Poo sticks.

Title photograph : Calstock boatyard, Tamar river UK. Spirit of Mystery and WABI”’

No : its nothing to do with sailing and everything to do with health and yes , the title can be read 2 ways. (think ‘forcandles)

These health related posts take a lot more time to write, edit and check because the subject matter is actually more serious than boats, i did in fact make a quite bad error in the previous one and that was quickly picked up and corrected by my partner.

First though a quick update on my own recovery

In the last post i talked about my first meeting with my new GP the day before my 60th birthday.  A few days later during lunch break back at work, one of my colleagues jokingly asked me what i’d got for my birthday…..and of course the answer was a new knee !   Not everyone at work knew about the problem at that stage.  Anyway, during that conversation one of the specialist nurses asked me if i had done my ‘poo-sticks’ yet and my answer was no, i hadn’t, because i was focussed on getting the knee problem sorted.

Now, i need to explain the context here : ‘pooh-sticks’ that i refer to are the major component of the bowel cancer screening programme offered to all over 60’s in the UK and their function is to capture minute traces of blood in a stool (faeces) sample that might indicate that something in the bowel is ‘leaking’ blood slowly.  The test technically is for ‘feacal occult blood’ (FOB) and i won’t go much further with that but i will provide a link below.   The significance of that conversation is that i was sitting in our staff room with the specialist nurses from the bowel cancer screening programme (BCSP) and that they would be the ones who would be seeing me if the test came back positive. I don’t know their side of things that well especially with regard to their clinics but that the next stage does directly involve our department and what i do which is the endoscopic visual examination of the large bowel to see if there is anything suspicious going on……bluntly speaking whether there is any sign of bowel cancer or less serious problems which might need treating.

The entertaining side is that when i do get my pooh-sticks done, and lets say i get a positive, see the specialist nurse in clinic, get offered a procedure called a colonoscopy then that procedure would be in my own department.   I have to add here that there is such a thing as patient choice but there really is no point in having to drive another 30 miles to get it done…..and it’s the same BCSP nurses….just not the endoscopists and staff that i work with.    Now, it’s not that much of a big deal and i know we run a tight ship and i would most likely get some choice about who is in the room on the day…….it’s just….well you know !

Today my blog/writing challenge is to make the very serious problem of bowel cancer engaging and interesting to my usual audience.  So far i have talked about one uniquely male problem ie prostate problems, and another problem : joint replacements, that is common to both genders.  This one of course is relevant to both.   The reason why i want to talk about it in the blog is that it is a problem that generally appears in mid to later life….as many cancer related problems do.  Like many other cancer problems it is treatable and survivable especially with early detection.  Right at the end of the post i am going to embed a really good video about the colonoscopy procedure and that is a far better guide than anything i can write here.  Rather than trying to go through the technical side, it would take forever, my challenge to my audience is to talk about why we should get these things sorted at this time of life.

As with the previous post i want to make a very important point before going any further.   Just as in the last post where some signs of waterworks problems aren’t a diagnosis of prostate cancer….in fact BPH is more likely….then a positive ‘poo stick’ isn’t a diagnosis of bowel cancer.    Even with the work that my department does every day, lets say a colonoscopy, that’s a ‘look-see’ and more often than not some microscopic blood in the stool can be a false positive.  Even visible blood ‘in the pan’ is most often related to haemorrhoids (piles)….and i guess many of us know all about those.   Very little of the work we do at either end of the gut : gastroscopy or colonoscopy has anything to do with bowel cancer.  When and if we do find a likely looking bowel tumour they are most often treated if found early on as they tend to be slow growing.   Survival rates of all cancers tend to be expressed as a 5 year survival rate ie what percentage of people are still alive at the 5 year mark (after treatment).  The tricky part is that it depends on the stage of the problem with ‘simple’ bowel cancers having anything from 50-90% survival rates at 5 years.  :   https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival-rates.html

I’m not going any further down that route here today.  For those that are interested there is loads of good information on the internet.  At the end i have embedded a good video clip of the whole colonoscopy process….in a way that’s a little insight into the kind of work that i do.   My main focus of today isn’t to scare or depress my readers but to delve a bit more into mens health and why we are so crap at dealing with it….for now :

Lets have a quick break with Angry kid.


