So we left off with my little field trip to the hospital.
A quick recap: I had been having diarrhea for seventeen days straight. I finally carve out some time to drive the three and a half hours home to Houston in order to go see my doctor’s assistant at the fancy hospital I was upgraded to when we found out I was officially diseased. It’s like a country club, except you get to ride in wheelchairs instead of golf carts and to gain membership you have to trade in your control over half of your bodily functions, and you don’t get to pick which ones. (Me: pooping normally and crying.)
Let’s be real about something here: my mom actually makes the appointment. I, in turn, give her fashion advice and the rich satisfaction of knowing she is a good mother. It’s a symbiotic relationship. The nurse instructs her to tell me to bring a stool sample with me, which I just can’t do given that I share an apartment with three roommates. “I will not put my poop in our freezer,” I argue when my mom calls to tell me. She does not put up much of a fight.
I miss rehearsal on a Thursday night to drive home to Houston. I skip class on a Friday to carry a bag containing a jar full of my own fecal matter into the fanciest building I will ever set foot in. It’s disgusting, but it’s also exciting. Nobody knows what’s in this bag except for me. It’s poop.
But about the poo: I do have standards. I will write about the inner workings of my colon on the internet because I am tired of being ashamed that my pain is somehow grosser than other people’s and so I am less entitled to it… but I will NOT subject my three beautiful roommates to living in an apartment with a frozen chunk of my excrement.
This left a small window to “get the job done” before my appointment. About ten hours, at least five of those spent sleeping. My body seemed to sense the pressure to perform and was not cooperating. You have never truly known shame until your mother makes hopeful eye contact with you each time you leave the restroom. She raises her hands, palms flat and to the ceiling, as if asking “So, Shannon? Any product?”
This routine became so excruciating that I tried to stop it in its tracks by mumbling “Just a pee,” every time I paused our movie to go to the bathroom. While effective at the time it has proven a hard habit to break. As a result I’ll often announce my number ones to a group, as they, powerless to stop the interaction, watch me scurry away in response to their silence.
“I’m gonna run to the restroom,” I say, suspiciously adding, “just for a pee.” There. Now no one has any funny ideas, for sure.
If this is embarrassing for you to read, then I encourage you to live it. Really drives home the mutual happiness of those potty-training years. When I emerged from the bathroom, just minutes before my scheduled appointment, and gave my mom the thumbs up we were both transported to my early childhood. “Good job!” she said, before she could stop it. And then she handed me a small scooping spoon.
So. Back to the hospital.
The sample is in a small jar, which is in an Ace Hardware bag. This, in turn, is in my mother’s purse.
The hospital is lush and carpeted. There is a walkway, covered in windows, that goes over the street. I know all of this because my mother and I have spent hours exploring the place when I was in between surgeries (we once walked down a broken escalator that then turned back on, going the opposite direction, and stranded us on a random floor). But today we head straight for my floor, the gastrointerology floor.
Because the hospital is so enormous and fancy it has three different elevator systems. Each of the three systems leads to a specific number of floors. The three floors I am most familiar with are floor eleven, for gastorinterology, floor six, for lab work, and floor twenty-four, for butt stuff.
This seems like as good a time as any to tell you about my rectal surgeon. He looks exactly like Stephen Colbert. Now my rectal surgeon’s assistant– he looks like a Disney Prince who went to eight years of med school and would never forget your anniversary. He’s dreamy.
I have had two surgeries on my anus. The first was a surprise, but the second was planned. It was a fistulotomy, which can be quite serious. A few weeks after I was diagnosed with Crohn’s my mother and I went in for a consultation with Dr. Steven Colbert and were greeted by his second in command, Dr. Disney Prince. He then explained to me in great detail across a heavy wooden desk exactly what my surgery entailed. This was highly confusing. There was talk of a tunnel, and a balloon. It was truly mystifying.
In order to help me understand the process a bit better, Dr. Disney Prince tried to illustrate exactly what was going on with the area that needed to be operated on. And that is how the most attractive man I have ever met slid a detailed drawing of my butthole across the fanciest table I have ever sat at, directly into my lap.
“You see, this is your anus,” Dr. Disney Prince said in his gravelly voice as he pointed to the crudely drawn sketch of my backside.
“Ah,” I said, instead of “thank you,” because I had no idea what the appropriate response was.
