Gordon's story
9th December 2019

Gordon's story

Too embarrassed to seek medical help, railway controller, Gordon Voller struggled with IBS symptoms for 15 years. It wasn’t until he was 42, after an attack of gastroenteritis, that he finally got a diagnosis. He explains more about his IBS and urges others to speak out, seek medical help and not feel embarrassed about their condition.

I first started suffering what I later discovered were IBS symptoms in the early 2000s when I was in my late twenties.

My symptoms included having to empty my bowel anywhere between three and six times a day and my stools were always loose. There was always a sense of urgency when I needed to go to the toilet. When the feeling started, I would have 10 to 15 minutes to find a toilet otherwise I could have an accident. I had to plan holiday and social trips around how soon I could find a toilet if I needed one in a hurry. Partly because of a busy lifestyle but mostly due to embarrassment, I never sought medical help. I knew something was wrong but didn’t want to face up to what it might be. The fact it might be IBS had crossed my mind, but I never dwelt on it. I carried on like this for almost 15 years.

Then in the summer of 2015, I sustained a whiplash injury to my neck. Why is this relevant to my symptoms you might wonder? Well as a result, I was given Co-Codamol tablets to control the pain. The change in my bowel was remarkable. Things returned to what I would consider normal. There were no more loose stools, or urgency in needing the toilet and I’d only need to empty my bowel once a day. I went back to my GP and finally plucked up the courage to tell her about the symptoms I had been having before the tablets. She asked if she could do a rectal examination. I agreed despite it feeling highly embarrassing!

Nothing abnormal was found and I was sent for a blood test. My GP suspected that what I was experiencing was IBS and suggested peppermint to help alleviate symptoms. The same day, quite by coincidence, I started experiencing really bad abdominal cramping and started dashing back and forth to the toilet with diarrhoea. Over the course of 12 hours my symptoms worsened so much that my mum called an ambulance for me. I was taken to hospital where further tests were done, and I was told I had gastroenteritis.

I was discharged from hospital with medication for the gastroenteritis, but as soon as the five-day course of tablets expired my symptoms of diarrhoea and stomach cramp returned. My GP referred me to a gastroenterologist as by now it was suspected that I may have Crohn’s disease. A colonoscopy ruled out Crohn’s and I was finally given a diagnosis of IBS. They suspected my existing IBS had been worsened by the gastroenteritis and had become IBS-D.

I was 42 years old when I finally got this diagnosis. It was such a relief to actually know what was wrong. Three years on, aged 45, and I am doing really well. I’ve found out what I can and can’t eat to keep my symptoms under control. Very occasionally, my symptoms will worsen, but they’re manageable. I steer clear of spicy foods and ice cream but this is as much a part of me eating a low fat, healthy diet as much as keeping my symptoms under control.

It might sound odd but in some respects the bout of gastroenteritis might have been the best thing to happen to me. Although it worsened my existing IBS, I did finally get a diagnosis.

I work as a railway controller in Liverpool. Due to the embarrassing nature of IBS, I didn’t used to talk about my symptoms with my work colleagues. But when my symptoms worsened post the gastroenteritis I did start to discuss it and everyone has been really supportive.

My advice to others with IBS and especially those struggling is don’t give up. I know everyone’s IBS symptoms are different and there will be a lot of trial and error in getting your symptoms and diet under control but when you find the right things for you it can transform your quality of life. I am now in a situation where I can go anywhere and do anything without having to worry about having an accident due to urgently needing a toilet.


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