Leave Your Dignity At The Door
Monday, June 1, 2009

Traffic Congestion, originally uploaded by Peter BP.

I haven't been feeling too fancy lately. In other words, I was pretty sure for the last week, Death had come calling for me.

I like feeling great. I really do. It's why I exercise and eat things like brown rice and pumpkin seeds and veggie burgers. I'm also a hypochondriac of vast proportions. Not that I want to be sick, mind you. It's just that I'm Irish and I know that my good luck of health is a ticking time bomb, just biding its time, until a serious malady fells me. I'm a hypochondriac, essentially because I just want to be mentally prepared for the end.

My predicament started about 2 weeks ago. I'd had a little digestive upset, but things had settled down, when one night, a sharp pain in my left side, woke me from a deep sleep saying, "Hello, let's have a bit of fun, shall we?"

I stayed awake for a while, pondering this pain and wondering which organ in my body was failing me. I finally fell back asleep, worry digging into my dreams. By morning, it had turned into a dull but constant pain.

I refrained from the Google at first. I wanted to enjoy my last, few chemo-free days in peace. Instead, I focused on yoga and Pilates to release me from this pain. I enjoyed my exercises immensely and picked up a few new tricks, along the way. I learned, courtesy of you-tube, how to roll my stomach, a yoga move that supposedly helps with digestion.

I've gotten pretty good. In fact, if I keep practicing, I might be able to replace the old Shriner who marches in the Fourth of July parade clothed in harem pants and a vest and unfortunately, nothing else. For reasons not clear to me, he dresses like an Aladdin gigolo and leads the Shriners, proudly displaying his saggy man boobs while doing an impressive show of stomach rolling. It's a sight that is a little gross and very intriguing at the same time. I think I could get his job. My stomach rolling is getting that good. Although, I would have to add a bikini top with underwire. Otherwise, I could beat his saggy man cans by a mile.

But, even with all my contortionist moves, the pain hung in there, riding out all my best warrior poses to get rid of it. Now, here's where I wad my dignity up and throw it in the trash. Along with the pain, I had, shall we say, a digestive system that was moving about as slow as The Hubby when he thinks it's "neat" to take the motor scooter onto the roadway, backing up traffic for miles as he gets his Easy Rider kicks at top-notch speeds of a whopping 40 mph.

The constant, dull pain and the backup made me excessively fatigued and inordinately cranky. I knew I was in a foul mood when I snapped at one of my kids, Kate Gosselin style, when they swallowed their water a little too loudly for my tastes.

And then there was the fatigue. I realized how draining pain can be. I realize how pain can consume your life. I realize now, why Dr. Patel, pain management specialist, has the largest house I've ever seen next to Candi Spelling's. Pain sucks. I didn't feel up to anything. I was too tired to grocery shop. It goes without saying, that I was too tired to do laundry. I was too tired to moisturize at night. I was too tired to Facebook. I was too tired to write. That's when I knew something was seriously wrong. Writing is my Nirvana. A perfect day for me would be to write, write, write with just my laptop and the dog at my feet.

I finally broke down and googled, dull pain in mid-left quadrant, and I whittled it down to 4 certain diagnoses.

1. Ovarian Cancer- with an outcome of a slow, gruesome death.

2. Pancreatic Cancer- with an outcome of a slow, gruesome death.

3. Colon Cancer-depending on the stage, either 100% cure rate or a slow, gruesome death, if caught too late. I was sure I was in stage 4.

4. Aortic Aneurysm- Instant, violent, gruesome death.

I broke down, and went to the doctor who questioned me, probed my stomach for pain and did some other things we won't speak of, took blood and sent me home with prescriptions for ultrasounds and stomach relievers. I said to her during the stomach probing, "You're thinking ovarian cancer, right?"

She assured me she was thinking nothing of the sort and that the odds were slim, but I could see the pity in her eyes as she thought to herself, "So young. So young."

I booked the tests and even though I tried to play on the appointment Dude's empathy, by telling him that this pain feels like I had been run over by a train and cut in two and then had acid poured on my two open-faced halves, he couldn't fit me in until next week. By the way, the pain is more annoying and fatiguing than painful, but I don't tolerate discomfort of any kind very well. It's why I don't go camping.

