Gastroenteritis or – When the Shit Hits the Fan!

I’ve seen enough of the trials and tribulations of life (and death) to know that in the grand scheme of things, my few days beginning on 4th March were nothing of significance, but as a shit few days go – literally (and this is from someone who has had colo-rectal cancer, so knows everything there is to know about shit), I have hardly known worse.

Mother was awake all night, pacing up and down – up and down, in and out of bed, backwards and forwards seemingly never ending. After continually getting out of bed and finally losing count, I put my head under the duvet, trying to block out the noise of the creaking floorboards as the pacing continued. BIG MISTAKE!

When finally I surfaced after maybe an hour or so of sleep, I heard Mum downstairs, still pacing. I crawled out of bed and as soon as I opened my door I realized my error as I was greeted with the smell of excrement. Then I saw the trail – all across the landing, into the bathroom, over the mirror, the radiator the floor, the toilet seat, hardly a surface untouched. I backtracked to her bedroom and just outside her door was the pile where it had first begun. She had done it on the landing and walked in it, gone to the toilet, then walked back to her room and climbed in and out of bed – it was everywhere. Then I followed the trail downstairs, all over the stair carpet, across the floor, into the kitchen and back into the living room, where I even found it on mum’s tray at the side of her chair.

My first thought was that she was ill, but when I investigated the origins on the landing I realised it was just the normal consistency indicating her very healthy appetite – big appetite = large dump! Followed by size seven feet tramping through it, then hands trying to wipe it off.

Firstly I had to get her back upstairs to the bath, but I couldn’t ask her to sit down so I could wipe her feet (white sofas), neither could I get her to balance on one leg without her grabbing hold of something with her shitty hands. As the floor was already soiled I took the lesser of the evils.

Back in the bathroom the big clean up began by me helping her into the bath, stripping off her nightie and hosing her down with the shower, then getting her dried and with great difficulty got her back into her bedroom, trying to avoid the dollops on the floor. As she was getting dressed I set to – on my new carpets (in preparation for marketing the house) with water, disinfectant and a scrubbing brush. I had viewers coming round at 6pm that evening!

Mum was due to go to day-care between 9am and 10am, so I decided that she wasn’t ill (with the ‘normal’ dump) and I would be better fixed if she was out of the way, so that I could scrub the rest of the house and dry the carpets with a hairdryer.

She ate breakfast as usual and off she went as I got back to the task in hand. I popped out to buy more cleaning stuff and when I returned there was a message on the answer machine. Mum had vomited, so could I go and get her!

She was looking rather jaded and they kindly gave me a washing up bowl in which to collect any vomit on the way home!

Having lived in Africa and gained knowledge of all kinds of gastroenteritis, I was aware of the necessity for rehydration. Fortunately I had some rehydration salts in the cupboard, so started these immediately. Within the hour they were back, together with copious quantities of pea green bile! Fortunately this was collected in the bowl and I was able to continue with my scrubbing.

Job finished I was just heaving a sigh of relief when the diarrhoea started, leaving a trail back upstairs to the bathroom covering the area I had just cleaned. And so the day progressed with me finally having to bite the bullet and go out to buy anti diarrhoea pills and incontinence knickers, dreading what I would find upon my return.

By 3.30 I had no option but to phone the estate agent and cancel my viewers – and back to the scrubbing again. It was no wonder that by now my knees and back where killing me, the latter not least caused by having to heave mum in and out of the bath. She is taller than me and considerably heavier.

As I got her off to bed that night I suggested she carry the bowl with her with me following her up the stairs to steady her. She refused the bowl, saying she was now okay, but as she reached the next to the last step she threw up all over the newly washed carpet! So it continued till late into the night. Just as I was making my way to bed I noticed my clean washing, which had been airing over the stair rails on the landing – every item daubed with shit, so it was back downstairs to the washing machine!

Friday morning things had subsided and a friend phoned and invited me out to lunch. I had to decline, explaining the circumstances. Nevertheless he decided to come round here, armed with sandwiches from M&S. As instructed by the pharmacist I just gave mum a light lunch of chicken soup.

