So my anus has started bleeding again.
I thought we’d jump right into it this week. Notice how I say “again.’ Now, I am no stranger to bum bleeding. Having had multiple surgeries down there in the past few years this is something that will sometimes happen. At this point it’s sort of like misplacing my go-to bra or my favorite person getting voted off of Survivor- it’s not going to ruin my day, but it’s definitely not going to make it any better. It’s also usually a sign that something is not quite right.
In the particular scenario of my most recent bum-bleed something was not quite right, and that something was that I had absurdly agreed to go on a hike with some friends much more outdoorsy than myself. It was stupid and optimistic of me (two words seem to encapsulate my decision making too often.) Carly’s roommate Susan had texted me that morning to ask if I wanted to head out with them to the peninsula to see the penguins. Penguins! I neglected to ask any follow-up questions.
What should I wear? would have been a good one, for starters. Should I pack food or water? How long is the hike? How quickly do you walk, and why do you walk so quickly? What on earth happened to all of you to make you need to walk that quickly in your every day lives? Do you think the rigorous activity of trying to keep up with you unworldly fast walkers will make my old butt wound bleed? I thoughtlessly grabbed my camera and nothing else and bounded out the door.
I met up with Carly and the group at the bus stop. “Hi!” she and my friend Anne greeted sweetly. “How are you?”
In response to this casual human greeting I promptly teared up.
This would be a good time to explain that I am a big crier. Most people know this about me already, and if they don’t, it never takes long to figure it out. It’s just what I do- I don’t entirely know why. Some people like it, some people hate it, most people learn to ignore it. Recently, since leaving my mom on the other side of the world, I’ve been getting choked up when anyone expresses simple concern about my well-being. It’s fine, though. I’m working on it.
Carly and Anne, to their credit, fall into the group of people who are good at dealing with my dramatics. “Here,” Carly said, taking me by the elbow, “we can sit together on the bus and you can tell me all about it.” So away we went on our bus, winding around the peninsula and teetering uncomfortably close to the edge of the water. And away we kept going. And going and winding and going. A fun fact: no one had informed me that the bus ride was an hour long, through some of the most gut-churning roads I had ever encountered. It was clear that I had no idea what I had agreed to.
Fast forward to the discovery of the bum bleed. It happened in a dilapidated park bathroom with a crumbly rainbow painted on the side. My friends were just outside looking at a nearby horse. I felt the telltale pain first, and confirmed it with a quick wipe. Defeated, I reached into my pocket to pull out a small, square piece of medical gauze. I unwrapped the gauze, secured it between my two butt cheeks, and then prepared myself to pretend that there was nothing secured between my two butt cheeks. I stepped out of the bathroom. I met Anne, Carly, and Susan at the horse.
A word about this medical gauze: it first came into my life after my second rectal surgery (a fistulotomy.) The doctor had suggested it when I told him that my bottom would still bleed and cause me discomfort from time to time. On the way home from the hospital, my father and I stopped at Randalls to pick up some of my prescriptions, and we also bought a packet of sterilized medical gauze cut into soft little squares. They were for my butt. It was Valentines Day.
I wore the gauze steadily for a year. That was how long it took for my bottom to stop bleeding. It caused some weirdness in my life- you can only keep that kind of a thing a secret for so long, especially if you’re in a relationship. Once, it fell out in the middle of class while I was performing a monologue. Normal, coming-of-age struggles. What can you do?
After a while the bleeding just stopped and I thought I had fully healed. But since arriving in New Zealand and finding myself having to walk absolutely everywhere, I felt the old pain slowly creep back in. And, sure enough, the bleeding came back too.
I didn’t say anything about it to anyone on the hike because I was embarrassed. That, and a million other reasons. It’s just a difficult conversation to have with someone you’ve known for two weeks. In fact, I haven’t told anyone since I got here, save one night when we had all been drinking and Patrick burned his thumb cooking, so I grabbed one of the gauze squares for him in the absence of a band-aid. “These are usually for my butt!” I whispered. We both laughed really hard and then ate eggs. Unfortunately, most situations are usually a little more awkward.
Thankfully I didn’t have to explain my dilemma to any of my friends on that hike. Right when I thought I couldn’t take one more step my group saw a large camper driving down the road. Carly and Susan were able to flag him down and we hitchhiked the rest of the way home (piling into a camper and winding through the roads of Dunedin was a struggle in its own right, but I wasn’t about to complain.)
