The Crappy Side of Life
With the amount of house sits we have done over the past 19 months I have felt qualified to write, not just a blog, but a whole book, maybe even a series, on the toilet habits of Villefranche du Perigord and surrounding areas! Combined with the house sits and the occasional borrowing of bathrooms to take a shower, I have sat my ‘petite derrier’ on more than my fair share of toilets.
It was on one of said house sits that I had my first bout of serious gastric illness since being in France – which was truly awful! Being that ill away from my own home felt wrong in so many ways. Sitting on a loo, clutching a bucket in my arms being sick at the same time is something that us humans very much prefer to do in the comfort of our own surroundings. Even when those usual surroundings are a tiny motor home bathroom.
I’d like to set the record straight at this point as to what exactly our motor home bathroom constitutes – as, is often the case with village life, we sometimes hear aspects of our life repeated back to us by one of the many village gossips – and often with lots of arms and legs on!! So, we’ve had the odd strange conversation and realised that people have put two and two together, come up with eleventy f***ing billion, and then added their own thoughts to that. It’s become apparent that some people thought we didn’t have a shower at all! Whilst others thought maybe we were lacking a toilet altogether. It’s partly our own fault of course as I have always made a bit of a thing over saying “it’s hard for us to invite people over for a meal as we don’t have proper toilet facilities”. I guess that has conjured up all sorts of imaginings!!
So…our little motor home bathroom consists of:
A cassette toilet – in which you do what you need to do, and then, being a ‘blue job’ Martin gets to take the cassette down to the village ‘aire’ and use the toilet disposal point there to empty it in to. We have two cassettes – an ‘heir and a spare’ so to speak (seeing as the Royal Family is quite topical at the moment). One of them is in the toilet at all times, and the other one is stored under the van. And no! To answer any questions that may be pondering!! We do not empty it in the bushes – and neither do we poop in the woods!
We’re not keen on guests using that toilet as it always feels
a) a bit awkward as when you open the flap you can see what the last person done down there, and
b) a massive imposition on Martin to empty other people’s pee and poop (and I am sure as hell not doing it).
But we do now have a ‘dry toilet’ in the Garden House – which is going to be moved soon into the main house after after such a time that we have water plumbed into the house
A small sink – which drains in to the waste water tank which is emptied out into the hedgerow (we use Eco friendly toiletries). The pipe work for the sink is a bit on the narrow side which means we have to be very careful what we use in it – for example toothpaste clogs it up, so Martin is forever dismantling the plumbing and unblocking it, and I can’t use my favourite facial scrub as it contains oil – if I want this I have to rinse using a bowl and throw straight in the hedge – otherwise the oil would sit at the bottom of the waste water tank and solidify!
A small shower cubicle – which is teeny, tiny and very enclosed – you can barely turn around in it. It also has a lift out floor section which needs to be removed when using the shower, and we also store a few bits and pieces in the shower when not being used. We used to have only about 3 minutes of hot water – but now, due to a brilliant new thermostat that Martin fitted we have a boost control. So, the drill for the water is, 15 minutes before you want a shower you turn the boost on (heating can’t be on at the same time so the motor home starts to get a little cold). Take out floor section, remove stored items. Hoover (yes, I said hoover!!) shower cubicle as two moulting black Labradors manage to get hair everywhere – including under the removable floor. When ready to shower put heating back on and boost off. Get in shower. Water on, wet hair, water off. Shampoo on hair. Shaving foam on legs (if doing, and also remembering that too much shaving foam will clog the waste water tank but I cannot have hairy legs so need to do this) – shave legs very quickly. Water on, rinse hair and legs – water off. Conditioner on hair, soap out, soap body, shave arm pits. Water on, rinse hair, rinse soap off, water off. If water still feels nice and hot and I have time I then use shower gel and a further rinse…until water is starting to get cold. Get out and dry off – motor home should be nice and warm again by now. Then wipe out shower – also needs a proper dry off so the motor home doesn’t get damp – and resemble the shower cubicle, return floor section and items that are stored on the floor. This whole process takes about 30 minutes of my life each day! Not at all like the luxury of having a proper installed shower in your home bathroom. But it does its job.
So, these rather basic facilities are one of the reasons that we volunteered to do house sits – especially last year before we had the Garden House. It was so nice to have toilets that flushed, showers that didn’t need to be assembled, and sinks that don’t get blocked up when you use too much toothpaste.
But even so, I still wanted my own little bathroom when I was poorly.