I tried to be brave and wait it out, but the pain, like I said was really annoying. The Hubby who was getting annoyed by my proclamations of the pain being annoying, kept after me to take a laxative thinking that way he could get some clean socks and a non-crabby wife.

Let me just say, after many years of marriage to this man, we tolerate each other's illnesses with resentment because of the inconvenience it brings to each other's lives. My hubby knows that if he had been Christopher Reeve after the horse threw him and I had been Dana, it would have been a different story. He knows that in his deepest despair after getting the prognosis of a life hooked up to machines and having to have someone take care of his every need, if he turned to me and said, "Just let me go. It's too much trouble." I would have not been the altruistic Dana who said, "But, you're still you and that's all I care about, having you here." He knows, my probable response would have been, "Well, OK, if you insist. You know me so well. Thanks for understanding. Bye, Honey. It was great fun when you were all healthy and had working legs and could feed yourself and such."

He knows this and is comfortable with it just like I know that he will say, "Pull the Plug" at the slightest chance of anything. Even if it was, "But, sir, she's just taking a little longer to wake up from the anesthesia." He'd be, "Pull it anyway. Let's see what happens." Michael Schiavo's got nothing on him.

And we're both OK with that.

But, after the O-Dawg's beautiful graduation ceremony and a lovely, celebratory lunch, I knew The Hubby was right. I bit the bullet and took a laxative.

I've only done that one other time in my life. The results were violent and painful and I truly thought I might die as I huddled on or very near the toilet for the longest night of my life. It might have something to do with the fact that I was recovering from a hysterectomy and had been advised not to do anything of the sort, but I'm all about the comfort. My sheets have an incredibly high thread count. 

I wasn't looking forward to that kind of fun, but if it would get rid of the pain, I could man up for one night.

By midnight, the dull pain had turned into a roar. While the rest of my house slept, I stayed up and tried to ride out the pain, watching America's Next Top Model marathons to keep my mind off the fact that I was sure my death was imminent.

The laxative hadn't worked which did nothing but increase my worry and pain. I laid on the couch, miserably waiting for the Grim Reaper, all alone. That's the thing about me. When I'm sick, I don't like to be a bother to anyone else. I'm not sure why. There was the time they found a mass in one of my Taa-taa's. I didn't tell anyone about my appointment at our fabulous, fabulous world-renowned Cancer Center in the Big City, around the corner. I just thought I'd be brave all alone, because cancer is inconvenient enough for the person involved. I didn't want to bring anyone down with me.

On that day, they had a serious backup, hours of backup. And you can't complain in a Cancer Center where all the staff are wonderfully kind and all the cancer patients are sitting there with bald heads and patient smiles on their faces. You'd look like a total asshole, if you bitched about a few hours out of your life, so I waited and waited and waited....for 5 hours. I felt like I couldn't even go to the bathroom, because if I did, I'd miss my name and since I had no one with me to say, "She'll be right back.", I held my bladder and cried a little behind my magazine for being such a brave, stupid person. I ended up not having cancer, but lots and lots of cysts that manage nicely with a wonderful herb called Primrose Oil.

But, to get back on track, I laid there until 3:30 when I could no longer resist the temptation and googled, no bowel movement after taking laxative.

That's when I discovered that my bowels were about to explode and I would have to learn the finer points of living with a colostomy bag.

I woke the Hubby up and told him it was time to go to the ER. He grumbled something about, "I told you that hours ago." Which he did, but thoughts of hard, inflexible rubber enema hoses and a Nurse Ratchett clone, saying with an evil smile, "Now, be a Dear roll over on your side and try not to flinch. It'll only make things that much more painful." kept me from forming the words.

I kissed all my girls and told them how much I loved them. I groaned through my pain, on the way to the hospital, telling the Hubby, "Please, I just ask that you pick a woman as your next wife who will love my children and be a good mother to them."

He, of course, being the supportive husband he is, said, "Screw that. I'm going for a young, hot 20-something year old who'll keep me in clean, black socks."

