Confession: This story is almost a month old…it took me that long to get my shit together and finish this! Sorry!
I’m ready to talk about something totally, absolutely, and ridiculously, humiliating. Are you ready?
Are you ready?
Because, it’s about to get all kinds of gross, and personal, in here.
I know that I share here. It’s a nice outlet. My sister has called my “outlet” self-indulgent, which, at the time, I tried very hard to take as the insult it was intended to be. It was hard though, because it occurs to me that almost all communication, except for true listening is self-indulgent. We all want to be heard. So, we talk, write, shout, and send smoke signals.
I know that I’ve been silent for a while. I’ve been…processing…shall we say? I get to do that. I mean, I’m a little fucked up. In the past 36 months, I’ve had my head shaved twice, my skull cracked open, and titanium rammed mere fractions of a millimeter from my brain.
As a quick addendum to that titanium; I’ve recently learned that, at any given moment, my body may decide that the titanium plate and screws, are no longer welcome. It may begin rejecting them, by propelling out the screws at rocket-ship speeds.
Okay, they will propel at slow, glacial speeds. However, any speed at which a screw propels itself from my skull, and through my scalp, feels too fast. The first sign of this will be that I’ll feel the fucking screw…in…my…scalp! Well, I’ll feel it coming through my scalp, like a This Old House episode gone horribly, horribly wrong.
Just, imagine me, brushing my hair that I haven’t cut in two years, because it’s now my security blanket (we’ll get back to that, and why I look like a filthy bag lady – not Rapunzel) and, wham! Screw poking through my skin!
Now, imagine how often that I check my scalp for suspicious lumps. I’m like a pubescent boy who feigns concern for his girlfriend’s breast health. A number with exponents per times per week, I ask Bryon, “was this lump here before?” I ask him so often, in fact, that he always says, “yes,” without even checking. How dare he not take my irrational concern seriously?
Aside from the whole surgery and imminent screw loose (yeah, I get it) thing, I’ve also lost my family. Lost is a weird word choice. I shed them like an extreme form of molting, but the feeling of loss is still there. I can’t exactly eat my family, the way a lizard eats its skin when he’s done shedding and growing. That’d be gross. And, criminal. And, I don’t want to. I’m a vegan.
My therapist suggested that I consider myself adopted. Not to diminish the experience of true adoptees, of course. Still, lots of parents either give up, or are forced to give up their children because they are unable to either physically, or emotionally, provide for them. I’m not much different in that regard, except that I’m an adult. So, now I’m adrift in the world.
That’s a lot of shit to deal with in a relatively short amount of time.
I’ve gotten side-tracked.
For a long time.
I promised you a gross confession.
Physically, I’m doing the best I’ve been doing since I got sick. Brace yourselves: I’m running. No shit. I’m capable of running! R-U-N-N-I-N-G again! Not a lot. And, not fast. And, not every day. But, every step I take that is faster than a walk, is like the greatest step I’ve ever taken. It’s how I imagine it must’ve felt to walk on the moon.
I’m on the least amount of drugs I’ve been on in at least three years. In fact, It’s the first time that I’ve not been on a daily opiate regiment. But, when it’s bad, it’s still really bad. I still have an opiate prescription for when I get a massive headache that can’t be controlled by other means, especially because my headaches, when I get them, last for days, because they can be caused by my wack-a-doodle intracranial pressure, and that pain can’t be controlled by a Tylenol.
But, there’s a not-so-well-kept secret about opiates: they back up your poop system. For most people, with normal colons, this is no big deal. When they are done taking them, they eat a couple of prunes, and they are good to go. This is also no big deal, because most people who take opiates don’t need to take them for very long, or very often.
I wish I had a regular colon. Sometimes, just seeing the Oxy bottle in the drawer is enough to block me up for a month. My colon has a mind of its own, and it is susceptible to the power of suggestion. I think it might be a bit of a hypochondriac, frankly. If it even hears of a negative condition, it catches it. Yeah, that’s right, my colon can hear. Can’t yours?
A Pepto commercial for traveler’s diarrhea comes on, and my colon becomes convinced that the mailbox equates to a trek through India, stopping to drink from a well that pulls ground water from a stagnant creek that the locals use to rise the diapers of children infected with cholera. Strangely, I can see hundreds of commercials of Jamie Lee Curtis and her lady-yogurt, and I never find myself being regular.
This would be no big deal, except that I have (confession time) yet another rare and, this time, humiliating, medical condition: bile salt diarrhea. Bile salt diarrhea can be caused by a number of things, but it’s a relatively rare side effect of removing the gallbladder. Guess who has two thumbs and has had her gall bladder removed?
It’s hard to take a picture of yourself with two thumbs! Ha! This is from me grading the other day, anyway.
One of the functions of the gallbladder is that it regulates how much bile the stomach uses, and then gets dumped into your intestines to continue digesting your food in the next stage of digestion. Without it, in some people, the stomach has no idea what to do when food hits it; so, it dumps bile straight into the intestines. Because the intestines are not equipped to digest huge amounts of bile, it rushes, straight through your intestines, along with the undigested food. The stomach has a difficult time turning off the bile dump, and you will continue to pass this bile, rapidly, until it turns off. Of course, you’ve smartly stopped eating by now, because you’re already in the bathroom. Plus, it’ll keep dumping bile through so long as you are eating, and your stomach is sending the signal that there is more food to digest.
