Downeaster Alexa – That doesn’t look normal

April & May, 2018

Heard this song during a road trip to Melbourne,
for my nephew’s first birthday, my cousin’s son, yeah it was a lot of fun,
But days prior something had triggered alarm bells,
Didn’t know it then but I was about to enter the pits of hell,
I fought that secret battle, almost broken, but came up triumphant,
Victory was mine, I’m da man, but the war had just begun.


It started one day, out of the blue. Something seemed odd one morning when I went into the bathroom and did my business.

Heh……that doesn’t look normal. Is that blood?

I dismissed it as a one-time thing as I cleaned myself up and then went about my life as though everything was normal and for a while it was – until it wasn’t.
Over the next few weeks one-time became once in a while. And then it became a few times a week. Then it became almost every day. Sure, I had ‘good days’ but the ‘bad days’ began to add up and and alarm bells rang in my head. But like most men I was reluctant to come clean to a medical practitioner and went straight to Dr Google instead. I typed up my symptoms in the search bar and hoped for a not-too-drastic-diagnosis.
Hopes were dashed.
I read all the possible ailments that could be manifesting within me based on my symptoms and melted in my seat. Damn near all of them sounded serious and could potentially lead to something more life-threatening if I didn’t take immediate action. Over the next few days anxiety set up camp in my mind and was soon joined by its good friends disbelief and rage as I struggled to come to terms with what was happening to me.

Shoot, just the act of going to the toilet began to fill me with dread! It became a cruel game of hit or miss, wondering if there would be blood today or not. It certainly threw my emotions into a spin, on good days I’d breathe a sigh of relief only to then have that feeling obliterated by the presence of blood during the bad days. To make matters worse my appetite deteriorated to the point where I often had to force myself to eat. This was not good. In addition to bloody stools a loss of appetite was also a possible symptom of inflammatory bowel disease and of that hideous monster known as bowel cancer.

Great. I guess I’m doomed.

Man, I sure hoped that this loss of appetite was merely a byproduct of the stress that I was under but given my additional symptoms it could very well have been something much worse. I’d become paranoid quicker than I could believe and any ache or pain that I experienced, however minor, had me in a state of panic.
Going to sleep at night also became an ordeal. I would spend half an hour lying in the dark while my mind tormented me before I finally drifted off, screaming internally at my inner demons to return to the depths of hell and leave me alone.


I remember one particular day towards the end of April where I was in my room, sitting on my bed and trying to keep myself together. I kept these symptoms to myself, presenting a strong, relaxed front for my family and friends, but inside I was suffering. Whatever it was inside me, I felt that it was becoming serious and I contemplated speaking to a doctor but fear and pride prevented me from doing so. I was not prepared to confess lest my worst fears were realized and so like a sick coward I chose to live in ignorance and denial rather than face the music. I could practically see the words ‘COWARD’ scrawled in blood-red letters across my forehead whenever I looked at my reflection on the mirror.

As I sat on my bed I thought about how keeping my mouth shut could potentially come at the expense of my livelihood, perhaps even my life. Imagine that, life as I knew it taken away from me because I was too much of a chicken shit to speak up. And the more I thought about it the more I got pissed off at myself for not having the balls to just tell someone!

God dammit!!!! Your life could be on the line here and you’re not gonna do anything about it? What the hell is wrong with you!!??

AAAAARRGGGHHH!!!! I was wracking my brains out to hair-pulling levels over this shit! This must be what a nervous breakdown feels like.

I tried to distract myself with a good book and music, which had long been my winning remedy for stress, but this time it was useless. The raging storm within drowned out the beats and tunes from my ipod. And when I finally found my legs again I paced back and forth around the room while my emotions ran around in circles like a fucking carousel.
In addition to the fear I was angry. I don’t have a family or personal history of serious health problems, let alone bowel problems, I’ve never abused drugs, I don’t drink, I tried not to stress over little things, I was active and ate healthily. In other words, I did everything that the ‘experts’ recommended for a healthy life.
And this is my fucking reward!?
What kind of bullshit was that!?
It made me so mad! I could have put my fists through my bedroom walls multiple times. I hate to sound like a petulant child but I did ask myself ‘why me!?’ a few times on a given day. That was my anger, stress and shame talking right there.


The timing of these symptoms also could not have been worse. You see, I was weeks away from a family holiday to the USA and Canada when they intensified and I guess part of the reason why I didn’t take action was that I was afraid it would cancel our trip. It was stupid of me to put it off like that but I was really looking forward to this holiday and would have been damned if these pesky symptoms denied my parents and I of it. When I thought of it that way fear and anxiety gave way to serious denial disguised as defiance and false-bravado.

Fuck this. I’ll see a doctor after the trip.

