This week I’ve learned more about the colon than I ever wanted to know. This five-foot long tube ascends, transverses, and descends. It hosts 100 trillion microbes called gut flora, absorbs a quart of water a day, and uses a wave-like pattern of muscular action to move food along, transit time being 12 to 48 hours. But the most compelling thing I’ve learned is that bad things can grow inside the colon . . . and that they can be cut out.
All week nurses and doctors have been telling me what they know and I don’t. And to subdue my worry about my husband, I began to not only listen to what they said, but to also watch how they taught. Here’s what I found to be helpful on my steep learning curve.
- Kindness—One morning during a doctor’s visit, my brain fogged. After he left, I thought of Macy. As her mother was dying one fall, Macy sat in my classroom struggling to write a five-paragraph essay. I wish I had taken more time to pull a stool next to Macy’s desk and just sit there. Nurses and doctors did this for us this week—pausing to sit for a moment, giving us courage to learn.
- Showing—I’ve long known that 65 percent of us are visual learners. But I’ve never seen images used so well and so often—x-rays, diagrams, sketches on scrap paper, and hand gestures. My favorite was the day the surgeon used his finger to draw on his knee.
- Renaming—I discovered this week that the colon offers a whole new vocabulary: submucosa, carcinoma in situ, visceral peritoneum. These words rolling off the tongues of experts can bewilder the rest of us. But appositives help.
“We need to find if the mass penetrated the serosa,” the doctor said, “the outer-most layer of the colon.” This appositive gave me a word I needed to know, but it also gave me its definition—and without my needing to ask. An appositive gets people educated without making them feel stupid.
- Starting with the most critical information. Steve’s surgeon is thoughtful, thorough, experienced, and skilled. He performed a colon resection which has resulted in very little pain. But he put me and our son David through an anxious few moments in his post-op report. He took us through the procedure step-by-step, and not until the end did he say, “So I am hopeful.”
After he left, David said to me, “He sure buried the lede on that one!”
Until we hear the bottom line, it’s hard to listen to the details.
And actually, still waiting for lab results, we still haven’t heard the bottom line. But we’re hopeful we can move on to learning about something else, maybe about the joys of retirement without liquid diets and incisions.