If you can’t laugh at some of the indignities of being sick, then you will have a long road to hoe. Because, let me tell you, there are moments when there is no dignity in being sick. None. Zero. There's no dignity in a nurse slipping a suppository up your butt, as a "surprise," when you least expect it. There's no dignity in a catheter. There's no dignity in a sponge bath from a 70 year-old nurse with rough hands. So, buckle up, and loosen your cheecks, or those suppositories can hurt; and ask her to wear gloves, because the last place her hands were before that sponge bath was, your asshole.
If you can’t learn to have a sense of humor about what’s happening to your body, then you had better find a new profession; because that’s what being really sick is, your new profession. It takes over your life with doctor’s appointments, times when you are too sick to do anything else, information overload that has to be filed and categorized. Really, if you can’t laugh at it all, if you can't find the humor, your attitude is going to be more unpleasant than your illness.
The same can be said for being a teacher. If you can’t laugh at the students that fate (the registrar) decides to drop in your class, then it’s time to move to an administrative role. I'm always trying to connect my sick life to my teacher-life.
When I’d earned the reputation of being good at dealing with “difficult students,” especially those who had accommodations from the disability services offices, those students suddenly started appearing in my classes in droves. At one time, I had a class load that included several Autistic students, and all the ADHD students that I (or anyone) could handle. That’s a lot.
I am not suggesting laughing at the students with disability services, or the crazy things they can say and do to disrupt your class, although they can provide for comic relief. For example, I once had a student who insisted on wearing his bicycle helmet, at all times, regardless of whether he ride a bike to school or not; and no, he was not a disability services student. Or, I had a student who carried all his pencils in a cigar case (also not a disability services student). If we stop for a moment to reflect that I taught at the community college level, let's just imagine a student with a bicycle helmet, and a student with a box of pencils, sitting together, shall we?
So, what I'm suggesting is that you learn to find humor in the insane things in life, including all that your students do, say and even are named.
For example, I kid you not, I once had a student once named Joy Jesus (Okay, slight modification of his name, because, let's get real, I have to; but when I say slight, I mean slight). Not Jesus as in Hey-Zeus, so don’t get that idea. I generally don’t poke fun at kid’s names, because hey, that’s mean, and if it’s a weird name, they’ve gotten enough of that in their lifetimes. They certainly don’t need it from me; but c’mon, Joy Jesus? I had to ask. He (by the way, totally shocked that he was a he, on the fist day; not sure why, but doesn’t “Joy” strike you as a girl’s name?) claims that he thinks his parents were on acid when they named him. Ya’ think? He’s got a pretty good sense of humor about his terrible name, for a kid growing up with that one.
Along the lines of laughing about life, as you know, because all of my readers are likely narcotic addicts, narcotics have a binding effect on the system. This was something I learned the hard way; pun intended.
There was a point, before my surgery, that doctors simply did not know what to do, to control my near-constant, debilitating pain. First, I had a doctor prescribe me Norco, every six hours, or as needed. It didn’t work. Like, at all. I might as well have been taking M&Ms. In fact, I checked the bottle more than once to see if I wasn’t, in fact, taking M&Ms. The only reason I was convinced that it was actually Norco was that my pharmacy dispenses the “bad” drugs in blue bottles, instead of the traditional orange bottles, thereby warning strangers nearby, that see you picking up your prescription, that you are a potential addict, or that they should shake you down for some pills, on your way to the parking lot.
I also had a doctor that prescribed me Percocet, to be taken every four hours, without question, pain or not. She convinced me that this would help me to get ahead of the pain. This was after she had given me tons of IV Toradol and Dilaudid, at a particularly bad ER visit. By the time that combo, and quantity of meds had coursed through me, I wasn't quite sure she was actually a doctor anymore; she may have been some kind of humanoid creature, or perhaps a horse.
