We merged into the crowd of thousands like fish catching up with their school. The Kings of Leon concert at Discovery Green had just wrapped up and everyone was flocking to Houston's Light Rail. The rail line is the transport mode that would get everyone from the park to the playoff game at Reliant Stadium during all of the Final Four hoopla.
Craig and I were following our group of friends, everyone walking at a good clip. Out of nowhere and very suddenly I started to get the "s-pains" as my childhood friend Kristen and I always called them. You know what I'm talking about whether you have or have not had chemo. I'm talking about the twisting, wrenching, gurgling feeling in your intestines that can come knocking without warning and demand to be let free.
I ooooohed and breathed and alerted Craig to the early warning signs but the wave passed over and through me and all seemed to be clear again. I had been on the new clinical trial drugs for just two days so was not at all surprised that my body would be making strange sounds and my stomach doing flips as it tried to digest them. I figured it was yet another side effect and that the cheese quesadilla with extra guac I had eaten would find its place among the drug compounds and all would be in harmony.
I had a few more waves along the walk but they were short-lived. We jammed into the rail cars and I was literally body to body with Kentucky and Butler fans: mostly college kids, some boozy breathed older men. It was so, so hot outside so everyone was pumped for the cool air of the climate controlled cars. This, however, meant body against sweaty body after everyone had walked several blocks and stood in the sunny park to watch the band play.
It was several stops to our destination. The confinement and the elimination of personal space really didn't bother me. My friends Brenna, Kevin and I were in the same car while Craig and the others were up ahead. When we stepped on, I saw a pole and latched onto it figuring that that was the best placement for me.
Every time we stopped, the train doors would open and a few more sweaty bodies adorned in NCAA gear would step in. All inside would part ways and squeeze tighter, cheering when we got another person to fit in. Brenna and I kept catching eyes knowing we were both having trouble with the way things were going.
Two seats freed up and Southern chivalry set in when the spots were offered to us – the only females in the vicinity. One would think that taking a seat would be good for me to catch my breath and rest my legs. But no, this is when the doom set in. Apparently my body got the message that it was sitting on a toilet seat, not a train seat surrounded so closely by people that I could count their nose hairs.
The ever-friendly Brenna chatted it up with the guy in front of us about life as a Southerner, where he went to school, who he was rooting for. I just stared with a plastered smile on my face at this fit, white-toothed twentysomething like a doofus as inside the s-pains were becoming more and more frequent and my confidence that they would continue to fade was becoming more and more reduced.
Brenna could tell I was fading when she noticed how expressionless and quiet I was and later told me how all of the color drained from my face like a cartoon character's would. She fanned me with the train schedule brochure as beads of sweat began to creep onto my forehead – not the kind of sweat that shows up when you're hot, but the one that shows up when there is impending physical doom.
We began counting down the stops with some of the guys around us: four more, three more ... . They were far between and with each one, the situation got more dire. With two stops left and the doors about to close and the train chug on, Brenna looked me in the face.
"Do you want to get off?" She said.
"Uh, ooh, eeh, ooh, I don't know ... ," I hesitantly said back.
"Do you want to get off?," she said more forcefully.
After a few seconds of silence and the realization that this intestine explosion was most definitely going to happen before we made it to our destination, I said: "Yes."
With swift stealth and confidence Brenna cleared a path.
"We got to get out. Got to get out," she said, as people pulled back their bellies and inched to the side as well as they could so that we could cross the train car and make it to the open door before it closed.
We saw the faces of Kevin, Craig, Betts and Sam as the two of us stumbled onto the platform. They gawked from the train window in horror and worry not knowing what was going on with me nor what to do as they'd never make it out in time to join us. Their faces disappeared and I was in survival mode.
Luckily, Brenna is one of those women that you can be totally open and candid with and know that she's going to be cool with it, get it done and handle it.
So, I said: "I am going to shit my pants, like for real," as that was literally the case. I had to move faster than this flow.
We darted across the train track, me doing a fast waddle like a mad woman and her fast walking behind me desperately trying to spot a bathroom as much as I was. We were both wearing the least ideal flipping flopping footwear.
Though the entire nation's herd of collegiate basketball fans were in the city, nothing was open. It was a Saturday and the stop I had bailed at was a corporate office stop. It may as well have been a deserted island.
As I fast walked and huffed I saw a female security guard up ahead going into one of the buildings. We picked up the pace and caught the door just as it was about to close behind her.
I looked at her with utter desperation and said: "I need to find a bathroom. It's an emergency." I may have even thrown the cancer card in there; I'm not really sure. All I remember is that I spoke loudly, clearly and firmly.
The woman looked back at me with a "been there" look and pointed to the back of the lobby. Brenna took over explaining things for me as I tore across that marble floor like it was my job, because it was.
That zipper on my jeans fly could not come down fast enough. I literally just made it into the stall when all hell broke lose. The doctors had told me that my body would probably reject the drugs a bit at first but I quickly learned that that was an understatement. Wow.
After being in there for what seemed like hours I texted Brenna directly from the thrown to inform here that I was alive, though unstable. She told me to take my time and that she was yucking it up with the security guards.
Craig also got some texts from the throne to assure him that I was okay, that I had my game ticket and to go on ahead without me ... like I was a fallen campadre on a hike through the desert.
