The comedown

Last fall, I talked with my doctors about removing my rectum. I have had colitis for years.  It hurts and bleeds all the time.

In January, my surgeon scheduled surgery to remove it. This would eliminate all possibility of reversing my ostomy. I was fine with that.

In February, my GI specialist told me I could get a subtotal colectomy and reverse the ostomy.

A week later, my surgeon told me he thought it might be better to just remove the entire colon.

Last Thursday was the two year anniversary of placing my colostomy. My surgeon called me that night to tell me that he had run into my GI specialist and they had together decided to reverse the ostomy and not remove all of the colon because if they are wrong “they can’t put it back”. This removes some colon but for complicated reasons I’m too frustrated to explain right now, there is a rock solid chance that I will end up exactly where I was two years ago before I got my ostomy. A place I swore I would never be again. He offered that if it didn’t work, then we would remove the rest in another surgery.

My hospital time after placing my colostomy is pretty hazy. I remember waking up in the recovery room and pulling the blanket, straining my neck to see the stoma. A nurse ran over and pulled the blanket up; she didn’t want me to see it until my surgeon was there. I watched her walk away before I looked again. It protruded about an inch, was pink and puckered, easily visible through the clear ostomy bag. “Like a rosebud,” my surgeon said. Yes, exactly like that.

The first time I stooled with it was a wonder, this painless relief. It didn’t last, but it was wonderful while it lasted. It hurt, but not as bad as my rectum had hurt before. Not as bad as the agony of not being to go to the bathroom, of constant distension, of your insides wrenching to no effect. No, not that bad, not like that.

I chose to get a colostomy. It’s not a choice that all colostomates get; some people suffer a terrible injury and wake up to a bag around a surgical opening into their intestines. I chose to get a colostomy, and I live with that choice every day, and every day I would say to myself, having this is a good thing. I believed it most days, if only to avoid arguing with myself. It is an act of self preservation, this sort of aggressive acceptance of your body.

Right up until the second my doctor told me he felt I could reverse the ostomy, I had never even considered it. How could I have, when before was so bad? No, I never did. This was part of my choice; I understood when I got it that it would be forever.

Right up until the second my doctor told me he felt I could reverse the ostomy, I never wanted to reverse it. But as soon as he said it, I did. I wanted it more than anything I’ve wanted in a long time.

Now I am looking at the very real possibility of ending up in the position of eventually not being able to stool again without serious intervention. At the very least, not without another surgery in the future. And that’s really stupid, it’s really stupid to decide to do this, because I’m so literally tired of surgery and procedures and shots and IV meds and this fucking port and its stupid dressing and I’m so literally tired of being sick right now that all I want is to not do this anymore. I don’t want to do this anymore. Because I have four feet of trigger living inside of my body and now I’ll never be able to stop cleaning up puke from my toilet every day and reacting to the smell of alcohol when I hook up IV fluids every night and taking the mountains of pills I push around every morning in the pillbox with a resigned finger. I am allergic to my own body and how can I ever get better when I’m literally allergic to myself?

I just want to get better and I’m never going to. But I still want it, I want it more than anything and knowing that I’m never going to doesn’t make me want it any less.

Two years ago, I woke up and saw my stoma, and for many days after that, I told myself it was a good thing, if only to avoid arguing with myself.

Four months ago, I was fine with having an ostomy forever and now I’m getting rid of it and I wish they had never told me I could.

All these plans I have made seem farcical now because they depend on me not reacting to being in pain all the time and that is only possible if I’m not in pain all the time.

Dreams are great and all, but the comedown when they are smashed is fucking hell.

Horizon

The last couple of months have been really stressful. Several of my work projects are all requiring a lot of attention right now. I am trying to iron out some details around MastAttack and make plans for the future. I live in the grey bleakness of New England in the midst of a record breaking winter. I am having some setbacks regarding GI function and pain.

And of course, I am having surgery soon. The amount of feelings I have about this surgery is surprising given the fact that I have always expected to have it. I don’t know. I guess it just seemed further off. The horizon seems so far away until you’re standing on the edge of the world, about to fall off.

Bowel surgery when you have mast cell disease is a complicated affair. I have to get buy in from all the relevant specialists and they all have to agree on a plan. I have to schedule surgery when everyone is in town and not taking vacation in the near future. I have to arrange care (nursing and otherwise) for weeks after I leave the hospital. I have to finish up several work things before they operate. I want to get some things lined up for MastAttack before I go.

