Friday, August 6, 2010

Keep On Keeping On

The toilet. It is the one place that every single person on the planet must visit several times a day, and the one place that is never spoken about in polite company. In fact, we are so embarrassed by our natural need to eliminate waste from our system, that we have invented "code names" for the places where we keep toilets (washroom, loo, bathroom, powder room, water closet, little girl's or little boy's room, restroom), and use fans, sprays, and scented candles to mask any evidence of us having been there. In fact, some public toilets are now automated to flush for you, so that you can escape from your up-right coffin sized cubicle with less trauma.

Public toilets. I remember one of the most surprising aspects of volunteering in New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina was the port-o-potties. Without running water, whole parts of the city were forced to use these temporary outdoor toilets, perched on every corner, which became so full that people began putting clothes and rags on top of the overflowing piles of excrement to avoid having to come in contact with feces - creating this weird, awful layered monstrosity. There was a lot about New Orleans that was crazy to comprehend during that time, and such a simple dignity that most of us take for granted was just one of the many hardships that resilient city faced.

Similarly, in the world of cancers involving the digestive system, the toilet is no longer a quiet, private and dignified place. Whether or not you are peeing, farting or pooping is the topic of conversation with every doctor or nurse who you come into contact with. And if that weren't embarrassing enough, you actually have stuff to talk about. For example, prior to surgery (and certain procedures), you are forced to gag down glass after glass of a mixture best described as salty mucus to "empty your bowels" - violently. Prior to office visits, you sometimes need to use a Fleet enema - so you learn to buy the Fleet two-pack to avoid multiple trips to the pharmacy, since the cashier always tries just a little too hard to look nonchalant while ringing you up. In the hospital, if you can't urinate, you get a tube shoved up you. It's not a fun world, and sort of like the port-o-potties of New Orleans, it's an aspect of cancer that rarely makes front page news.

For me, just when things were starting to work as they should, "in the toilet", I woke up yesterday with a horrible UTI (urinary track infection). Truth be told, it's actually the second UTI I've gotten since I left the hospital, and I'm more than just a little annoyed. The first infection (July 31) I was able to treat with a gallon of cranberry juice; this time - cranberry juice wasn't working, so I had to call Dr. Nash, again.

As I dialed his office's number, I began to feel like "that patient" - the one who always is complaining or has a problem; but the on-call nurse was as nice as pie, and faxed in an order to the local lab, where unfortunately Gary and I spent our Friday afternoon. Even though the official lab results won't be in until Monday, Dr. Nash called in a prescription antibiotic to start immediately, which personally I'm very grateful for. I picked up some AZO and the prescription, and after whining (a lot) to Gary, I finally fell asleep.

I know that on the grand scale of things, this latest minor setback is a blip. Just like there were much worse realities in New Orleans than the toilets (ninth ward, exploitation of illegal workers, lost court records, lost hope), there are much worse realities in battling cancer than a UTI; but it's these little indignities that begin to drain your resolve. Someone once wrote: "anyone can survive a crisis; it's the day to day living that gets us down". There is some truth in that - after the "get well" bouquets have wilted, and the mail returns to the normal bills and super savers instead of colorful envelopes from well wishers, there is the everyday living to be done. So that's what I'm doing now - trying to "keep on keeping on" - with Jackie -O in mind.


  1. Oh man. Sorry to hear you got another UTI. I got a pretty bad one recently that I am sure I was pretty annoying about with Kaiser ("Are you SURE it's just a UTI? How do you know!!)

    Don't worry. My medical research will entail putting an end to all the unpleasantness that is defecating and urinating, which will unfortunately do away with potty humor as well, but ya know... trade-offs.

  2. Excellent - a fine trade-off I say.