[Going back in time on this one, folks. Been talking things over with my writing partner, finding things that I never wrote about and probably should have. So I’m filling in blanks here.
[Just to get you situated, timeline-wise: I’ve had the stroke, had the open-heart surgery, and now I’m in St. Paul’s for a month, recovering before I can be transferred to rehab. What you’re about to read happened in April of 2014 or so.
[Got it? Good. Here we go. -Scott]
The ever-present eternal question from both doctors and nurses during my month-long hospital stay was this: Are you constipated?
I was asked this approximately two or three times during any 24 hour stretch, day in and day out. Are you having bowel movements, Mr. Jones? Are you backed up, Mr. Jones? Are you pooping regularly, Mr. Jones? These conversations would usually go like this:
Doctor: “When was the last time you had a bowel movement?”
Scott: “This morning, doctor.”
Doctor: “And how would you describe the stool?”
Scott: “Hmm. Pretty long?”
Doctor: [Paused here and presumably wrote the words “stool = pretty long” in his notebook.]
Doctor: “And was it…healthy, would you say?”
Scott: [Quizzical look] “You mean was the stool itself healthy?”
Doctor: “Yes. The stool itself. Was it healthy?”
Scott: “I’d say it was pretty healthy. If it was any healthier-looking, I’d have packed a lunch for it, put a beanie on its head, and sent it off to kindergarten this morning.”
Doctor: [More frantic writing.]
I’d have these poop-tastic conversations with both doctors and nurses. Everyone, it seemed, was overly concerned—obsessed, even—with my digestive tract. And, from the conversations that I overhead from the nearby beds between my fellow patients and their nurses and doctors, I wasn’t the only one being harassed like this.
Being constipated, I’ve learned, is all too routine in the hospital. All the hours spent prone and inactive? Lying flat on your back? Coupled with the presumably heavy doses of medication? Suddenly, the proverbial Lincoln Tunnel is closed. Traffic is backed up all the way to Madame Tussauds in Times Square. And no one is getting into New Jersey before dinner, I’ll tell you that.
I was not constipated in the hospital—at least, not initially, I wasn’t. Miraculously, my digestive tract was as reliable as the 10:17 Metro-North train each morning.
So the eternal question—are you pooping, when did you poop, was it a healthy poop—began to irritate me. I considered Scotch-taping a sheet of paper to the front of my hospital gown that said, “I pooped yesterday. I pooped again today. And, Lord willing, I’ll poop again tomorrow. But thanks for your ongoing concern. It’s very touching.”
The old woman in the bed across from me became seriously constipated. This made the daily poop-inquisition much less humorous for all of us. The woman’s middle-aged daughter would visit in the afternoons. The daughter had obviously been attractive once, but she wasn’t anymore. She was rundown. She looked dulled by life. She had obviously been a real fire cracker once—you could tell she’d been a bright light—but her bulb was dim now after some great, unknown, drawn out unhappiness. Maybe her marriage had fallen apart slowly over time, or her job was miserable. Possibly both.
The daughter would quietly ask, “Have you poo-ed, mom? …Well, have you tried poo-ing today, mom? …And? …Did anything come out, mom?”
The answer from the old woman was the same: “I tried, but nothing came out.”
After a few days of not “poo-ing,” the old woman began to audibly moan in her bed, regardless of whether the daughter was there or not.
The fretting daughter complained to the nurses and doctors. “My mother has not had a bowel movement in almost 10 days,” she whispered. “We need to do something for her this instant. My mother is in obvious pain, you see.”
A nurse returned 45 minutes later—everything takes about 45 minutes in St. Paul’s, even the simplest things. The nurse had pills that were designed to jumpstart the old woman’s G.I. tract. The old woman downed the pills. The daughter nodded. “Now, we wait, mom. The poo will come.”
In my bed across the room from all this, I became a reluctant witness. This scatological drama was theirs and mine. The hospital is an intimate place—uncomfortably intimate. Dramas are happening everywhere, all the time. I was close enough to this particular drama that I was now involved, too, whether I wanted to be or not.
The mother was waiting. The daughter was waiting. I was waiting.
I remembered the daughter’s prophesy: The poo will come. I hoped she was right.