Poo, shit, faeces, crap, stools, bowel motions. Something most of us do daily, yet we discuss it very rarely. “Good shit today?” Not much of a greeting, is it? I wish we did. I wish it were more out in the open (no double entendre here).
Increasing numbers of us live our daily lives in pain and anxiety because we can’t shit regularly. My grandfather had a saying “If you don’t eat, you don’t shit, and if you don’t shit, you die!” He would say it at least once a day, loudly and firmly while looking me straight in the eye. It made me regard the daily shit, which we tend to take for granted, as something of an occasion. Proof that I would live another day.
Constipation is a fairly common visitor to us all. An injury or consistent pain often means a course of panadeine, or codeine, which causes reduced bowel motility and an inability to “pass stools”. After a few days, the bowel becomes distended causing stomach pain, and gas. There is some truth in the old joke “a fart is the scream of a trapped shit”. And then we sit on the loo “straining at stools” or trying to wish a week’s worth down the bowl. For some of us, we push so hard a vein pops and there is more pain, blood, and a haemorrhoid dangling out of our bum.
Is there a cure? We all have different bowel motility, and as we age this motility or elasticity reduces. The common medical directive is “increase fibre and fluids”, (not a coil of glass wire sitting in a bottle of wine, my first mental image). For some of us it is that simple. Alcohol and coffee are both mild diuretics, which means they can promote fluid loss. Exercise also helps (of course). Greatly increasing the amount of water we drink daily, and adding in cereal, fruit, and vegetables, softens and expands the poo so it travels down the colon more easily. These items are not always on the flat menu. You can buy “stool softeners”, and fibre. The latter comes as brown granules (why can’t they be coloured?), so they can be swallowed a teaspoonful at a time with water in the privacy of your room, or sprinkled on your food. Probably wouldn’t work with a Big Mac, and I don’t recommend it with pizza. I believe it goes well with a soft serve from the Rob Roy.
The next step is more fraught. We can be prescribed or buy a medicine with a “peristaltic” effect, where the muscles in the bowel are jolted into a bit of action. This is usually taken at night for an effect in the morning, so that you don’t get a surprise during the day. It’s useful, but a matter of trial and error. Get the dose right, and the reward is a lovely, soft painless poo in the morning. Too much and we get stomach cramps followed by a messy, smelly shit that at best (if the flat/hostel loo is available) coats the whole toilet bowl.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a term used for a condition when poos may alternate between sloppy, too hard, are infrequent, and cause pain, bloating, and farts on a daily basis – a nightmare for communal living. IBS is a relatively recent condition (or maybe is just recognised more these days). It affects about 20 percent of us, and is a condition often found in younger people. Stress, diet, and changes in living conditions are recognised as the common triggers (a nice description of student life). The treatment is not straightforward. Probiotics and diet supplements can help. As can exercise (again), and anything that helps us cope with a stressful environment. More powerful medications are available on prescription. On a positive note we age out of it!
Go forth and be regular.