I’ve already written about my terrible bout of gastric illness that was part of the build up to appendicitis in my previous blog Thank Goodness for Yoga Pants. Since then I haven’t been right, so after discussion with my Gastroenterologist it was decided that I must have an endoscopy AND a colonoscopy – or as I refer to it fondly ‘a double ender’. Much to my dismay the surgeon would only do this under General Anaesthetic which, initially I refused point blank – but then after gentle persuasion I did reluctantly agree to.
People often ask me why I blog – and for me it is a really simple issue. Some people like to keep themselves to themselves and be very private – and nosy people ponder about what they are doing and often fill the gaps in their knowledge with half-truths – or sometimes even out and out lies. And some people like to be in control of who knows what about their lives. And I fall in to that category. I have no issue with people knowing any aspect of my life (apart from the really private stuff) as long as their version of it is accurate. However, as I’ve said – I do get really annoyed when I hear aspects of my life re-told back to me by a person who was not privy to the first conversation, with the facts not quite right. Living in a small community does mean, and we fully accept this, that essentially you can fart at one end of Villefranche and they will hear it in Loubejac!! That’s village life for you, as Number One Very Tall Step-Son has recently discovered back in the UK. He moved house recently and went out over Christmas to introduce himself and they already knew who he was, where he lived and who he lived there with. It’s the first time for him that he’s lived in such a small community and I think he was quite amused by it.
I also feel that it can be helpful to share experiences with other people. It can reduce isolation if people realise other people have similar problems, and I also think it is fair, and kind to share information (although I understand that for some people it is that they feel that knowledge is power and they fear giving up that power). My way is right for me – and their way is right for them – we are all different!
So, even though it is a bit yukky – I’m going to share a bit about my experience of my ‘double ender’ in the hope that it might reassure someone in the future if they face having this. Maybe even someone out there is just about to go through this right now – I hope this might help them.
As it happens – the fear was worse that the procedure – that’s for sure. I have a lot of health anxieties so there were a lot of things to worry about for me.
One anxiety was the General Anaesthetic. I understand that this is a procedure that thousands of people go through each and every day and survive. But, back in 2012, in a private hospital (yeah, you’d like to think you would get better treatment hey?) I regained consciousness after a General Anaesthetic to the vision of a doctor about to use the paddles on me! I asked what was going on and they said “you are alright now” but then they told me they had to give me drugs (Glycopyrolate) because my heart rate was dangerously low – 32 beats per minute.
So, for me, having a General Anaesthetic is a very scary thing indeed – in particular as when I queried what happened, all the hospital staff closed ranks and went all shifty! So, I know something was not right but never really got to the bottom of it. So these days, no amount of people telling me it is nothing, not that bad, just a simple procedure, nothing to worry about, is going to stop me worrying and indeed – I challenge anyone who has ever awoken to the “paddles” to not be worried about going under.
Another anxiety was the face mask for the oxygen. In the UK you can have a choice between a mouth piece and a mask that goes over your nose and mouth. I’m very claustrophobic and due to a traumatic experience in my teens I have a fear of face masks – which strangely manifested for the first time when in Australia back in the 80’s when I f***ed up an amazing opportunity to go snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef! I was on a boat trip to one of the Islands and the plan was to all go down the ladder on the side of the boat and spend the afternoon snorkelling. I went down the ladder, slid into the water, all OK – then put my face under water and completely freaked out! It was something to do with the combination of the odd way of breathing through a snorkel and the coral looking as if it was really close and the fish!! Ewkkk the fish – all scaly and….well,…… fishy! Anyway, I was near hysterical – and spent the afternoon on the beach of the island whilst everyone else snorkelled. That fear has stayed with me all my life! During the birth of my first (live born) child I buggered up my chance to have a natural childbirth because I couldn’t tolerate the gas and air through a face mask and they neither could or would offer it through a mouth piece. I’ve managed to put my ‘big girl pants’ on a bit more since then and have snorkelled in Mexico and the Canaries, and I had my second child’s placenta manually removed (yes another gruesome story) under gas and air but with a mouth-piece – but I still am very uneasy about having something over my face especially when it is not on my terms.
And then, of course – there was the fear of what they would find. The best way I describe the ongoing sensation that was causing the concern was as if I had a kink in my colon. As if the bit of my colon that is by my appendix was kinked like a hose pipe when the water comes out but really slowly (only for the colon it would be poop).
As well as that feeling I had not been right in the ‘toilet department’ since the day of my appendectomy. So, I was thinking all sorts – maybe a giant polyp right by the appendix, or they had injured me during the operation. Then of course I started to think that they might find other things as well. With a life-long (well since mid-teens) history of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and a family history of Bowel Cancer (my dad’s brother and sister both died from it) I felt certain that if they dug around, they would probably find something. And that’s always a concern to me, as through my years of work in cancer support, I have learnt only too well that there is a tendency over-diagnose and over-treat some types of cancer these days. Diagnosis of early stage cancers that would never kill a person result in body parts missing and treatments that produce worse long-term side-effects that the cancer ever would.
