Book review – The Foul Bowel

The Foul Bowel by John Bradley. CPI Antony Rowe, Chippenham, Wiltshire. Yknot Publishing, 2010.

The Foul Bowel – 101 ways to survive and thrive with Crohn’s Disease is part autobiography and part Haynes Manual for surviving the medical intervention and social isolation that comes with inflammatory bowel disease. Aimed primarily at people with Crohn’s and their families/supporters this book should also interest medical staff working in grastro-enterology who want to develop their understanding of the patient perspective.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book called ‘Foul Bowel’ with a cartoon on the front depicting an all too familar scenario for the Crohn’s patient, but when it arrived I was impressed by its size, weight and high production values. A quick flick through showed a nice typeface, cartoons, tips and medically related quotes from famous people. It looked like Foul Bowel was going to be quite different from any of the other Crohn’s books available on the market which tend to read like a medical text book or misery memoire.

The book is divided into 18 sections beginning with ‘Diagnosis Day’ and ending with ‘Looking Forward’. Each section is readable as a ‘pick up put down again’ or as a continuous narrative, though as a Crohnie I’ll admit that I did start at the end just to check that there was a happy ending!

Bradley tells his story as it happened, looking back to his life, work and interaction with medical services. Dotted throughout the text are added remarks and tips that come from the benefit of hindsight, and everything is tinged with the gallows humour of the veteran crohnie who long ago came to terms with the ubiquitous hospital gown, random side effects of barely effective medicine and brush with morphine addiction. This style is perfect for such a heavy subject and is well supported by the great cartoons that are well judged, clearly link to the anecdotes in the text and jolly funny.

Bradley and I have had very similar Crohn’s history, though I have not had the large numbers of strictures he has experienced, and it was quite a relief to see that it wasn’t just me that well, lets say, had issues with gowns (especially gentlemen of a certain age in hospital gowns), issues with side effects (the side effects work just fine, why doesn’t the bit that I need to work, work?) and several blissful weeks attached to a morphine pump following major surgeries knowing worrying wondering if I might be addicted. There are many, many other tales in the book, and you are bound to recognise yourself in some of the situations – nodding sagely if you had it as bad as Bradley (learning how to cough after major abdominal surgery in order to prevent your lungs from developing infections) and chuckling wryly if you haven’t (I didn’t try to date any of the medical staff)!

A key theme throughout Foul Bowel is the importance of taking responsibility for the management of your health and your life – basically because no-one else will.  Crohn’s is such a difficult condition, from the pre-diagnosis completely random signs and symptoms  (I was variously asked about TB, Chronic Fatigue, HIV and leukemia before they settled on Crohn’s) through to the inconsistent results from drugs and their side effects, that the medical profession does rely on us as patients to help them as much as possible. Bradley also offers some insights into manging work with Crohn’s disease that will be useful people who are trying to make decisions about balancing their work and their health.

I think that the only addition that I would like to see is a listing of all the tips as an appendix / aide memoire, but then I am a lists kind of person.

In conclusion I think that this is an excellent book for anyone suffering Crohn’s disease, or their family /carers who would like an insight into the disease and it’s management. I also heartly recommend it to anyone in the medical profession looking after people with Crohn’s. It would make an excellent gift for the Crohnie in your life – a veteran like me can laugh out loud, a newbie can see what may be ahead and be armed with the tips and advice offered by Bradley.

You can buy the Foul Bowel from John’s website – if you co to his website you will see all the different country and delivery options. Happy reading!

Disclosure: I was delighted to receive a complimentary copy of the Foul Bowel from John Bradley to review for my blog.

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