My Life of Laxatives

One of the many things no one ever tells you about spending time in hospital is just how much interest everyone takes in your bodily functions.

I don’t know if the levels of scrutiny are the same for all patients (although I imagine so), but drawing on my own experiences, hospital staff really care a lot – like, a lot a lot – about whatever’s coming out of you.

Fortijuice. *shudder*

When your kidneys aren’t functioning properly, your body can’t process water in the way it should, so the amount of urine you produce, compared to how much you’re drinking, can give a good indication of how well you’re doing. So, I had the delightful experience of having a catheter fitted, and hourly checks to see what was going on down there.

If there’s one thing weirder than having someone take notes on your wee levels, it’s being congratulated when your catheter bag is full. As if I had anything to do with that particular success.

And then, of course, I have never been so interrogated on my bowel movements.

To set the scene, when I went into hospital on I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything substantial for four days. Safe to say, I did not have the makings of a stool sample inside me. And I was glad of it, because in intensive care, going for a number two involves a bed pan, a lot of help, and all the privacy a very thin curtain affords.

Luckily, I never needed the bed pan. But I did start ingesting again (don’t get me wrong, that was very much a good thing).

On the fourth morning in intensive care, I was asked about my bowel movements for about the 20th time. Nothing to report. So I was prescribed laxatives. And that was OK, because I was just about to be moved out if intensive care and into a ward with a bit more freedom and, crucially, proper toilets.

It was a liquid laxative, and probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted (only marginally worse than Fortijuice, but more on that later). I pretended it was tequila and knocked it back like a trooper. Then, for reasons I still don’t understand, they added another two types of laxative to my prescription list, for later, presumably.

Another fun fact about hospital is that, once you’ve been prescribed something it’s near impossible to get it un-prescribed. So, the next morning (far from intensive care), even though I reported on my bowel movements (which were as healthy as could be expected), I was still offered laxatives – three different types of laxatives – and treated with much disdain by the nurse when I politely declined.

And so I entered a new phase in my hospital journey. Every morning I was quizzed on my bowel movements. Every morning I was given three forms to laxatives to take. Every morning I politely declined. And every morning the nurses became more and more perplexed as to why, telling me they were going to have to tell the doctors I was refusing my medication.

Now, I’m clearly no doctor, but when the question is whether I need laxatives or not, I think the only person who can answer with any authority is me.

At the same time as all this, I still wasn’t eating properly. A biscuit here, some cashews there, occasionally an a couple of chips. So a dietitian came to see me, declared that I wasn’t getting all the nutrients I needed (shocking I know) and prescribed a bottle of Fortijuice three times a day.

Fortijuice, if you’re not familiar, is designed to provide all the vitamins and protein you need, and 300 calories, in a 200ml bottle of what is essentially syrup. It’s supposed to be fruit flavoured. It does not taste good. I experimented with a few different varieties, tried diluting it and sipping slowly, tried drinking it quickly to get it over with, but nothing made it any more manageable.

I spent a few days stoically trying to chug my Fortijuice three times a day, but then, to make matters worse, it started to have – um – let’s call it a laxative effect.

So now, every morning I was still quizzed about my bowel movements. And although I had much more to report, every morning I was still offered laxatives – three different types of laxatives – and treated with even more disdain when my declining became a little less polite.

By this time, I was also gathering quite a collection of un-drunk Foritjuice bottles. You can imagine how well that went down.

But things did start to improve. My catheter was removed, and I was trusted with monitoring my own urine output. Yay! In practice, this meant taking a little jug with me to the bathroom, artfully peeing into it, and writing down the measure of millilitres I had managed. (I had to keep doing this for about a week after I was discharged. Eventually, we had to throw that jug out after a near miss when my mother in law was making gravy.)

I want to be clear that I’m not hating on the doctors who prescribed me laxatives, or the nurses who tried to make me take them. I know they were doing their jobs and, obviously, had my health in mind. Also there’s a serious issue here – you can tell a lot about your health based on your body’s output. Maybe we should all just get used to talking about it? As you can probably tell, I did.

I started eating real food again, I genuinely didn’t need the Fortijuice, and I felt much, much better for it (as did my bowels).

However, once you’ve been prescribed something, it’s near impossible to get it un-prescribed. So, although thankfully I wasn’t discharged with a year’s supply of Fortijuice, I did leave the hospital with a jug for my pee, and a bag brimming with laxatives. Three. Different. Types.

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