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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Trusting My Gut Feeling

In late January of 2000 I was hospitalized for an extended period of time with a perforated large intestine. Diverticulitis had silently crept up without a warning. The hole it created contaminated my internal organs with infectious matter. Not a pretty thought. The doctor walked into my hospital room and grimly declared that the bleeding had been stopped, but without surgery to implant a temporary colostomy, the infection would not go away.

I know that given enough clotting factor for a long enough time, I can survive surgery. There was an inner voice, however, that disagreed with the gloomy predictions of my doctor.

“I’ll be fine, just let me rest.”

“No you won’t,” the doctor continued to argue.

“Look,” I said, “it’s my body.”

With that, he left with what sounded like a threat, “I’ll send the surgeon in to talk with you.”

The conversation with the surgeon didn’t persuade me to change my mind. In the coming days antibiotics, nourishment and clotting factor were all dripped into my veins. Each morning, when I awoke I would meditate; focusing on my breathing and listening to my body.

 The surgeon would appear at my door. He would nod his head in acknowledgement, and I would return his greeting with a wave.

“Vulture looking for fresh carrion,” I commented to the nurse who had just come to switch my saline drip to the antibiotic.

She laughed. “He’s at the age where he needs a challenge,” she whispered. “You know most cases look routine to him. You don’t.”

“Too bad I have to disappoint him.”

My hematologist wasn’t as subtle as the surgeon. He stood at my bedside every afternoon and lectured me. It was clear that he was genuinely worried that I had made a fatal mistake. A friend called to tell me she had refused surgery at first for diverticulitis. She had several reoccurrences until she finally took her doctor’s recommendation. Since the surgery, she hadn’t had one more episode. My bravado shrank day by day and I began to doubt my decision.

Nevertheless, I continued to feel better and better. I noticed that the surgeon was looking at me with less interest each morning. I imagined that his nod was wistful.

It’s really hard for me to know now if I had in fact been so in tune with my body that I sensed something the doctors could not discern. Now more than a decade later all I know is that I recovered without the surgery and never had a relapse of the diverticulitis.