I finally emerged when I felt that the Dumb and Dumber-esque event was over. My face was pale as a sheet and mouth dry as a bone. Brenna knew it was bad and that I needed to find some Immodium stat. We had a Final Four Butler vs. UConn basketball game to get to and I felt awful for keeping her from it and was determined not to miss it myself.
It would have been too easy if the CVS right at the train stop was actually open. A tug on the handles and a peek into the darkened aisles of the store revealed that we were not in luck. Brenna's polling of everyone around us and iPhone map consultations revealed that there were no possible public bathrooms around us.
Did I mention it was so, so hot out? A thick cloud of humid air holding tightly to 90-some degree heat. The round one relief did not last long and soon the waves were back. We decided to hop back on the light rail in hopes that the next stop would reveal more options.
To my utter disappointment this was not the case. We jumped off the rail on the outskirts of Texas Medical Center – on a Saturday, a day when orthopaedic centers, radiology satellites, and the like are of course, not open. At this point things were very unsettled again and I did many determined fast walks down side streets and into industrial medical parks welcomed by nothing but glass doors locked solid.
Then we saw it like a mirage across the eight lane highway. Luckily Brenna was game and didn't even question how ridiculous an option it might be. She's pretty bad ass. Far ahead – much farther than originally perceived – was a Holiday Inn high rise beckoning us. Only a highway on and off ramp were separating us from it. Like digital renderings in a game of Frogger we ran across at the first break in highway traffic.
I spotted a Burger King a block or so down from the hotel in this gritty city area so we made the plan to split up. Brenna would continue on to the Holiday Inn in search of Immodium. I would break at the BK in search of the most guaranteed public bathroom option.
I saw nothing else but the sign for "restrooms" when I entered into the wafting scent of greasy fries that was BK. I grabbed for the bathroom door handle and realized to my horror that the thing wanted a quarter from me. I couldn't open it unless I dropped a quarter in the slot. I thought it was some kind of joke. Fishing through my purse I somehow hooked a shiny quarter from the depths of junk that is in there. I dropped that sucker in and flew to the toilet.
There were no stalls, just a huge, very disgustingly dirty room and one toilet. I had not choice but to put my purse on the ground surrounded by discarded toilet paper and puddles of unknown fluids. It was super hot and smelly and by far surpassed even the nastiest gas station bathrooms I'd been in. This made me gag but I was so grateful to have found that toilet.
Partially through my "session" there was knocking and rustling outside the bathroom door. Despite the quarter barrier I had dropped in the slot, the door opened on me.
"Someone's in here. Someone's in here. Someone's IN HERE!" I yelled out while reaching my arm into the vast abyss that separated compromised me from the door.
But there was no stopping it. There I was, white ass totally exposed, pants around the ankles as a big black woman and her toddlers stared at me wide-eyed. Behind them I could see several full tables with more people gawking at me over oversized soda straws.
I stared back at her in quiet desperation with urgency in my eyes until she finally realized to close the door and muffle the voices of the curious kids. This was not the place of solace I needed and I knew I had to move. I pulled it together and walked out averting the eyes of everyone there until I spotted Brenna. The poor thing had to backtrack from the Holiday Inn because she got there and found medicine, but realized she had no cash on her.
She told me how she was banging on the women's room door to try to get me and grab some money from me, but didn't think to try the men's room.
"Did you know you were in the men's room? That is amazing," she said.
Nope. I did not know. Gender was the last thing on my mind. We laughed at the hilarity of that realization as we walked back to Holiday Inn.
I've never loved a hotel so much as this one, which was beautifully cool and clean. Most importantly, it housed a teeny tiny "essentials" shop with snacks and drinks and travel accessories and a little medicine shop. I could hear the "Alleluia" chorus in my head.
The teeny woman who worked in this teeny shop already knew my story from Brenna and was highly concerned about me.
"Are you sure you're okay? Are you still going to the game?"
I assured her that hell yes, I was going and I'd be fine. That this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I was not going to miss over loose stools. I was here all the way from Connecticut damn it and so were our UConn Huskies.
"Do you want to know the price?" She asked before she geared up the cash register.
"Lady, I'd pay a million dollars for that box of pills you have behind you," I said. She took my credit card and wished us well.
The Immodium washed down with a few sips of Dr. Pepper to quench my incredibly dry mouth, the bubbles calming my tummy some. The kind concierge in the lobby ordered us a taxi to the stadium and after all of that we got into the game at the same time as the boys. Apparently we took the express route. Who knew?
It wasn't until I plopped myself in a handicapped seat to catch my breath and reunite with the boys at the top of our section level that I could almost, almost start to laugh about it. Once I sat for a minute and realized what had just happened I gave Brenna a huge hug then never stopped laughing about the whole ordeal. The rest of our group laughed too and was relieved that it was nothing but the ol' chemo trots.
The crowd, the cheering, the immensity of the stadium and the proximity to the players made it all go away (I suppose that magical Immodium helped, too.) I was so psyched to be there with Craig and even more psyched when UConn took the win from Kentucky. Even with nothing in my system but a few popcorn kernels and an incredibly intense adventure behind me, I got out a lot of screams and UConn cheers.
I don't know who made a better second-half game entrance: me or Kemba?