We got to the ER and speaking of hot, the paramedic who checked me in was incredibly hot, so much so, that I regretted wearing my jammies and nerd eye-glasses. It was also extremely regrettable to have to tell him my purpose for being there. I wished at that moment, it had been my heart or my eyesight or anything, but a clogged bowel.

If I was going to die, at least God was being kind. I picked the right time to go to the hospital. There'd been no car accidents or stabbings or uninsured folks with earaches in the past few hours and so I had the place and the staff to myself. I received celebrity attention, my room swarming with nurses and doctors, checking me out like I was Susan Boyle with the first case of swine flu they had ever seen.

I was anxious when they ushered me into the room, giving me the universal snap up gown that opens in the back, take the undergarments off, please. It's the rule, you know. The mooning of pale butts is mandatory in hospitals. I couldn't figure out the gown and the snaps, so the Hubby who is like a MacGyver of everything, took over. It didn't feel right, but I trust his MacGyver instincts...that is until the nurse came in and said, "Uh, you have your head through the sleeve hole." In a flash, she had unsnapped me and snapped me back up, making me look like a fashionista of the hospital gown world.

In efficient speed, she had me on the bed, a warm blanket draped across me, a cup of ice water with lemon and a bendy straw in my hand, hook ups of every sort ministered with cool, gentle hands and an IV drip inserted where I didn't feel even the slightest prick. It was then I realized how foolish I was for delaying my trip. The last time I was in the hospital was for a partial hysterectomy and I know this sounds crazy, but it was one of the most relaxing, lovely times I've ever had. Between the warming blankets, the massaging contraptions they kept on my legs for being a blood clot veteran, the get well gifts and the morphine, I felt like I was at Le Hospitale' Spa.

I'm pretty sure it was the morphine that made me feel this way. Morphine, Oh Sweet Morphine.

Now, usually, I'm not one for prescription pain pills. I try to ride out the pain. I have this unexplainable fear that I'm going to pop one and the next thing you know, I'm going to be on Inside Edition. One of those cautionary tales about a suburban mom who turns into a crack whore overnight all because she let one Oxycontin pass her lips.

But, that morphine is some, sure kick-ass stuff!

They gave it to me after they removed my uterus and Man, the world had never been such a lovely, lovely place. I was on a morphine, peaced-out euphoric buzz for a week after I was released. Everything was so beautiful. I remember being touched to tears by a Burger King commercial.

When they asked me if I wanted something for the pain this time, my automatic response was, "Oh, no thanks. I'd rather suffer bravely."

My Hubby standing over me shook his head and said, "Take the Drugs."

Reluctantly, I said OK and the next thing I know I've got a morphine drip and Hello, Happy Town! I asked the nurse if I could get a prescription and an IV stand on wheels, so that I could live my life happily ever after married to morphine. She just smiled and said they were whisking me away for a CT scan.

Another new experience in my life. The radiologist warned me that the iodine dye would give me a warming sensation as it flowed through my body. What she didn't warn me about, was just how gosh-darn fabulous iodine dye feels! It was like a warm bath for my veins. I enjoyed every minute of my CT scan. I told this to my radiologist. She gave me a look, like I needed to get out more.

After much ado and waiting for test results, where The Hubby tried to sleep propped up in an uncomfortable looking chair, while I lay there, uncaring about his comfort, because I was so damn happy from the morphine, my now large team of doctors with nothing else to do, came back to report my results.

No, I did not have pancreatic cancer. I asked them if they were sure. They said a CT scan and iodine dye do not lie. And No, I did not have ovarian cancer or colon cancer.

What I had was unexplained abdominal pain. I also had as one of the comedic doctors diagnosed, "A colon as backed up as the LA freeway at rush hour."

Colon Humor. I guess he has to get his laughs, somehow.

They sent me home with lots of paperwork, instructions to follow up with my doctor, all those sticky decal hook-ups still left on my body, a very weary husband, and a slip of paper with the kind of bowel remedy to buy.

