Toward the end of this month I’m going to a clinic downtown to have this certain medical procedure that those of us over-fifties get to have because the doctor keeps bugging us about it every single goddamned time we go in for a hangnail or a bloody nose or whatever. “Have you had your colonoscopy yet?” he’ll ask, and I’ll actually feel a little bit guilty about having to answer “No,” as if it were a badge of shame like adultery, or being a liberal. It’s my colon. I get to say when you’re allowed to scope it. Just sit tight until I feel up to it, okay?
The last time I went in, though, I realized I was never going to feel up to it. I mean, really, is that something anybody in the whole history of the world has ever woke up looking forward to? Gee, what a great day! I wonder what the inside of my colon looks like? Maybe I could ask my doctor to shove a camera in there and look around! I don’t think so.
So I finally caved in and scheduled an appointment. I was going to do it in the spring, to get it over and done with, but the procedure and the anesthetic leave you so wonky that they warn you ahead of time to bring a babysitter with you. My Darling B couldn’t get off from work until later, so I pushed the date back to June. Happy Father’s Day!
About a week later I opened my mailbox and found a fat envelope from the clinic with a letter inside confirming my appointment and instructions on how to get ready. I did what anybody else who was looking forward to a colonoscopy as much as I was would have done with it: I tossed the letter on the desk and ignored it for a month.
But the clinic called last week and left a message on our machine, saying that a nurse would have to interview me before I could have the procedure. I called her back this morning and we had a nice chat that turned out to be a lot shorter than she thought it would be. Apparently, a lot of over-fifties are in much worse shape than I am. They’ve all got allergies, they’re taking half a dozen different pain meds, their bowels are either chronically constipated or they’re constantly trotting toward the toilet on account of irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease. I’ve got none of that.
I detected a note of relief in the nurse’s tone when I said that I didn’t smoke, and she seemed genuinely pleased that I wasn’t using any “recreational drugs.” I did detect just a note of disappointment, though, when I admitted that I drank. Well, we all have our hobbies. “How often?” was the follow-up question, “monthly, weekly, daily?”
“Daily,” I admitted.
“Oh, one to two drinks a day.”
Funny, I was never a drinker before I started working in an office environment. Oh, I liked to have the occasional beer, and maybe a glass of wine now and then, but never the hard stuff. Didn’t even like the hard stuff. Thought it was like gargling with gasoline. Well, today I can gargle with the best of them, if I may say so myself. I wouldn’t think of turning down a pre-dinner apertif, and an after-dinner nightcap isn’t out of the question most nights, either. And to think I owe this new-found appreciation to the unending joy that is office work. I’m sure there’s an important lesson there somewhere, and as soon as I can lift my face out of this puddle of my own drool, I’ll see if I can work that out, and get back to you as soon as I do. In the meantime, the next round’s on me.
That little digression didn’t make it into the interview, by the way.
Then it was on to the instructions. The whole week before the procedure – that’s starting this Friday! – I’m not supposed to eat anything with any fiber in it. I can’t eat any fresh vegetables. Too much fiber in them. Canned vegetables are okay. Apparently, they’ve had all their fiber removed. I can’t eat fruits, either, except for bananas, and I can’t eat any hulled grains. White bread, white rice, and white pasta are all okay. Looks like the rice cooker’s going to be bubbling away all week long, and you can expect Ragu stock to spike briefly.
The day before the procedure I have to drink some medicine mixed up with a quart of water or Gatorade. They actually recommend Gatorade. I’ll bet the Gatorade people are getting kickbacks somehow. The medicine comes in two separate pouches labeled A and B. It’s way too dangerous to sell it to you already mixed together, and you don’t need to know what it’s really called. A and B. That’s good enough for your purposes. Just drink it.
And listen to this: The normal side effects of drinking A and B are: chills, nausea, and abdominal cramping. Normal! On top of that, if you know anything about this procedure, then you already know that A and B are a powerful laxative, so powerful that the nurse said I’d want to stay close to the bathroom all day long. So I’ll just be camped out on the toilet, doubled up and shivering when I’m not leaning over to retch into the sink. Don’t mind me. It’s normal.
Since that’s going to be my day before the procedure, I asked my boss if I could have it off. She said yes without me having to tell her about the chills, cramps, nausea or retching, which I would have done in a heartbeat if she’d had a moment’s hesitation about okaying the time off.
And then there’s the day of the procedure, which begins at three o’clock in the morning. Three o’clock! It’s normal! I’m supposed to mix up another batch of A and B the night before and leave it in the fridge, because it’s easier to choke it down when it’s chilled – like a fine wine! By this time, the instructions tell me, I will probably want to wipe with moist towelettes and apply ointment between visits to the toilet. It’s Normal!
“After the colonoscopy exam,” the instructions conclude, “you may feel a little bloated for a few hours. This is caused by air that was put into your colon during the exam.” It’s Normal! “You could put it to good use by playing the tuba with your butt, or lining up a row of fifty candles and seeing how many you can blow out. Let your imagination soar!” Okay, I made up that part.
“When you get home after the test you will want to rest and take it easy for the rest of the day.” That’s got to be the understatement of the century. I’m thinking I’ll either want to curl up in bed and cry myself to sleep, or wolf down all the food in the kitchen, and then curl up in bed and cry myself to sleep.
“It’s important to stay hydrated with liquids after your procedure.” Luckily, I’ve got a lot of beer in the basement. That takes care of the hydration and wanting to take it easy.