Sunday, February 08, 2015

Don't Take Sh*t for Granted

I love books by Anne Rice, the New Orleans author most well-known for "Interview With a Vampire." One of my favorite books of hers is "The Tale of the Body Thief," when the vampire Lestat is tricked into trading his preternatural body with a mortal, who then decides not to trade bodies back.

In the first hours after Lestat becomes mortal, he is seized by a sensation that he doesn't understand. He suddenly feels a pain in his abdomen, something he hasn't felt in hundreds of years of vampiric living.

He finally realizes what the pressure is that he is feeling: he has to poop.

He makes it to the toilet in time, and feels the relief of voiding his body of the nutrients it didn't need.

What a bizarre little element of life for Anne to write about, how we as living beings eat and poop. It's part of living that truly, most of us take for granted. That is, until we can't. And then it becomes the central focus of our lives.

My dad has been battling colon cancer since he was first diagnosed with it in 2007. During a routine colonoscopy when he was 62, they found a significant sized tumor that required colon resection. He was declared cancer free and did not need chemotherapy or radiation.

The cancer recurred along the suture line in 2011. Doctors told him that this kind of recurrence rarely ever happens. He had radiation, chemotherapy, and another colon resection which left him with a very short colon.

Life since 2011 has not been pleasant for my dad. His shortened colon means that when he first feels like he may need to go, his colon is already full and has often has voided without his controlling it.  He gets up in the middle of the night several times to deal with this problem, not just a quick tinkle like many of us do. It means that indulging in particularly fatty or rich foods makes it impossible for him to leave the house for 24 hours or more.

He used to love to take road trips, and would often drive north to Minnesota and east to Michigan from there to visit family. He hasn't been able to make many of those trips, and when he does, they take infinitely longer due to the number of stops along the way.

His quality of life hasn't been the same since 2011. Then, this summer he was told that the cancer has recurred once again.

Chemotherapy was ordered -- no more radiation as he has had a lifetime worth of radiation already. The hope was to shrink the tumor and then do a colostomy, which would remove his colon altogether and he would void into a bag instead.

This was real hope for him.

He would finally have control of his body. More importantly, it would no longer control him. He had to go to Little Rock, about 3 hours from his home, for the surgery, because the surgery would be tricky due to the amount of scar tissue in the area from his prior surgeries.

He had surgery on January 15th. We are hoping that he will be discharged from the hospital tomorrow, February 9th, nearly a month after his surgery. This was much longer than the 5-7 days of post-surgical care that the doctors told him he should expect.

A few days after surgery he had a bowel obstruction, resulting in him throwing up even the smallest amounts of water that he could drink. They finally got the obstruction to flush out, after nearly 48 hours of the most incredible pain he says he has ever experienced. (Up to that point, that is.)

He developed an abscess. He had crazy amounts of discharge coming from the surgical site and other unnamed orifices, so much so that he became severely dehydrated.

Once the abscess resolved, they discovered he had a fistula, which is when two organs that aren't supposed to be connected together get connected. Part of his intestines had healed incorrectly.

The only way to treat this fistula is for him to stop using his gastrointestinal system, so that it can heal itself. That means no food by mouth. For weeks. He is getting nutrients intravenously and will do so for several weeks more after he leaves the hospital.

He'll be going home with an IV for nutrients, bags for the still unhealed stoma, and strict instructions to not eat or drink anything until he gets the doctor's okay. Once the fistula heals, he will finally -- finally! -- be able to eat and drink, though cautiously.

I believe those instructions are my dad's version of hell, the man who enjoys the gustatory pleasure of eating.

I will be flying down to Arkansas this coming weekend to visit. My sister and I had planned this trip together, thinking that he would have been home healing for several weeks by this time. Instead, Kristi flew down on a one-way ticket nearly two weeks ago to help with his care, and will be accompanying him back to his house from the hospital and ensuring that they have everything set up for his continued care.

He is surrounded by the most loving, amazing, supportive family members in my stepfamily and sister. He has friends and other relatives who call and write, wishing him a speedy recovery and good health.

All of the love and prayers help.

What would also help is for every person reading this to be screened, to get a colonoscopy so that others do not have to go through this.

Don't take shit for granted.

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