On the eve of my 41st birthday, I had many reasons to be merry about my first year as a mid-lifer. My family was healthy, business was booming, and Christmas was right around the corner. I guess you can say I was happier than Ralphie Parker and his carbine-action, 200-shot range model air rifle.
“Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.”
Shortly after my 41st birthday, without cause or provocation, my ass started talking to me. Nothing odorous or vile, just these little baby-talk gurgles that spurted out of me every time I so much as sniffed food. There was no way to control it or explain it. Whether a Tic Tac or a taco, my ass would break into staccato.
Then came mid-October. My appetite was writing checks that my colon couldn’t cash, and the ass-gurgles graduated to full-blown movie quotes:
- When I ate something spicy: “Say hello to my little frrrrrriend!”
- When I’d reach for some produce: “You can’t handle the [fruit]!!!
- If I dared to dream of fried food: “If you [eat] it….[shit] will come.”
Now I’ve spent the better part of my professional life as a medical writer. I know that, unless you’re a pet detective, a talking ass shouldn’t be taken lightly. Here’s the problem, though. I may have enough medical knowledge to diagnose a fart before it comes out of someone else’s ass. But when the medical writer becomes the medical subject, I cling to my own hypocritical oath. Meaning I don’t practice what I preach. I hide behind my MD (medical denial).
“I have since heard of people under extreme duress speaking in strange tongues. I became conscious that a steady torrent of obscenities and swearing of all kinds was pouring out of me as I screamed.”
By mid-November, I was still in denial and a whole lot of pain. Far too proud (scared) to visit the doctor, I self-diagnosed myself with a disease called bull shit. It’s a rare condition where the food you eat runs through the corridors of your colon like the bulls of Pamplona. The bathroom breaks were so frequent, I began to measure my ass-weary misery in medicated wipes. I “worked in (medicated wipes) the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was (my) true medium. A master.”
By Thanksgiving, my colon sounded like the demon child of Danny Torrance. I’ll never forget the horror of seeing blood in the toilet or hearing the chants of “Red rum! Red rum!” as I flushed.
“It was all over. I was dead. What would it be? The guillotine? Hanging? The chair? The rack? The Chinese water torture? Hmmph. Mere child’s play compared to what surely awaited me.”
Eating anything became far too great of a price to pay. So I boycotted my all-time favorite meal, Thanksgiving leftovers. “No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey Hash! Turkey a la King! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone”.
By Christmas Eve, my brain-gutt connection was completely disconnected. I was crapping out food that I hadn’t even eaten yet. I had dropped at least 10 pounds, and my body fat consisted only of my hemorrhoids. At dinnertime on Christmas day, I sat alone on my couch and sulked. My bottom, as I concluded, had finally reached bottom. And the next morning, my wife made the call that I should have made 3 months earlier. I visited the gastro-enter-my-ass-agist and….
….he scheduled me for a colonoscopy. He also gave me instructions for a type of cleansing called bowel prep. Don’t let the name fool you. Bowel prep isn’t like SAT prep. It’s not a dry run to help you get a better test score. Bowel prep is Chinese water torture mixed with a grape-flavored nuclear warhead. My bowel prep instructions were quite explicit: “drink 48 ounces and then let Linda Blair possess your ass for 5 hours.”
I won’t pretend to know what natural childbirth feels like. I can, however, describe what it feels like to carry a 48 oz water balloon to term. I never felt a contraction, it was an eruption. I hopped off the couch, unbuckled my pants with one hand, corked my ass shut with the other, and pogo-sticked my way into the bathroom. [Insert image of my 3 supportive children laughing their asses off]. I made it to the bathroom, popped the cork, frantically dropped trough, and finally dumped a polka-dotted potpourri of prep on my bathroom tiles.
“Oh my God! I shot my [ass] out!”
But the cleansing was all worth it. By the next morning, I was wheeled into the exam room where Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb serenaded me into the most relaxing snooze I’d had in months. When I awoke, the true music to my ears was that the gurgling, the pain, the blood, and the express lane from my mouth to my ass finally had a name: Ulcerative colitis. It’s kind of a scary disease. There’s no known cause. It’s chronic, you treat it, and hope it goes away for a long time. But not before you endure one final assault on whatever dignity your derrière has left.
My doctor handed me 2 prescriptions that day:
- Prescription 1: A 28-day course of steroids, administered orally.
- Prescription 2: A 28-day course of mesalamine, administered rectally (in medical terms, this means you stick it up your ass)
Fortunately, the manufacturers of mesalamine included this handy dandy diagram that offers 2 positions for administering the medicine. What they don’t include are instructions for growing the orangutan arm required to administer it.
Following the directions closely, I assumed the anal rape position. “Insert the applicator slowly to avoid puncturing your rectum” lent comfort as did the feeling of 60 mL of yogurt traveling up my colon. Thanks to what I assume to be the anal sphincter’s natural catch-and-release defense mechanism, the first 60 mL bottle only managed to medicate my bed sheets. The second bottle gave me bed shits. But the third bottle made itself at home. I “remain[ed] in the position for 30 minutes to allow thorough distribution of the medication internally.” And gradually, I drifted off to sleep.
Today, I am one week shy of completing my therapy. I am finally eating again, and I haven’t heard a word from my ass in weeks. More than anything, I am so ready to put ulcerative colitis, and the past 3 months of hell (fueled by denial), behind me.
If there’s any lesson to learn from my painful experience, it’s that we all know our bodies and we have to trust our gutt when it tells us something is wrong. The other is that the brain-gutt connection is a two-way street. Just as anxiety and stress can wreak havoc on your digestive system…so too can digestive problems take their toll on your psyche. As I’ve been reminded, I was miserable to be around. And with each miserable day, I withdrew more while gradually accepting each new low as my new normal. Resigned to just living with my symptoms, I was too depressed to see that I was hardly living at all.
I regret that I spent the first 3 months of 41 with my head up my ass, and my ass on the toilet. Which is why, I guess, sharing my “Christmas Story” feels surprisingly cathartic. But I’ll stop short of calling it a cleansing.