As this problem became more prominent, I sometimes ate, practically, on the toilet, as that’s how quickly my food passed. I never held anything in longer than 15-20 minutes. We are a family with no shame (okay—gross, sometimes); so, we would (and still do), occasionally, play the corn race. When we eat corn, we see who “sees” the corn again first. I always won. By days. Because I always saw it again within minutes, I continue to be the reigning corn race champ! Undefeated!
I have to take my victories where I can get them. I’m not exactly going to win any Olympic gold medals in my lifetime.
As you can imagine, this is a relatively difficult problem to diagnose. You go through the following stages:
Did I seriously not make it to the bathroom last night? That was totally embarrassing. Hope that doesn’t happen again.
- OMG. Again?
- Wait. This is ridiculous.
- I’m too embarrassed to tell the doctor that I shit myself…regularly.
- Okay, I should tell him, because I saw an entire undigested piece of pizza last night. Am I getting any food?
- Hang on…if I’m shitting everything I eat, why are my thighs still so big?
- Nah, I’ve got this under control! I can drive the kid to school, without a towel under me, so long as I don’t eat before noon, and not after 9 pm.
- Wait…that’s not normal.
- Okay, sucked it up, and the doctor said to add bulk fiber and take Immodium. He didn’t seem phased that I have to take 20 to make it stop. 20! Hmmm. Can you OD on Immodium? Stupid military medicine.
- Whelp, it’s been six months, and now, I’m wearing Depends to a job interview. Is this a reasonable solution? What if I get the job? Is this the long-term plan? I can’t work two hours away, and wear Depends!
- Do Depends show through these pants? The students will totally be able to tell.
- I’m so fucking hungry. I can’t go on not eating through a full day of teaching and driving, just so I don’t have to wear Depends under my clothes!
- Back to the doctor. Fucking military medicine.
- Ugh. Gastroenterology. Of course, I have to do a lower GI thing with the poop scope.
- Phew. This is fixed with a simple med. Why couldn’t this have been easier?
So, yeah. It’s easily controlled. One simple med, and I’ve never had another problem. It slows down the digestive process, and I’m totally fine. But, if I take the digestive slowing med, and I have a headache that week, where I have to take opiates, I’d never go to the bathroom again. I think my colon would rupture. I say that jokingly, but in reality, it’s a possibility. If I had to take opiates, for say, weeks on end, and I took my slowing med, I could actually die, eventually. I have to be super careful to monitor the ol’ pooper.
Stool softeners: not just for post partum mommies.
After a headache that requires opiates, it takes anywhere from a week, to a month (not even kidding) to go again, “naturally.” We call the ensuing gut swelling my poop babies. And, they hurt. I can’t bend, twist, or move, because they get pretty fucking big.
I’ve learned that the best thing to do is to get some control over it, pretty early, before I look three months pregnant with Collin’s poop baby sibling. Ex-Lax has become my friend. Barring that, Ducolax suppositories. Please pray for me, that it doesn’t come to the second solution very often. They suck. If you’ve ever needed one, you know why. Dear Hera, the fire.
But, Ex-Lax can take more than one dose, and it’s a delicate balance. A very delicate balance.
Take a dose. Wait twelve hours. Nothing.
Take another dose. Wait twelve hours. Still nothing. Ponder whether you want to live or die.
Take another dose. Wait twelve hours, and know you are moving towards the Ducolax in the morning. Also know that the third dose (or the previous two) can open the gates of hell at any moment, and if it does, it will be horrible because it took so long.
Wake up at two a.m. and hate your very existence.
This is what happened to me over the weekend.
From the hours of two a.m. until nine, I pooped. I pooped everything I’ve ever eaten, in my life. I pooped everything everyone has ever eaten in their entire lives. Only it wasn’t like this:
At least not at first. It’s like passing softballs through a straw, until you get to the end; when all of the sudden, it’s like Jeff Bridges on the toilet, and you wish you were dead. It’s difficult to determine which is worse: softballs or Jeff Bridges. Softballs come with cramps that and blood; Jeff Bridges comes with, well, Mississippi Mud.
Then, you fall asleep on the couch, cold and sweaty, and you can start all over with the digestive slowing meds. For the next week or so, you get to deal with blood and the dreaded “fissures.” Seriously, how much do you know about me, right now?
I switched my insurance to Tricare Standard, instead of Prime, which gave me a new primary care provider. She pointed out that my digestive slowing med came in a different format, which has changed my life once again, and made it even more effective, and made it work even better, if that was possible, so I’m gloriously happy. We’ll see what happens the next time I have to take an opiate.
But, I’ve got a system to manage my co-“conditions.” It may not always be a comfortable one, but it works. It may sometimes require Ex-Lax and me laying on the bathroom floor, and praying that if there’s a God, I can have a serious talk with him about why he made me out of spare parts. It also may make me eternally grateful for steroid cream – did I mention that crapping straight bile is equivalent to vomiting bile out of a hole it’s not designed for, so it causes surface burns to your skin? Yet another time I find myself eternally grateful for Big Pharma and western medicine.
So, there’s my gross confession story. As I was lying on the couch this weekend, cold and clammy, I thought to myself: someone would love to know about this glamorous part of being sick that has previously gone unreported. Am I right?