As I enter this, my fifty-seventh year, I would like to share a little bit of information with you. Before I go on, the younger among you may want to leave the room now, because what I'm about to say will seem as foreign to you as a world without Facebook. For those young folks who have drifted over here because of my daughter's witty blog, maybe you should just hand your laptop over to your parents. The following essay is rated NC-45. Those of you who are over forty-five can stay, because this concerns you. Ready?
I just had a colonoscopy. That’s right. I did it, and so should you.
I’m in my mid-fifties, and these things are supposed to be a part of the health care program for folks our age from now on. I know, I know -- when did this happen? We're the generation that used to eat a sheet pizza and then go swimming with a bong in one hand and a concrete block in the other, and not worry about it. Gone are the days when a colon was simply a definitive punctuation mark followed by a new thought that expands on the one previous. We are now supposed to talk openly and with pride about our colon, like it’s a new BMW in the garage or a vacation to Fiji.
“Hey, Matt … long time, no see! How are the kids? The wife? Your colon? Getting enough fiber? Here, have a pineapple and a handful of spelt.”
Of course, who hasn't seen Jamie Lee Curtis on TV and in magazines hawking yogurt that makes you poop? I prefer to think of Jamie Lee from her non-pooping days, when she was in that movie where she wore an aerobic leotard with leg holes that were cut up to her armpits. Pooping Jamie Lee just isn't on my radar.
Most people put off a colonoscopy exam out of fear or because they think that it will be intrusive. I won't lie to you: Yes, it is intrusive. It's abducted by extraterrestrials in your sleep and bizarre experiments intrusive. You can’t have somebody snake several feet of hose with pincers and a camera up inside of you and not have it be intrusive, but the good part is, it’s not as bad as going through Checkpoint Charlie at the airport.
The people in the exam room are professionals who have chosen this path in life, because nothing in the medical field is funnier than seeing somebody lying sideways on a table and being slowly threaded like popcorn for a Christmas tree. To add to this big fun, they also get to watch as air is pumped into someone as if he was an under-inflated bicycle tire.
If it makes you a little anxious to think about somebody treating your butt like a Chinese finger trap, consider the best part; they sedate you with the awesome relaxation drugs you can only get in a hospital. The worst part is nobody will sedate you the day before, when you're required to drink two gallons of Gatorade laced with some manner of human Drano. This is what is known as prep day.
The day before the big exam, you can't eat after 8:00 AM. Anything. Well, Jell-O or chicken broth is allowed, but within three hours you will be ready to launch a bomb at the Jell-O factory and curse the day this gelatinous goo was ever invented. Either that, or you’ll wonder (as I did) why they haven’t come up with a ham and cheese flavor.
While you might be tempted to outsmart the system and gorge on all manner of solid food the day before, let me politely remind you that what goes in has to come out, and it all has to come out within a few short hours.
Once you start your chemical prep, your internal mechanisms will become some kind of separate, grumbling alien being, and your personal relationship with your plumbing will become so intimate that you'll curse the day you saved a dime buying the generic toilet paper. Even the dog will look up at you as if to say, "And you had the nerve to toss me outside after I got into the baked bean casserole? Bony Noah in a track suit, light a match already!"
In fact, if you ask colonoscopy veterans about the process, every one of them will tell you that the prep is far worse than the procedure. If you read nothing else today about this procedure, and you probably won't, this is simply something you should schedule for yourself. It’s not that bad so make the call and mark the event on your calendar.
I know why you men are putting it off, but you aren't going to a Turkish prison with your soap-on-a-rope and a carton of cigarettes. This isn’t some affront to your manhood, so get over yourself. And ladies, let's be honest - you've had far more embarrassing things done to you by doctors. My own wife gave birth to a rather large child out of her exposed lady parts while no less than six people watched, and she wasn’t even sedated.
As for the actual procedure, you'll have to get somebody to drive you there and back, preferably somebody that has an RV with a toilet. OK, I'm just kidding. You'll just feel that way because your brain is now afraid that the Ultimate Chicken Club you porked down at Wendy's as your last meal is still up there playing cards with a bag of corn chips, and the Fourth of July you just had in your stomach somehow missed this. Not to worry. It didn't. And even if it did, the hose they snake up inside of you also has a vacuum that would make the Dyson guy wonder why he hasn’t thought of that attachment, so you have nothing to worry about.