Thankfully, my faithful husband is always there with me, taking note of what was said and what I needed to remember. This also did not work. Part of me felt like my pain must be some sort of champion pain, some kind of monster pain that had won some kind of contest against all other pain. I mean if round-the-clock Percocet still had me not doubled-over, or writhing, but literally motionless on the floor because it hurt too badly to move at all, what the hell kind of pain was I dealing with here? Even though I am an Atheist, I prayed constantly that the pain would kill me, that I would close my eyes and never open them again, relieved of how much it hurt.
Then, I met a doctor who said that all these other pain meds were ridiculous because they were too short acting. He promptly prescribed me Morphine, but an extended release formulation that lasts for 8-12 hours per dose. Folks, this is straight Morphine; this is the stuff they give to cancer patients to ease their suffering (note: I don’t know this, but I’ve heard it before, so it must be true). When he looked at me, he looked at me with pity, like he wished he could take my pain away, and I felt like weeping. I would have, if it didn’t cause more valsalva pain.
A funny thing that I realized at that moment was that when you are at an ER, complaining ofpain from Chairi, doctors take you very, very seriously, and they will do anything to help you. In contrast, when you are at ER complaining of pain from a migraine, they give you the side-eye and treat you semi-like a drug-seeker. I’ve been both, and as much as I hate the Chairi pain, I far prefer being a Chiari patient. He also put me on more steroids to help the swelling in my inflamed brain, a thing that had become common for me, at the time. For the amount of doctors that put me on steroids in those weeks, you’d think I’d have been able to break the home run record, or bend steel, instead of being bed-ridden.
Doctors rarely have funny names, but nurses often do. I have had a Nurse Echo, who was amazed that I knew the story of the myth regarding her name. I’ve had a nurse named Candi, who I admired greatly for not becoming a stripper with the name her mother saddled her with. And, I’ve had a wonderful PA who’s name was Taffae Cadeau, who I also give great credit to, because she too could’ve also easily ended up in the world of exotic entertainment. Kudos to you, ladies. Kudos.
In case you are wondering, I’m stalling about telling you the world’s most embarrassing story about how narcotics back you up, and what happens to you when they back you up…beyond the point of no return. Did that sound dramatic? Because it’s meant to. Believe me, it’s a story worth hearing. But, I’m building up to it. I promise.
In the world of education, it’s easy to find humor in your students’ names too. Aside from Joy Jesus, which I contend is the most hilarious name ever. In his defense, he was a great kid. He genuinely loved being in school, and he was, shall we say, over-participatory in class, much to the chagrin of his classmates; but he was genuinely kind, and always respectful. These are students I like. Kind and respectful.
Anyway, aside from JJ (that’s a great way to shorten his name, and I think he should consider it; I’ll email him post-haste), I had a set of sisters in one of my classes both named Marianna Gabriella. Their last names were obviously the same too. They were not twins, but they might as well have been. They had long, dark, straight hair, each wore glasses, and dressed alike.
There were virtually no distinguishing characteristics between them, except one of the Mariannas could not, for the life of her tell when to use the word “women” and when to use “woman,” in her writing. And, her topic for the semester-long project was feminism; this made for very awkward sentences like: “Woman today should have more rights than woman of the past.” Sentences like this always make me think of Krog the caveman delivering a speech, ironically, about feminism.
I never did find a way to tell them apart, despite the fact that they were not twins, and I pride myself on learning my students’ names almost immediately. I like to ask the dreaded, “tell me something about yourself,” on the first day of class, whereupon I take furious notes on my roster, so I can begin to identify them. Ssecretly, I don’t always write down what they say (because they don't always say interesting, distinguishing things - they say shit like, "I like movies"); instead, I write down things like “wears really ugly clothes,” or, “has hideous hair.” Whatever works, right?. But, these girls, their “thing about themselves?” Marianna #1 wanted to travel more, namely to Mexico. Marianna #2 also wanted to travel more, to El Salvador. Gosh, they are so different. So, in my head, they were Princess Consuela Banana Hammock, and Princess Consuela Cucumber Hammock. This proved unhelpful for me, but made me laugh nonetheless.
