Four Holes and Nowhere To Go


So here’s what happened. I go out to Cleveland Clinic to meet with a surgeon to see if there’s anything he can do to help my mangled guts. I figure he’ll run some tests, tell me there’s not much that can be done but it was worth a shot. He can’t make my appointment, so I see his assistant and she admits me into the hospital that night. Three days later I’m under the knife. For eight hours. As I was told later by another doctor in attendance, my innards “looked like a bomb went off in there.” Say that to yourself with a deep Irish brogue like he had. Lovely.

The surgeon (Feza Remzi, look him up for all your colorectal needs) performed miraculously. He’s this bigger than life Turk (I think) who teases the nurses and makes other doctors cowed by his presence. After a few of his post-surgical visits filled my room, my father and I decided the reason he missed my original appointment was that his pet tiger escaped.

I won’t subject you to the gory details. Oh hell, yes I will. He ended up having to give me, not one, but TWO ostomy bags! Double the fun! The first one (called a jejunostomy) is meant to divert while the preciously small section of my bowel going to the second one (ileostomy) heals up. Since March 2nd I have been in temporary land, trying to recover and tread water until I go back for a less complicated surgery on July 3rd that will leave me with one ostomy bag and the ability to eat without pain for the first time in twelve years.

This is good news. No argument. Although, as my father said during the three weeks he kept me company in Cleveland while Mary El took care of the boys, I ain’t lucky. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re lucky, he said. If you were lucky you’d still have a colon. Oddly this was comforting.

I made it through my flight home to Albany, then on to my Pine Bush rented home, where my loving wife and adoring children awaited me. And my body began to heal from this latest catastrophic event. Or at least it tried. For a while I was suffering from the unnerving sensation that this whole process had actually made me feel worse, like getting a tooth pulled and when the shot wears off convincing yourself that the dentist nicked the wrong one. My surgical wound, which has now been opened and closed…six times?…developed two weeping holes, one at the top that fucks with my bags constantly, and one near the bottom. Four holes in my abdomen, not counting my mangled belly button. I take a shower and I can see the water pass through me.

Amidst this private little piece of hell, the rest of the world kept turning. The boys had homework and fights and baseball games. Mary El was like one of those tag team wrestlers desperately looking to his corner to be tapped out before he collapses. I’m sure she will LOVE that comparison, but that’s what it was like. I was not quite ready to join in for awhile. I go to the boys’ games and sit in my foldout chair beyond the left field wall. Last year I was well enough (just) to help coach both of them. I make food and drinks and get them ready for school when necessary. I can’t make it through most days without a nap. I play Plants vs. Zombies. A lot. I reached 32 flags on Survival Endless. I can eat but I don’t want to. I drink a ton of Gatorade. I shave only when my face resembles a rashy chia pet.

So yesterday I found out that my friend Laura was in town from Texas and was planning to visit us with her baby Lily today. I panicked a little. I met Laura when she was sixteen and I was twenty-eight and we were both cast in Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia. I played her 19th century tutor Septimus, who is a rakish rascal with every woman he meets, but who holds Laura’s character Thomasina in a kind of state of grace. I had hair then, so I could pull off rakish. Laura always came to rehearsal with her Mom and Dad, who are two of the most devoted people I’ve ever met. I tried to make sure they were comfortable with me. Septimus and Thomasina have a relationship that transcends typical explanation, student and teacher, intellectual equals, loving in the purest sense of that word. Laura’s performance was incandescent. She is still one of the most talented actresses I’ve ever worked with, though she chose not to pursue it professionally. But beyond the play and our roles, Laura and I were able to develop a trust and a friendship that has lasted, and enveloped Kae and Bob and Mary El as well. It doesn’t happen often, no matter what you see on “Smash”.

Back to the panic. Part of it was basic cleanliness—I had to shave and make sure I’m somewhat presentable. I can’t wear pajama pants. I’m going to be holding her child, y’know?

But part of it was deeper. I couldn’t help but think of the man I was then, before the illness and pain. I look in the mirror and the change is stark. My hair is gone, my face is etched in loss. When I was about thirty five or six and was going through some bad physical times I went to a therapist for one session. He was a nice Jewish guy in his fifties. I told him back then about the sense of loss I had from having had my health taken—ripped really—from me. He told me that none of us are what we once were. I didn’t go back—that piece of advice made me indescribably angry. I was thirty-six, not sixty-three. I deserved more of a prime.

I took a drive last night to get a blacklight for my son’s science project. I listened to music in the car, really loud. I bought some apples and ate my first one in eight years. It was OK. I talked with Mary El about most of above and cried a little. I think the writer in me searches for moments of change, or transformance, or achievement, or transcendence, to tell me where this whole comedy/drama is headed. In reality, transcendence is glacial.

But hey, I’m writing my blog again. And I’m seeing my dear friend’s baby today.

    • Anonymous
    • May 16th, 2012

    Holy Mother of God!!! I take back all that crap I wrote to MaryEl about telling you to be strong and keep fighting. Yes, we all want you to keep fighting, but I can understand why you are exhausted from it. I am simply amazed that our modern medicine and technology can’t find a solution to your problems. My God, we can give a person a replacement for just about every body part – why not your guts??? I have never been religious, but I think I shall start to pray for you. A lot.

    • Joseph Gayton
    • May 16th, 2012

    I’ve missed these blogs! You always find ways to move me. Hugs and healing warmth from an old friend.

  1. Thanks for the prayers. The solution is coming, just not as fast as I’d like it. Joe, you’re the best–I’m sure you tore the cover off of Chess. Ask Bill if you don’t get the baseball reference…

    • Kae
    • May 16th, 2012

    We love you so much, Brian, hair or no hair, and no matter how many of those d*mn bags you have connected to you. Laura was so lucky to be in Arcadia with you. You both made it absolute magic. And Next Year in Jerusalem– an amazing experience. Big Hugs!!! xoxoxox

    • theresa petti butler galimi
    • May 16th, 2012

    Brian, I never realized the depth of your pain and suffering. You all were always in my Prayers generally, but I Pray every day for you since we’ve reconnected. Your words are like magic. I think I’ve said before that your writings draw me right into whatever you are saying. We do become involved and hungry for more. I esp love the Christmas story you wrote for MaryEl. Aside from all that, I know that you are going to get much, much better with time. Prayers will be answered. From the first time I laid eyes on you when you were born I knew that you were special and a gift to this world. Hang in there my nephew, I do believe you will be healed. I love you very much, always have and always will.. Aunt Teri

  2. @Kae–Thank you, we were both lucky.

    @Aunt Teri–Love you too.

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