Thursday, June 26, 2008

Every Jewel is Precious

You know how people can still say where the were when JFK was shot.  Well, I was one of those watching Oprah on a pivotal show when her new cardiologist-guru, Dr. Mehmet Oz, showed up to talk about pooop and farts.

He wheeled in a tray of intestines, one healthy (or at least as healthy as you can be when you are dead) and one diseased and ratty, and he handed Oprah a pair of purple plastic gloves, the kind chemo nurses wear, and made her touch and squeeze.  Then he proceeded to talk about what goes on in intestines, and all of a sudden, the nation was transfixed.  When we were little, most of us were fascinated by what goes in and what comes out--but we learn very early on not to actually talk about it "in polite company".  So here was this big doctor describing in vast detail what a healthy bowel movement looks like, what it should sound like hitting the water (hint, like almost nothing--the "rip" entry that Olympic divers strive for).  

And he talked about farts--what makes' em and how many the average person produces in a day--somewhere between 14 and 23.

Wonder who got to do the data collection on that one?

For years, there has been a wonderful site for kids online sharing real information about stuff that isn't polite to talk about, like boogers and gas.  And now adults are logging on to message boards to ask questions about issues they'd kept hidden for years.  According to Oprah's site, 38% report that issues around gas are a problem.

Now, there's lots of things to be said about this phenomenon, and YouTube is a great place to get some scathing commentary on the Queen of Daytime and the ways her interests all of a sudden become ours.  That could be a topic for another time all on its own.  What's got me thinking is that until I started having bowel problems, my whole gut (okay, actually my whole innards from top to bottom) was terra incognita.  I knew I had lungs and a liver and spleen and pancreas and all that--but damned if I could accurately point to where they were, much less say in any kind of precise way, how they made me work.

I was like the old Portugues sailors headed off to the ends of the earth with maps that labelled all the unknown parts "Here Be Dragons".  Did I know I had 37 feet of intestines?  Nope?  How big a rectum is?  No idea.  Just knew I wasn't much of a fan of having it examined.  Until I had my first surgery, I didn't know that when you haul out that 37 feet to feel every inch of it for tumors, it goes into a kind of catatonic withdrawal that lasts for days after.  The very most exciting thing to happen post-surgery is to pass gas.  That means that things are waking up and your guts have decided to join the world again.

After my first surgery, my mother sent me a message from her prayer group: what would be the best thing for them to ask for, this little group of snow white Presbyterians.  

"Ma, make it for a fart."
"Oh Pat, I couldn't possibly do that.  Whatever would they think?"
"Maybe that I really needed one?  But look, you can just keep it between you and God.  That'd be good, too."
I never found out whether she trusted God enough to talk about it, but I kind of doubt it.

Now, in managing the mastedons, farting has become important again.  I've discovered that all the sloshing that goes into trying to propel the food out subsides enormously when I can pass gas in that teenage sort of way.  Every morning starts with a call from my home care nurse and a report on the tank.  And I discovered that if I feel bloated and not functioning right, I can lie on my left side and that helps get gas going.  The nurses say that's anatomically sound, and it's how the place babies for the same purpose.

I just don't know why it's sound.  Must be the direction in which everything winds around?  I really mean it when I say I'm stuck with an essentially medieval understanding of the science of all this.

Which means I'm still looking for Hildgard von Bingen and her meditations on the bowel.  Anybody else but Sherri ever heard of this?   


1 comment:

Janne said...

Nope, I haven't heard of Hildgard, but I'll wager her meditations are...silent? thunderous? squeaky?

Your descending colon is on the left side of your body, so when you lie down on it, you're actually pressing air downwards toward the rectum. It makes a lot of sense. My daughter had colic when she was a babe...and eventually I figured out how to make her comfortable (before I figured out that she and I were both lactose intolerant and stopped drinking cows' milk!)