The Stool Sample Incident
I arrived at my general physician’s office early that day. I was ordered to give her a stool sample. I had never had to give a stool sample before, so I wasn’t very pleased about it. I took great care to keep the sample discreet and undetectable. My specimen jar was carefully wrapped in a brown paper bag, which was wrapped in a plastic bag to avoid soiling the inside of my purse where I had it tucked away and out of sight. I could already tell this was not going to be a fun visit.
Blood in my stool
I had visited my doctor two weeks before. I was having digestive issues for over a month and things weren’t getting better on the antibiotics she gave me, so I had to go back. I had told her that there was blood in my stool… but I was afraid to tell her just how much was in it. The fact was, there were times when there wasn’t much stool that came with my bowel movements. Just dark puddles of blood in the bottom of the toilet.
I remember the first time I experienced the dark puddles of blood. Dave, my boyfriend at the time, and I were at a friend’s wedding. I had gone to the bathroom and remember nearly passing out from seeing such a large amount of blood in the toilet. I panicked, but I didn’t tell anyone for fear of embarrassment and went about the rest of the wedding as though nothing was wrong. But I knew I needed a doctor. Things were not okay.
I was called back to the examination room where I handed the sample off to her assistant. When the doctor came in, I asked if the bleeding could be from hemorrhoids. She said, “It could be. But let’s run a few more blood tests. If we can’t find anything wrong, we may need to schedule you a colonoscopy.”
No… I was too young for that. That’s NOT going to happen. I was convinced.
The assistant led me back to the lab to get my blood drawn and had me sit a few seats down from another man. And then I saw it. The brown bag containing my stool sample and another nurse or technician getting ready to examine it. I don’t know her name, so I’ll just call her Susan.
Oh, please, God… no… don’t open it here. Not now. Not with me here… not with HIM here.
Another nurse (we’ll call her Dina) began preparing me for the blood draw, just as Susan was opening the brown bag in front of her.
“OH MY GOD!” Susan exclaimed.
The man a few seats down looked up curiously.
Dina stopped what she was doing and looked over. “What?”
“Look at this!” Susan said holding up the jar of dark red liquid.
I wanted to die. Right there.
“What is that???” Dina asked getting up to have a closer look at the jar.
“A STOOL SAMPLE!” Susan replied.
“OH. MY. GOD!”
“Who’s is it?” Dina asked.
I wanted to disappear
As the two nurses busied themselves with the sample, I sat there wishing to disappear. Why did they have to makes such a big deal? I already felt disgusting and unwanted. What would Dave say when he found out? Would he want me anymore?
When Dina and Susan finished with their high school-type drama fest over my stool sample, Dina returned to finish my blood draw.
“What’s your name?” Dina asked.
“Amber Paulson.” I said reluctantly. A dead silence fell over the whole room. Everything got awkward.
Yes, ladies, that disgustingly interesting stool sample you were making a big deal out of is mine. Thanks.
When Dina had finished drawing my blood, I did a walk of shame back to the examination room to meet with the doctor. I feared the worst. Did I have cancer? Was I dying? I’m too young to be sick, right? It was just hemorrhoids!
When the doctor walked in she told me that due to the alarmingly large amount of blood in my sample, she was going to schedule me for an emergency colonoscopy to figure out what was going on. Clearly, I wasn’t having a bad bout of IBS. It was much worse… and soon I would learn my fate. A week later, I learned that I had ulcerative colitis. And my life has been forever changed.
What is your comfort level disclosing your IBD to your employer?