Treatment Phase 1: Sitz Baths
Enter my divorce, stage left. My divorce was fairly quick, but like all divorces it had a great deal of stress associated with it. This also happened during the winter, when things here were soggy and miserable and generally not conducive to running, my mode of exercise. And to make for a perfect storm, the stress of divorce led me to neglect my diet and water intake. The hemorrhoids came roaring in with a vengeance – much worse than before, because stress apparently exacerbates hemorrhoids.
I found myself in great pain, and eager for it to go away. I saw my primary care physician, who recommended ibuprofen and “sitz baths”. A sitze bath is basically Epsom salt and hot water, and you sit in it for 15 minutes or so, several times a day. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find it easy to strip naked and plop down in the tub for 15 minutes, 3 or 4 times a day, waiting for veins in my ass to stop swelling. I mean, I tried to do it, but day after day? It gets old. Also, the ibuprofen had a side effect of constipation. Constipation just makes hemorrhoids worse, so you need to counteract the ibuprofen with either increased fiber, or a laxative, or both. By this time I was downing so much Metamucil that my stomach was distended with all the fiber and fluids, but the stress and hemorrhoids just kept it all blocked in.
To make matters more enjoyable, it is very painful to sit. So I found myself lying on my stomach, laptop splayed in front of me, trying to get work done. Or on conference calls with a wireless headset, pacing around the room and generally trying not to let the pain turn me into a homicidal knowledge worker. And I am sure that I was not the best father at that time – very short tempered.
I had jumped into online dating shortly after my divorce. I had more success than I bargained for, with roughly a dozen active dates in the pipeline … difficult to handle even in the best of circumstances. But with raging hemorrhoids, I struggled with how to be a charming date. Also – my libido had crashed – either because of the Vicodin, or the chronic pain in the ass, I don’t know. The hemorrhoids were in danger of tanking my newfound dating success and happiness.
I was a mess, and eager to find some quicker cure – any cure – I was in a lot of continual pain. My physician recommended a quick outpatient surgery – basically they cut away the hemorrhoid and you’re good to go. I had an appointment set up for that same afternoon with a surgeon.
I know it’s easy to romanticize the high prestige and pay that surgeons receive. Who doesn’t like golfing every Wednesday and living in a 6,000 square foot McMansion? But this surgeon told me he performed many many of these surgeries each week. I have a pretty good looking ass, and I felt bad that he had to muck around back there cutting and snipping. But one quick thought about what he had to go through to operate on far larger, scarier people than me laid to rest any envy I have for surgeons.
The operation was, he assured me, very straightforward. The hemorrhoid vein was basically filled with clotted blood. He would anesthetize the area, cut out the hemorrhoid, jam a gauze bandage there, and I’d be on my way in a half hour, happy to pursue my normal pursuits as soon as I felt like it. I like to mountain bike, and I was looking forward to getting laid. A lot. I took him by his word and thought – cool! – I can keep on as if nothing happened. I didn’t really think that mountain biking would happen for a while, but sex? Sure, why not? He had me lie on my side and warned me that he was going to numb the area with a needle. Now let me assure you that the area just outside of your anus is EXTREMELY SENSITIVE. Needles do not belong there. But there it went, and it was excruciating. Until the meds kicked in and then the pain finally subsided. He then brought out his little snips and went to town snipping away that evil hemorrhoid. Within 5 or 10 minutes he was done, and showed me the little bugger. Cute (I’ll spare you the picture).
Some gauze was shoved between my cheeks and he said I was good to go (apparently the veins often are clotted already, precluding the need for sutures or cauterization, ha ha). Armed with a prescription for Vicodin I felt like there would be bright days ahead. He gave no special treatment instructions – just go about my normal business.
Just two short hours later I was speaking with my brother on the phone, sitting in my favorite chair. And then I started to feel a bit faint and found myself sitting in a pool of blood. I apparently had stretched things while adjusting in the seat, and the vein clot had broken free. I got some old towels, lay down and tried to figure out how to stop the bleeding. A half hour later it was clear that the blood would not stop flowing, and I was facing the thought of slowly bleeding to death out of my asshole, with neighbors finding my dead body a week later. I called 911.
When the ambulance arrived, I stumbled over and opened the door, and in came a “helpful” neighbor. Wonderful. Come on over, take a look! The emergency responders measured my blood pressure and verified that I had probably lost between 1 and 2 pints of blood, and off we went to the hospital. Neighbors knew about the recent divorce, and I found out later that they had wondered if there was some domestic violence incident. No, no, it’s just me bleeding to death out of my bottom.