Sunday 27 January 2013

How I became a fool for stool

Caution: You may not want to read this if you are eating.

Unlike the residents of Punggol East, the big question for me last week was not who I should vote for, but whether I want someone to stick his finger into my rectum.


That was what happened during the prostate exam at my last medical check-up two years ago.

I’m required by my employer to get a health screening every year, but I skipped it last year because of my reluctance to go through the whole someone-sticking-his-finger-into-my-rectum thing again.

The memory still haunts me. I remember after the exam, I was so traumatised that I went home and hugged my family for a very long time.

The thing is, I could’ve said no.

Sensing my discomfort, the doctor actually gave me the option of not having my prostate examined.

But I said yes because well... okay, I was curious to know what it would feel like to have someone stick his finger into my rectum.

So now I know.

I probably shouldn’t even be talking about this since the Attorney-General’s Chambers has warned against making comments related to Section 377A of the Penal Code.

This time, I resolved that when the doctor wants to examine my prostate, I would say no, thanks. After all, my curiosity was sated two years ago.

My appointment was on Tuesday. I had to be at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital by 8.30am.

As I would be taking a blood test, I was told not to eat or drink anything besides water after 10pm the night before.

At the hospital, a woman handed me two small plastic containers, one for my urine sample and for my stool sample.

Wait, what? Stool sample? That was new.

But they had told me to fast for the blood test and now they wanted me to provide a stool sample? Didn’t one thing kind of work against the other? How was I going to produce a stool sample on an empty stomach?

There was a water-cooler in the waiting area I could drink from, so providing a urine sample wasn’t a problem.

There was also a small pantry where, after my blood was taken, I made myself two slices of toast with jam and a cup of Horlicks – and waited for my body to turn them into stool.

I saw the doctor and to my surprise, there was no prostate exam. I was almost disappointed. All that angst for nothing!

So now my problem wasn’t something going into my rectum but that nothing was coming out of it.

I was told that I had a week to provide the stool sample, but I didn’t want to go home, collect the sample and travel all the way back to Novena on another day with my own excrement.

So I sat in the waiting room and waited some more.

Feeling restless, I decided to try my luck on the toilet bowl, but shot blanks - and realised I had another problem.

Let’s say I did have a bowel movement, how would I get my stool into the small container?

Was I supposed to catch it as it was coming out? Or scoop it from the water in the toilet bowl?

This wasn’t exactly something we were taught in school.

And it would be too embarrassing for me to ask the woman how to collect my own stool.

(Hey, stool rhymes with school.)

So I called my wife for advice. She suggested that I could poop on the floor and collect a sample from there. I rejected her disgusting idea.

If only I had the PAP candidate for Punggol East, Dr Koh Poh Koon, there with me for consultation. After all, he’s a colorectal surgeon. He should know about rectums and collecting stool samples.

By 10:30am, I came to the conclusion that those two slices of toast with jam and that cup of Horlicks weren’t going to get my bowel moving.

I decided to walk to nearby Novena Square for an early lunch and take a stroll around the shopping centre until I reached the Promised Land.

So I ate some noodles at the food court and the plan worked. I soon felt the urge to go No. 2.

I also thought my other problem was solved when I miraculously found a squat toilet in the shopping centre.

Unlike a regular toilet bowl where your stool drops directly into the water, a squat toilet has a long, relatively dry area where you can land your stool above the waterline.

But it requires good aim. I totally missed it with my first attempt which fell right into the water.

I adjusted my position and my second piece landed where I wanted.

Unfortunately, it was such a big chunk that gravity and the slick surface caused it to slide down into the water before I could get to it.

I had just one more chance. I didn’t have any more in me. I decided to bite the bullet and go for a more direct approach.

As the stool was coming out, I tried to catch it with the container.

But because I couldn’t see what was happening down there, I misjudged and scraped against the emerging stool with the container and my fingers.

Mission abort! Mission abort!

I just got warm crap on my fingers!

I gave up. I might as well just go home and return with the stool sample on another day.

And then I spotted it. Another miracle.

Lying in the squat toilet far above the waterline was a small piece of stool, waiting for me.

My heart lept.

As I bent down to get my sample, I somehow activated the autoflush and my miracle was washed down the toilet.

Noooooooooooo! My precious faeces!

I was spent. What now, Kemosabe?

I looked at the container. The scraping from my stool was still on the brim.

Wait. Could the scraping be considered a “sample”?

I mean, the amount was about as much as the free samples that ice cream sellers give out.

So with the lid, I carefully pushed the scraping into the container, closed it and voilĂ , I got my stool sample.

I returned to Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital with my filled container and a sense of accomplishment.

Mr Yam Ah Mee might not have announced it on TV, but it was a triumph as hard-earned as winning any by-election.

And yes, I’ve washed my hands.

- Published in The New Paper, 27 January 2013

UPDATE: After reading this column, someone suggested that I should have just put some toilet paper on my hand, poop into the toilet paper and collect the stool sample from there. It sounds like a good solution except that pooping into your own hand is kind of gross. Plus my arm may not be long enough for me to poop into my own hand.