Thursday, June 26, 2008

HIDE YOUR SHAME by Gregg Gethard

Things just seem to happen to Gregg Gethard. After telling a few stories at comedy shows in New York City, he created his own monthly show in Philly, BEDTIME STORIES, to tell a few more. Over the past year the show has grown in audience and features some of the best comics in the city. The next installment of Bedtime Stories is July 9th.

I was on the toilet for about 45 minutes. Tears were welling up in my eyes. It had been a little over a month since my last bowel movement.
I could feel my stomach rumbling. My doctor had given me a prescription for that day. I don’t remember the name of the drug, but I do clearly remember the details of thismedication. It came in a 2-liter sized bottle and was a gray liquid, resembling “Crystal Gravy” from that old SNL commercial parody. And the taste...imagine having a man with untreated hepatitis vomit directly in your mouth and then rinse it out with the drip water from a wet hobo sock.

And finally… finally, I pooped. It was a small, rabbit-sized pellet. But it was quickly followed by another. And then a third. And then about 24 pellets all came firing out of my ass all at once. Then there was a firelog. And other firelog. And then, my turds started turning liquidy in nature. I now had diarrhea.

About three hours after taking this disgusting concoction, I was still on the toilet. And I was still pooping out liquid.

Hi! I’m Gregg Gethard. You probably know me already from duties hosting Bedtime Stories, a local comedy attraction which is already more popular than Jesus. You might also perhaps recognize me as the bubbly young chap in The Sixth Borough, Philadelphia’s most GLBT-friendly sketch comedy outfit. I’m also a known table tennis guru and unabashed Motley Crue fan.

But before all of that, I was 23 years old. I had awful stomach cramping, constant heartburn, lethargy, weight loss and stress.

This is the true story of how I once didn’t take a dump for nearly one whole month.

The Beginning
In retrospect, I always have had bathroom issues. Diarrhea is a common aliment that everyone suffers from at some point in their lives. However, at times, I would have a weekly diarrhea outburst. There was no rhyme nor reason as to when it would occur. My quick-acting diarrhea could strike at any time: at home, at work, at school.

(Funny tangent: I have this friend from Germany who was living in Philly for a while. I asked him the German word for diarrhea. He said it was "flitzekaka" which literally translates to "lightning poop.")

The worst case of shock’n’awe diarrhea came in the summer of 1998. I was living in Philly at the time. One weekend, I was going to drive up to my parents house in North Jersey. It was one of those 100 degree days where the only possible way you could feel relief is by gunning down innocents outside of a supermarket. I ate an egg sandwich for breakfast and went on my way.

I was on the Turnpike but getting onto the Parkway. In the pre-EZPASS days, this interchange was always backed up. There was abut a three mile backup before the tolls. I sat and waited in my tan 1982 Monte Carlo, complete with vinyl bench seating.

Then, I felt the unmistakable sensations of an oncoming diarrhea attack. And it was brutal. I had my anus clenched. The stomach pain built and built. And then came a vice-lock grip on my bowels.

I had a debate on my hands. Should I get out of my car and poop in the little grass area next to the shoulder? I couldn’t do that -- it was 1 p.m. and the roadway was like a parking lot. Usually, I had a fast food bag or some other piece of garbage lying around my car. However, I found nothing suitable for me to poop into. There was nothing I could do. I had to wait it out.

But my diarrhea would not wait for me. I was inching up the road, with liquidy, rough poop coming out of my anus. I tried to clench, but that just made it worse. Finally, it all came out. I was 20 when I last shit my pants. I am guessing for most people they would say they were 4 when they last shit their pants.

After the toll plaza, I got out at the next exit. This is the MetroPark office complex and train station. The first building off the road was a Ramada Inn. I parked my car quickly and began to poop walk (a bow-legged walk that one would normally only use when clearing out a mine field) to the hotel.

Then, getting out of a car near me, was a recognizable face. It was one of my philosophy professors from school. The difference between La Salle University and other colleges is that classes are kept small so you get to know your professors. He clearly recognized me, as he was an easy A and I took him three times in two years. And he started to say hello to me.

I just nodded and felt a surge of liquid running down my back right leg. Thank God I was wearing Dickies.