I was also very anxious about the Bowel Preparation medicine. It’s a very strong laxative that results in very fast, explosive diarrhoea to clean out the colon so it is clear from them to see. Many years ago, I had a similar medication which I somehow took incorrectly and made myself extremely ill – so just the thought of doing this was making me nervous. Also, the whole thing about having “explosive diarrhoea” and possible sickness in the motor home bathroom was very worrying – given as I have mentioned above – it doesn’t all just flush away!
And even before I got to the Bowel Preparation stage there was the small matter of a 5 day “No Residue Diet” which clearly was not written with vegetarians in mind. No vegetables or fruit AT ALL. No beans, lentils, chickpeas!! As much lean meat as I wanted – well thanks very much – but no thanks. Hard cheeses, eggs, fish – all OK – but all problematic in their own different ways for me – cheese I love it…but it doesn’t love me – I am lactose intolerant which is why I don’t drink milk, or eat cream. I can tolerate cheese in small amounts – but as I found out after my cheese fest at Christmas when I eat too much I come out in hives!! I had just got rid of the awful itchy rash from the “Christmas Cheese Coma” and now faced it all over again.
Eggs – again I love, but can only eat 3 or 4 a week or I get ‘egg bound’ and with the object of getting cleared out this seemed a bit pointless. And fish!! Oh dear – the ethical dilemma of knowing that I am only really prepared to eat fish in small amounts occasionally and then – only large fish such as cod or tuna (based on the minimal lives per meal rationale). Butter in small quantities….yes but on what? Bread was not allowed – only the little toast like bread crackers (why these are allowed but not real bread I do not understand). White rice and pasta were allowed. But again? With what? So, I was spending a lot of time worrying about what I would eat and how it would affect me.
And to make things even worse, the French infection control procedures involve patients taking not just one, but two showers in an Iodine Hair and Body Wash – one the evening before and one in the morning. My fear was that the iodine would stain the very porous material that the shower is made of and it would be very difficult with such little water to keep flushing it away and even so then – it’s doing in to the waste water tank.
So, all things considered I was very anxious about the whole thing – both the preparation, the operation and the findings.
What actually happened was this:
The 5 day “no residue diet” was, as expected, difficult. I ate pretty much the same thing each day. Breakfast was 2 eggs and 3 bits of bread shaped cracker – ‘Biscottes” they are called in France. As predicted – bunged me up. Lunch each day was cooked white pasta, strained with half a tin of tuna stirred in to it. Ok the first time but after 5 days – I never want to see another can of tuna again. It resembled cat food and stank the motorhome out. Yes, I suppose I could have prepared it in the house but we have made a commitment to having a totally meat and fish free home from Day One. Dinner was white rice with a piece of steamed cod. White and white!! Not a good colour combination for a meal. Bland, boring, monotonous, and full of guilt! I ate 10 portions of fish in 5 days – way more that I felt was a reasonable compromise on my stance as a vegetarian (for animal welfare reasons) which was to eat it occasional when there were no other options. In between meal snacks were the ‘biscottes’ with cheese on. And of course – large and regular quantities of cheese meant the hives came back and I was left feeling itchy, bloated, uncomfortable. I also felt annoyed when I read that the UK version of the same diet included ‘well cooked vegetables’ which makes me think that it is pure laziness on the part of the French medical profession to include vegetables as they are probably taking the easy option and rather than explaining to the French (who mostly do not understand the concept of steaming vegetables without cooking them in butter or adding lardons to them) that they can only have plain, over cooked vegetables – they just say none at all. I did of course not dare say this to the French surgeon as I am certain he would have just told me to go and have the procedure in England!!
Bowel Preparation – this was an interesting experience. I was to mix 2 sachets of Colopeg into 2 litres of water and drink this over a 2-hour period on Sunday evening. And then repeat this process on the Monday morning. I researched this a lot on the Internet and through forums discovered that the knack is to get your mixed solution nice and cold – easier to drink that way. Also, to stock up on nappy cream as your ‘toosh’ is going to get sore – yowch! Other advice was to make sure you don’t go more than a few feet from a bathroom, and stock up on moist toilet paper. I found a young woman’s blog about her three colonoscopies just before I started to drink my first bottle so I spent two hours reading this whilst sipping my solution. It was not bad at all – it tasted like ‘Hepa Water’ only a stronger taste – a bit like salt water – not as unpleasant as I expected. But the quantity!! It feels as if your stomach will burst. I had a routine going – 250 ml every 15 minutes which was achievable if I kept focused and on it – but you couldn’t do anything other than drink constantly to get it all down.