In the name of delaying the shit story further, in this same semester, I had two sets of actual identical twins. I was able to tell one of them apart because one of them had a small chipped tooth. They always sat together, in the back of the room; so, unless they were directly in front of me, I was shit at knowing who was who, because a chipped tooth is a pretty garbage identifying characteristic from the back of the room. Thankfully, twin A generally wore a dark grey coat, and that helped a lot too. They, however, had totally normal names…for Goodfellas. Paulie and Danny. No grown men go by Paulie unless they are from the Jersey shore, or are gangsters.
In my final attempt at delaying my shit story, I had one more set of identical twins that I never did get straight that semester: Alamo and Cactus. Not kidding, those were their names (of course they weren't - I have to give them some degree of anonymity - but it's close - they were named after cities in Texas). Are they from Texas? Nope. Are their parents? Nope. They just like Texas. Already, like I said, you have to learn to have a sense of humor. They were quite tall, at least 6’3, maybe taller. But, they were shaped like a big block of wood with a head. There was barely a noticeable neck to speak of. At the head, things went worse. A Brillo pad seemed like it might be softer, and perhaps more manageable. Both wore very thick, Coke-bottle glasses. And, at this point it seems like I’m picking on these poor kids that nature has been unkind to.
But nature did not tell them to wear novelty socks every day with hot dogs and hamburgers printed on them. And, nature did not tell them to wear lanyard necklaces, in a variety of patterns, including several bolero styles. Nor, can nature bear the responsibility for their insistence on wearing acid washed jeans, and not ironically, but truly those that stopped being in style before they were born. Not that Virginia is the mecca of style; pink cammo is pretty much the in-thing to wear around there for girls. And, it’s not uncommon for men in my classes to be sporting overalls; so, it’s quite difficult for someone to be so far outside the style curve.
I felt for these boys, Alamo and Cactus, and tried really hard to not only have a sense of humor about two kids who were, clearly the outcasts their entire life, but also to help them. I know a little something about being an outcast, myself. And I've been known to wear a poorly chosen outfit or two. But, in the end, I just had to shake my head, and involve counseling when I received scary essays about encouraging mass murder and friends who are liars. And worst of all, I had to wonder how they'd fit into the state they hoped to one day fit in, Texas, when they constantly commented on how much they hate boots (I wore a lot of them). I mean a Texan without boots?
Anyway, you are dying to hear about the shit story I've been avoiding, and narcotic backup, right? Well, by the time I got on the 24-hour Morphine, which did work (thank goodness!), I’d been on Norco and Percocet for weeks. That’s several narcotic pain relievers for several weeks. I was a good girl and I’d been taking stool softeners, but not until a few weeks in. See, I thought I’d be okay. I thought, surely things would move on their own, if I started taking the stool softeners and upped my fruit intake, and maybe had some broccoli. Everyone has their “poop food,” the thing that if they eat it, you’d better clear a path to the bathroom. Mine is broccoli, which is sad because I love broccoli.
I don’t say this to brag, but I have a very flat stomach, even after having had a baby. I am a crazy gym rat, something that I’ve had to give up since being sick, obviously, but when I do work out my abs, which I rarely do because (hate me now), my abs show immediately, and sometimes too much. It’s the gift nature has bestowed upon me. Now that you are ready to hate me, remember, nature has also bestowed upon me an illness that has required brain surgery, so if you hate me for my flat stomach, you can also think to yourself, there, we are even.
Anyway, I lost track of time between bowel movements, but my weight is always a steady 114, and my stomach looked like I was, no joke about 5 months pregnant, so I knew that something was up, in the poop department. I wasn’t terribly uncomfortable, but I figured that I should start paying attention. So, I started upping the stool softener.
Then, it got uncomfortable. I was so backed up that I could barely eat, because I was so “full” already. I couldn’t get comfortable because my stomach was getting so large and bloated, that it was getting painful. My pants certainly didn’t fit, and I was even beginning to have some trouble with sweatpants. My weight? Well, let’s just say it had far surpassed the 120 mark, and was creeping closer to 125. That’s a lot of shit. More stool softeners, and a talk with the husband about what to do. He said it was probably time for the big guns: the laxatives.
