Constipation

I have pondered for more than a week whether or not to tell this tale, and to be honest I don’t know at the moment that I am scratching out a first draft with pen and paper if I will actually complete it. If I end up doing so I will then have to decide if I will publish it. This may not be a story for all readers. My good friends, wonderful people all of them, may feel uncomfortable reading about this experience which I am about to share. If that is the case, please don’t read this. My sole intent is to share information in the hope that anyone who reads this will take precautions to prevent a severely painful situation which I experienced from happening to them, but I value my friends above most things in life and would never want them to feel uncomfortable reading anything that I write.

I never want to publish a story simply to shock, and the story that I have now set out to tell consists of details unsavory enough to shock and gross out many people. I suppose the trick will be to see if my writing skills are adequate to deal with the topic in a way that gives objective information of a deeply personal story in a way that the unpleasantness of the topic doesn’t detract from the point. I will assess upon completion of my first draft whether or not I have achieved my goal. Only then will I push the ‘Publish’ button and send this out to a world which may not even be interested in it at all. We shall see. (author’s note: I obviously assessed this story and decided that it should be sent. As I wrote a moment ago, we shall see).

The title of this tale is simply “Constipation” and, not surprisingly, that is also the topic. And it is a topic that many people do not consider to be serious; the butt (forgive the pun) of an inferior comedian’s potty humor or something that old people in the retirement home speak about often. But when constipation, and I mean real constipation, hits you all of the jokes and laughter fall away and you find yourself praying for some kind, any kind, of relief. Most people can avoid constipation by eating a balanced diet, remaining active, and staying hydrated. Surgery changes all of that however, and it is in the context of a recent major surgery which I underwent that this story is being written.

I recently suffered a heart attack and had to submit to bypass surgery to enable my heart to receive an adequate supply of blood. I was under general anesthesia for over three hours and then given regular doses of a narcotic pain medication for the next five or six days on a regular basis. I tapered off of the narcotics over the next two weeks but still needed them sometimes in order to quell the ache in my chest so that I could sleep. A side effect of the anesthesia and narcotics is that they interfere greatly with normal bowel function, and part of my daily post-surgical physical examination was to listen for the sounds that normal, healthy intestines make. Mine were obviously making normal sounds, so other than a stool softening pill given to me once a day I received no other attention to this potential problem. That would come back to haunt me.

In addition to the effects of the drugs that I was now taking, the other three components of healthy elimination were removed. I was very restricted in my walking around or doing any other exercise by the fact that my split chest was now held together with wires and stitches, and the heart medications given to me made me very light-headed and therefore unable to walk very far or very safely. My appetite vanished after the surgery and even if it had not done so the diet was virtually devoid of fiber, and they wanted me to lose some of my body fluids for reasons I don’t understand so I was put on a diuretic. The result of this perfect intestinal storm was that by the time I was released to go home I had had one small bowel movement and that was all. I was told to be conscious to avoid constipation but not given a plan to do so which fit my new situation.

Returning home was a wonderful thing. I now had the foods which I like to eat and my appetite slowly returned. I ate a lot of salads and other greens, and drank a great deal of water too. I hoped that this would do the trick, but nothing came of it. By day three I began to suspect that I was in trouble, but my preoccupation with safely rehabilitating with my light headedness and healing chest wound, plus the effects of all of the drugs that I was taking, diverted my attention from what should have been a priority. On day four the degree to which it should have been a priority burst upon me with a pain that one could hardly imagine unless one experiences it firsthand, and experience it i did.

I could tell when I arose that morning that things were moving to a conclusion. I tried a couple of times to eliminate but the bolus of stool reached the last centimeter of my digestive tract and then refused to budge any further. I gave up after a while and arose to return to my place on the sofa, but the stool was far enough down to be painful. I hobbled gingerly back to the sofa and sat/lay in a position that caused the least discomfort and waited for something good to happen. Nothing good happened. This was at about ten in the morning.

After a couple of tries I had moved things along another millimeter or two, which only sufficed to lodge a bigger chunk of clay-like stool right at the porthole of freedom, where it was as painful as it could possibly be. It was like having the gnarled, knobby end of an Irish walking stick or the spiked ball of a medieval mace stuck in my rear end. After a few more tries I sent my wife to the store to purchase a laxative, which is precisely what I should have done four days earlier and would have it I had been properly (in my opinion) counseled upon discharge. The bad news, I later learned, was that the laxative was great for future bowel movements but would be of no use for the problem at hand.

Time after time I returned to the toilet, and each time the pain increased but no relief was obtained. I was beginning to get desperate. The pain was intense and offered no prospect of diminishing anytime soon. My wive later told me that she was approaching the point of taking me back to the Emergency Room, such was my physical discomfort and her emotional anguish from watching as I suffered. I finally found myself praying to God for relief, even though I suspected that God is not in the business of giving colonics. I knew that God, when He was with us on Earth, suffered greatly too and that He understood my pain, and that gave me some comfort although I confess that it wasn’t much.

By four thirty in the afternoon I clutched at my final straw. I asked my wife to go to the store and purchase an enema. When I was a kid we had one of those in the house, although I cannot remember ever seeing or hearing of it being used. I didn’t even know if they made the things anymore but as luck would have it, they do. My wife returned with my last best hope, and after about twenty minutes of assembly and test runs, we put this final plan into action.

At this point I will cease with close descriptions of this drama. They are gross and embarrassing. The procedure itself was painful in the extreme and not immediately successful. Repeated attempts, each one introducing a little more of the warm water which I hoped would loosen things up, resulted in having to clear and clean the nozzle while I waited in almost breathtaking pain so that I could try again. Finally, after the third attempt, while the nozzle was once again being cleaned and prepared for use, all hell broke loose.

I could hardly believe that my ordeal was over. I simply said to my wife “it’s out”, but she could scarcely believe it either. She continued to clean the nozzle and I repeated “it’s over. I got it out.” Finally she allowed herself to believe it, and we just looked at each other; her standing by the sink and me sitting there doing my own interpretation of “Game of Thrones”. The relief washed over both of us and we went about the business of cleaning me and the bathroom up.

I returned to my sofa, but this time in considerably less pain. It would still be the next day before the fire down below was finally extinguished. At this point I began to take the laxative, drink glasses of prune juice, and a glass of water containing a tablespoon of psyllium seed husks every day, plus up the fiber in my diet even higher. It was and continues to be my intention to never go through that again.

If anyone is still reading this tale of my scatological nightmare I would like to reiterate why I wrote it. I did not expect to need bypass surgery. We never know when such things will overtake us. Anyone reading this may find themselves tomorrow faced with a difficult and painful surgery in their immediate future and if, heaven forbid, that is the case you might find yourself in the same position that I was. If I have properly utilized this opportunity to tell one person this messy and embarrassing tale, and if it in turn results in that person avoiding the dreadful situation that I endured, then I will understand why I had to endure it at all and will celebrate that I was able to help that one person avoid the pain.

There is my story. I urge you, reader, to take it to heart and make of it what you will.

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