Umm, And I'll Have The Colonoscopy, Please (Part II)
Make sure you read Part I.
What does it feel like to wake up the morning of your execution? I think I got a glimpse the day of my colonoscopy. The feeling was... resignation. Things had spun out of my control. All I could do was put one foot in front of the other and venture into that dark room from which I could see no exit. And yet, surprisingly, it wasn't that hard or frightening. Mostly, I felt curiosity. "Hmmm, the waiting room looks just like every other waiting room." "I'll put my glasses in my shoe, and put my shoes right here, and the next time I see them, it will be over. Hmmm." "This is the room they'll do me in. Why's it so big?"
There were two nurses in the room when I entered. One instructed me to lie down on the padded table, gently placed a blanket over me, and then started an IV. IV's don't bother me at all. New hole -- no problem. The other nurse worked quickly, wheeling monitors and equipment into place. A minute later, a cocky doctor strolled in, introduced himself, and asked about my preferences regarding anesthesia.
These are all pictures from Dr. Fusco's colon. I hope mine looks this minty fresh.
I made it clear that I wanted the full dose -- double scotch, neat.
Leaning casually against a counter while the two nurses fussed over me, the doctor observed, "I'll bet it isn't often you have two women working on you." The nurses showed no reaction (I expect because they hear this line several times a day). Nor was this the first male doctor I've encountered who likes to engage in fraternity humor with nurses around. They hope you'll blush or fumble for words, and in this way they demonstrate their status as Alpha Male.
I'm an aging buck fighting to stay in the game, so I dug deep to rise to the challenge. "No," I replied. "But this isn't quite the apparatus I see in my fantasy." At this, the nurses giggled, and the doctor threw me a nod. These were my last words before going under.
The anesthetics typically used -- midazolam and diazepam -- are often described as inducing "conscious sedation." A friend had
described it to me this way: "During the operation, you're fully conscious. It's just that afterwards you can't remember anything about it." She seemed fine with this idea. "What difference does it make," she asked me when I protested, "if it hurts like hell but you have no memory of it afterwards?"
I knew she didn't believe in an afterlife, so I countered, "Would you have any objections to undergoing three months of excruciating torture on the belief that when you finally die, your memory will be erased?"
Trust me. I did a lot of research beforehand to make sure that my friend's what-you-don't-remember-can't-hurt-you theory was pure bunk. I would never have allowed myself to be lain upon the alter had I any lingering doubt. If you think about it, most doctors wouldn't want you thrashing around in pain, if for no other reason than that it would waste time and thus cut into their profits. The idea behind these drugs is that you really are out -- feeling no pain -- but can still respond to questions from the doctor: "Tell me, asswipe. Thinking it might be your last hurrah, did you masturbate last night?"
Most people report waking up (as Dr. Fusco did) surprised to learn that
the procedure is over. I wasn't quite this lucky. Somewhere near the end of the ream job, I became semi-conscious, aware of a pain in my gut, almost like horrible gas. And this turned out to be just what I had. I found out later that I have an unusually twisty colon -- so to negotiate some of the hairpin turns, they had to both knead my stomach and pump air in my colon. It was this air (and the balloon it made of my colon) that was largely responsible for the "discomfort." For the thirty seconds or so I was conscious, I could feel the thing advancing up me, a weird sensation, sort of like having a gerbil loose in my gut.
When I finally awoke for good, I did so to the sound of some rip-snorting farts -- my own, of course. All the air they had blown up my ass was now expressing itself. I was still woozy enough to not give a fig that I was doing my imitation of Don King with one of the nurses right by my side.
And that was it. They walked me to a recovery room, sat me in a recliner, told me they found nothing, fed me
some juice and bagel, and then let me get dressed. I found my glasses in my shoe, right where I had left them. I walked into that waiting room that looked like all other waiting rooms and found my wife, just as I'd left her. She drove me home and by the next day, I'd resumed my life.
A few months later, I felt I'd been had when I heard news of what sounded like the technological break-through I'd been waiting for: virtual colonoscopy. It turns out, however, that this is a virtual sham. To perform it, they still need you to clean yourself out, they still stick a tube up your ass (just not as far), and they still blow air through your rectum 'til you rise up off the table. The supposedly big selling point is they can do this with virtually no anesthesia, so that you can walk right out of there under your own power. Well, they sure figured out why most of us don't want a colonoscopy, didn't they? It's that lost thirty minutes it takes coming to, and the inconvenience of having to bring a friend or spouse to drive us home. But the real kicker is that if they find anything, they schedule you for... a colonoscopy.
In retrospect, the colonoscopy was like most things in my life -- not as bad as I feared, nor as good as I hoped. But there is comfort in the knowledge that there's nothing nasty brewing in my colon, and that no one will be poking around in there for another ten years. Err, nine.