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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

“We May Have to Remove Your Colon…”

The words went right over my head as they prepared to move me into surgery. When the doctor said “You are beginning to go septic”, I knew this was as serious as it gets. Thirty minutes earlier, Phyllis was laughing at me while I spoke to her as the ambulance quickly navigated the roads to the hospital. She thought I was having a bad case of gas. Sure wish that was the case.

I’d never dialed 911 for myself before. I don’t know what it actually feels like to be shot in the gut, but it was the closest parallel I could draw as I fell to the floor in the bathroom. My phone was in the living room and I struggled to get there and hit those three numbers. I then dragged myself the 15 feet to the front door and unlocked it so the fire department didn’t have to break it down to get to me.

I leaned against the arm of the sofa facing the door for the six or seven minutes until I heard the sirens wailing. There was a very loud knock and two firemen entered. The look they gave me let me know that they knew this was serious. Two EMTs came in the door next and strapped me into the gurney after I told them what had happened. We weren’t halfway down the block when the IV was in my arm and the Ringers solution started to pump into me.

The shock absorbers on the ambulance were totally dead and I felt every bump in the road. I didn’t know which hurt more. Between the pass out level pain and the look on the EMT’s face, I started to shiver a little. They placed a blanket on me. I was in the ER for no more than five minutes when they sent me up for a CT scan. Phyllis was there by now and when the surgeon walked in and told us that my colon was perforated and slowly dumping its waste into the rest of my body, I pretty much went into shock. We both knew now this wasn’t a bad case of gas. All of a sudden I felt the Versed coursing through my body.

I’ve had enough major surgeries to know the warm, cozy feeling of that drug. They use it so the patient’s head doesn’t explode from stress as they are wheeled into the OR. He told me there was a good chance he might have to remove my colon, meaning I’d be leaving the hospital with a bag attached to my side for the poop to accumulate in.

I didn’t care. All I wanted to do was see Phyllis and Sasha again. I just wanted to make it out alive – if that was God’s will for me. It was only 17 minutes from the time I was wheeled into the ER until I was pushed into the OR. I was going septic, and if they didn’t clean me out soon, the infection would shut down my organs one by one until there weren’t any more left to shut down.

Two and a half hours later I regained consciousness and the same doctor was smiling at me. He only had to remove about three inches of my colon, so it did not require the radical procedure that would have fundamental altered my life. I didn’t know that my life was about to be drastically transformed anyway, but I have managed to deal with that – and the somewhat humorous analogy that comes with it.

I spent five very long days in the hospital. That is an extremely lengthy time these days, but they couldn’t release me until I was able to push food through me again. It was a brutal recovery. The journey after surgery is somewhat straightforward. You get pumped up with IV Dilaudid every four hours. Dilaudid is a replacement for Morphine that is nine times more potent. Until you are able to successfully make the transition from IV pain meds to oral ones, you stay in the hospital.

It took me four days before I made the switch, but my body was still asleep. My surgeon was a pure joy. Aside from just barely having saved my life, he had a wonderful, engaging bedside manner, and even brought his two young daughters to meet me one day. The nurses were beyond excellent, and circumstances left me with a funny story to tell. One night two of them were inadvertently locked in my room with me. One of the janitorial staff had accidentally left the floor cleaning machine up against my door, making it impossible for anyone to come or go. We made the best of it with some jokes and chitchat until they were released from this makeshift prison.

Every day my doc would lead with the same question: “Have you farted yet?” Abdominal surgery like this puts the colon “to sleep” so to speak, so they can’t release you until it wakes up. I got the super surgeon’s special. When he saw me my belly button was pushed out. He said that was a hernia, caused by the stress on my internals. He fixed that. While he was in the vicinity, he removed my appendix so I wouldn’t be bothered by it in the future. 3 scars for the price of 1!

I asked him what my recovery would be like down the road. He dodged this question a little, which made me a touch uneasy, but since the guy had just saved my life, I wasn’t going to quibble.

This is where I want to take a short intermission and make a plea to anyone reading this. It has to do with what triggered this nightmare in the first place.

I’ve been plagued with psoriatic arthritis for nearly 30 years now. The medications used to treat it are very, very dangerous, and have some pretty heavy side effects. The medicine that did this to me is Cosentyx. If you read the small print, you will see that perforating the colon is a possible outcome. If you’ve seen this medicine advertised on TV, you probably seen Cyndy Lauper as a spokesperson for it, because she uses it. I’ve been a fan of her music since the 80’s.

For reasons I don’t want to get into right now, I don’t participate in any form of social media. So here’s my plea: if you have a Facebook page and can get on to hers, please let her know what happened to me. I don’t want to see her, or anyone else go through what I have had to endure. 10 more minutes one way or another and I may not have been able to write this story.

Ok, back to the hospital. After four days, it is a hospital rule that they must change the location of the IV needle to prevent the vein from collapsing. I was riding quite high on the Dilaudid by now, so I didn’t feel the four failed attempts to push a fresh needle into another vein. After two fails, they must call a different nurse to give it a try. By this time they had blown almost every usable vein in both arms -- leaving me completely black and blue -- and were starting to get nervous. I told them to use the elbow, the place routinely used to draw blood. It is generally not used in the hospital because it hurts the patient if they must bend their arm for any reason.

I gave them the go ahead -- they were getting nervous, and I could see it – they all wore the same grim visage. I now had four nurses in the room, each one hoping the next one would strike gold. The elbow was easy, and I could see a collective sigh of relief once the needle was in. I figured I’d be going home in the morning, so I could live with the minor discomfort overnight.

Finally, late on the 4th day I successfully emptied whatever was in my colon. Nurses don’t take your word for this. You have to leave your floater alone so they can admire it momentarily before hitting the flush button. I think they were impressed…

My surgeon told me right before I packed up to head home that it would probably take about a year to feel ‘normal’ again. Since no one has ever accused me of being ‘normal’, I had no idea what he was referring to.

I found out about a year later when I went to see a different doctor, to try and figure out why my daily routine in the bathroom had been pushed into overdrive. Since the surgery, I was visiting the bathroom 4-6 times a day, every day. That is precisely why we now have our septic tank pumped once a year, not once every 4-5 years, like all of the really normal people on our block.

The sigmoid colon acts like a ‘brake’ in your intestinal system. Without it, you have the plumbing of a cat or dog. Every time you have a meal, you go, just like them. All of a sudden, I had an unbreakable bond with our five cats.

I almost felt like putting the litter box in the bathroom so we could hang out together after meals…

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