A thing that happened

Joe Gregorio

So here I am on a Tuesday morning, in the bathroom, getting ready for work while my wife still sleeps. The only context you need for what’s about to happen next is that my intestines had been a little sore the previous two days and that last year I found out that I had diverticulosis. The latter found because when you turn 50 you get a free colonoscopy. I really don’t think there is a more apt metaphor for turning 50 than a free colonoscopy.

Warning, the rest of this story contains references to urine, feces, blood, needles, and any number of other unpleasant dinner table topics. If you are squeamish, or would be unable to look me in the eye the next time we meet, you should stop reading now.

I am sitting on the toilet when I get a huge flapping and stabbing pain in my intestines. This is a pain that is so intense and otherworldly that I’m thrown off the toilet onto my hands and knees. It is hard to describe this feeling, but imagine taking a wooden children’s block, you know the ones, with the big letters and numbers on them in bold colors? So take one of those, attach it to the head of a 3/8" drill-bit, shove that up your ass, and then turn on the drill. Yeah, that’s exactly what it felt like. I’m able to crawl a few feet before calling out to my wife, where she finds me naked in the fetal position on the cold bathroom tile floor. She asks, and as I can start to breath again as the pain descends, on a scale from 0 to 10, from a 10 down to about a 6, I explain what happened.

“What can I do?”

“Let’s start with getting me a pillow.”

After lying on the floor for awhile and having the pain subside down to about a 4, I get dressed, and get a 2pm doctor’s appointment. The office says they can and do want to see me soon given the severity of what might be going on, so I schedule a 2pm appointment.

We never make that appointment.

Lynne is out walking the dog, almost back to the house, when I call her, “Forget the doctor’s appointment, we need to go to the ER, now!” My pain has shot back up to an 8.

My pain for next two hours will oscillate between a 4 and an 8. Yes, you heard that correctly, the next two hours. It will take that long to get me though the triaging process and into an ER bed and enough tests run that they start to give me something for the pain. I do get the idea that the doctors don’t want to mask any pain that might help with a diagnosis, but do you really think that the difference between me howling incoherently and merely able to speak and tell them my pain is a 6 is that sharp of a diagnostic tool? Regardless, I spend the next two hours oscillating between a 4 and an 8, and anything above a 7 requires chanting the “Litany of Pain”:

"Shit. Fuck. Damn."
"Shit. Fuck. Damn."
"Fuck. Fuck. Fucking fuckity fuck."

Which I promptly did, for an hour, in the ER waiting room lying across a bench seat. Please note that I understand that your personal “Litany of Pain” may differ, and may change based on the pain level, for example mine tends to peter out at a 9 to just gurgling.

The CT scan comes back with “inflamed diverticulum” and a surgeon appears to explain that given my pain it’s probably ruptured and that she’d like to operate, or we could wait awhile and see if antibiotics make a difference in the pain. I’m not going to jump into any surgery, so I decide to wait, but the description of what the actual surgery will entail really makes me uneasy. The plan would be open me up, cut out the offending piece of colon, and route the end of the now shorter colon into an ostomy. I had no idea the human body was that flexible, “Hey let’s re-route your butt hole to somewhere in your abdomen!” seems more like a Zoidberg surgery than an actual procedure, who knew? Anyway, then the rest of the plan is to wait three months for everything to heal, and do the reverse surgery, undoing the colonostomy and reconnecting my colon to my anus. What exactly my anus is supposed to be doing for those three months is a question I forget to ask.

I spend the next 24 hours in the hospital with IV antibiotics as my temperature, white blood cell count, and pain continue to rise. A new CT scan confirms that I have a ruptured colon: I will not be avoiding surgery. In fact, they are so alarmed that they take me straight from the CT to the operating room.

Let’s talk about “Versed”, a drug that they give you before surgery so that you don’t remember any of the horrors that surgery, or surgery prep, or coming out of surgery entail. It does all that, but apparently it also pretty well scrambles your brain for some time following the surgery. When I woke up in my hospital room the doctor was there explaining my status, the surgery, what they found, and next steps to my wife. Except that my brain was translating their entire conversation into Kubernetes command line strings (essentially a kind of programming language). And I’m there taking in as if was completely normal, like I’m happy I got the surgery at such a cutting edge place that they’re using Kubernetes to control their surgical procedures. It’s not until days later in the hospital, in a fleeting instance of lucidity, that I realize how fucking insane and nonsensical that sounds. So I begin going back over the things I know and fact checking them. I know, for example, that they have me up and walking right after surgery and that I take regular walks on that hospital floor, and as I get better I might be able to go for a walk in the outside exercise area, which is a small stone-lined plaza in Italy. Wait, what?

Needless to say, the full eight days I spent in the hospital are a little fuzzy, and I might not be a reliable witness.

Over the eight days I had get to past certain milestones, such as peeing on my own. I never realized how happy you could make a nurse by peeing, which apparently comes in second place only to how happy you can make a nurse by producing stool from your stoma. I’m pretty sure I was an infant the last time that many people were excited by my poop production.

Now I am home recovering from colon surgery. It’s like having a new baby, all the conversations are about pee, poop, and sleeping schedules, except in this case, I’m the baby. Really it’s all about the gas. Every part of my now shortened digestive tract is swollen and irritable, so everything produces gas, and all gas produces discomfort. Which leads me to my three rules of colon surgery recovery discomfort:

  1. It’s always gas.
  2. Walking fixes everything. (See #1).
  3. Unless maybe you’re hungry.

So I walk, and I walk, and I walk. In the house though, because it has been either too cold outside, or drenching rain. So I walk up and down the upstairs hall, or loop-de-loops around the furniture downstairs, and I belch, and I belch, and I belch. That’s apparently yet another thing that makes nurses happy; I would be doing one of my regular walks in the hospital wing and let out one of those deep, loud belches that start at your toes, and a cheer would rise from the nurses station every time. Nurses are weird.

I’m just two days home from the hospital at this point, with another two weeks of recovery at least before I can return to anything resembling a normal life, except for the shadow of the reversal surgery hanging out there three months from now. Thanks for reading this far, as I know that writing it has certainly helped me process my adventure to date. Many thanks to family, friends, and co-workers for all their support, it means a huge amount to me and Lynne. Oh yeah, did I mention that Lynne had a sinus infection through all this, she’s been an amazing trooper, my rock, and I wouldn’t have made it through without her.

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