Hey fans of bowel disease! Here is the prologue to my memoirs! If you want more, just let me know! Like everything else on the internet, it's totally free and eliminating jobs as we speak!
A BRIEF HISTORY (from Half-Assed: A Journey Through the American Colon in a Time of Bowel Disease)
Four days ago I turned thirty-seven. Another step closer to forty. For my birthday I got the best present a boy could ask for: I had my intestine reattached to my anus. I am told it will take up to six weeks for the intestine to “take”, which means, during that time, I will have diarrhea eight to ten times a day, or roughly twice after every meal.
That does not bother me. I’ve had chronic diahhrea since I was seventeen.
What bothers me is turning thirty-seven.
* * * *
Nine weeks ago I was gutted like a pumpkin, sliced open and scraped out. The surgeon removed two and a half feet of colon, plus a grapefruit-sized abscess. Ten hours after the surgery I awoke in a hospital bed, looked under my blanket and saw two things stuck to my abdomen: a white bandage and a plastic bag. The bandage covered the nine-inch, vertical scar running up my naval.
The plastic bag was my new ass.
* * * *
Three months ago I was in a hospital room, high up on the 16th floor. I awoke at 3:30 AM, heavy rain pelting the window. I pulled up my bed sheet and caught a whiff of something foul. Did I shit myself? I turned the sheet over and saw a dark spot above the crotch of my hospital PJs. I pulled up my t-shirt and discovered a serum oozing out of my belly button and trickling down the sides of my distended abdomen, forming a stain on the sheet. Horrified, I sat up quickly. I must have exerted pressure on my stomach because a long stream of goop shot out from my belly button all the way to my knees. I reached for the call button.
“Nurse? I think you need to come see this.”
Thirty-six hours later I was on an imaging table in Radiology, doped up on Versed, Valium and Fentanyl, while a middle-eastern doctor inserted a drain into my abdomen. The “goop” came from an abscess that had grown between my kidney and my intestine.
They told me I was lucky. Had the serum not found its way out through my belly button it could have travelled inward, and I could have died of sepsis.
I am lucky, I thought, as the cute, dark-haired nurse drained my bag of puss, blood and feces into a plastic container.
* * * *
Five months ago I was on a date, with a trauma nurse I met online, when I felt a sharp pain in my stomach. It was a warm, spring night. I stood on the sidewalk in front of her apartment building, buzzing her, when suddenly she appeared around the corner, walking toward me. Leading the way was Lynus, her one-year old pug, growling and sniffling and dragging her by his leash.
I waved to her. She didn’t respond, so I yelled “Hey”. Finally she and Lynus were close enough so I could see their faces, and neither looked happy.
“What’s wrong?” I said.
“Just keep walking.” She brushed past me and continued to the front door. I followed.
“Do you have a lighter?” she asked, searching her clutch, a handbag so small it could be mistaken for a sunglass case.
“Sorry about this…I’m just a little freaked out right now,” she said, trembling, an unlit cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth that moved up and down as she spoke.
She shook her head and sighed, finally digging a Bic out of her clutch and lighting her smoke. She sucked in a long drag and let it out, as though it was her first breath of fresh air in days. Then she pointed to a three-story house across the street. “That house…I walk Lynus past that house every night…it’s a halfway house and, I don’t know, sometimes the guys there scare me.”
“Scare you how?”
“It’s fine. Just forget it. They’re harmless. I mean, they always whistle, but when they start yelling things, gross things, I get a little freaked out. It reminds me of…never mind.”
“Never mind what?” I said, looking down at her stiletto heels and skin-tight pencil dress, just barely long enough to conceal the crack of her ass. She had worked at the hospital that day, which meant she came home and changed into heels and a cocktail dress to walk the dog around the block.
“Nothing. I’ll tell you later,” she replied.
For some reason, I no longer cared. As I leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek, I hoped that later would never come.
“There’s something wrong with my stomach,” I said.
She made an ooh face and rubbed my belly. “Here?”
I nodded. “I think I’m dying.”
She stepped back. “Are you really dying? Are you really dying? Because if you are, we should go to the Emergency Room. But if you’re not then don’t say that. So are you?”
“I…no, it’s just a figure of…you know how, when you have the flu, and you feel like you’re…no, I’m not dying.” I looked down at the ground. “I guess I shouldn’t have said that.”
Satisfied, she dropped her cigarette and ground it out with the toe of her neon blue shoe. She pulled her shawl around her bare shoulders and tugged on the leash.
“C’mon, Liney, let’s go inside.” Then she turned to me. “You coming?”
Cautiously, I followed, thinking to myself, in the broadest sense, that the universe is huge, and it’s unlikely that two human beings, brought together by an Internet algorithm, would both be clinically sane.
