a vol­canic-like ex­plo­sion.

I just made it.

A friend drove us to the hospi­tal so Mrs H could be my min­der.

The seda­tive must have worked as I can’t re­mem­ber much about the pro­ce­dure other than the doc­tor an­nounc­ing, to my re­lief, that all was clear.

While wait­ing for our lift home, Mrs H guided me to a seat in the café. She had been told not to let me out of her sight but when she joined the queue she couldn’t see me and was wor­ried I might wan­der off.

“When I joined you, you were sit­ting there as happy as Larry,” she re­calls.

Still woozy I was told to do noth­ing when I got home. I don’t re­mem­ber this but Mrs H sent me to watch telly while she made a cup of tea. But she went up to change first. When she came down I was stag­ger­ing in the di­rec­tion of the kitchen to make the tea and had to be led back to the sofa.

I couldn’t help won­der­ing how I had failed the bowel test but been given a clear colonoscopy. Then I re­mem­bered al­most the last thing the nurse had said to me. Blood can get into your poo in many ways in­clud­ing such sim­ple things as bleed­ing from the gums when clean­ing teeth. That was it. I re­mem­bered that had hap­pened around the time of the test.

Now, the night be­fore I do the test, I clean my teeth very, very care­fully.

While a bit weird, the test is quite pain­less, but it does have a funny side. So when the en­ve­lope drops through the let­ter­box, don’t hes­i­tate, take the test. It could save your life.

Still fancy that choco­late Hob­nob?

Bowel can­cer kit

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