A few days after I finished radiation and chemotherapy I was hospitalized for neutropenic fever.
After several days of antibiotics and very little sustenance, because I could hardly swallow
(I was barely drinking one can of Carnation Instant Breakfast a day), my GI tract started to disagree with me.
In the middle of the night on the seventh day of my hospitalization,
I woke up very suddenly. Because I was asleep when it happened I am not entirely sure what triggered this next event. Perhaps I got greedy with a fart in my sleep, or my colon had just decided to stage a kamikaze attack against the world, but whatever it was
I woke with an urge unlike anything I had even felt before. I had to get to the bathroom, and I had to get there right now!
Unfortunately, I was still hooked up to my IV machine which
was on the right side of the bed and the bathroom was on the left side of the bed, and I had no time. I hopped out of bed on the right side to unplug the machine from the wall so I could roll it with me back around to the other side of the room to the bathroom.
As soon as my feet hit the floor it became very clear to me that I had to squeeze my butt-cheeks together like I had never squeezed before. I staggered quickly to the wall and struggled to unplug the machine. I finally had success removing the plug but instantly
I became aware that things were happening regardless of my clinching. The few steps around the bed and into the bathroom seemed very far indeed. With my cheeks and thighs pressed tightly together, practically crossed at the knees, I hobbled urgently. Before
I even made it to the other side of the bed I could feel that my colon had overridden any and all muscular barriers of the rectum. My GI tract had been converted into an expressway of activity. Something warm and foul was slipping from my body. I quickened
my pace. I'm sure in real time this all happened very quickly, but for me it seemed to take forever to reach my destination.
I finally made it to the bathroom, ripped my undies down,
and let go. I let my body do its job. I was shaking and sweating from working so hard. I rested for a moment.
Looking down for the first time, I see that my underwear were beyond saving,
so I carefully slipped them off and dumped them in the trash. My mess had found its way down my legs and onto my right foot. Looking ahead I could see my poopy footprint tracking its way into the bathroom. My hospital gown had also been a victim of this event.
Unfortunately, my gown did not have snaps or ties at the shoulders, and since I was still connected to my IV I couldn't completely remove it. While I held my soiled gown with one hand I attempted to clean myself as much as I could with toilet paper. I stood
there naked and dirty, and realized I needed help. I needed a shower, I needed a new gown, and I needed very harsh cleaning agents to battle the mess in the room. However, the call button to the nurse’s station was all the way on the other side of the
bed. At that moment, as I was planning how to get over to the button without touching anything else, a nurse walked into my room for a routine check.
I imagine a night nurse doesn't
often walk into a patient's room at three o'clock in the a.m. to see a skinny, naked, bald girl standing in the middle of the room holding her soiled gown in one hand. Her first reaction was to close the door again, “Oh I'm sorry honey,” she said
as she started to hustle out of the room.
“No! Wait,” I shouted to her. She looked back at me and all I could say was, “I need help.” She started to come back
into the room and I continued, “I had an accident,” I put my hand up to get her attention and said, “You might want to watch your step.”
“Oh. Okay, honey.”
She came into the room. She took a blanket from the bed and wrapped it around my shoulders. She was a heavyset black woman with a sugary sweet southern accent, and the kindest eyes. In that moment I felt incredibly small, and childlike. She then disconnected
my IV, wrapped up my arm. While I took a shower my room was being cleaned and I was given a clean gown.
When my IV was reconnected I had the machine moved to the left side of the bed
so that if I needed to make another dash to the toilet I could make it without unplugging the machine. Needless to say, I did not sleep well the rest of the night. Every time my stomach gurgled I was startled and had to assess whether or not I needed to go
to the bathroom.
My dad arrived later that morning, and I told him the whole sloppy story. He was encouraging me to eat breakfast, which I denied since every drop of water I had drank
that night came rushing right through.
When I asked the morning nurses for some Imodium, or Pepto, they told me they couldn't give me anything until they had tested a sample. That's
right. Test. A. Sample. Here I am being given morphine and hydrocodone, along with a slew of antibiotics, but they can't give me an over the counter pill to stop the shits?! The nurse came back with a teeny-tiny container the size of a Dixie-Cup and said
that if I wanted the hospital to give me something I would have to poop in the cup, wait three days for it to be analyzed, and then they could prescribe a medication. “No thanks,” I said. (It is hard enough to pee in a cup. I don't have enough
faith in my rectal abilities to say I could pull that off cleanly.) It turned out I was well enough to be discharged the next day anyway.
After a quick stop to a drug store we were
back at the apartment. I was now well enough to begin the trip to go back home to Denver.
I am so grateful for the care that I was given during that stay. Though I don't know the name of the nurse who took care of me that night, I will never forget
her kindness. She may have just been doing her job, but she was my angel when I needed one. I am grateful that I was able to laugh at this embarrassing event later that day with my father. And, I am also grateful for Imodium AD.