Jack was a big guy. He was big-boned, with a big belly and a big laugh.
He had come into the hospital with abdominal pain from badly inflamed intestines. So badly inflamed, in fact, that he’d had to have a bunch of his intestines removed. Like, half his colon. A hemi-colectomy is a big surgery. But he was going to be fine.
His wife and his brother sat at his bedside. “I don’t have a colon like you guys anymore,” he joked to them, eyes twinkling. “I have a semi-colon.”
“It’s okay to have a semi-colon, Jack,” his brother quipped back. “As long as you don’t have a period!”
That was Jack and his family. A bunch of jokesters.
Jack wasn’t laughing for long, though. He ended up with a complication, an ileus. His remaining intestines went to sleep, temporarily stopped functioning. His big belly swelled larger. We had to put a tube down his nose, into his stomach, and attach the tube to wall suction, to decompress his abdomen. And just wait helplessly for his intestines to wake back up.
The whole thing is an uncomfortable, unpleasant experience. Jack’s eyes were a bit less twinkly.
Usually an ileus will resolve fairly quickly. Days, perhaps, maybe a week. But poor Jack’s intestines stayed resolutely and stubbornly asleep, deathly silent, for three solid weeks.
That’s a long, long time to live with a tube jammed down your nose.
When we heard the first inkling of bowel sounds, heralding the intestines’ return to life, we nurses applauded, congratulated him. The end was in sight! Finally!
The tube in his nose was removed. We held our breath. He started taking tentative sips of clear liquids. No nausea, no vomiting. We joyously clapped him on the back. It looked like everything was starting to work again.
We unabashedly cheered Jack on.
And the next day, Jack marched out of his room in his hospital gown and presented himself proudly at the nurses’ station. Standing tall, almost bursting with excitement, he looked triumphantly up and down the hallway. Nurses hurrying past him slowed and turned quizzically; visitors hesitated; administrators broke off their conversations to watch Jack.
It seemed clear that an important announcement was coming.
We waited, silent, expectant.
“Hey everyone!” Jack boomed to the floor at large, eyes twinkling brightly as he surveyed the crowd of onlookers. He paused dramatically. “I just had a bowel movement!”
The words hung in the air.
There was an awkward silence, a shuffling of feet. Visitors glanced uneasily around.
“Just now!” he bellowed happily, indicating his bathroom. “A nice big BM!” He grinned, arms outstretched. The picture of victory? Good God, the size of the BM?
An embarrassed cough. A murmur from visitors as they edged away.
We nurses were thrilled, of course. It meant Jack could go home, that his complication – the ileus – was indisputably resolved. Having a bowel movement was the icing on the cake, so to speak.
We’d been waiting for weeks for Jack to have a bowel movement.
Still, it’s not your usual public announcement. It’s hard to know how to respond.
Finally, I broke the silence. “That’s great, Jack!” I said. “We should throw you a party!”
“Yes!” Jack thundered enthusiastically, pounding the counter in front of him. “You can throw me a party!” Another dramatic pause.
“And I’ll be the party pooper!”