It started to work about an hour and half in to it and at that stage I honestly thought it was a piece of cake – a gentle process. I guess in all honesty I did realise that it could not possibly have been that simple – so far there was no way I had pooped out 5 days’ worth of eggs! I had a peaceful evening and then the first of the two showers with Betadine Iodine that I was to have. Yes, the iodine did stain the shower cubicle a bit but with a bit of elbow grease Martin has sorted that out.
But then, for some reason as soon as I wanted to go to bed about 11pm the nature of the beast turned – and then I found out what the ‘explosive’ part of the description really meant. Explosive and noisy!! Noises that I have never heard come from a bathroom before – and I think Martin not either!! Luckily, we have a good sense of humour where bodily functions are concerned. Thankfully the explosive stage only lasted for an hour or so and after about 15 times up and down on to the bed off the bed into the toilet, rinse and repeat – I did manage to get a few hours light sleep – but let’s just say – I would not have trusted a fart that night – so it was a very light sleep indeed.
In the morning I still didn’t feel empty – and indeed once I started on the morning’s 2 litres of solution, I found that a) it worked much quicker and b) you are not done until there is no colour to what is coming out (The term “I just shat clear water” featured at this stage). In doing my research I found out that some people have colons that take longer to clear than others, and during the course of the 16 hours from start to finish that I really am one of those people with a ‘long, and tortuous colon’. 16 hours to clear out a colon with a strong, strong laxative! No wonder I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome!
Next was the rather disconcerting matter of getting to the hospital – an hour away – without pooping myself. We dropped the dogs around to our friends Jan and Frieda for them to have a lovely play date with their gorgeous Rosa.
Shortly after getting back in the car I said to Martin that I regretted not using their toilet. We stopped at a village on the way only to find the toilets locked up for the winter. Bugger! Bum checks tighter than a nut cracker I managed to hold in that dangerous feeling fart until we got to Leclerc in Montayral – about the half way point. Martin dropped me right by the door and I shuffled in like a penguin. At the toilets there was a youngish woman standing by the doorway and a woman in one of the cubicles. I went in the other one and peed – I could hear everything the other woman was doing so knew she would hear me – and the noise of the explosive diarrhoea earlier that morning had reduced me and Martin to hysterical giggling – so I was really not sure how I was going to deal with this. “Oh well” I thought “Just let it go – you can’t help it” so I did. Next thing the woman by the door has rushed over to the door outside the adjacent cubicle and is calling in to her mother (or whoever she was) – saying “are you OK” (I think – it was in French) and it was then I realised that she thought it was her mother making the awful noise. I made a quick retreat, smiled awkwardly and scarpered off quickly!!
Honestly, I really don’t have much luck with public toilets. I’ve been locked in them more than once – including my most recent nightmare when we visited Perigeux over Christmas. I absolutely hate the French public toilets that have the automatic locking doors, but when a girl needs to go she needs to go. So, we’d gone into the station in the hope that there was a toilet…but it was on the platform so I went off on my own to find it. To my horror it was one of ‘those’ toilets – so I’m already a bit stressed. It was engaged. Luckily Ryan followed me out as he also needed to go – leaving just Martin with the dogs in the station café. The woman in the toilet took ages….and I was getting anxious. I was imagining that she was stuck in the toilet cubicle (such is my fear of these toilets). When eventually she came out, I was in such a heightened level of anxiety that I barely noticed the order of events and jumped in the door before it could close and decapitate me. I pressed the button to lock the door, and then done what I needed to do. And then I pressed the button to unlock the door – it changed colour but nothing happened! The door did not open!! Just as I had feared I had got locked in the toilet! Heart racing, I hit the button again. It turned red (locked) – so I banged it a bit hard (back to green). Still the door didn’t open. My heart is now pumping like crazy. I felt myself get hot….and panic starts to set in. I called through the door to Ryan “The door won’t open”. He suggested taking a photo of the panel and then send it to him – he probably thought my French was so bad I couldn’t understand the instructions.
But it wasn’t that – it was that the door wasn’t sliding open. By now I was panicking really badly, sweating, trying to not over react but imagining that I will be stuck here for hours whilst they get the ‘pompiers’ (the fire brigade) to rescue me. I had flash backs to the time that the automatic toilet on the Southampton Central to London Waterloo train opened when I was sat on the toilet (yes, I told you – I have not had good luck with public toilets) and reflected that this situation was worse, in that I was trapped – back then only merely embarrassed.
