On Wednesday, May 24 at 4:30 a.m., I was awakened by searing abdominal pain, the likes of which I had never experienced. I did a quick scan of all the potential causes. Stomach flu? I didn’t feel nauseated. Food poisoning? I had eaten what everyone else in the family had eaten and no one else was sick. A monster, no pain—no gain Ab workout the day prior? Who was I trying to kid?
No clue. Only pain—bent over at the waist pain when I tried to stand. Fetal position on the couch pain when I could no longer stand.
I called my family doctor as soon as the office opened and got in immediately. They could only tell me what it might be. A scan would be required to verify. So, off to the ER we trekked, every bump in the road jolting me with escalating pain, every red light, interminable.
Following the scan, we were told results would return within an hour or maybe more. Fifteen minutes later they were in my room. A blockage of the small intestine would require emergency surgery. The operating room was being prepared.
With little time to prep, my wife, my sister-in-law, and I did what we could do. We alerted the family prayers, calling them to active duty. We held hands when the pain allowed. We left unspoken, the looming, dark cloud of stomach cancer in my family history that the surgeon had inquired about. Then, like so many others even that day, we gave ourselves over to people we had never met, competencies we had not pre-examined, and outcomes we could not predict.
I didn’t respond well to the anesthesia, so post-op was miserable. Dry heaves and fifteen staples in a stomach do not dance well for seven hours. But, the end result was positive. Eighteen inches of my Ilium, the third portion of the small intestine, removed. A scan of the stomach observed no outward signs of cancer.
Time to heal.
In subsequent writings, I will reflect more on my four days in the hospital. Your mind can wonder about great and ordinary things when its existence is relegated to a 10 x 15 room. For now, a poignant reminder:
Crisis creates clarity.
In that hospital room there was no Russia probe, no breaking of climate accords, no Manchester terror attacks (all important issues for us to address). There was just one question, “When can I go home?”
There was just one answer, “When you poop.”
No problem, I thought to myself. I’ve been doing this my whole life. Let’s make this happen.
Have you ever tried to make poop happen on a normal day? Layer on the complexities of a traumatized bowel system and three days of low-grade nausea that left me with no appetite. Yet, I was determined. Toast with jelly for every meal (the only thing that sounded good). Prune juice. Walk up and down the hallways. Repeat.
Evening one. Nothing
So, here I am, a college educated, graduate degree bestowed professional. I’ve been able to speak and teach across the country in different venues. I’ve kept myself in good physical shape, helped raised four fantastic human beings, and experienced some of the best that life has to offer. Yet, in the moment, none of that matters. Your body’s response to trauma has no regard for degrees or accolades or peak experiences.
So, I wait. In the corner of room 6009 of Riverside Hospital, I wait.
I had a strange insight in that waiting. My inner chatter was like a bleacher full of rabid fans cheering myself on. As I’m doing it, I’m saying to myself, “Is this what your life has come down to, cheering yourself on to poop?” My mind raced back to when the kids were little and we read Everyone Poops as they sat and waited. Then, we cheered for them also.
Life full circle.
Maybe that’s what life boils down to at certain moments. All the pursuits. All the anxieties. All the successes. All the failures. I just wanted to go home. I knew what I needed to do. And that was enough for the day.
And then it was enough…
It’s a little surreal to get applause for a bowel movement in your 50’s. My family cheered. The nurse’s aid said, “Well that’s something to celebrate.” The next morning my favorite nurse’s assistant high-fived me. The applause of heaven? Why not.
So, I thank God for poop.
Physically that day, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Over the next few weeks, I will transition from the physical movement to the spiritual movements that change you as you deal with “poop” in your life. I don’t believe God gives you the crap in your life as a test of what you are made of or as a punishment for misdeeds.
Crap happens. To the faithful and unfaithful. The young and old. The healthy and sick. The rich and poor. Crap happens.
Fr. Richard Rohr says transformation happens in our lives either through great love or great suffering. Over the next few weeks, I will explore some of the small transformations that happened for me during a four-day hospital stay and beyond.
In other words, I will thank God for poop.