My surgery was scheduled for April 28. I saw my surgeon this week to go over everything. He is not convinced that removing all of my colon is the best move. I am going to repeat some motility testing. Specialized testing generally takes weeks to get scheduled. Which would literally give us the results days before my scheduled surgery date, and that’s cutting it a little close for me.

I scheduled all my testing, then called my surgeon’s secretary. I rescheduled my surgery for mid-May. I am frustrated that there is still disagreement so close to my surgery date, but I understand why. We can’t just look and see what happened to the last twenty people like me who had their colons removed. There just isn’t anyone like me.

Part of why this whole production has been stressful is because I saw this coming a mile away. Needing my colon removed is not a surprise. We discussed removing more of my colon when I had my surgery in 2013 (I still have about 70% of my colon).   We weighed the pros and cons then, so I feel like having a similar conversation two years later shouldn’t generate so many questions. But things change, and my body has changed, and I have changed, as a person. What I want now is not the same as two years ago.

I thought pushing back the surgery would make me mad, but it really didn’t. It was a relief. I immediately felt calmer. It gives me time to make decisions without pressure. It gives me time to take some time for myself and focus on the things I care about.

If the amount of messages I have received are any indication, the weight of my life in recent months has been apparent to my readers. You guys are fantastic. You are so sweet and kind and respectful of my time and my feelings. I really feel so privileged to be part of this thing we are all doing together.

It has not escaped notice that MastAttack is turning into a much larger undertaking than I could ever have anticipated. I think some people are worried that I write these posts and answer questions out of a sense of obligation. A few weeks ago, I took a week off from the blog. I didn’t research or write anything about mast cell disease.

But at the end of the week, all I wanted to do was write posts about mast cells and diabetes. Not because I felt like people would be upset if I didn’t. Because I wanted to write it in case it was helpful. And because I like doing this.

In the last few months, this amazing thing has been happening. I am getting questions from people that are very nuanced, that show a really good understanding of the biology involved. Some of these questions are coming from people who have progressed a long way in their understanding of this disease. They are questioning me and bringing up findings from papers I haven’t read or correcting me when I get sloppy with the details. It is so cool. We are getting somewhere. This is getting to be bigger than me. And that was always the point.

I’m going to tell you guys a secret. I don’t want to be doing this in ten years. I don’t want to be writing articles or posts or reading literature constantly. In ten years, I want all this information to be available in a concise, easy to digest form for anyone to use. I want so many people to know everything that I know that I become obsolete. It’s starting, and you’re all part of that.

Along those lines, it’s time for me to get some help with all of this. I’m taking some people up on offers to help out, and will be asking for help with specific tasks in the upcoming months. If you think you might want to help, feel free to message me on FB or send me an email. There will be more details in future posts.

As for me, I’m feeling decidedly less stressed than I have in a while. All of my work stuff will either get done or it won’t, and all of my blog stuff will either get done or it won’t.   I’ll have surgery and I think it will help. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. The risk of ending up with a permanent ileostomy is scary, but not trying to remove a huge source of inflammation and live without an ostomy is scarier. You can’t be afraid to try.

In the meantime, I’m taking some time to relax before this next stage of my life begins. I’m going to Florida to visit a dear friend (and Disney!) later this week. The week I was supposed to have surgery, I will be going to California to visit Team Addie, my mastsister Addison and her family. And deciding to do those things felt warm and peaceful. It is exactly the right medicine for this weariness.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I appreciate all of your support. And I appreciate all of you individually more than you know. Every time I see someone jump in with the right answer or a message of support, I am honored to be part of this. And I’m so thankful and touched by your messages of concern and support. It’s nice to have people to catch you once in a while.

Sometimes things are hard, but everything’s gonna be okay. Okay, or better. It’s like my guarantee.

 

Less

The end of February was one of those spectacularly awful periods where it seems like the entire world is conspiring against me. I woke up with sudden, severe back pain so bad that I literally got stranded in the middle of my bed for twenty minutes until the spasms stopped. My dog got into some not safe for dog food and got sick. It was bitterly cold. I felt like I was generally fucking up the lives of those around me just by existing. Not my best work.

In the middle of this, I told everyone about my decision on surgery. A few days later, I realized I could not say colectomy out loud with feeling this profound emptiness. I got the letter confirming my surgery date and pre-op/post-op appointments. I couldn’t even open it. I threw it into my filing cabinet and slid the drawer closed.