When I had my procedure, the whole experience went rather quickly. I checked in and was escorted back into the pre-op room, where I had to put on a hospital gown that was obviously not designed for a fully grown adult male. “You can keep your socks on,” she said, as if exposing my feet was tops on my list of modesty concerns. The gown kept sliding off my shoulders, so in addition to having to wear a mini skirt, I had a slinky bare shoulder thing going on. All I needed was a can of Red Bull, a cigarette, and a pair of gigantic sunglasses and I was Lindsay Lohan. I slid under the thin cotton blanket and tried to relax.
The nurse came back and explained a few things about the procedure, stuck an IV in my arm. and within minutes I was whisked into the exam room, where the machine that is used for the process is on full display; it sort of reminded me of that thing in the automatic car wash that sprays the car with hot wax, only not as colorful.
Here’s the truth: It was a little intimidating to see more hose than I use to wash my truck dangling there with my name on it. My first thought was that I use a paper towel to open up the door in a public restroom - did this thing get a thorough wipe down after it had been used on the guy I passed in the hallway?
The second thing I noticed was that the three nurses were young and a lot cuter than necessary for assisting with a procedure like this. Like a lot of people at work, they were carrying on conversations that were completely unrelated to the job at hand -- which in this case, was colonoscopies. "I like your hair, Jen, where did you get it done?" one asked the other as I was instructed to move over a bit, turn on my left and raise my knees. This benign conversation continued as my doctor was preparing to peer into the chasm by making small talk about the weather. It was only a minute or so after I was wheeled into the room when a nurse began pumping a sedative into my veins and I drifted away.
I can't say I didn't feel a thing because I sort of did, but the whole experience was very dreamlike. I wasn't out cold, but rather I was somewhere in that fugue state of napping in the living room chair. I heard people talking, but I didn’t hear any mechanical noises. I felt the coolness of the room and a comforting hand on my shoulder, and then I was suddenly awake and back in the pre-op room. The whole thing was over before it had even started.
When I asked afterwards about the mild discomfort, I was told that this was from the air that was pumped inside of me by a compressor. That would explain the hilarious symphonic harmonies from the other cordoned-off colonoscopites who were lined up like parked cars next to me in the one-size-fits-all triage room.
Here are the gory details of what happened in a nutshell, to save you the trouble of a Google search: The average person has more than thirty-five feet of upper and lower intestine, and the inside of this tripe is sort of wrinkly. These wrinkles are what aid in digestion and a leisurely pace for ... um ... that thing you do in the morning. They blow air inside of you to expand and smooth things out, so that when they back out the hose (and camera) they can see what it is they went in there to see. No, they do not go up the entire thirty-five or so feet. You aren’t William Wallace in the last scene of Braveheart.
When they are done blowing you up like a Thanksgiving day float and carefully looking for something that isn’t supposed to be there, they send you back to the room so that you can play Flight of the Bumblebee with the rest of the gang.
If they find something during the exam, they can often address it right there. The scary part for me was hearing the “B” word afterwards.
They will do a biopsy on anything weird, but they will also biopsy normal-looking tissue, because weird stuff starts out microscopically small. Try not to let this fact alarm you when you hear this word. Instead, think of it as preventative maintenance, like checking the oil in your car.
After that, they give you some orange juice and a full-color set of high-resolution photos of your colon, and you are good to go for another five to ten years. I filed my pictures away, but I’m tempted to use picture Number Three as my Facebook profile picture.
After a few minutes, you’ll get dressed and walk out (no wheelchair) on your own and be driven home, where you’ll just about snack on the armrest because you are so hungry. If I had to guess, I was back in the car less than two hours after I had left it.
The verdict? I have a healthy colon, but more importantly, I have peace of mind. Had things gone in a different direction, they would have found it and treated it. I was one of the lucky ones, as are the overwhelming majority of patients who undergo this procedure.
One can also look at luck two ways. In my case, I was lucky because everything came back OK. If it hadn't, I'd still have considered myself lucky because they found something early, when the odds of correcting it are good. It's a win-win situation.
I know this is somewhat of a literary departure, but I've been writing this blog for around six months now, and it's read in three different places by a good amount of people - many of whom might be avoiding this simple test for ridiculous reasons. Please don't. If you're over fifty or are in a risk group, take care of this. If you’re not, but know somebody who is, print my article out and hand it to them, and say, “Hey, do you want to read the funniest damn thing ever written? And by the way …”
After a couple of days of mild inconvenience your discomfort is over and you’ll be part of the ‘scope club. Not knowing shouldn't be an option these days, when the procedure to find out is relatively simple and pain free.
And besides, as we get older, we have to develop a sense of humor over these things. Aren’t we the generation that ran around naked at Woodstock? Weren’t we all about truth and honesty? If that’s the case, this should be a walk in the park.