Warning: Some of the following content is graphic and disturbing. There is also a heavy use of italics. You may wish to ask your children to leave the room.
I recently endured a disease called C. diff. It is called that because not even medical professionals can pronounce its real name: Clostridioides difficile. It’s a Latin name that suggests that whatever Clostridioides is, it is difficult, which is true. It’s also highly contagious under certain circumstances that are unspeakable, even in impolite company.
It is a germ (bacterium) that causes severe diarrhea and colitis, which is an inflammation of the colon. If you get it, you should simply move into a bathroom until it’s run its course. Once it has, you still have a one-in-six chance of getting it again, unless you’re over sixty-five, in which case you have a one-in-eleven chance that you won’t see your next birthday.
I am one of the estimated half-million Americans infected by the germ each year, which made me particularly happy to say good riddance to 2021.
There are interesting treatments for C. diff, mostly involving antibiotics different from the antibiotics you might have taken that might have caused the infection in the first place. (Note: Medicine is not an exact science.) I had a pill-form antibiotic for six weeks or so before switching to a liquid antibiotic for another six weeks.
After three months of my living in a bathroom and seeing very few friends, it was determined that a third process might be effective. Imagine, if you will, your own reaction to a doctor telling you that you needed a stool installation—slang for fecal microbiota transplant—which frequently causes the recipient to take on some of the traits of the donor. Geri suggested that I might emerge from the procedure as either a “Valley Girl or a Rasta.”
This is a disturbing process that involves a colonoscopy with an added twist: poop from strangers you’re glad you don’t know because who really wants to know people who spend part of their time contributing to a poop bank. There’s not even a magazine or video to inspire them.
After my telling the hospital staff that I wasn’t used to taking shit from anybody, the doctor told me that the success rate for the transplant was about eighty percent. He was enthusiastic about this statistic until I asked if he would get on an airplane that had only an eighty percent chance of landing safely.
I believe I took the wind out of his sails.
A colonoscopy is a deeply invasive procedure which involves anesthesia and a tiny camera mounted on a caterpillar-like tube that snakes through the intestine looking for polyps and seeds from hamburger buns. In my case, they were adding to the mix, so to speak.
I had my first colonoscopy some forty years ago, mainly because my father’s side of the family—Bohemians who refused to eat fiber—had a history of colon cancer. (When a cousin of mine died of a brain aneurysm, my father proudly noted that we were moving up.) Forty years ago, a colonoscopy did not include an anesthetic. It did, however, involve several rounds of Fleet enemas, about twenty-eight feet of garden hose, and a snickering nurse. The procedure hurt like hell. That memory is what made me roll the dice with colon cancer.
I beat the odds, so far.
What led to all this began with a collapsed lung just after my sixty-first birthday. I should have seen it as an omen.
After several procedures and eighteen months of antibiotics to ward off Mycobacterium kansasii, Latin for “tiny germs that might come from Topeka,” I was in need of a lobectomy, a surgery that involves the lopping off of the top-third of a lung and hoping that no heinous disease moves into the space.
There are several steps involved in a surgery, starting with somebody with a clipboard asking if you’ve had any of the at least seven-hundred diseases known to currently exist. After a couple of hours, the last question was posed: “Do you have any suicidal thoughts.”
“No more than usual,” I answered, grinning.
Not even a smile. Her reaction was merely to start scribbling frantically in the margins of the questionnaire.
Soon after came pre-op. Lots of people, me included, suffer from manic depression and a need to face our fears with humor, frequently quite dark.
When the anesthesiologist asked if I’d ever had an epidural, I informed her that I had had both of our children naturally. Not even a smile.
The surgeon, after using a Sharpie to make an “X” on the right side of my torso to make sure he wouldn’t take out the wrong lung, told me that this operation was routine.
“Maybe for you,” I retorted. Sort of a smile.
Then I asked what would become of that part of the lung they were removing. He wondered why and I told him about the wonderful lung soup my grandmother made. He gagged.
“I’m pretty sure it was made with a cow’s lung,” I assured him.
Once inside the operating room, a rather sterile place with bright lights, I asked them to turn off the country music and play something classical. Then they transferred me from the gurney to the operating table just like they do on television. Then they took my right arm and placed it on a board, palm up.
Growing drowsy, I asked if that was when they drove in the nail.
These people had no sense of humor, but a keen sense of vengeance. I vaguely remember them replacing Mozart with Hank Williams. I woke up with Hey Good Lookin’ stuck in my head.
When I had my gall bladder removed, a nurse asked me I wanted to keep it—a question along the lines of “would you like hot tar poured up your nose?” I had already lost pieces of my ribs and a third of a lung, and I told her to send it over the mortuary where I had a lay-away account.
During Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur I stay moderately kosher. On one Yom Kippur, I was admitted early on that most holy day on the Jewish calendar to the hospital for something or other. They asked for my dinner order, which I would use to break my fast. Please, I asked them, no pork and not before sundown.
I was growing hungry and was wondering where my dinner was. It finally came at the same time most Hawaiians were sitting down with bowls of poi.
The next day, Geri called in my breakfast order. It included bacon.
The dietician told her they had orders to not serve me pork, and that I only ate in the dark.
Photo illustration by Courtney A. Liska
Ginger Chicken with Peaches
This is a delightful recipe for chicken that is slightly sweet and peppery.
½ pound hard peaches
1 pound chicken thighs
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. dry sherry, or white wine or dry vermouth
2 Tbs. chopped fresh basil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger root, grated
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. black pepper
Rice, for serving
Heat oven to 400°. Halve the peaches, remove pits, and slice fruit 1/2 inch thick.
In a roasting pan, toss all ingredients except 1 tablespoon of the basil. Roast until meat is cooked through and peaches are softened, about 20-25 minutes. Garnish with remaining basil. Serve with rice and crusty bread for sopping.