I called out to Ryan
“Please go and get Martin and ask him to bring a member of station staff with him”.
Off he went, then a few minutes later a female voice – telling me which buttons to press. Obviously due to my stress I now have ZERO French language….so I’m trying to say I am pressing the buttons. She then tells me to push the door. So, I give the door a bloody huge heave ho, expecting that I need to put my full body weight against it to un-jam it – or whatever has happened to break it.
And the door opens! Easily! Very easily! As guess what? It wasn’t a sliding door after all – it was a push door! Oh dear! With my fear of the door jamming I had totally failed to notice how the door operated and had made it happen!! That’s the Law of Attraction for you!! I was so embarrassed! The station lady was lovely!! All smiles and a bit taken aback when I threw my arms around her and thanked her for saving me!
Anyway, I have digressed – so let’s get back to the trip to the hospital. This was a smooth process – we checked in and were taken to my private room (it’s a state hospital but I was given the option of paying 35€ for a private room which given the stories about the gas releasing was in my mind worth every penny). A lovely young nurse called Margot was looking after me. I spoke a bit of French, she spoke a bit of English, and in between we used Google translate. She was pleasant, helpful and made me feel very reassured. She was also very interested in my Daith piercing – asking me lots of questions about where she could get one done. She has a Helix piercing. It was good to chat about silly shit like that – helped me to relax.
This time I knew which parts of the ‘uniform’ to put on which body parts – last time I mistakenly put a foot cover on my head (thinking that I had three different size head covers to choose from). Not longer after getting prepped up a male porter came to get me and I was down in the anaesthetic room by just before 1pm. The lovely nurse there was chatting away – a bit of English with my little bit of French – and I mentioned to her how scared I was of the face mask – and bless her – she went over to a cupboard and came back with a nose tube and said “I can’t promise, you might be able to have this instead and we can ask” – when Caroline the (also lovely) anaesthetic nurse came over she said that was fine. She kept saying to me “I promise you, I will look after you – we are in this together”. She was so lovely!
Then I was wheeled through. The only really scary part was when they showed me the piece of plastic that goes into my mouth to let the tube in and I became worried that I was going to be awake for the endoscopy.
It was got lost in translation and Caroline thought my pointing was me saying I needed to eat before I had the tube – ha ha! But then she realised what I was saying and reassured me I would not feel anything. They put the piece of plastic in my mouth which felt really odd but then the anaesthetic came and I went to sleep.
Then I woke up in the recovery room and came around – felt that all my body parts were still intact. I felt fine and also no sore throat. No pain anywhere and no apparent signs of a partial bowel reconstruction. I checked the time – just about 2pm which reassured me that I had not been out long enough for anything major to have occurred. Then they took me back up to my room about 2.30pm. I had a few sips of water – sneakily as I know they won’t give you anything for at least an hour. About 3.30pm Margot came in to ask me what drink I wanted and said I would get some bread, butter and jam. I said to her “Good! En Anglais je mange un cheval” (I could eat a horse) she laughed and said “En Francais je mange un hogg” (I eat a pig). We had a laugh, and me and Martin discussed afterwards how we are not so much dissimilar as alike – and what a shame that Britain is fast becoming a country that wants to disengage from the rest of Europe.
I enjoyed my bread and jam, watched a few episodes of ER with French dubbing (hilarious) and then it was time to speak to the surgeon to see how it had all gone – and despite my fears that something awful would be found he said that there is no problem, no injury, no polyps, no cancer. So, now I know that the problems I have are not anything structural to do with my bowel.
So, the next stage is to work out what it is that I am putting in to my system that is causing the problems – i.e. look at diet. And also, what is the strange pain at the appendix site? If it is not anything wrong with my colon – it could simply be healing, it could be that the internal staples are a little too tight – but it would certainly seem that whatever it is, it is not anything bad to worry about.
Back to the drawing board. For the rest of January, I am going to continue where I left of with my detox and then in February after a few days break I am going to go on to the Low FODMAP elimination diet to see if I can work out what (if any) food triggers can be identified. This is quite a daunting prospect for a vegetarian as lentils and chickpeas are pretty much off limits – but the good news is that gin is Low FODMAP!
My gut (pardon the pun) feel is that the lack of exercise that occurred firstly when I knackered my knee, and then after my appendectomy has contributed to a sluggish system which with my “long and tortuous colon” has simply aggravated problems.
But for now, I’m happy that it’s all over and again very thankful for the French health care system which has started to restore a little faith in the medical profession.
So, yes, there is a “Crappy Side of Life” but all in all – Life is Good!