Will You Be My Number Two?

Rodney Warner, JD
Rodney Warner, JD

Like the best selling children’s book states, everybody poops. It’s really an amazing process, if you think about it. You can ingest just about any food (and many non-foods, I suppose), your body will take out of it what’s needed, and get rid of the rest. We’re not creatures that just eat, then die because we explode because we’re packed with undisposed waste. If we don’t need it, we get rid of it. Or at least, we’re supposed to.

Of course, it doesn’t always work so well. Disease, food poisoning or infections can turn our digestive tracts into veritable flume rides, with whatever waste we need to get rid accompanied by torrents of dark, murky water. If you’re sick enough, you won’t only be riding the porcelain bus, you’ll be driving it too.

Friends have a very large, very old house. At some point, one of its closets was converted to a bathroom (indoor plumbing wasn’t in use when the house was built and the double seater outhouse is still in existence). When I saw this tiny bathroom I thought it was perfect if you had a really bad stomach flu. If seated, your bottom half could use the toilet while the top half could use the sink, simultaneously, minimizing the mess.

When dealing with the Big C, you often have to deal with the little c, constipation. Chemo and anti-nausea drugs can constipate you, which is why cancer patients often have to include the euphemistically named “stool softeners’ in the handful of daily pills they take.

I’m not a big water drinker, and that and the little c literally ended up biting me in the ass during my treatment. I reached the point where I knew there were things in my body that had to get out, but my body seemed physically incapable of doing the job. I was panicked. Like the saying goes, this too shall pass, and it did, but not without pain and Herculean effort. If someone was outside the bathroom listening to me at the time, they might’ve thought I was training to be an Olympic weight lifter.

I remember having such pain where the sun doesn’t shine, I started knocking my head against a wall to distract me from the feeling. When your “stools’ are the size and density of bocce balls, you gotta do what you gotta do.

The process left me with a torn rectal muscle ( a “fissure’), and when there was a particularly large train coming down the track, I would start bleeding. This was before my allogeneic bone marrow transplant. During the procedure, your immune system is practically nil, so I was afraid this open wound in this bacterial playground would result in a terminal pain in the ass. Thankfully, it didn’t happen.

Cancer treatment, I hope, is behind me (no pun intended). But given I’ve had about half of all chemo agents known to man and enough radiation to power a small country for six months, colon cancer is something I need to watch out for. That involves a colonoscopy, where a snake-like optical instrument goes in where normally things come out, to get the lay of the land and remove polyps that don’t belong. Colon cancer is one of the deadliest, but with colonoscopies, one of the most preventable cancers.

The process doesn’t sound like fun to me. I’m told that afterward one passes a lot of gas, which, unless you’re a fan of earthy smells, isn’t pleasant. I’ve never had one, so who knows, maybe it’s not so bad.

A friend told me he had a long period of stomach ailments and he was getting so many rectal exams, he was starting to look forward to them. My GP told me that after performing a rectal exam for a gay patient, he told her he normally had to pay for dinner and a movie before getting one. But I digress….

So, if you’re blessed with a normally functioning digestive system, count your blessings, bring a magazine with you, and make sure you wash your hands when you’re done.

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