My main effort in this series of blog posts is to investigate the whole subject of mens health and with the greater attention being on the age group of men that are most likely to re reading this blog.  My intention right now is to put out about a month’s worth of these and than see what happens : they are a lot more work to write than my usual material.  If they get any traction then i will continue the series, if not i will simply stop banging my head against the wall and go see some more boats.

Early in the series i made the assertion that men aren’t very good at dealing with their health problems at any stage of life, at least when compared to women : and i’m not sure why that’s the case.  As this is a central post i thought i would set out my main ideas about all of this and explain the kind of stuff i am data-mining and simply net-surfing around.

  1. Taking as the main idea that it is mainly men in their 50’s to 70’s who are following the blog then this is the time of life when health problems are really starting to become problematical.  The natural and inevitable process of aging means that joints particularly are just wearing out…natural wear and tear if you will.  The major problems often stem from the older body’s immune system not working as well which is why the major cancer’s appear at this time.  Added to that and contributing to it all is that very few of us have our eye on the ball with diet, weight and fitness so many of us will be overweight and less than fighting fit. I know that in my own case i am overweight and now have a blood pressure problem….i also know that when i do have my eye on the ball and pay attention i can then become extremely focussed on things like fitness and health. Keeping up that level of focus is really hard though.
  2. That it’s not clear why men and women differ so much in this regard.  It is generally held that men aren’t great at looking after themselves.  In younger adulthood for example it does seem to be the case that men seem to regard themselves as being invincible.   As many of you know i follow Dr Petersen’s work very closely….he says that women are generally far more self-interested than men are so maybe something in the bell curve distributions of psychological traits tends women more towards ‘self-interest’ and ‘self-care’ and men away from that.  I was talking to my partner about this and she made a couple of really good points….that women are often better exposed to healthcare at an earlier stage because of child bearing and that men simply don’t talk about health whereas women do talk about health. I think that it is the case that take up rates in for example the ‘poo-sticks’ test is much lower in men who are in a lower social stratum and shall we say less intillegent/have lower trait open-ness……there’s a hard truth there that many more men than women are in the very low end of the IQ distribution and that is associated with poor health.  It’s not so obvious why someone like me : with high trait open-ness and above average IQ would be equally bad when it comes to self care.
  3. Dr Petersen’s broader work suggests that men are failing at a lot of things right now, particularly university level education. He says that men will thrive if they can find a really good reason…a drive…to pay attention and focus on things like education and health.  Then they can do very well indeed but that they just aren’t very good at being told to do things.  I for one completely ignore ‘nanny state’ health promotion campaigns.  Maybe it is as he says and we just need to find a reason to do something and then do it really well….make a plan perhaps and just pay attention a bit more.

I said that at the end of the post i would embed a video about an aspect of the work that i do.  I’m not of course an endoscope driver but simply a staff nurse cog in the machine that gets this done.  For those that are interested it’s an insight into what we do.  This isn’t filmed at the hospital where i work but everything is broadly similar to the way we go about it.


  1. Thanks Steve I really think that diet is very important in our health. You are what you eat.
    I need to get a skin inspection had a plumbing check a few years back probably should get another one.


  2. Alan brings up a very good point. I changed my diet a few years ago and now enjoy much better general health and well-being. I must admit that a serious health problem in my early 50s prompted the change and my first visit to the doctor in 30 years! AS you say Steve, we really do think we’re invincible, even when were getting on a bit…

    As for bowel cancer and its screening, having seen first-hand its loathsome effects I applaud you for discussing it here. I wish routine screening had been in place back then — if wishes were horses eh.


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