Once we were back on campus my friends cheerly decided it was time to go and find some dinner. I feigned exhaustion to get out of the excursion and limped the rest of the way to my flat, where I burrowed into my bed and didn’t come out until late that night. To be honest, my butt wasn’t hurting me that badly. I was just bummed out to be back in the situation where I had to worry about it. Also, after everything I’d been through that day, I hadn’t seen a single penguin.
Since bum bleeding can usually be indicative of something worse, that week I decided it was time for me to make my first trip out to see my New Zealand doctor. I came armed with bottles of prescribed pills and detailed accounts of my last two colonoscopies and endoscopies. The good news is she was a nice lady and I really liked her (hard not to bond with someone after sifting through detailed pictures of the inside of your colon with them) but the bad news is she’s not an expert on the disease. In fact, she had never even heard of my medication before! The two of us had to google it, and it turns out that it just doesn’t exist here in New Zealand. Sorry, Mom, but that’s another thing it looks like you’ll be mailing over.
While I was at the clinic she had me hop up on the scale, and after seeing my weight she frowned. “Does your weight usually fluctuate?” I told her that it did. We then had a very confusing moment where I tried to explain to her what I normally weigh in pounds and she tried to explain my preferred weight in kilos. Eventually we ended up back on google and used a conversion chart. Another cute moment.
I left the doctor feeling a little unmoored. My gastroenterologist at home is an absolute hero to me- she’s the woman who diagnosed me and she knows all the particulars about everything having to do with my insides. This New Zealand doctor was very kind, but just another reminder that nothing here felt quite comfortable yet. Everything I did made me feel a little more alone. I didn’t have anyone to talk to, and even if I did, I didn’t know how to bring up what I needed to say. I didn’t even entirely know what is was that I needed to say, really. I’m scared, maybe? I’m worried I can’t keep up, I feel alone without my mom here, I have been carrying around pictures of the inside of my colon all day long? Any of these were viable options.
I should’ve called Carly. I should’ve said, “Listen, I need to talk about my butt, and also probably my heart.” She would have listened. But I was embarrassed or stubborn or lacking the courage that day. I went home.
Last night I was lying in my bed watching Survivor, recuperating from yet another hike I had stupidly and optimistically decided to go on. My flatmates had all gone out drinking and I was the kind of tired that you could feel on the inside and the outside, so I had opted to stay in for the night. Around ten there was a knock on my door, and my flatmate EJ and his girlfriend Julia came in. They piled onto my bed with me in the easy way that friends you’ve known for much longer do, and started to ask me about my day like it was the most important news in the world.
“How did your audition go?” EJ wanted to know. That morning I had secured an audition with a local theatre production and I was eager to talk about it. I launched into the whole story. “And do you promise to come tell us as soon as you find out if you got the role?” I nodded, touched that he cared so much.
He turned to Julia. “We’ve got to plan ahead, you know, because if she gets the part then I figure this play will be taking at least six hours out of my life, because, what’ll it be- at least three shows, probably two hours each? And I’m definitely going to every one.”
I couldn’t help but smile. Here I was, sulking in my room, feeling homesick and sleepy and not-quite-alone, but really separated from everyone who loves me back at home. I was really feeling the ocean in between us that night. And these two people sought me out. They came to find me and pull me out of the pity party I had been throwing for myself. I was reminded of the kind people here, on this side of the ocean, who are just as ready to be loved.
“And one more thing,” EJ asked before they left to go to bed, “What kind of flowers are your favorite?”
So maybe I’m not brave enough to tell my new friends that I bleed from my butt hole. That’s fine, because I found a loophole. Turns out I’m just brave enough to post about it here, on the internet, and then tell them all to go and read it. Baby steps, right?
For those of you who have been keeping up with Five by Finals and asking me about my progress- yes, I met my weight goal for the end of the school year, and since then I have managed not only to keep my weight up, but I’ve gained three more pounds! I know that adding on weight alone isn’t enough to keep me healthy, but it’s not a bad way to start.
I can’t believe how nice you guys are to me. I can’t believe so many of you choose to read about my butt bleeding, or my woes about moving, or anything else I’ve ever decided to post. I’m really okay. I’ve got some wonderful friends here, and I have my best friends from home, and now I have all of you. Thank you for caring about me. Thank you for the messages you send and the stories you share. Remember that if you need to get in touch you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.