I kept my dignity intact at the hospital. My dignity stripping came afterwards. It started at the drug store when my purchase entailed an enema and a laxative/stool softener. Embarrassing enough.

It continued with the fact that somehow my family pipeline got a hold of the news that I was in the ER and EVERYONE called for the details. It's not really something I enjoy, conversing about my bowel workings over the phone.

The medication is making slow progress, very slow progress. And I report this everyday to the crowds of people waiting breathlessly for me to make a satisfactory doody. My Hubby took a break from being the caretaker one day, with my blessing, and went to the shooting range with his friend Frank. (Yes, my hubby is an expert marksman and loves his shooting. Stories for another day.) On the way home, he called to see how I was feeling.

Now, I've been married a very long time. Long enough, to have no problem explaining in excruciating detail the state of my bowels to him. I used descriptions that one would only feel comfortable using with your Hubby of 22 years or a gastroenterologist and even then, one might giggle just a bit. After I finished my colorful description of what was happening, my Hubby said, "Oh, OK then. I should probably talk to you when I get home about that stuff." It was then, I heard Frank's voice, clear as can be, because I was, of course, on SPEAKER PHONE. I closed my eyes and tried not to think about it.

I was sure that would be the last of my indignities, until I ate the cake. My hubby, knowing that peanut butter combined with chocolate is just as good as morphine in my book, went out and bought me a chocolate, peanut butter 5-layer cake. And to make myself feel better, I had been eating it right from the cake box, never even bothering to cut a slice. I felt deserving, thanks to all my suffering. As I forked in mouthful after mouthful of the cake, my mouth felt a little strange, kind of all tingly and alive. I was still smushing my mouth full when my daughter exclaimed, "Are those ants!" And sure enough, little tiny sugar ants, who often find their way into homes in the tropics were swarming my cake and my mouth.

My life is one indignant mess.

I am now still waiting, waiting for the freeway to clear and waiting for the unexplained abdominal pain to go away.

I'm not very good at it. I'm tired, cranky, weepy and very close to beginning my googling again.

I've got to find the answer. I'm not patient or brave enough to be Job. And God knows this. He does.

I can see Him in Heaven with his angel advisory board surrounding Him. He's saying, "OK, who's next on the list that can handle a little test of suffering."

One of the angels, raises his hand and with a wry smile, giggles, "Joann Mannix?"

God contemplates this for a second with a serious frown. The board remains silent until God snickers and the angel advisers erupt into hysterical laughter until they're all wiping their tears of mirth away, unable to breath from the hysteria. God gasps, "Oh Peter, that was a good one! A good one! Now, back to business. We've got suffering to assign. Which Kennedy is next on the list?"

I'm not good at this. Keep me in your prayers, that the freeway pileup clears itself, that my pain goes away, that my Hubby washes his own socks, and that I start moisturizing again, soon. The wrinkles are deepening as we speak.

In the meantime, I'm on to something new. There's a parasitic worm, native to the Amazon rain forest, that infiltrates the intestine, causing pain, backups, and a slow, gruesome death. I think I'm being eaten alive by worms....either that, or sugar ants.

Today's Must Have Download: "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey. Oh, how glad I am that this song and this band are enjoying a resurgence! This song reminds me of a boy, a sure-fire hot boy and a lovely night and this song in the background and I thought on that starry night, that life could get no sweeter. That boy ended up breaking my heart, by being seated by the innocent CDB's Pizza hostess at a table right next to me and my girlfriends, with his slut of a date when he was supposed to be at the movies with his buddies. But, the song still reminds me of those sweet days before he turned into such an ass.

In my sufferings, I have managed to mainly loll around and watch TV, which is why I discovered the best new show in years, "Glee." They had a preview the other night and it's filled with great characters, brilliant writing, with lines like, "You think this is hard? I'm living with hepatitis, now that's HARD!", and fabulous music. Journey's song resonates through the show and my kids are downloading it and singing it, unable to get enough of it. Bad news is, the show doesn't start till the Fall. Look for it. You won't be disappointed.





1 comment:

Mary & Janis said...

Hi Joann, its Mary! I loved this-laughed the whole way through!! When's the book coming out??:)

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