For the sake of my health, I’ll do the dance of the saltwater cocktails and become well-acquainted with porcelain.
It’s mid-morning, and I am making sure I enjoy every bite of this delicious bar of dark chocolate, because it’s the last piece of solid food I’ll have for the next 24 hours. Tomorrow afternoon, my trusty and remarkably cheerful gastroenterologist, Dr. Lisa Pichney, will commandeer a colonoscope through my large intestine, making sure it is free of polyps, tumors, or any other signs of trouble. It’s a five-foot, 15-minute journey during which I’ll just lay there, under sedation, oblivious to the procedure. My doc will be doing the dirty work.
However, my job for the next 24 hours is nothing but the dirtiest of work. I need to clear my pipes of all debris so she can get a good look during the exam. First I’ll be fasting, then chugging saltwater cocktails, and finally, indulging in a couple enemas to cap off the festivities. For the foreseeable future, porcelain will be my savior.
I’m having a colonoscopy because of my ulcerative colitis, which significantly increases my risk of colon cancer. Ulcerative colitis isn’t exactly my malady of choice. True, there are a lot of other conditions, which suck more, but the onset of frequent and urgent bowel movements isn’t exactly a picnic.
You can think of my condition as being like a suspenseful video game where your own colon is the enemy. You’re going through your daily routine and WHAM! Mother Nature calls, and you have about three minutes to find the nearest bathroom or you drop the big one in your pants. There are all sorts of potential obstacles and challenges when the clock starts ticking: you’re on the freeway five miles from the nearest exit, you’re on a broken-down subway train, or you’re at a very romantic moment on a date. The most challenging scenario: You find a bathroom, but it’s occupied. Your conundrum is whether to wait for that john to become free or go in search of another one. Is the occupant just taking a quick whiz or is he sculpting a masterpiece while reading the New York Times Sunday Magazine? You have a real dilemma and have to think strategically, but quickly and decisively. It’s like your own Cuban missile crisis. And if you don’t make the right decision in time: KAPLOOIE! GAME OVER.
Fortunately, my colitis is usually in remission, and even when it does flare up, Dr. Pichney gets me back to whistling Dixie within a few weeks. Also, I am lucky that only 12 to 18 inches of my lower intestine is affected. I have friends with much bigger gastrointestinal problems — more of their intestine is affected by colitis, or worse yet, Crohn’s disease which can severely affect the whole gastrointestinal system, and they can go for long periods of time in complete misery. Sometimes, in the worst cases, some of the colon has to be removed. Like I said, I consider myself lucky.
So here I am with this last nugget of chocolate. How I savor thy chocolaty goodness! But soon it is gone, dissolving in the caustic juices of my tummy. Bye bye. Adios. Au revoir. Until we meet again on the other side later this evening. I know that by tonight when the cleansing process is well underway, that chocolate will be speeding through my gastrointestinal system like a runaway express train.
About five hours later, I feel like a walking aquarium — sans the tropical fish and ornamental plastic scuba diver — because there’s about a half-gallon of apple juice sloshing around in my stomach as I make my way from meeting to meeting at work. I’m in the first stage of prep, which means I’ve only been consuming clear liquids. I have an odd juxtaposition of feelings. On one hand, I am bloated from all the apple juice in my tummy, but at the same time, desperately hungry for solid food.
After arriving home about an hour before the next stage of prep, I become melancholy, so I pull out my guitar and begin to strum slowly. A few mournful tunes come to mind: Urge for Going, Just a Song Before I Go, and Bob Dylan’s I Shall Be Released. With his rough voice and dark little dirges, you know that Dylan has been scoped, probably more than once. For me, there’s no mistaking what’s blowin’ in the wind at the moment.
About 30 minutes after I start the next phase of prep – the laxative saltwater cocktails – my stomach becomes a bubbling caldron of ungodliness. Images of Vesuvius, Pompeii, and Mt. St. Helen’s rush through my head as I sit there in gastrointestinal agony. I’m about to make the first of many wind sprints to the bathroom.
My girlfriend, Jeannie, calls at 10 that evening and asks what I am doing. I pause for a moment to consider my reply. “Just shitting my brains out,” I say matter-of-factly. And so it goes — and goes and goes and goes — until about midnight when I fall into bed, emptied, exhausted, and defeated.
Between 6 and 7 the next morning, I complete the last phase of prep and fall back into bed and listen to an in-depth report on NPR about some third-world economy’s historic meltdown. I think to myself that if I were an economy, this is surely what it must feel like to be melting down.
Jeannie arrives at 11 to take me for my exam with a better-you-than-me grin on her face. As we walk into the waiting room of the clinic, I notice their wide-screen TV is showing a documentary on volcanoes. At first I find this to be a cruel form of entertainment for us colonoscopy patients. But then again, I can’t help but appreciate their sense of irony.
Given that there are virtually no other patients in the clinic, the receptionist sends me right back for the procedure. After having my vitals taken and donning a gown and slippers, the nurse comes back in and asks if I need to use the rest room one last time, to which I reply, “The needle is on E.” She returns a knowing smile.
I can’t say that I am looking forward to the actual colonoscopy, but I know Dr. Pichney does dozens of these exams every week, and it’s probably safer than driving on the DC Beltway. And having had this procedure twice before, I know the opiate-based drugs are good. I feel a sense of relief after the anesthesiologist injects the first sedative into my IV. “I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon,” I mumble as I drift out of consciousness.
I wake up in recovery feeling pleasantly mellow, albeit, a little gassy. With a big smile, Dr. Pichney informs me that everything looked good. God bless the person who can look through a hose up your ass and find enlightenment.
Someday, colonic exams will be like a procedure from Star Trek, and the doctor will just wave some high-tech device over my abdomen. But until then, it’s warp-speed colonic cleansing and a little old-school plumbing.
As we leave the clinic, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Hopefully, my colon is good for another couple of years. Arriving home, I head straight for those delightful chocolate bars. As great as they tasted yesterday, I know they’re going to taste even better right now.
Photo: wikimedia commons
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