The Joys of the Stool Test
Last updated: March 2022
One slightly vexing aspect of IBD is the stool test. For the uninitiated, this involves defecating in a pan before scooping out your excrement in little lab vials.
I remember one Friday afternoon my friends were texting me about going to a club. Meanwhile, I was on my hands and knees in a hospital bathroom, scooping up my turds with a little spoon and trying to get them inside the tiny vials, an imperfect process that ended up getting my hands soiled. Party time!
Needing a stool test with Crohn's or colitis
Your doctor may order a stool test for you for numerous reasons. One common reason is to check for a bacterial infection, which can often exacerbate Crohn’s or colitis. I’ve gotten these tests a number of times. Once I tested positive for E. coli. Another time I got campylobacteriosis. Don't ask me how. Maybe germs like me. Hell, at times it seems like I’ve got more strange bacteria in my colon than there are UFO sightings in Roswell.
Anyway, my point of mentioning it is to warn you that the stool test protocol at some hospitals might make you a tad uncomfortable. This one time was particularly rough. I went to the ground floor lab where a lady behind a desk gave me the vials and the spoon and the pan and instructed me on how to proceed.
Oh, the horror...
The problem was she provided instructions in a very boisterous, grating fashion. The waiting room was densely packed. Everyone stared. She might as well have gotten on the loudspeaker and announced it to the entire hospital.
I grabbed the materials, which made me feel even more sheepish, since others were looking at me like I was a total creep, and headed to the bathroom around the corner. There I tried my best to answer’s nature’s call. Not easy. There was something awry about this whole process of defecating on command and then transporting my turds back to this secretary like a dutiful functionary.
Soon there was a knock at the door. Others needed to use the facilities. Great. Just what I needed! I took care of my business, got on my hands and knees so I was hovering over the toilet, and began scooping up my wet turds with the little spoon as the knocking increased.
"Hurry up!" the stranger cried. "It's an emergency!"
"It’s an emergency in here too," I parried back. More knocking. Was I going insane? Sure, I sympathized entirely with the person knocking, but there were other bathrooms. Then, too, this was a process that couldn’t be interrupted. The stool had to be collected into five little vials, a delicate operation, the slightest error leading to outright disaster.
The stool test embarrassment just kept comin'
I did my best, fidgeting nervously, and as described earlier, staining my hands, a tragedy which seemed of Shakespearean proportions. I wiped down my hands and the 5 tubes, mixed, shook, labeled, and departed.
When I exited my face was red with shame. Dirty looks. I didn’t respond. What was there to say? I doubted they would see the merits of my strange undertaking which might as well have been some weird aboriginal ritual.
Next, I waited in line for my chance to return my samples. I breathed more easily now, figuring my woes were over. Wrong! The lady behind the desk made the transaction into a federal production.
"These STOOL samples aren't labeled correctly," she said. "Each sample is missing your phone number." They had my address. My email. My name and insurance number. Did they really need my phone number to identify my turds?!
Now I was even more embarrassed. It probably didn't help that she was literally holding vials filled with my excrement. I shook my head. After an Ivy League degree, graduate school, and teaching college writing for 15 years here I was being scolded for improperly labeling my fecal samples. Oh my!
I added what she required, handing her back the samples. At the bottom she found one vial missing my date of birth. "All your stool. Make sure ALL YOUR STOOL is labeled correctly," she said, at which point I felt like digging a hole in the desert and burying myself in it. I followed her instructions and scurried out of there, feeling guiltier than ever. Even my Jewish mother couldn't make me this type of shame.
My stool results & Crohn's/UC stuggles
In the end, my test came back negative. It was worth doing. All that being said, these types of indignities can drive us up the wall.
I know some IBD patients routinely experience much worse. I have had more trying struggles as well. Still, this incident really made me appreciate my privacy. It also made me thankful that I can normally go to the bathroom in peace.
Does living with IBD impact you financially?