What an idiot. It’s amazing, what the ego can do. On one hand, it can propel one to achieve goals and dreams that once seemed out of reach but on the other hand, it can drag one into awkward, dangerous and even fatal situations. My new line of thinking convinced me that two weeks was not a long time and that I wasn’t seeing symptoms every single day and every single time I went. I also wasn’t physically incapacitated and didn’t feel any serious aches and pains so whatever this is, it couldn’t be something too drastic. I thought that it would get worse before it got better and then fade away.
But I wasn’t dumb. Not completely, anyway. In the back of my mind I knew that I was taking a potentially dangerous and foolish risk but I also thought that sheer strength of mind could overcome anything. I just had to tough it out for the next two weeks.
And so After a few weeks of on-and-off symptoms and with feelings of uncertainty hanging over my head I packed my bags and boarded a plane bound for our holiday. My health aside, I was also uneasy about the long flight. I hate flying and let me tell you, the thought of flying from Australia to Canada made me nauseous. But I accepted that it came with the territory. Once I endure the flight and my feet hit the ground and my lungs take in the fresh air I’ll be excited.
There was also some good news before we left – I showed no symptoms the day before the flight. It was a massive confidence booster and I slept soundly that night but at the same time I wondered if this was permanent or temporary.

I got my answer soon enough. After we had endured a non-stop flight from Australia to Toronto we had a few hours’ of respite in Toronto before another shorter flight towards Calgary (we would return to Toronto during the second week of our trip). I was exhausted from the long distance flight when I boarded this flight and was seated next to a total stranger, who looked rather weary but probably not as worse for wear as I was.
About an hour or two before the plane landed in Calgary, nature came calling. I trudged towards the toilet, hoping that there would be no more symptoms. I sat down and fired away and then slowly looked at the result.


The blood had returned yet again! Talk about the floor opening up beneath me, my heart rate and stress levels once again shot up as I buried my face in my hands in disbelief.

This can’t be happening!

I cleaned myself up before returning to my seat where I collapsed like a sack of rocks, totally dejected. I was in a fog for the rest of the day and once the plane landed and we took a cab to the hotel I was just going through the motions. A walk around the city of Calgary in the afternoon after checking into our hotel provided some relief, as I was able to shake off that long flight and get my body moving again. But my mind was still a mess, unbeknownst to my parents. They probably thought that any distracted and zombie-like behavior on my part was due to the long flight and the broken and uncomfortable sleep patterns that came with it. They were aware of my dislike of long flights but thankfully they didn’t seem to notice anything.
Had I not been tired from the long flight I probably would have stayed up for half the night with worry, if not all night. But I was out like a light as soon as my head touched the pillow, fatigue thankfully having overcome anxiety and serious disappointment.


Crossing at Banff

But you know what? Something miraculous happened the following day. The next morning, after an unusually refreshing deep sleep all things being considered, we checked out of our hotel in Calgary and made our way towards Banff via tour bus. After spending most of the morning and mid-day exploring Banff’s beautiful city we ducked into a restaurant for lunch. Shortly before the food arrived I felt that urge once again and so like a condemned prisoner headed for the gallows I trudged over to the restrooms to do my business. I felt like John Coffey from that movie The Green Mile, taking that long walk to the electric chair. But I wasn’t optimistic and laughing about watching Mr. Jingle do his thing in Mouseville. I was riding waves of emotions ranging from fear to bitter acceptance of my fate. The disappointment that I had experienced during the flight had sapped me of my optimism and so I was expecting the worse. If there was blood, so be it. I’ll take it on the chin and try to enjoy the rest of the trip before booking a trip to the doctor once we got home.

Ok, let’s get this over with.

Much to my surprise, everything looked normal.

Are my eyes playing tricks on me!?

Man, I didn’t try to debate it in my mind for long. Relief washed over me and I nearly cried tears of joy. I felt as though I had won the lottery! I could have done cartwheels in that restroom had there been enough space and if I didn’t care about personal hygiene. I cleaned up before strutting back to my seat to re-join my parents, suddenly rejuvenated.

I enjoyed a delicious lunch and dinner that day and slept soundly at night. For the rest of the week we explored various parts of Canada, from small towns to mountains and woodlands and even snow and ice. Trekking around a glacier of solid ice without snow boots on was memorable, my leg strength and balance were definitely tested. Seeing deer, mountain goats and other various animals on the roads was also pretty cool.
We then spent the next week chilling (literally!) in Alaska via cruise ship, where the weather veered between sunshine and rain but always with a persistent cold wind in the air. It was a nice place where lumberjacking and fishing was the life plus the people were nice and laid-back.
We returned the following week back to Canada for a few days to explore the Rocky Mountains by train and then hung around the city of Toronto before flying back home, non-stop (ugh!).

Fishing village in Ketchikan, Alaska

I had a big smile on my face for the duration of that trip. Why? For the remainder of the trip I experienced zero symptoms. That’s right, ZERO! Everything seemed to be normal again and as the days went by I calmed down and really began to enjoy the holiday, no longer troubled by nervous feelings whenever I had to ‘go’.

 ‘See? You were freaking out over nothing. Told you this thing would pass.’

Indeed. I guess that whatever it was that had driven me to insanity was just temporary after all. Life was great again, and more to the point, my sheer strength of will had carried me through. I was really proud of myself and even allowed my ego to come out and play for a bit.

I overcame the beast within. Damn, I’m awesome!

I kept such thoughts to myself but I was grinning from ear-to-ear for the remainder of the trip.

Although the flight home was still every bit as uncomfortable as other long-distance flights from years past my demeanor was far more relaxed. I sat on my seat watching comedy films on the in-flight entertainment, satisfied with my little victory. Everything was good in the world again.

Or so I thought…….

Time to fly home






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