I never thought I'd be so glad to hear fart noises.
Last week, I finished a round of chemotherapy (which started in October) and started a break of a few weeks during which I won't need to be at the Cancer Agency much, and won't be pumping my body full of poisons for a change. But cancer treatment has been fond of serving me curve balls: a post-surgical blockage, antibiotic-induced unconctrolled low blood sugar, a blood clot, and near zombie-like collapse from dehydration.
One week into my break, I landed myself in hospital again very early this morning. It wasn't a car accident or a bar fight or anything—rather, I went to bed at 11:30 last night with a bit of a tummy ache.
Which got worse, and worse, and worse, until I felt like there was a big gurgling gas bubble sitting sideways in my small intestine under my navel. The pain was enough that I didn't sleep at all, and by a little before 3:00 a.m. I had to wake my wife to call the Cancer Agency doctor line and ask what to do. They recommended heading down to Burnaby General Hospital Emergency, and forwarded my treatment history to BGH accordingly.
Here's the yucky part of the explanation, so be warned. I've mentioned before that I have a (hopefully temporary) ileostomy bag from my surgery last summer. That's like a colostomy bag, but connected to a different part of the intestine. In essence, last summer my surgeon snipped my intestines where the small one (the ileum) meets the large one (the colon), just to the right of my bellybutton, so that my colon could heal from the removal of my tumours.
The end of my ileum now pokes out a hole in my belly into the open air. (No, I won't show you any photos, but I will say that it is a reddish-pink little nub.) To catch the poop that would normally flow out the usual way through my colon, I regularly stick on a small, plastic, remora-like ileostomy bag, which I can empty every few hours, and which I change every few days. Most people who don't know it's there would never notice the bag under my shirt during the day, or might think I have some sort of geek gadget on my belt beneath the shirt hem.
The problem as we drove down to the Emergency ward at the ungodly hour of 3:30 a.m. (after waking up my parents and having them come over to keep an eye on the kids) was that my ileostomy bag was empty, which is not normal for me at that hour. I suspected, as I writhed around a bit in the passenger seat and cursed the slow-changing traffic light, that I had another obstruction in my intestine, which was preventing the food I ate yesterday from going anywhere.
As you'd expect, that doesn't feel too great. Fortunately, for once we found the BGH Emergency waiting room completely empty, and only had to wait about 15 minutes before I got a bed. The doctors and nurses gave me a couple of morphine injections, took blood tests and X-rayed my chest and abdomen, and let me lie down to rest.
I was able to get some sleep after the painkiller kicked in, and eventually the emergency physician let me know that there was nothing alarming on the scans (and no obvious large blockage), that my blood tests were within range for someone just off chemotherapy, and that nevertheless my small intestine seemed to be pushing food waste through more slowly than normal.
The treatment? Go home, stay on a soft and fluidy diet, and wait for the natural passage of whatever minor obstruction was causing my nasty gas pains. So we did that, arriving back just before the kids went to school, and I've slept most of the day as the pain and bloating have very, very slowly abated. I've been able to empty out the bag a couple of times, and just in the past half hour or so, my ileostomy has been making what I would normally consider annoying involuntary farting sounds.
Except now, for once, they're a relief. Thanks, intestines, for working once more. And thanks to my wife and family for shepherding me through this, again.