So, I took Ex-Lax, following the directions on the box. Did you know that Ex-Lax doesn't taste that bad? It pretty much tastes like cheap chocolate. Anyway, nothing happened. And, I do mean nothing. How does nothing happen when you take a laxative? What did I have in there? Maybe I was pregnant with a baby made of shit. I began calling it my poop baby. Since my husband had had a vasectomy, it was the only possibility. I wasn’t totally convinced that I could love a baby made entirely of shit, but the maternal instinct is a strong one. I wondered if I should name it.
Double the dose of Ex-Lax the next day, still nothing. Now, I was incredibly uncomfortable. I was so “full,” that I could barely eat at all. Anything I ate gave me instant heartburn, even water. All I wanted was this horrible “stuff” to come out of me, come hell or high water. But my precious, precious Morphine was literally saving my life, so I kept taking it. I refused to entertain the notion of stopping, for even one dose. I wanted and needed the pain relief.
So, we got Ducolax. In case you don’t know what that is, it’s a suppository laxative. You know you’ve married the right man when, without question, he forces you down on all fours...in front of the toilet, and jams a suppository up your ass, because there’s no fucking way you could do that yourself. Then, he explains that you have to hold it in for about 15 minutes to make sure it works.
I laid on the bathroom floor, afraid to get too far away from the toilet, for fear that the, now over ten pounds of shit, would come bursting out of me like an unstoppable force. I shouldn’t have been so afraid. There was a burst; but it was just of the oil and water from the suppository, and then a tiny, minuscule piece of stool that, if a child made while potty training, we’d take a picture of, and fawn all over like it was the greatest thing to have ever happened. For me, it felt like a punch in the gut, because it was about the size of a grape.
Now, my brilliant, amazing husband had an idea, and he hates me for sharing this with the world. He’s humiliated that I would share it with anyone. When I told my mom about it, and he found out, he was totally embarrassed. But, it’s not journalistic accuracy if I don’t share, and it’s part of the poop story. And frankly, I don’t think that anyone in the world has a better husband than I do, and this, right here, is flat-out proof.
When my son was born, he was 3 ½ weeks early, which meant some things were not developed properly yet. One of those things was his ability to move his bowels on his own. My precious angel (not angle, a peet peeve of mine correcting English papers!), would strain and strain, only to get nothing out. The way it was described to us, was that he’d just not developed the proper muscle coordination to figure out which muscles along the sphincter and anal canal had to relax and which had to contract, in order to make for a successful bowel movement, and until he could do this on his own, he would need “stimulation” from us, to get himself started. This stimulation consisted of sticking something small, like a rectal thermometer into his anus, and swirling it around for a few seconds, until it told his body, “ding! Time to poop!” It worked every time.
I’m sure you can see where this is going. Enter rubber gloves, Vaseline, me sitting safely on the toilet and leaning on my amazing husband. It worked miracles for several pea-sized pebbles. I say pebbles because, if you’ve ever been backed up by narcotics, you know that the consistency of what comes out first is probably hard enough to serve as mortar for buildings. We did this routine a few times a day, until I was lightheaded, or just couldn’t stand anymore.
We always got some success, but certainly nothing significant. That he would do this for me, that he would still do it in a heartbeat means more to me than any blue box from Tiffany’s, than anything he could ever buy for me. He took care of me in the grossest way possible, without my even having to ask. He just did. That’s marriage folks. That’s marriage.
It was time for a trip to the doctor though. She took one look at my belly and how much I normally weigh compared to my weight that they took and said there are two options: fecal dis-impaction, which she didn’t feel comfortable doing in the office because I may faint in my condition (so I’d have to go to the hospital), or an enema (which she could prescribe). Since I didn’t want to go to the hospital to have someone, literally, shovel shit out of my ass, I chose the enema. But, she made me promise that if it didn’t work, I would go immediately to the ER. Okay lady, I promise to go to the ER for shit-shoveling (I lied). Sounds super-exciting, especially since I have no childcare, and I have to bring my son. I’m so excited about all the things he gets to see.