A week later I was in the Emergency Room. It would be the first of five visits over the next two months.
* * * *
18 years ago I was a freshman in college. My first year was plagued with persistent stomach cramps and diarrhea, not ideal conditions for keg stands, Ramon noodles and all-nighters. When I returned home the following spring my father commented on my weight loss, first by asking if they fed me out there, then by accusing me of drug addiction. I told him it was probably stress, or lactose intolerance.
I lasted one more semester – fall of 1994 – before finally copping to the fact that some part of my digestive system was out of order. My academic and on-campus social life had been directly affected by my stomach problems. I had to be within 100 feet of a bathroom at all times. I withdrew from the more collegial, group activities of flag football and frat parties and spent most of my time smoking pot in my dorm room with my roommate, a white kid with dreadlocks named Rich Rinkle. I’d smoke enough dope to work up an appetite, eat a pastrami sub and shit my brains out, and then we’d play Nirvana covers on our guitars until we fell asleep. I never had a girlfriend or made a single lasting friendship—aside from Rich—in those first three semesters.
I begged my parents to let me drop out and come home. They conceded, worn down by the image of their 19-year old son groveling in tears. The condition of my return home was to a) get a job, and b) enroll part-time at Umass Boston. I happily obliged and enrolled in three classes while waiting tables at George’s, a neighborhood bar & grill where I washed dishes during high school. With the holidays over and a new year underway I found a groove, making decent cash, eating home-cooked meals and hanging out with high school friends who went to BU. My comfort and security levels began to rise. I scaled back on the pot smoking. I flirted with girls at the restaurant. I had my eye on Emerson College’s film program as a potential next move. Life was turning around, and the wrenching stomach pains and persistent diarrhea seemed to be tucked into the corner. All was good, until one February morning, when I happened to glance at the toilet paper after a good wipe, and saw that it was blood red.
“It’s probably just a hemorrhoid,” my mother said. “You know, your dad has them. They’re hereditary.”
“Yeah, probably,” I said, squinting out through the passenger-side window as we drove to the hospital. The February sky was clear and blue. The sun, reflecting off the snow, was blinding. “What about the diarrhea? And why am I so skinny?”
“It could be anything. Diet, maybe. All that crap you eat. It’s probably a food allergy. Lactose intolerance.”
“Yeah. Right. Stress,” my mother said derisively, either because she knew the idea of a 19-year old with stress was laughable, or because she, like most people her age, did not see the connection between mental and physical health. “Maybe you just go to the bathroom a lot. Your Uncle Lefty was the same way, you know. Rail thin his whole life, always running to the bathroom.”
I had no idea who Uncle Lefty was. My stomach growled. It was almost 11:30 and I hadn’t eaten since 7:30 the night before, when I started administering the enema for the colonoscopy. “When this is done, I wanna go to Ihop for French toast,” I said, closing my eyes and laying back in the passenger seat. My mother nodded. I watched her for a minute through slitted eyes as she drove. There was a long silence, and she broke it.
“Whatever the hell it is,” she said, “you’ll find out soon enough.”
The colonoscopy was an amazing blur. I drifted in and out of consciousness, but whenever I was alert I saw that the doctors surrounding me had those shiny metal circles attached to their foreheads, like in the old days. I was also convinced they were aliens, and I was the subject of an anal probe. Afterward the nurse told me I talked throughout the whole procedure, mostly incoherent babble about an argument I had with a woman, standing on the edge of a cliff.
“Really?” I asked, as she wheeled me to the recovery room. My voice was deep and hoarse from the drugs. “Did I say anything else about this woman? Her name? Anything?”
The nurse smiled and shook her head. I told her I was cold. She draped a warm blanket over my body and told me to lay back and relax, which I did, and then faded to black.
I woke up in the recovery room. I had no concept of time, and for a moment I had no idea where I was or what just happened. Eventually I came to. I propped myself onto my elbows and looked around the room—three empty beds, and me. The door was closed, but I could hear foot traffic and conversation from the hallway. The narcotic haze was burning off, and although my throat was clammy and I felt out of it, my appetite was fierce. I craved French toast. I took in a deep breath, about to shout out a polite “Hello?” or “Nurse?” and then stopped myself. I decided to wait. When the time is right, they’ll come and get me. With their results and their diagnoses.
Maybe I’ll just sit here for a bit. Enjoy the peace and quiet. Savor my last few moments as a healthy person.
Daniel Pellegrini is a recovering drug addict with an aggressive form of chronic bowel disease. That means he can't take painkillers after undergoing rectal surgery. He's here to show you just how beautiful life is.
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