Let’s Talk About…Constipation

Lung cancer survivors deal with all kinds of things.  Emotions, decisions, side effects, and sometimes, the most dreaded word, constipation.  Unless you have had it for days, you may not be able to fully comprehend how disabling it is.  Constipation, a condition in which there is difficulty in emptying the bowels, usually associated with hardened feces, is no laughing matter.

I thought I had had issues with constipation my whole life.  That is, until my lobectomy.  During my hospital stay, I had so much pain from two chest tubes and my incision that I was on heavy medications.  Opioids.  A large number of patients taking opioids after surgery or daily due to chronic pain face a monumental task in keeping our digestive system in check.

Constipation After Surgery

The first day or two, I felt a slight heaviness in my lower abdomen.  On about day three, I realized I had not had a bowel movement and the nurse said my doctor recommended a Maalox tablet.  I thought they were crazy since Maalox was for upset stomach and indigestion, neither of which I had, but I took it anyway.  This went on for a few more days.

By day six, I looked 9 months pregnant.  I was so bloated, I could barely move and the pain – oh my gosh, it made my surgery pain seem like child’s play.  Finally, after multiple episodes of me complaining, they gave me a stool softener.  You would have thought someone had given me a million dollars.  Only problem was, stool softeners do not help if you haven’t had a bowel movement in over a week.  By now the stool in my colon was rock solid.  I knew it.  I could feel it.  I was desperate.

Finally, discharge day.  Still waiting to go…  I went home.  I was worried but so glad to get out of the hospital.

Managing Constipation at Home

(Warning – graphic) By this point, I am sitting on the toilet at least every half hour using every bit of strength I have to push out the smallest amount.  It is so hard it KLUNKS into the toilet.  I can’t take this anymore so I call my oncology nurse and, while waiting for her return call, I do some internet searching.

The final decision was ex-lax.  Again, still terrified and in agony, I take one chocolate bar dose.  It was at night so my intention was that I’d be able to go by morning.  Morning came – nothing.  Still pain.  So I took another ex-lax chocolate bar dose.

Now, I want to tell you, once the ex-lax kicked it, it was NO picnic.  As a matter of fact, the cramping and pain associated with the ex-lax working brought me to tears.  It lasted about four hours before my stomach “shrunk” and I felt relief.

Ladies and gentlemen, constipation is no joke.  But it is a topic many feel uncomfortable talking about.  Please don’t let it get out of control as I did. My new rule of thumb is – if I go 24 hours without a bowel movement, I double up on a dose of a stool softener.  If it hits 48 hours, I’m headed for the ex-lax – which is not a bad experience if you nip it in the bud.

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