When I reached the hotel, the first door I saw was a revolving door. Trying to negotiate entering this revolving door was a mentally handicapped individual. I am usually very kind to the mentally challenge. I would never poke them with sticks. However, at this time, I was very tempted to throw this guy through the glass so I could get to a bathroom.

Finally, I made it to one. I spent about 30 minutes unleashing my bowels and trying to clean myself. I was in really bad shape.

I called home. Thankfully, my dad picked up the phone. I explained to him what happened and asked if he could keep our one bathroom/shower free.

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” he said about my unfortunate circumstance. “That happens to everyone!”

This made me really curious about my father.

I drove to my parents house which was about 30 minutes away. When I got home, I saw my dad’s van was no longer in the premises. I walked in and my mom was there. I immediately asked where my dad was. She told me he had to go to work for an emergency.

I marched up to the bathroom which I desperately hoped would be free. Instead, inside I found my brother, our friend Fran and two girls they went to high school with giving Fran a jerri-curl in the bathjub.

I immediately went to my brother’s room, booted up “Road Rash” on his Sega Genesis, and sat on his bed in my poop-covered pants.

Hide Your Shame
After college, I started working as a newspaper reporter. While this was a pretty awesome job to have, it had some downsides. Primarily, the schedule was pretty insane. I had to work a decent amount of 12-hour days or go out at night to cover school board meetings and the like. The fact I was on the road so much meant that my diet largely consisted of fast food and bottle after bottle of Mountain Dew.

I guess I should not have been surprised when I started to have a constant burning sensation where my stomach met my chest. I went to the doctor. He asked me how my diet was. I told him it was fine. He then gave me a prescription for heartburn.

I felt fine for a few more weeks. But then, I started having major bathroom difficulties.

Whenever I would go to have a bowel movement, nothing would come out, save for the occasional rabbit turd. I would push and push and push until I could push no more.

I assumed this would pass. But it didn’t. And soon, I could barely eat since my digestive tract was pretty much shutting down.

I was given a referral for a G-I doctor. The one who could give me the earliest referral was named Dr. Oh.

I usually don’t like to go to doctors who sound nefarious. Dr. Oh sounds like the name of the guy wholeading North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

I should have trusted my instincts. Dr. Oh was an older Asian man who spoke in heavily accented, stereotypical Asian-inflicted English. He was staring at his chart when he asked me what my symptoms were.

I told him -- I had heartburn for a while, followed by severe stomach aches, and now I hadn’t had a bowel movement for over two weeks.

As soon as I said that, he jerked his eyes upwards from the chart and stared directly in my eyes. A small smile started to form on his face.

“Do you feel ashamed?” he asked me.

I didn’t know how to answer this question. In general? Yes, I feel ashamed a lot. But about this specifically? I’m not sure. This was just creepy and weird.

Before I could answer, he shouted at me again.

“You did not have bowel movement so you must feel shame,” he said. “What we must do is hide your shame. Take off your clothes now!”

I stripped down into nothing more than my boxer shorts and white tube socks. He then took his stethescope and listened to my stomach and chest.

Then he told me to take off my shorts. And to roll over on my back.

“I will see if I can see inside you to see what this is about.”

He then snapped on a rubber glove and inserted his fingers inside my rectum.

Laxatives and More
I’m not sure what Dr. Oh was looking for when he put his fingers up my ass. He muttered something about “rectal blockage” but it’s not like I’m the kind of guy who wedges large objects, or even small objects, or even any objects, up his ass. Not my scene.

He said he didn’t find anything. The next step was for me to take a bunch of laxatives to see if that did the trick. I went home, took a bunch of X-Lax, and waited. The only thing caused me was the feeling like there was a gnome in my stomach stabbing my intestines with a ballpoint pen. I laid down in bed for two straight days after this.

It was now three weeks since my last bowel movement. I had to have a special x-ray done. This x-ray was to look at my intestinal tract, to see how far along food was being processed. I had to take this giant horse pill that was transparent. Inside were metallic rubber band-like substances. The x-rays would see where the pill was in my stomach so they could diagnose my problem.

After the x-rays were over, the doctors were alarmed. The x-rays only focus on the lower digestive tract. The pill I had taken was nowhere to be found along there. And, obviously, it didn’t leave my poop shoot, either. They took a more general x-ray and confirmed it was right at the top of my stomach.

They deduced from there what the problem was.

