My zipper travels down my abdomen from my sternum to my pelvis. A scar below my clothing. The need to lay down after eating and the occasional poking sensation of the non-dissolving staples, two of the less graphic quirks and constant reminders of my non-typically functioning gut.
Navigating the adversity can be trying, but you find a way to make things work. You have to. The blessing — I live with a constant reminder that you never know what is going on under the surface. This is my story of how becoming gutted offered a beautiful life lesson, transforming perspective and bringing to light a greater level of gratitude and understanding.
My Parents’ Bedroom
I was seventeen. Seven months after surgeons removed a grapefruit-sized ovarian cyst and persistent lethargy followed, the pain struck — a punch to the abdomen that consumed any logical thoughts.
Curling into a ball on my parent’s bed, knees bent in and taking shape of a crescent roll, I laid there — waiting. Waiting for the pain to subside, recognizing this ball was the only position of comfort. Staying still, I was “okay.” Stoic. Silent. I lay there.
My mom came down the hall and caught a glimpse of me in her bed. Why her bed and not my own? Perhaps this was my subconscious taking charge to communicate that I needed help. My room and my parent’s room were close to each other, I could have easily rested in my own space — my unconscious must have directed me otherwise.
My parents were at the other end of the other. I could not make it to them — quickly becoming paralyzed by pain. I could not raise my voice to call for help, either — any talking winded me.
A teenage girl “hanging out” in her room would not have drawn any attention. Silently waiting in my parent’s bedroom, however, upon sight — my mother’s intuition kicked in.
She asked what I was doing — to which I whispered, “I don’t feel well.” My mom calmly alerted my father, “She is lying in our bed and doesn’t feel well.” They both knew something I needed acute care. They packed me up in the car and drove twenty minutes to the hospital.
Arriving at the Hospital
Months earlier, we went to a walk-in clinic to be redirected to the hospital. A few hours later, I was in surgery. That was when the cyst ruptured. I guess that my parents thought this might happen again and took the direct route to the hospital.
Upon arrival, being admitted quickly, my blood drawn, and a shot of morphine administered in an attempt to take the edge off — I waited. My white blood cells were “off the charts.” The preliminary finding appeared as acute appendicitis. I was transferred to a floor around 3:30 p.m. to wait for my 9:30 p.m. surgery while being closely monitored.
My parents were sent home at 4:30 p.m., told it was a good time to get something to eat and allow me to rest to to return by 8:00 p.m.
After my parents left, I made my way to the washroom — collapsing to the ground and vomiting bile uncontrollably. I laid in a pile of green ooze while reaching for the call button. Nurses immediately attended. “Her appendix must have ruptured. We’re going to get you back in bed and call the doctor.”
The next phase is a blur. I was wheeled into the operating room and later learned of the phone call my parented received.
The Phone Call
My parents had just arrived home, approximately 20 minutes from the hospital. As they entered, the phone rang, and my mom tells me she knew something was wrong — a mother’s instant intuition. “Please meet us outside of the operating room.”
My parents rushed back to the hospital, devastated. As a parent now, I cannot fathom that call. My mom has shared it is the worst call you could receive: leaving your child, thinking they were okay and collapsing in uncertainly. She says that what was even more alarming was the request to head to the operating room, where someone would meet them outside.
My parents never shared the details of the conversation. Years later, my General Practitioner at the time (who happened to scrub in on many of his patient’s surgeries) and was coincidentally at the hospital that day described the operation as a “bloody mess.” Tumours caused my intestine to rupture, and I had serious internal bleeding.
Intestinal tumours are an odd occurrence at seventeen. The next eight years began with an eighteen-month liquid diet and included numerous bowel obstructions, regular hospital stays and frequent colonoscopies.
My body never compensated fully to absorb iron, so regular infusions began.
My lack of small and larger intestine shifted my organs’ positions, my uterus finding a new placement that would later impact pregnancies.
Subsequent surgeries removed adhesions. A significant ban that formed and caused regular bowel obstructions was the main culprit, which helped the risky surgery be successful.
Vomiting became the norm until doctors could sufficiently stop the obstructions, complemented with regular trips for intravenous iron that can only be administered at the hospital in our area.
Twenty years later, things still are not typical. My stomach can swell abruptly — contorting into a wave-like shape and distending. I dress for it. Pants with elastic waists and a loose-fitting sweater can help disguise the anomalies while allows me to resume daily living.
When I need to “reset” my gut, I spend my weekend between the bed and the bathroom.
This lifestyle is the norm. It is what I need to do to live my “normal” life.
I don’t always eat during the day. I simply cannot. I used to steer clear of the conversation, and now I get right to the point, “I had tumours, and my intestine ruptured, so I need to be careful.” Anything less specific leads to discussions about diet and allergies. Complicated, intermittent sensitivities are more accurate, but that is more difficult to understand.
As I said when first sharing my story, navigating the adversity can be trying, but you find a way to make things work. You have to.
The blessing — I live with a constant reminder that you never know what is going on under the surface. This perspective allows me to check any judgments and alleviates many assumptions I might otherwise make.
While my six inches of my small and eighteen inches of my large intestine are no longer a part of me, this story is. And, it always will be.
So that’s me. I’m gutted. Gutted in body but not in heart, mind or spirit.