Diverticulitis


It’s the diagnosis I got yesterday, but I’ve been having the same abdominal pain on and off for about seven years. When it first happened, I was living in Northern California and went to see a doctor who specialized in treating pilots and all things aviation related. He prescribed Prevacid, describing it as a miracle drug. I could only imagine it helped his pilots “hold it” on long flights. It did nothing for me.

Years later, I saw a highly recommended gastroenterologist at Cedar-Sinai. He raved about how, on certain islands, the natives crap five or six times a day, their bodies are loaded with bacteria but they’re FINE. He gave me no tests and sent me on my way.

Every once in a while, I would go on antibiotics for some unrelated reason, and my stomach would clear up. Other than that, I was in some degree of pain. Smoking marijuana would alleviate a lot of the symptoms, but how long could I tolerate the side effects of enhanced creativity and a general sense of well being?

Last week I had what I now realize was an acute attack. Sunday, Bernie finally convinced me to get it checked out. So I drove on over to the Old Actors Home.

The Motion Picture & Television Fund Hospital in Woodland Hills is an amazing place. I can drop in with my Writers Guild card anytime and pay ten dollars to see a doctor (it’s a generous plan and one reason I wasn’t so exited about the recent strike).

My regular doctor wasn’t there yesterday, but I got the guy on call in about ten minutes. He had an odd, somewhat ghoulish bedside manner and an intellectual curiosity I’ve found to be rare in doctors. He asked all the right questions, then shared his suspicions. He said one of the causes of diverticulitis is a childhood diet high on processed foods and low on fiber. Here was my childhood diet:

Cheerios (Rice Krinkles came later)

Hamburgers (cheese came later)

Macaroni and Cheese (preceding the cheese on hamburgers by a good few years)

The doctor said the short term treatment is antibiotics. When I told him how antibiotics have helped me in the past, he practically jumped out of his chair with excitement. “Fascinating!” he boomed. He ordered up some tests right away. But then his mood darkened.

In rare cases, surgery is required, he warned, when there’s an abscess that won’t go away. He leaned forward, fully engaged, as if ready to spring–the same position he would soon take to check my prostate. “It’s a messy surgery,” the doctor began eagerly, “as is any operation involving the bowels…”

Down the hall, in radiology, I was completely unprepared for what happened next. It was a CAT scan, preceded by a barium enema, administered by a man who was terrified I was going to shit on the table.

“You’re going to feel like you have to go to the bathroom,” he said, as he blew up a balloon in my ass. “You can’t do it.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I said, panicked. “I’m here for my stomach, it’s not good, it’s bad, this is crazy. I can’t make any promises.”

“You can’t do it.”

“Does it happen sometimes? Here on the table?”

“It happens.”

Well, I held it like a pilot on Prevacid. The doctor got the results, and it confirmed his hypothesis. I have diverticulitis (but not the dreaded abscesses). I got the meds from the pharmacy on site, and I was out of the hospital within a couple hours of my arrival. The fact that all this happened on the same day is amazing to me.

A final note: While I was getting my blood taken, I asked the technician about the big new building. Bernie and I had been wondering what it was while it was being built. He said it’s a gym with an indoor pool, for the residents and employees. And it was paid for by Jodie Foster. Has anyone heard anything about this? As far as I know, she hasn’t sought a bit of publicity.

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