Fleet Week

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(Photo: Intestinal health is nothing to sniff it.)

They say that with age comes wisdom. As a somewhat newly minted 38-year-old, I’d rather that someone had warned me about the constipation. It’s an open secret rarely considered by the young and guarded with glee by the over-40 set as they watch their age-advancing junior compatriots suffer through this startling realization: eventually, you’re only as young as your body lets you feel.

Having always prided myself on aging gracefully, I too have been surprised at how much harder it gets to attain said grace in the face of an increasingly uncooperative corpus. I may never choose contacts over glasses or Grecian formula over natural gray, but in the past year my pesky prostate has had me wondering whether in my always upcoming home renovation plans I might want to start with the bathroom first. Perhaps a modest flat-screen above the toilet bowl or at least a better pair of slippers to keep my feet warm on unexpected nightly runs.

Said prostate pest is probably why I discounted more frequent urges that arose a few weeks ago. No one my age adopts a food beat and gets away with it, much less a Cincinnati chili food fetish. By the time I put two and two together, I was already stuck with my problem. That is, I was already stuck, and good. Or bad, if you count the half-hourly, constipation-caused pee breaks and three-day-long, unrequited desire to successfully, um, bear down.

Thus began a desperate quest to find some way to exercise my right of passage. There’s nothing like the feeling that you’re eternally just about to pass a frozen chicken to light a fire under your butt. Under those circumstances, however, home remedies can only go so far. Their effectiveness tends to run out much the same time that your dignity does, too.

In my case, both limits were reached while lying prone on my hallway rug, attempting to squeeze an enema bag with one hand while shooing my cat away with the other, neither endeavor ending up a success.

I knew the humbling vignette would end up on the blog–if my mind could only relax long enough to actually concentrate on blogging. Or anything other than spending hours at a time Googling my symptoms, wishing my individual health insurance would kick in, and begging the universe for a speculum home kit.

And then I turned on BBC America, and in one unexpected episode of AbFab, the long-forgotten memory of a potential solution to my problem came flooding back to me. As Edina Monsoon once said:

“It’s colonic irrigation, sweetie. It’s nothing to sniff at.”

One pleading early morning email later, and off I went for a same-day appointment at a respected wellness center on Chicago’s northwest side. Yelp reviews had told of a practitioner skilled at her job but short on patience. She turned out to be a fellow expatriate New Yorker, which instantly put me at ease. A guiding commentary, a massaging hand, and that much-hoped-for speculum made the hour’s 15 flushes of water go by quickly. If not entirely painlessly. There’s nothing like the discomfort of an unwanted metal device thrust up your rump to make a gay man wish he had bottomed more often.

On the ride home with Cincinnati Jamie, with the floodgates finally opened I happily purred into the car seat and imagined a future finally free of fecal hardship. This is the point in the story at which the over-40s reading this are mouthing the words, “Yeah, right.”

Losing three-and-a-half pounds of unpoopularity from your large intestine may be a big relief for you, but it can be like losing a smelly, beloved security blanket for your colon. The dawning of my new abdominal day would quickly come to resemble a lower-GI version of the fall of the Berlin Wall: with any sudden sweeping change cannot help but come a major measure of turmoil as things try to find their balance once again.

So out with constipation, in with irritation and bloating after eating. And maybe longstanding problems, heretofore hidden, now firmly flushed out into the open. Google searches brought up results like ‘diverticulitis’, ‘kidney disease’, and ‘appendicitis’. It was fear of that last one that sent me on an out-of-pocket doctor’s appointment at Northwestern Memorial Hospital on Wednesday. (My local hospital–a nice perq of living in downtown Chicago).

I spent the first half of the day calling Unicare, my incipient insurer, being repeatedly told that their computers were down, shopping for hospital slippers, and visualizing post-operative liquid meals. To no avail all, as a particularly fatherly internist told me in no uncertain terms, “If it was your appendix, you’d jump off the table if I pressed you there.”

So give us some blood, pee in a cup, and call me in two days. Oh, and if the pain gets really bad, go to the emergency room. And wait.

The next day I learned the technology-challenged Unicare had covered me days earlier (Boo! Hiss!), balanced with the assurance that the doctor’s office would send them a claim and eventually reimburse me (Hurray!).

And the day after that, after the customary, agonizing eight-hour wait for the doctor’s office to call me back, I learned that my test results were all normal. Which leaves me with a murky non-ending to an all-around rocky problem. What, then, is bugging my pushing-40 frame? IBS? Colitis? Gastroenteritis? Google is a dangerous tool for the long uninsured.

At least now I have the coverage to follow up. Note to my new Northwestern doctor: next week, feel free to CT scan me. At long last, I’m finally good for it.

And anyone who tells you differently is full of shit.

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