I hit the ground running. No, I hit the ground jogging. Okay, I hit the ground, um, speed-walking. All right, all right, I hit the ground at a rapid duck-walk, feet dashing as rapidly as my ancient body would allow. My butt cheeks were clinched, my hands foolishly, vainly clamped tightly on them (no, that didn’t draw one bit of unwanted attention) as if throwing my hands across my mouth in shock when a big, loud, long belch escaped. And this was a doozy, except the belch was coming out the south end and accompanied by a stench that would make your eyes water for days.
My heart hammered against my ribcage and a cold, greasy sweat slickered down my spine, bringing about a shiny sheen to glisten over my forehead. Oh yeah, this was going to be a battle of the ages, this race against my bowels, its contents, and gravity. I was rapidly becoming a true believer and a hated expert of Newton’s Theory. It was with my empirical observation, using my inductive reasoning, that I was nearly squat-walking into a crappy mess.
Here I’d thought having Crohn’s Disease was bad, and it is, but this was a new mess that had been dumped on me a few months earlier. I’d just left the gastroenterologist’s office where I’d learned I now had this thing, this awful anomaly, this horrid discombobulation: fecal incontinence.
I saw the yellow short sandwich board that proclaimed the bathroom was closed for cleaning. Now here’s my quandary. Do I turn as quickly as possible, scissor-walk toward the rear of the store where their other bathrooms were, hopefully, open for business? Or do I, instead, plunge ahead, sidestep that small yellow sign propped in front of the opening, blocking anyone who dared to breach the border? I decided to pull up my assuredly soiled big-girl panties and just crash the party.
“When the going gets tough (or when you have a possible accident rolling over you like an avalanche), the tough get going.”
I barged in and a big, burly guy stopped spit-smoothing his eyebrows in the ladies’ room mirror, turned to me with an angry scowl, mouth open to begin berating me. I held up my hand, tears spilling over in an obvious cascade, yet he still invaded my personal space.
I took as deep a breath as I dared. “You’ll have to call security to get me out of here. I have a disease and I can’t make it to the back of the store…”
“I don’t care what you got; you’re not going to come in here…”
If I doubted my fear others could smell a stinking accident was unfounded, the look on his face as his nose curled in disgust just before he stepped quickly away from me sealed the deal and wiped away all doubt. Instead of trying to block me from advancing any further, he left the ladies’ room faster than anyone with an intestinal problem ever could.
I fell rather than sat on the toilet seat, jerking my pants out of harm’s way just before touchdown. However, when I saw the disaster that had befallen my underwear, in spite of the super duper panty liner I always sported, my tears fell in earnest. It was only going to get worse.
Because this had become a daily occurrence, besides wearing a thick pad, I was equipped with wet wipes and diaper rash ointment, the only medication that helped, in spite of what a family doctor and a dermatologist suggested. No expensive lotion or crème could match it in not only laying down a protective guard, but soothing inflamed skin. And inflamed was such a feeble word to describe what happened to the thin mucosal membrane after dozens of bouts of explosive diarrhea per day, followed by having to wipe away all residue.
After I changed the pad, wiped off the evidence in that general area, the true pain began. I gingerly, oh so softly, utilized that lanolin-enriched wet wipe and my face became saturated with tears. I couldn’t stifle the sobs. When I pulled the wet wipe away it was covered in bright red blood. I gasped and tried my best to stop whimpering. I just couldn’t go on like this.
I gave myself a few more minutes, using that time to ask God to just go ahead and take me Home with Him. As usual, like many men, He ignored me. Oh, I knew He heard me; He just chose to not grant my most fervent wish. It would be easy for others to get upset if they knew this; but few others have held a square of disposable towelette covered in frank blood, knowing the pain it caused was going to last for hours, or days, and that there was no possible position I could find to escape that agony, either sitting or reclining.
Walking over to the sinks to wash my hands, I held my head high and happily glared at wild-eyebrowed-man when he sauntered back into the bathroom. When his eyes met mine, he walked back out, this time with a red face. It did nothing to assuage my shame. I’d crapped my pants and he was witness to that fact. That was an event I would never be able to forget or ignore. It wasn’t one of those things that “in the future you’ll look back at this and laugh.”
