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I think I'm the only person in the world who can
get an upset stomach just by reading the back of
a Milk of Magnesia bottle. "Directions for Use,"
it says on the 12-ounce plastic container, "As a laxative:
Adults and children over 12, 2-4 teaspoons. As an antacid:
Adults and children over 12, 1-3 teaspoons."
It's the overlapping dosage number, you see, that causes
me concern. I couldn't help but wonder what would happen
if I took the recommended 3 teaspoonsfull?
How would my body decide which way to react? And why
is it a laxative and an antacid? In my mind,
a laxative and an antacid are diametrically opposed
and don't belong in the same product. It's like having
a bed that's also a catapult.
The reason I am intimately familiar with Milk of Magnesia...
and Tums... and Mylanta-- both generic and namebrand...
and baking soda... and Alka Seltzer... and club soda
with bitters... and recently with this awful antacid gum
that I found on a bargain table at my local Rite Aid...
is because I have had a 26-year battle with what the
professional medicine men like to call a nervous
I first started taking prescription stomach medication
when I was 11 years old. It was 1976, the year America's
sweetheart, Dorothy Hamill, won her Olympic figure skating
Gold Medal. It was also the same year I watched
The Mike Douglas Show religiously and, on one
of her many MDS appearances, Ms. Hamill confessed to
Mr. Douglas that she had undergone treatment for a bleeding
stomach ulcer. Instantly, she became my childhood hero.
How could I not worship a fellow female with a cute haircut,
winning smile and self-inflicted, screwed up intestines?
When I saw Dorothy Hamill it was like I was looking
in a mirror... in a bathroom mirror, of course.
A fellow comic, who was suffering from the mother of all
intestinal problems, Crohn's disease (or regional ileitis
for all my Latin friends) once told me that many standup comics
suffer from anxious innards. Since we all, no doubt, knew
about our tense tummy tendencies long before ever doing our
first open-mike, I had to wonder why we chose to pursue a
career in an occupation that ranks right up there in stress
level with executioner, crocodile hunter and Vatican lawyer.
If we all knew early on that this would be a lifelong problem,
as I believe we all did, then why didn't we become yogis or
gardeners or Maytag repairmen? What is it about our basic
personality type that makes us seek out stress even when
stress turns our midsections into living lava lamps?
Back when I still had health insurance (Ah, the eighties!
While most comics were snorting cocaine and marrying
comedy club waitresses, I was seeking out low co-payment
medical care!) I tried desperately to get my stomach
problems under control. My bi-coastal life style allowed me
to visit doctors on both sides of the country and after
several humiliating, low co-payment, invasive procedures,
each doctor gave me the same annoying advice, "You have
got to relax." Unfortunately, the men in white coats
didn't realize that the one guaranteed way to make me
tense up further is to tell me to relax. Just ask my husband.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield wound up paying lots of green money
for me to find out what I had already known. As I left
each office, my stomach sounded like the mating call
of the wildebeest.
One particulary evil doctor decided that I needed to have
a lower GI, which, by the way, has nothing to do with having
sex with a very small military man. The lower GI, and it's
sister test the upper GI-- which also has nothing to do
with sex and a slightly taller man in the armed forces--
are two of the most unpleasant and embarrassing examinations
a human can undergo. The worst of the two, the lower GI,
consists of several steps: first you empty out your system
(let's just leave that to the imagination) then you endure
a barium enema and finally you allow a man who's never
taken you out to dinner and who, most likely, just lost
the coin toss, to insert a camera into a place where no
camera should ever go and have a look around. My only comfort
was that he didn't request a wide-angle lens... or
wallet-sized copies. To add insult to what had to be injuries,
the doctor wrote on my chart, "The patient took to
the procedure very well." And he expected me
Not having health insurance, or enough money for
twice-yearly trips to Hawaii, has forced me to deal
with my gastrointestinal problems in more inexpensive ways.
Diet, blah, blah, blah, exercise, blah, blah, blah,
meditation, blah, blah, blah and over-the-counter
chalky white substances all seem to help. But a month's work
of relaxation can all be wiped out with one sports bar
hell gig. So, I have to ask myself, punk, can my stomach
survive 18 more years in standup comedy? Especially
if at the end of those 18 years I still have dust blowing
through my bank account?
But perhaps money-- or lack thereof-- has nothing to do
with the pressure I feel. Let's face it, standup comedy
and stress are the peanut butter and jelly of show business.
Sure you can have one without the other but it just wouldn't
be the same. As comics, we thrive on the challenge.
We like living on the edge, even if that occasionally means
falling over the edge. Stress and anxiety keeps
us sharp. So, maybe
those of us who experience heightened stress in our daily lives
became standup comics because we finally found a positive way
to channel our anxiety? All these years, our critics have
said that we're maladjusted. But maybe we adjusted
just fine, thank you very much. After all, who's crazier?
The stressed out comic? Or the stressed out toll taker?
(Comics should end stress in third world countries by
releasing an album called Rolaid. Sorry, I was channeling
the '80s again.)
Heartburn, gut rumblings and acid reflux will probably be
with me for the rest of my life. They've been with me since
puberty, so I can't think of a good reason why they would
one day pack up and leave. But I can't even imagine how much
worse they would be if I didn't love what I do. And if acceptance
is the first sign of recovery then maybe there's hope for my
stomach in the future.
I only wish I had discovered all of this before subjecting
myself to those awful tests. At least now I have beautiful
8x10 glossy's of my intestinal tract. I sign each one,
"Hope to see you soon!" I guess I should get
new ones made. It's embarrassing to look at them...
my colon looks so 1986.
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