Last week several things happened all at once.
The first was a weekend long intensive I had signed up to take with my acting teacher. It was like an introduction to taking classes with her, except I was also already taking classes with her. Hard to explain.
The second was that my butt pain came back in a large way.
But it starts at Disneyland. This all ties together, I promise.
About a week and a half ago I went to Disneyland alone. I had an audition out near Anaheim and when I was cut early I decided to nurse my wounds in the happiest place on earth.
At this point we all know that I sometimes wear a square of gauze in between my butt cheeks in case my anus bleeds. Common knowledge. Yes, I know that’s terrible and gross but let’s just take a deep breath because it’s about to get worse. I also sometimes use this gauze if I’ve been having diarrhea because it keeps my old surgical wound clean and dry.
On this particular day at Disneyland I had not packed any gauze because up until I ate a suspiciously undercooked turkey leg I had been feeling fine! And healthy!
So my surgical wound was irritated, but was I going to let a faulty butthole be the reason I left the happiest place on earth? The answer is, I should have. That would’ve been the smart and responsible thing to do. But I did not. I walked around for many more hours, giving myself a nice painful chafe.
What a fun day at Disneyland! I thought as I drove home, tenderly leaning hard on one butt cheek so as to not apply any pressure to the wound. Surely this will stop hurting by tomorrow!
I woke up in terrible pain.
For the rest of the day I moved a little bit hunched over. I had to change pants. I had to sit in the bath several times. I thought that maybe I had pushed myself a little too hard and with some rest everything would go back to normal. But that is when the pain set in.
I once described it as the feeling that someone was trying to pull you inside out using your butthole. As you can imagine this is a very specific feeling. Something between an ache and a pressure. And constant. It hurt the most when I sat down.
So now it hurt to walk and to sit. I stood in front of the couch to watch TV or laid gingerly on my side. But there were the unavoidables: driving to and from appointments and auditions, walking to them. Sitting up in them without laying on my side and whining.
By Friday things were getting worse, not better. I tried to feel around for an abscess but couldn’t really commit to it. I realized it was time to see a doctor.
A hot tip for anyone living in LA who suffers from Crohn’s Disease: there are pleeeeenty of rectal surgeons out here. This is a town that favors the butt. I selected one of the top three that took my insurance and scheduled an appointment for the next day they had available, which was a few days away. My voice was edged with panic. “If it gets worse,” the receptionist told me, “call us back and we’ll try to work something out.”
A few days may not have been a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that this disaster had fallen on the weekend of my acting intensive, a cumulative twenty-seven hours of sitting in a studio over the next three days.
I was determined that no one find out. I didn’t want to be seen as a weaker actress because of it. My coach listed off a mantra on the first day, “The three things any director wants from you on set is that you are happy, healthy, and full of energy!”
Healthy it was, then. I could lie. I am an actress, after all! I decided to just act as if I was happy, healthy, and not favoring one side of my butt over the other due to a possible infection I may or may not have gotten after an irresponsible trip to Disneyland!
This plan worked until the second day of class.
At this point my butt was distractingly painful. I had curled up in a ball during at least two of the breaks, and when other confused students had asked what I was doing I vaguely responded, “yoga.” Once I complained that the chairs hurt my butt and someone chimed in, “me, too!” and we just smiled at each other for too long.
It was towards the end of the day. I had been shifting a lot in my seat. Our acting coach suddenly and very strangely asked if anyone was injured. The room was silent.
“This is important,” she stated. “We’re about to do a very physical exercise and you can’t participate if you’re hurt.”
My hand went halfway up in the air.
She called on me. “Shannon! What’s your injury?”
“Ummmmmmmmmmm,” I said for a very long time. There were ten other people in the room, none of whom knew I had Crohn’s disease. “It’sssssss mybutt?”
More silence. “Your what?” the coach asked.
“My butt, ma’am,” I answered more clearly. I always throw in a ma’am when intimidated. Then I set off on one of the best rambles of my entire life. I threw in the fact that I had Crohn’s disease, listed off all of my past surgeries, said that I was fine too many times, mentioned that I might have surgery again in the near future and probably added the names of all of my childhood pets. When all the air had finally left my body the girl to my left raised her hand.
“I hurt my finger.”