We all moved into the exam room so that Dr. Stephen Colbert could take a look at my fistula. I was asked to kneel with my elbows on the table. One of the great things about the world of medicine is that many hospitals are “teaching hospitals,” which basically means that instead of one doctor who looks at your butt, there are three. They will then discuss it in front of you, your mom, and God.
“Dr. Prince, come have a look at this!” Dr. Stephen Colbert called, and three human beings peered into my butt at the same time.
This was the most rapidly any of my relationships had ever progressed: in a matter of minutes I had gone from meeting him for the first time, to developing an uncomfortable crush (which is usually a space I like to stay in for about three to six months before I am ready to move forward), and now we were essentially at third base. He was, quite honestly, staring down the barrel of my gun here. My mom was seated quietly in the corner of the room holding my fish tank which is a whole other thing I’m not even going to get into.
Back in his office, anus-sketch in hand, I asked Dr. Disney Prince why he had gone in to rectal surgery. I was assuming this was a common question, but he looked genuinely thoughtful, as if no one had ever asked him this before. “Well,” he said at length, “someone’s got to do it.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “You are not wrong about that.”
But today we do not go to the twenty-fourth floor.
Today we go to the eleventh floor, the gastrointerology floor. Today I have my poop in an Ace Hardware bag.
The nurse who calls me back is one that I am very familiar with. In fact, I believe I am one of her least favorite people. I have concluded this through a series of not-so-subtle remarks that she every so often slips in to make me feel slightly worse about myself. For example, if she asks where I am living and I say Austin, she shakes her head knowingly at my mother and clucks, “Oh my, I would never let my daughter live in Austin. Too dangerous, too dirty!”
Or when she takes me back to get my blood pressure and casually asks me what I am studying (for possibly the sixth time) and I say “acting,” she will purse her lips and croon, “Well… doesn’t that just sound so… fun?”
But all of it is worth it, because the second my doctor walks through the door time slows down and a chorus of angels sing. The world stops for Bincy. She looks more like a supermodel on Grey’s Anatomy who was hired to play a doctor than an actual doctor, but as soon as she opens her mouth you realize that she is smarter than you and Shona Rhimes combined.
I found Dr. Bincy through my friend Erin. She got very sick our senior year of high school and was in and out of the hospital a lot. Eventually she was diagnosed with Crohn’s. After my first surgery I got in contact with her to ask what doctor she was seeing, and that was how Bincy first entered my life.
Apparently she is not so easy to get an appointment with. When my mom called to try to get me in to see her, she was told that Dr. Bincy only accepts patients who have already been diagnosed with Crohn’s. Several weeks later, despite the fact that I had not yet been diagnosed, I had my first appointment with her! I thought it was a miracle. I found out later that my mother sobbed on the phone until they changed their policy.
I don’t know how exactly to describe Bincy other than God’s Most Perfect Human. Maybe that’s a little much, but it’s hard not to put the woman who literally saved your life up on a pedestal. Once, in a drug-induced stupor, I grabbed her hand and promised her that I would name my first born child after her if she found out what was wrong with me. Three days later I had a diagnosis and the knowledge that I would one day have a lot of explaining to do to the future father of my children.
But today, the day of the poop in the bag, we are not graced with the all-knowing, impossibly comforting presence of Bincy. Sent in her place is her physician’s assistant, Amanda, who is equally as beautiful and has a much more normal name, should you enter into a pact to name your first born after a doctor. She shakes my hand and seems genuinely excited for me when I tell her about my plans to move to LA to pursue acting. She goes so far as to call me brave. The vengeful part of my brain hopes the nurse from earlier is listening.
Amanda sends me down to the lab to get my blood drawn so they can check countless levels of things that are apparently floating around in blood. But before she leaves, she reminds me that in a few shorts weeks I’d be back at the hospital for my pill-cam, a procedure in which I swallow a tiny camera that takes pictures of my small intestine.
“Sure, no problem!” I tell her. A couple of weeks seems far away. There are so many things to do first: birthdays, and performances, and my math final, and graduation. A couple of weeks is basically the distant future. And it surely isn’t anything to worry about now.
But while time has a habit of moving slowly when you’re carrying around an Ace Hardware bag containing your own feces, it tends to move very quickly when it comes to everything else.
And as for the stool sample, I do get the results back: inconclusive. Nothing to worry about, the doctors tell me, sometimes these things happen. However, they will be needing a “fresh new sample” at my earliest convenience.
This time I warn my roommate.