That evening another friend phoned, saying after work he would be doing a job nearby and would call in with a kebab. Again I explained the circumstances, but he insisted on calling albeit without the kebab. We just had a cuppa and he enjoyed my vast array of nuts, but I was increasingly starting to panic when I realised I wasn’t interested in the nuts. Sure enough, I went down with the virus later that evening. I just hoped my guests would be okay.

As I started with the diarrhoea and vomiting, so mum started all over again, the difference being that I was able to contain mine. However, there is nothing quite so repulsive as clearing up other people’s mess when you are feeling totally ghastly! The incontinence pants had been a good buy – until Mum, without my knowledge, took them off in the middle of the night and as a consequence I had another trail if shite to deal with. By the Sunday we were starting to improve, but I was totally shattered.

Monday – no shit, but I had decided not to send Mum to day care and let her sleep in. When she finally emerged she was talking gobbledygook – a sure sign she had a urine infection. It could be a mini stroke, but I had lots of experience of TIAs with my dad and these symptoms were different. I determined to phone the doctor’s surgery next morning, so long as the gastroenteritis had still subsided.

Tuesday 8.15, mum was still in bed so I phoned to make an appointment for 2.30pm. Mum eventually got up and horror of horrors it started all over again. How could I take her to the surgery with diarrhoea and vomiting – risking infecting everyone – clearly it was a very virulent virus – and what about the mess? I had to call for advice. I explained the situation, saying Mum had an appointment for 2.30 – with regard to the gobbledygook, but in the meantime the gastroenteritis had resumed and I felt I shouldn’t bring her. The receptionist said I was a bit late in asking for a home visit. I countered that my mum was 92 and I couldn’t let her go on like this so I would take her to the hospital. With that she said she would put me on the list and the doc would be starting his home visits in about an hour. I thanked her and hung up.

Minutes later the phone rang – same receptionist. ‘You already have an appointment at 2.30, you can either keep that or wait for a home visit tomorrow!”

‘I know I have an appointment at 2.30, but with Mum starting with the screaming shits again I didn’t think it wise to bring her to the surgery’. She assured me it was fine, so off we went at the appointed time – complete with bowl!

The doctor was very efficient, covering all angles and I told her that in my opinion it wasn’t a TIA but nevertheless she arranged for Mum to see a consultant.  She also agreed it might be a urine infection and instructed me to collect a sample bottle from reception – also to speak to them about asking the district nurses to call, with regard to incontinence pads. As for the gastroenteritis – just let it run its course.

I did as I was instructed, collected the bottle, took Mum home and with great difficulty and a crushed hand, I managed to get a sample, which gave me no doubt mum had an infection as the urine was bright orange. I immediately returned it to the surgery, where the receptionist told me to phone in about five days for the result. Five days! What good would that do? This kind of infection really knocks Mum back and it takes ages (or maybe not at all) for her to recover from it mentally.

The Stroke Clinic phoned with an appointment the following day – how efficient was that! Not that anything was done except blood pressure & blood test (for which I still haven’t had the results).

I actually phoned the surgery on the Friday afternoon for the urine results, but no luck. Phoned again on Monday, Tuesday and finally on Wednesday I was told the results of the urine sample were back, but not yet been looked at and I was to call again the following day. I phoned just after lunch and received a recorded message telling me the surgery was closed for training. It was Friday before I got the results – 10 days after taking the sample – and guess what – mum did have a urine infection!


Published by


Born in Liverpool at the end of WW2, but raised in Skelmersdale. I first studied art in Southport from 1960-63 and worked in graphic design till I married. In December 1969 I moved to Zambia with my husband and two young children. There I taught art in the local girls school, illustrated for the National Correspondence College and did all sorts of other artwork, paid and unpaid. In 1978 I divorced and remarried in the summer of 1980. In 1985 I became ill and the following year cancer was diagnosed. There was no treatment available in Zambia and so I had to go to the UK. After recovering from a radium needle implant I went back to Zambia, but 18 months later the cancer recurred and it was off to the UK again for radical surgery. This time I realised I must stay in the UK where treatment was available, so I never returned to Zambia nor my husband. A few months later I applied for a degree course, but two years later the disease metastasised and I spent most of my final year in and out of hospital. It’s been a long hard road, but I’m still plodding on and it is now 24 years since my last cancer treatment. Because of my experience of cancer and surviving against the odds, I try and help others cope with their devastating diagnosis and prognosis.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s