Last week I sat down with Dr. Dietz’s incredible nurse Vicki for a follow-up appointment. She asked how things are going, and I answered that it’s been a little rough. I explained how one day, I won’t poop at all. (For those with the misfortune of knowing me well enough to know my bowel habits pre-cancer, this is unthinkable.) The next day, in Vicki’s words, “All hell breaks loose.” That’s pretty accurate. For a period of 6-8 hours on those days, it goes something like this:
(Repeat every 20-30 minutes.) Strong, painful urge to poop. Feels like a bowling ball covered in porcupine quills is trying to push its way out. Sprint to the bathroom. Pass said bowling ball. Discover it wasn’t a bowling ball but actually a pathetically small, rodent-sized stool. Wait in vain for the rest of the bowling ball to eject itself. Depending on how many times I’ve already done this today, use either my Butt Buddy hand-held bidet or a full-blown shower to avoid toilet paper at all costs. Avoid sitting down for a few minutes so that the lingering fireworks in my butt can subside. Depending on my level of frustration, punch either (1) a pillow or (2) the wall.
The good news is, this isn’t out of the ordinary post-reversal. I’ve heard of folks getting up 10-15 times per night to use the bathroom until their reconnected bowels adjusted. The fact is, without a rectum, I no longer have a place to store stool until it’s time to go.
I asked Vicki the question about going back to the bag partly out of curiosity and partly because I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t crossed my mind. Each time it has, though, I’ve quickly tried to figuratively knock some sense into myself. After all, it hasn’t even been three weeks. Vicki said she’s only had a couple of patients over multiple decades who elected to have their reversals reversed. I don’t plan to be one of them, but I could certainly see how, if things don’t improve, life with a bag — for all its moments of unpleasantness — could be a lot more convenient and less painful than my current routine.
You might think I’m being a little dramatic and ridiculous, and I wouldn’t blame you. Any of this — surgery, ileostomy bag, pooping around the clock — is a small price to pay to be cancer-free. The Andrew of August 2020, when I didn’t yet know my cancer’s stage, or whether it would be curable with surgery, would probably love to kick my ass for whining about a sore butthole. Plus, when you take into account the literally unlimited diet-related experiments I can run (do I speed things up or slow things down?) in hopes of finding some bowel stability — in addition to simply giving my body more time to heal — I have a very long way to go before thinking seriously about making a change. God bless my amazing wife, the true hero of our family, for putting up with all this.
Suffice it to say, I felt compelled to issue this long-winded retraction from my earlier post, in which I said it’s “wonderful” to poop again. Sadly, it’s not. But in time, it will be!