A left-behind stethoscope was our ticket into the Borborygmi Theater.
A nurse or doctor had momentarily forgotten the thing. With a conspiratorial glance, Kay and I began listening through it, the way kids play with a doctor kit. Fun’s hard to come by in a hospital room, after all, and I hadn’t had any fun for quite a while.
First I passed the stethoscope over the four quadrants of my burgeoninig belly, just as the nurse had, and then Kay had a listen.
Have you ever done this? Omigawd, as Mother would say. Rumbles like a truck. Squeaks, gurgles, skitters, bubbles. The occasional squeal or roar. How can anything be so loud and yet not audible all the way down the hall?
Horrifying. Humbling. At the same time, magical: if all this ickiness is operating properly, mind and soul can also operate.
Kay declined to try her own innards.
There is a word for this flesh symphony: boborygmi. It is derived from Greek, like all English words that look as if they need an h or two inserted in them. The origin seems obscure, but I would not be surprised if it were linked to the ancient Greek word for stranger: barbaros. That was the generic word for foreigners because the Greeks thought their speech all sounded like Bar-bar-bar-bar, and yes, English gets the word barbarian from it. (Apologies to all the Barbaras in the world: yes, one interpretation of your name’s meaning is "Lady Barbarian".)
I learned this wonderful word in a funny place–the annual medical Revue many years ago at U of Alberta. Onstage clumped four zombie-faced med students, dressed in scrubs–the Chorus. Then there came a silly song about abdominal matters that literally had us falling out of the seats, bent double with laughter. After every verse, the zombie chorus intoned in deep voices, "Borborygmi, borborygmi…." After all these years, I could still feel how my guts hurt from laughing that night.
My expanded belly could be thought of as Borborygmi Theater now. I’d been on my back five days–that was the stage, a rake stage, yet, slightly elevated upstage, where the pillows began. The omentum (a thing I didn’t even know I had until this month) fell like a curtain from stomach to the bottom of the abdomen. Stage Left, the colon began inching Upstage along the perimeter, before crossing to Upstage Right, sneaking along under the back wall of the diaphragm, only to inch down Stage Right to disappear in the orchestra pit. Overhead, the dome of my belly rose higher by the hour, which might, who knows, be adding to the acoustic values in the theater and deafen the holder of the stethoscope. And in the middle of the stage, meter after meter of small intestine writhed its way through the play of Peristalsis, whining and crying and wailing. Talk about overacting!
Peristalsis, the process of forcing whatever food falls into the stomach to take the lower exit leaving only nutrients behind, was not going well. There had been no production for some time–by Day 6, nothing impressive had happened for three days, while pain ran up and down the scales like a piano student who’d lost her mind, despite two kinds of painkiller which should have shut her up.
I thought, This is what happens when all you have is a bunch of directors and no Stage Manager. This production should have been blocked out as soon as we started rehearsals! Somebody should have thought about what was supposed to happen where, how, and when on the stage of Borborygmi Theater even before the surgery.
By the time the night nurse came on shift and brought me meds, I was miserable, without much hope of getting better. Couldn’t keep my mind on anything much beyond the horror story of my belly. I folded the three pills into their little white top hat and called Kay. "Come visit," I said, the visiting hours in ICU being 24/7.
I could hear she wasn’t enthused about another outing that time of night but she came, Scrabble game in hand. I motioned to her to close the doors; I hadn’t turned on a light.
"We’re leaving," I said, motioning to my packed bags. "You take those; I’ll follow in two minutes."
Kay protested. Only that morning she had insisted strenuously that I was anything but ready for home care.
I wasn’t getting any care anyway, I pointed out, beyond pills that were not working and the occasional taking of blood pressure.
"But don’t you have to be discharged?"
"It’s Saturday. No doctor to do it."
With a "My crazy mother" shrug, Kay picked up the bags and left. I peered down the hall for a minute or two. I was sorry to inflict my unseemly departure on this particular nurse, who was the one who had listened and then gone the extra mile to get me a substance called fruitlax, the apparently only useful solid to have slid down my throat for an entire week. But I also knew I couldn’t stay there any longer.
It was just after nine. No one had checked on me since seven. I walked across the hall, banging my shoulder on the door in my post-op clumsiness, but no one noticed. Out through emergency, where the car waited with a nervous Kay at the wheel. First fresh air in six days–delicious!
"Let’s go home," I said.