Wednesday, September 19, 2018


Struggling with aging and diabetes, I put all my meds in a box and made an appointment with an experienced doc.  I was shocked and amused to discover that many of my problems came down to constipation, a lifelong struggle.  It has always been kind of a painful and taboo subject.  

When I was in primary school and complained about the pain and slowness of big hard stools, my mother snapped, "Wait till you grow up and have to have babies!  That will hurt a lot more!"  But I'm not her and I didn't have to have babies, so I didn't.  

Not that she didn't try to help.  The "pediatrician" who was just the local doc who worked out of his house a few blocks away, recommended a nasty stuff call "petroauger"-- I think it was goop from seaweed, the gel they grow stuff in with Petri dishes.  He told her to scrape the flesh of an apple with a spoon and give us that, so we stood in a row like little birds with open mouths while she dutifully extracted pectin from apples and shoveled it in.

But this time the doc treated it more seriously -- he sent me for an Xray that cost more than a hundred dollars.

But it was worth it, because clearly there was the knot of half-digested food sitting in the tubing blocking everything -- but no tumor.  (I think everything is cancer.)  Of course, part of the culprit is the Ghost of Menses Past (I'm 79) which always tenses everything up at the onset and relaxes my whole body and outlook a few days later when the hormones shift.  This was new to the Doc, this ghost thing, but he didn't make fun of it.

I was already drinking my 8 glasses of water a day, though the "againsters" said I didn't have to.  (They say coffee, chocolate, butter and daily aspirin are okay, too, which calls their motives into question.)  And once I even took fiber pills for a while, but now the Doc was definite.  DO IT.  It works.  But the fancy stuff with a name is more expensive than generic.  And bran cereal helps as well.  Also the nagging "fruits and vegetables" which is not so easy if you're not by a supermarket.

Then a friend, rather liberated from the whole taboo about excrement, told about having to figure out how to provide her doc with a sample of feces to check for blood and so on.  She was resourceful and managed it, but I went to my favourite helper, "YouTube", and discovered that other people are given kits that are very helpful.

Here are a couple of Youtube vids of advice.
This one is short and practical.  You could figure out how to do it with no kit.
This one is funny and far more extensive, but rest assured that no feces were produced during this show -- just replicas with substitute substances.  It makes the point that proper digestion is largely a matter of water and fiber -- enough of both.  Since one's guts are a veritable chemical factory, excrement can tell a lot about liver and bile and even the swarm of microbiotics that live in the intestines and can be either good or bad.  There are even protocols for poop transplants for those who took too many antibiotics and killed off their local populations.

l'm putting the Bristol Stool Chart on here whole, but you could probably find it online as well as the others.  The condition at the top of the list is called in more poetic places "lion balls."  Since we once at Animal Control had to impound a half-grown lion and I was the only one willing to risk my life by cleaning out her cage, she did indeed make "lion balls" out of her food.  Her name was Jamalya, and she belonged to the son of the King of the Gypsies, who lived only a few blocks from me.  I suppose you think I'm making this up.  I'm not, but I don't think the Doc believed me about either the lion or the Ghost of Menses in old age.  Docs don't get out much.

Now that the taboos have receded enough to speak plainly about bodies and how they work, it is a great relief to know what's happening and what ought to be done about it.

When I did my hospital chaplaincy in preparation for becoming clergy, I thought I would have a lot of conversations about God, but no -- the patients wanted to talk about peristalsis -- this is, when will I begin to poop normally again?  Abdominal surgery will interrupt the rhythm, partly because of the action of the anesthetic.  I wish I'd known then (1980) what I know now, but I did my best.

The first time I was sent to a patient's room I'd just sat through a speech about getting people to face their mortality and the possibility that they might die, because cutting people open is a drastic thing to do.  I was prompted to bring the deity into the conversation but not to insist since they might be atheists or something.  

So I went to the room where the family of an older lady were standing around while she lay in bed, partly prepped with twilight drugs.  "Would you like a prayer?"  Everyone thought so.  I talked about infinite blue sky and unknown destinies and mentioned the seriousness of surgery.  Everyone's eyes got wider.  Finally I asked what procedure would be happening.  Haemorrhoids due to constipation.  The daughter said, "My, we didn't realize how serious this is!"

But in contrast a later patient about the same age was in for varicose veins.  They raised her legs for convenience and dislodged a clot.  She died then and there.  Life is serious.  Poop is serious.  Bodies are serious.

But that doesn't mean you can't make jokes about it in an era where emoticons include little piles of poop that don't fit into the Bristol Stool Chart.

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