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Chew Your Corn

Things had been going very well for me the last several months. I’ve felt the best I have in a long time, been working full time, and doing lots of projects around the house (one of my passions). Then last Sunday night everything came to a full stop. Literally.

I suddenly had severe abdominal pain like I haven’t felt in years. I was doubled over in agony. It felt like a bowel obstruction, and unfortunately that’s exactly what it was. My big dinner and dessert, along with whatever else I’d eaten that day, were stuck and distorting my belly in a very painful distended fashion. It’s difficult to describe how uncomfortable this is, but think of the worst stomach ache you’ve ever had, multiply it by an appendicitis, and add ten. After writhing in agony at home for an hour or so Kathy took me to the ER.

Thankfully they got some morphine on board pretty quickly. The funny thing about morphine is that it doesn’t really stop the pain, it just sort of dulls your mind so the pain isn’t such a crisis. They took me in for a CT and confirmed a small bowel obstruction. It turns out that this was likely caused by an adhesion, a remnant or result of my bowel resection to remove my primary tumor 3-1/2 years ago. These adhesions are not uncommon following bowel surgery.

The next thing they did was the miserable part of the story: they inserted an NG tube. Whatever else you do in life, avoid an NG tube at all cost. It’s the single most unpleasant device in health care. Basically it’s a length of plastic aquarium tubing they stick up your nose, thread down your esophagus, and into your stomach. They then attach suction to the end that’s still hanging out your nose. The contents of your belly get sucked out through your nose and deposited in a jar hanging on the wall. Lovely. You feel like gagging the whole time this thing is in, and your throat gets very sore.

Now the problem here arises when you’ve had corn with your dinner. As we all know, corn kernels just look like corn kernels from beginning to end. And since you can’t suck corn kernels up a length of aquarium tubing, my jar on the wall was not filling up. By 4:00am or so they admitted me to a hospital room, and Kathy finally went home exhausted, but my jar was still mostly empty and my belly was still a mess. Your body actually knows that it only has two options for food travel: down or up. After several hours of trying to push the food down, my body started pushing all that food back up. Now all that corn, along with everything else, was coming up the esophagus alongside the tube. If you think “normal” vomiting is miserable, this is the worst. The good news was that with the corn eventually out of the way, my jar was filling like a champ and my belly started to slowly soften.

On Monday the bowel surgeon was thankfully in no hurry to cut, and wanted to give this situation a day or so to resolve. Of course I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything during this time, and by Tuesday things had calmed down quite a bit. Around lunchtime on Tuesday they pumped a few cups of barium into my stomach (no need to drink the stuff when you have an aquarium tube handy) and did several x-rays every 20 minutes or so. The barium safely traveled all the way to my colon, so that was a pretty good sign that the obstruction had resolved itself. Great news! No surgery necessary. A couple hours later they yanked out the tube and started me on a liquid diet. By Wednesday afternoon I was back home resting comfortably.

For now the story is that I need to really drink lots of water, eat several smaller meals each day and be sure to get plenty of fiber. Hopefully this was just a fluke and not something that will recur regularly or often. I will do everything I can to avoid it, and you can be sure that I will always carefully chew my corn.