The coach just nodded and we moved right along.
On the final night of the intensive I went up to the coach to thank her for everything she had taught us. “Shannon!” she said very loudly in greeting, “How is your butt?”
The next day I drove to my appointment. As I neared the medical center I realized I was smack-dab in the middle of Beverley Hills. My arms got a little tingly and it felt like arriving in California all over again. I had really made it! Here I was about to get my butthole looked at by the rectal surgeon to the stars!
The waiting room was surprisingly jumbled and chaotic. I sat down on a couch next to a thousand old people and waited for my name to be called.
When I walked back into the exam room I passed an enormous painting of a skull. It was larger than my entire body and took up a full wall. “I usually like my omens a little more subtle,” I joked to the blank-faced nurse who led me wordlessly into the most eclectic exam room I had ever been in. There was definitely some sort of pirate-thing going on, because the room was covered in framed tiny portraits of old shipmen. There was also a very old broken television set sitting directly under a brand-new one.
This felt less like a friendly doctor’s office and more like a place where a mad-man might human centipede me to another patient. I feverishly snap chatted my surroundings so that someone would be able to find me if it all went to hell. That’s when the doctor came in.
He shook my hand and got right down to business. He asked me about my diagnosis, my past surgeries, any medications that I was taking and I dutifully rattled off the answers to everything, feeling very qualified to be there.
He also asked me if I used soap. Just like that. “Do you use soap?” Yes, I said, of course I do. He clucked at me. “Soap dries out the butthole! None of that!”
I didn’t know how to explain to him that I thought he was just asking a general question about my overall hygiene and I hadn’t realized we had already jumped to the subject of my butthole, so I remained silent. You know, as you do when your health is concerned.
“And any history of cancers in the family?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“And what kind?” he asked, eyes buried in forms.
The doctor stopped writing and looked up. His eyes widened. This was it, those eyes seemed to say, he had been training his whole life for this. I was the perfect storm of rectal and anal issues. A young woman with two previous anal surgeries, Crohn’s Disease, and a family history of rectal cancer? I was his golden goose.
In that moment I felt coveted, treasured, exalted. He snapped a glove on and motioned to the table. “Well, let’s take a look.”
He poked around for a while, asking me what hurt and what felt alright. Your finger is inside my butthole, sir, so none of this feels perfectly alright, but I understand what you mean. He then took out a long tool and explained what it was, but I couldn’t quite hear the explanation over the roaring panic in my ears. A telescope, maybe? A device used for a deep peek? It certainly unfolded like a telescope, and he looked just as eager for discovery as a sailor mapping the seas. Suddenly the pirate motif was making more sense to me.
He fed the tube up into my bottom and it felt Disturbing and Not Good. He then pumped air through it. I’m not sure what the purpose of this was except to make me feel like I had to hold in a thousand farts until he and the nurse there to supervise me left the room. He retracted the tube and told me to meet him in his office in the same voice you would tell a prisoner to walk the plank. I slowly pulled my pants up.
My doctor sat grim-faced behind a huge oak table. I sat in a plush leather chair across from him, feeling like I was in trouble. “Well,” he said to me, “It looks like you have a little case of hemorrhoids!” He produced a tiny ointment bottle and held it out for me.
“Apply this once a day,” he said, “And think of your butthole like an eye.”
“No-” I said very quickly, an immediate instinctual reaction. He chuckled.
“I mean, you wouldn’t wash your eye out with soap, right? So don’t wash your butthole out with soap either.”
Oh, yes. I smiled what I thought could be the smile of a girl who washed her butthole out with soap frequently enough to give herself hemorrhoids. It worked.
“And make an appointment to come back in ten days!” he said, eyeing me once again as if I were made of anal surgical treasure. “Or I’ll have to come looking for you!”
I nodded and took the medicine.
And that’s the story of how I maybe have hemorrhoids. I say maybe because I am not entirely sure. I don’t know what hemorrhoids feel like, only what an abscess feels like, and this pain feels suspiciously similar. And while I am not a doctor/pirate, I do know my body better than anyone. So I will keep checking in with myself to see if the pain gets worse or better, and I will let you know.
After all, when you’re the golden goose the answer to the problem is never the simplest one. Where’s the adventure in that?