Up to this point, my shame, my horror had been pretty much a behind-the-scene series of unbelievable events. No one had been witness to the special padding between my mattress and the source of my life’s most awful condition. I tried to amuse myself by imaging I was the princess on top of a mountain of mattresses, where beneath there hid a small pea, waiting to see if I felt its presence. I couldn’t have felt that green pea, black-eyed pea, or any other object beginning with the letter “P” except, well, you guessed it-poop. I was the only person that knew how many showers I’d had to take at night, after stripping the mattress padding, actually cramming it between my legs after I leapt from the bed and stumbled to the bathroom, often falling into various ceramic surfaces when I got the blankets tangled between my feet.
It didn’t seem to take long for the “terror from the deep” to make its presence known during the light of day, no longer confined to the hours usually devoted to sleeping. I was no longer just crying in the solitude of my shower as the warm spray washed the blood and gunk free of the severely abraded skin of my anus. It was attacking me during the most inopportune times, such as visiting family, trying to have dinner with friends, or duck-walking through Walmart. That is when I became a more withdrawn grouch than even Crohn’s had created. And I was becoming angry due to self-pity.
My G.I., Dr. Polson, had recommended I see a surgeon. He’d told me that there are many other potential causes of bowel incontinence, including: diarrhea, impacted stool, inflammatory bowel disease, nerve damage, radiation damage and cognitive impairment.
More than one cause for bowel incontinence is frequently present. It's also not unusual for bowel incontinence to occur without a clear cause. Ah, isn’t that just wonderful?
Well, I was one lucky duck because I was afflicted with three of those. As I said, here I’d thought Crohn’s was the worst that could happen to my nether regions. And I’d done the best I could, honestly I did, at controlling the symptoms, but even at my most tenacious, I just wasn’t strong enough to combat the specters from my colonic nightmares.
It was the eyebrow-smoothing smart mouth in the Walmart ladies’ room that made up my mind to follow my GI’s suggestions: “Go West young man!” No wait, wrong metaphor. He said, “Go have surgery, old lady!”
Of course, we (don’t you just love the English phrasing of the word “we” when medical personnel use it to mean “you”?), had to go through the requisite testing. Joy to the world!
When it was determined “Why yes, yes you DO have bowel incontinence!” we moved on to try non-surgical techniques such as a change of diet, different medications, exercises, (yes, exercises-just like “those” you’ve heard about: Kegel), and bowel training, which was a joke. My bowels had been in charge of me and my puny body for years, why would a mere gastroenterologist think HE could make them behave at this late date?
And the one that I felt was the dumbest: biofeedback. This is when a sensor is placed inside the anus and on the abdominal wall. This provides feedback as a person does exercises to improve bowel control. I mean, I guess it works but my bowels aren’t into that New Age hokey pokey stuff, they informed me in no uncertain terms.
As you’ve probably surmised by now since this has been my tail of woe, (not a misspelling. That’s a pun, son), none of the nonsurgical things worked. The GI and I sat down to have a heart to anus discussion. My options were as follows: sphincter surgery, sacral nerve stimulator, sphincter cuff device or colostomy.
These weren’t options that we could try, one after the other, just to see what worked. Lord love a duck. (The same one I impersonated in area retail stores.)
So, we decided to go with…insert dramatic music here…the sphincter cuff device.
I won’t go into the details but there’s always Google. Do I like it? No, God no. I hate it. But do I appreciate no longer scissor-walking as fast as possible through public buildings, being able to have ONLY a sheet between me and my now-new mattress, no longer having to cram soiled blankets between my thighs to capture what was pouring out as I cried my way to the bathroom, only to lose that battle when I fell into the sink or toilet, dropping the mound of linen on the way to the floor? You bet I do. And you know that when I’m in a large retail building, I’m happy I no longer feel a woosh of fetid air drift out behind me that would alert those within a half-mile radius that there was a major gas leak going on.
I don’t mean to make light of this, what can prove to be a heavy load. Sometimes we have to choose our battles. I may have lost the battle with Crohn’s, have to pray for remission, but I haven’t lost the fecal incontinence war. And everyone thought the Battle of the Alamo was a tough one!
From now on, my battle cry will be “Remember the Wet Wipes!”