Fair warning in advance, the following talks about colonoscopies and things of that nature so if that makes you uncomfortable or grossed out, feel free to not read this post.
So up until yesterday, I had only ever been in hospitals as a result of health issues in my family but never had to go for myself. Or, at least, didn’t have the means to in the past. However a week ago, I finally decided that I needed to check out an issue I have been having since early childhood, so I had a doctor refer me to see a gastroenterologist at a hospital somewhat nearby. Upon hearing my symptoms, they scheduled me for a colonoscopy.
My boss was a little surprised to hear that someone as young as I am was going for that but it happens. The preparation was probably my least favorite part of the whole situation, because I’m a foodie and I work a full time labor job, so abstaining from things that actually have a taste, whilst also trying to flush out my system with the meds they gave me and only clear liquids, was less than appealing.
When my dad and I got to the hospital, for whatever reason, my appointment wasn’t actually inputted into the system so I unfortunately became a last minute add on, but luckily it didn’t end up being much later than my original time so no harm done really.
After my wait time, I got to the room where they were to insert an IV. I, being the nervous first timer that I was, asked the nurse if IV’s hurt. She said “I would be lying if I said no”. Oddly enough, that comment made me laugh and I told her I appreciated her honesty. She was originally going to put it in my left arm but upon seeing how many tattoos I had there, she opted for the right so that she could make sure she could see the veins. I anticipated as much so I just sheepishly apologized for it. IV’s are definitely not the most pleasant feeling but nowhere near the worst either. It did leave my hand feeling quite cold though.
While in the room waiting to be transported, there was a small mix up with files because, just my luck, there was another lady with my last name going for the exact same procedure. It was sorted out relatively quickly and we each were able to do our thing without much trouble.
Once I was in the procedure room, the doctor asked me some questions and based on my answers was already fairly certain of what it is that I had and explained as much. Then the anesthetic was turned on, which again as a first timer, was slightly weird feeling but refreshing in a way due to the cold temperature. I wanted to close my eyes, but the doctor told me to open them so I’m running on the assumption that I was fully awake during the procedure, but I don’t remember anything after that until I got to the recovery room. At this point, I “woke up” and the nurse was asking me if I was okay cause I was tearing up for no reason as I was not in any pain or discomfort, nor was I sad. Apparently this is not an entirely uncommon thing and actually quite funny to me as I’m not surprised in the least being that I am such an emotional person to begin with.
I very quickly got my bearings back and when another nurse saw how awake I was and asked me how I felt, I said “no more drowsy than a mid-day nap”, which seemed to make her chuckle. I was in surprisingly good spirits afterwards and was very relieved to have responded positively to the entire situation. Shortly after, I talked to the doctor who told me that it was indeed what he originally thought it to be, which is (here’s the unpleasant but very real stuff) STC or Slow Transit Constipation.
Essentially what that means is that my colon works very slowly compared to the average person. (This extra wordy bit here is my own research following the procedure. The doc just gave me the simple description.) This slow, infrequent movement of the bowels is due to abnormalities in the enteric nervous system which controls the contractions within the intestinal walls that moves the stool through the body. In people with STC, that movement is reduced so the stool spends longer amounts of time in contact with the intestines and as a result, loses all the moisture whist still collecting fibre before it reaches the rectum, resulting in hard, difficult to pass stool (or in other cases uncontrollable soiling), as well as other symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and sometimes blood in the stool. Unfortunately it’s considered a chronic illness and has no cure. But it is still treatable in a few different ways depending on the severity.
Luckily in my case, my overall system is good and has not been damaged so surgery is not something that I require. Instead, I was told to start taking specific laxatives that are meant to not only draw moisture in to the intestines, but also retain it while it pushes the stool along. In conjunction I’m also being told to take fibre supplements to get the appropriate amount for an adult. That being said, obviously, this setup doesn’t work for everyone as often times STC doesn’t respond well to fibre and can worsen the issue, so testing out different treatment options for each individual is very important.
When I returned home, I proceeded to do a bit of research to get a better understanding of what I have to learn to work with and the possible side effects and interactions of what I was told to take. In doing this I learned that STC is known to mimic and oftentimes coincide with Hirschsprung’s Disease, which when originally trying to figure out what I had, was one of the things I thought was most likely, so finding out that I was very close in my thought process is reassuring that I know my body well. Much like Hirschsprung’s Disease, STC is something that can be diagnosed soon after birth and is caused due to nerves.
The difference is that Hirschsprung’s Disease is caused due to a lack of nerve cells and therefore means that, unlike STC which is slower and infrequent but still able to pass, bowel movement in HD is completely halted and cannot be expelled on its own accord.
So in a sense, STC is almost a milder but still just as debilitating, version of Hirschsprung’s. And therefore, the treatment options are very much alike, if not the same, so although trickier to diagnose due to the similarities, it’s still treatable.
My overall experience with this whole thing ever since I was a kid has always been very hard and embarrassing to deal with and I never understood why, even when I tried to better my diet and exercise as I got older, my body wasn’t responding in the way that it’s expected to. There were a lot of moments as a kid where I would cry from pain after a bowel movement or get lightheaded from straining too hard and even times where I had to skip plans with friends because I felt so ill, so finally finding out not only what it is, but also how to manage it in a safe way gives me a bit of hope that I can continue on a path to becoming healthier and that it’s not something to be ashamed of. Sometimes bodies are just fucking weird and break the rules.
Info about STC taken from here.