My colon had, for all intents and purposes, completely stopped working.

And they went through a list of potential things which may have caused my colon to stop working.

And, near the top of the list, was the scariest fucking word in the English language.


Death’s Door
Being a neurotic by trade, I was convinced that I had colon cancer. I mean, it was something DOCTORS had thought I might have had. This wasn’t just me being a hypochondriac. I was completely despondent. I was 22. I mean, what the fuck? Why the hell was I staring down a possibly incurable, fatal disease? I hadn’t gotten anything published in a real newspaper or magazine. I had sex with one girl. I had never been to the West Coast or to Europe. I didn’t have a graduate degree.

I didn’t start living yet. And I had a chance of possibly dying.

To determine why my colon was malfunctioning, I had to have a colonoscopy performed. I’m sure you’ve heard the word before. But you might not know what the procedure actually entails. A large snake-like tube is inserted up your rectum. At the end of the tube is a camera and small prongs. The camera is used to take a look inside your colon and the prongs are used to remove anything that they can remove, usually a small blockage.

If I actually had a tumor, then I would need major invasive surgery and would need months to recover. And that’s if it could be removed. Shit happens with things like tumors. And all I could think about was that the absolute worst would happen to me.

Before my colonoscopy was scheduled, my stomach HAD to be emptied. For this, they gave me a prescription of the disgusting clear gravy like substance mentioned earlier. If that didn’t do the trick, I was going to need a different surgical procedure to clear my stomach.

However, this obviously worked. After the three hour mark, I ceased to have diarrhea. But what I now had is what I can only dub as “post-diarrhea.” My ass started emitting a steady, fire hose like stream of pure black liquid. Anytime my bowels moved, my ass would pour this liquid for about 90 straight seconds.

All told, I sat on a toilet for six straight disgusting hours (I did make a healthy dent in David McCullough’s excellent biography on Harry S. Truman) until my stomach was completely empty and I passed out on my bed.

I woke up at 6 a.m. that morning for my colonoscopy. My dad drove me down. I was completely silent the whole way. Naturally, only bad things were going through my brain. I wanted

I was prepared, and put under. I was in a dream like haze for a few seconds and then I just went black.

Four hours later, I woke up. I was so nervous, that I would have shit my pants if I could actually shit my pants.

Dr. Oh came in, reading his chart and with x-rays in hand.

I waited for the new.

“You don’t have a tumor,” he told me. I nearly started to cy.

But he told me that I was really lucky. Four polyps from my colon, which both blocked my colon and messed around with the chemistry of how food is digested and processed. Because I had so many at such a young age, it was a big warning sign. With a few more weeks without being treated, I could have had a major health catastrophe.

As soon as I got home, I ate as much food as I possibly could. The thing the doctor said was I had to increase my fiber intake, so I pigged out on fruits and vegetables, probably the first time in my life I willingly ate fruits and vegetables. (The one vegetable I have to stay away from is lettuce, because the leafage of lettuce is really rough and causes constant blockages/irritation of my colon and rectum.)

Because of the polyps and the resulting blockage, I also would be facing a lifetime of stomach problems. I now have a mild form of colitis (narrowing of the colitis wall) and irritable bowel syndrome. This means that I can have horrible constipation (imagine if you had to poop gravel) or emergency diarrhea (a problem when you’re stuck in traffic, or if you’re a newspaper reporter and you’re covering an important school board hearing and it’s at the most important part of the meeting but you’re about to shit your pants and you have to walk out in front of the whole damn town with a poop stain in your pants) and there is no way to predict when I will have either. I used to bring baby wipes with me everywhere I went.

Also, I have to be careful of my diet. The one big change is a major decrease of alcohol intake. That’s why I don’t drink. I’m also supposed to not drink any soda, but that, along with my addiction to expensive hair care products, is my only consistent sin.

I also have to, every five years, have a colonoscopy to make sure things check out okay. So far, they have.

The IBS/colitis is mostly okay now. But it flares up every now and then. If you see me out somewhere and I have to leave abruptly, chances are it’s because I just pooped my pants a little bit.

And every time I feel liquid droppings fill my boxer shorts, I thank God that I’m able to feel that.


Doogie said...

Wow. Funny, touching, and terrifying, all at once.

Anonymous said...

Why did you get fired?