A reading audience is vast and wide (I hope), so I can safely assume that at least one of you has had an enema. For the rest of you, it basically consists of a bottle of saline and water (some have mineral oil or other ingredients, but mine was saline), with a tiny cap that you insert directly into your rectum. The goal is to squeeze as much of the bottle up there as you can, and then “hold it” (the saline solution) for as long as possible.
This sounds easy enough, but once the solution gets up there, your body says, “Go! Go now! NOW WOMAN! What are you waiting for!” But, if you can hold it for the recommended 15 minutes, the saline has time to work it’s way higher into the intestines, and really do some deep cleaning.
This is where my husband is a hero yet again. I want you to imagine, for a second, squeezing a bottle, that’s 118ml, up your own asshole. How might you go about that, because the recommended positions are on all fours, or lying on your side? Certainly, it can be done, but not comfortably, and certainly not easily in your present condition of beached whale, with a painful belly full of poop baby. Again, my brilliant and amazing husband thought nothing of simply doing it for me, and sitting with me for a while, to make sure I held it in. He sat and talked to me while I shook and quaked, ready to blow at any second.
There’s a lot to be said for having a sick spouse, they don’t get enough credit for the support they provide, not just emotional, but for the support they provide for all the gross stuff. This isn't just gross. This is far beyond the “in sickness and health part of the vows.”
If in wedding vows, they said, “will you stick your finger in your wife’s ass, and not for fun, but to help her shit?” how many would honestly say yes? If they asked, “will you sit next to her on the bathroom floor while you wait, and say a silent prayer to the toilet that it soon is filled with just tons and tons of poop,” would you say yes? I solemnly believe that my husband would’ve said yes, because in this ride we’ve called life, I’ve not seen a single thing that man wouldn’t do for me.
Anyway, the enema “worked.” It didn’t clear it all out because I just couldn’t hold it for the full 15 minutes. But it cleared it out to a strong degree. It was enough that I felt semi-comfortable again, and I didn’t feel like I’d have to learn to love a poop baby, one I’d give a terrible name, so that their professors could also make fun of them, silently in their heads (not that they’d have trouble remembering him/her, because let’s be honest, no one forgets the kid made of shit).
But, because I still had a significant amount of blockage, Bryon became obsessed with using the second package of enema we were prescribed. The next day, it was all “let’s do it again and get the rest out,” or “maybe we should do it again,” two days later. It was a little weird. I think he liked the enema and won’t admit it (kidding, I think he just doesn't want to see me suffer like that again). We’ll have to have a talk. I have to remind him that while, for him, it’s squeezing a bottle of junk up my ass, for me, it’s torture.
Happily, the rest of the junk moved along at it’s own pace. I eat, literally a pound of fruit for breakfast every morning, focusing especially on pineapple (nature’s laxative), strawberries, raspberries, and grapes. I also eat grapes as snacks all day. I’m a vegetarian, so getting more vegetables is never an issue. I eat broccoli again, and I eat lots more fiber. I still take my stool softeners at max dose, and I take an ex-lax every day, especially that now that I’ve had my decompression surgery, I’m on a lot more painkillers, so it’s far easier to get constipated. Ever since the great constipation episode of May 2015 though, I’ve been relatively okay. I still have about 3-4 pounds of unresolved stuff that needs to come out, but I figure it will exit in it’s own time.
For future blockages? I have learned that my bestest friend in the whole world is Cherry Essence Prunes. Prunes are, well, prunes. They aren't the best, and they aren't the worst, but they are easier to get down with that cherry flavor. I eat a bowl full every night because I still have to be on narcotics regularly, so prunes and I, we're homies.
 Valsalva pain is pain caused by any kind of force or exhalation. It basically means that it hurts to sneeze, bend over, cough, laugh, poop; essentially, it hurts to live.