I am very strong willed. It’s not always a good thing. I can talk myself into doing anything if I feel strongly enough that it’s the right thing. I can talk myself into ignoring my fear, but sometimes fear serves a purpose. It protects us. It shows us where the line is, and what side we’re supposed to be on.

So I decided to take a little time and explore my fear and figure out its purpose. I didn’t talk about my health in depth or do any research or write about being sick. I focused on all the other parts of my life. I cleaned my apartment and cooked and worked and took care of Astoria. And I thought. I thought a lot about my life and my disease and this surgery and my fear.

When you are chronically ill, you are in a constant struggle to not have less. Less time. Less money. Less health. Less hope. You work so hard to make your life workable and any setback chisels away this richness of your life, takes pieces that you may never get back. That is what I am afraid of. I am afraid of less. I’m afraid that this will all backfire. I’m afraid that I should live with this pain and poor function. Because I know the space I have with this life, and if I make the wrong choice, I could end up with less. And sometimes this life feels so small, and how could I live with any less?

I am brewing an obstruction right now. I felt it on the train ride home, the pain spiderwebbing out from about an inch behind my stoma. Tonight, I ran a very hot bath to try and move things along in my bowel. I deaccessed my port and took off the ostomy bag and appliance and stepped into the water. I felt myself turning red as I lowered myself down.  I leaned back, resting my hands on my hard, distended abdomen.

I looked at my body, really looked at it for the first time in a long time. I saw the way my skin flushed and mottled. I saw the hives around my stoma where I react to the adhesive from the ostomy appliance. I saw my body struggling to digest. Is this more? Is this the best it will ever be?

I think it’s a blessing that you’re not forced to ever know the exact magnitude of the wrongness of any one decision. I’ll never really know if I made the right choice. I could choose to change nothing and in six months, something completely unforeseen could happen. There’s no way of knowing. I’m grateful for that.

My decision is already made. This sense of loss is normal. This fear of less is normal. And at the end of the day, I am not built for caution. I’m just not. I can’t live with less because I’m scared when there is a chance for more.

I walked around for several minutes after I got out of the tub, just me and no devices. No dangling port access. No occlusive dressing.  No ostomy bag.

It felt alien. And maybe a little bit like hope.

The fullness of time

It is so easy to lose yourself when you are sick. In the beginning, you are two beings, you and your illness. Together but separate. Independent.   Slowly, you bleed together. And then one day you are contained in this diseased vessel and everything is harder and you can’t get out. Every choice you make, every tiny decision, matters. Everything has consequences.

I have been mulling my GI surgery for several weeks. This is such a nuanced situation. Each solution has its own consequences. None of the options are benign. I always made my health decisions right away. Whatever my gut feeling is, that is my decision. Then I spend a few weeks justifying it to myself and making myself feel better about it. It’s sort of a weird quirk of mine.

That didn’t happen this time. I think about it all day, every day. It makes everything else seem more difficult, this looming decision and impending consequences of my choice.

I am terrified that I will choose wrong and the consequences will harm me. I’m also terrified that what I didn’t choose could have helped a lot. It is hard to know, especially for someone like me, with multiple unusual conditions, and big dreams. I count my big dreams as one of my conditions, something that must be accounted for. I have to be able to live with my choice.

After much research and discussion with my relevant specialists, I have decided on a surgical option. I am having some tests repeated in a couple of weeks, but they are merely to confirm what I already know. Almost exactly two years after I had my colostomy placed, I will be having the entirety of my colon removed save for a little bit of salvageable rectum. My small intestine will be connected directly to the rectal tissue and my ostomy will be reversed. If this fails, I will have a permanent ileostomy and accompanying nutrition problems for life, made worse by the fact that I can’t eat many of the foods used to mitigate this issue.

In the fullness of time, all your choices either fade into the ether or are absorbed into your being.   If I choose wrong, it will become a part of me or become insignificant. Nothing is absolute. These choices become part of the constellation of our lives and you can follow the stars all the way through the story.

I wish everything wasn’t so hard right now. I feel like I am in the middle of a raging storm, the kind you get in New England summers, when the humidity is too much and the sky unleashes it. I’m standing in the downpour, lightning whipping and thunder crashing around me. It is awesome and terrifying. It feels like change.

And I’m scared. But I’m still here.