Then I got this belly ache. In the past two months it’s been a regular event. Nothing truly awful, just a little belly ache that comes and goes. And since things seemed to be moving along more or less as well as they ever did, I figured I was all right. I didn’t worry. I just walked around saying “I have a belly ache.” Denial is not a river in Egypt, folks.
My husband says that when old people say to each other “how’s it going?” they are really asking “are your bowels moving regularly?” When I was a kid whenever somebody didn’t feel well my Nova Scotian grandmother would ask “have you moved your bowels today?” and if you hadn’t, you were ordered to report to the bathroom and not come out until this movement had been achieved. We kids would gigglingly oblige, tickled by her very proper choice of words, and half crazy with the fear of having the dreaded enema, which was generally applied while brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles waited for news just beyond the bathroom door. Oh, the shame. No wonder I was in denial.
|Depression-era photo of Gramma and her daughters, Mom (R) and Aunt Phyllis. The economy may have been sluggish, but not their colons, by God. Gramma saw to that.|
As it turned out my colon was on strike, backed up so badly that my stomach wasn’t even emptying any more. The emergency room tests showed a sad and painful truth. Even a couple of shots of something really strong for pain didn’t eliminate the pain from my lack of elimination. The situation had gone on for far too long, but like I said, feeling so good in so many ways had trumped that little old belly pain for quite a while. My stomach was like a little voice moaning softly into the darkness: “what about me?” it growled. “what about how I feel?” I was ignoring that voice. Having no appetite was a good thing, too, as I’ve grown very fond of my favorite 1969-era jeans. Quit your growling, flat stomach!
|The beautiful and deadly croton plant grows right here in Key West. I wonder if they have one behind the hospital emergency room?|
It takes about an hour to empty the contents of one football-sized stomach. Then they replace all that sludge with a laxative, right down the same handy tube. The result of that laxative is a most impressive purge, the details of which I will spare you. The next morning I awakened nose-hose free, clean and warm in my cozy bed, with vaguely disgusting memories of an awfully crappy night.
Two things you should take from my story. One: eat your fiber. Try for 25 grams a day. It ain’t as easy as you think. Look on labels. I thought a bowl of oatmeal every morning was all I needed to keep my fiber quotient up. Hell no. You need a whole lot more fiber than that. Like most parts of the human body, you can get away with abusing your colon for many, many years. But when your very tolerant body can take the abuse no longer, it rebels with pain. And that means you’re in trouble. Don’t ignore pain. It means something. Especially when it goes on and on and on. For weeks. Or months. It means you need to find out what’s wrong.
Second: once again I have witnessed firsthand that the most merciful people on this planet are nurses and nurses assistants. In the past two years I have been through some of the most distasteful procedures imaginable, and at every event, there was a nurse, or a team of nurses and assistants, urging me through the rough patches, assuring me of my ability to cope, ignoring the distasteful by-products of my ever more tenacious grasp on life as this and all human bodies grow weary of putting up with our abuse. If you’re digging your trip on this long and winding road, don’t forget the care and maintenance of your vehicle.
Happy trails to you.