You are about to read the most entertaining story you’ve ever read about hemorrhoids.
“This is my finger,” says Dr. Brandeis.
I ask him, giggling, if he’s at least going to take me to dinner first. And then, abruptly, I stop laughing. This isn’t funny at all. My life as a comic feels like a separate reality.
His finger is in my ass.
But let me start from the beginning.
Reading the entire Harry Potter series on the toilet—twice—was probably not entirely responsible. After all, I have always taken my time on the toilet. The seat is comfortable; no one can talk to me; I can relieve stress in multiple ways; I can concentrate. In fact, sitting on the toilet for long lengths has probably made me the person I am today. And the person I am today is a person with hemorrhoids.
But in fact, experts don’t know where hemorrhoids come from. Some say it’s from sitting on the toilet too long (guilty). Others say it’s from straining too much (guilty). Others say it’s from not eating enough fiber (guilty). Others say it’s just hereditary (guilty). Also, there’s obesity (guilty), heavy lifting (guilty—remember when my balls twisted together?), and pregnancy (I’ll get back to you).
I’m not exactly sure when I first noticed, but at some point, during wiping (another thing, I am a notorious hyper wiper—perhaps another cause), I realized I had a little buddy. A friend. A friend who wanted to poke his head out and see what was going on.
This was about three and a half years ago. I Googled the symptoms: something in my butt. I found hemorrhoids.
Hemorrhoids are inflamed bits of vein that fill with blood, bleed, and are very painful and sensitive. There are two types. External hemorrhoids loiter on the exterior. You can see them in a mirror. They’re conspicuous, but, in the end, easy to take care of. That’s not what I had. I had internal hemorrhoids. They form inside the rectum and tend to hang down and peek out until they’re physically, unceremoniously, forced back in.
Gross, I know.
I called my dad and asked, “Have you ever had hemorrhoids?”
“Oh yeah,” he said.
I asked how old he was when he first got them. He guessed he was about my age. “Goddammit,” I said. He just laughed.
And that was it. But I figured I had just one hemorrhoid. It often occurred to me to go to a doctor, but by the time I would get off the toilet, the urgency had subsided. That’s why I waited three and a half years.
Well, there was this other thing: anal leakage.
Anal leakage isn’t poop. It’s the anal mucosal lining that seeps out when a hemorrhoid has ventured out into the wild. I started sleeping with folded-up toilet paper against my butthole. I was dating at the time, and because there was no chance in hell that I was going to explain to my dates what was going on, I would surreptitiously remove the paper seconds before sex.
One time a girl spotted it on the floor. “Ew, gross,” she said. “What’s that?”
Poker face. “Oh, nothing. I don’t know.”
What I didn’t say: “That’s a tissue covered in anal mucus and blood. Want to sniff?”
After the leakage, I started to get itchy as well. I can’t tell you how relieving it is to scratch one’s asshole. Still, this was not the way I wanted to live my life. I had to go to a colorectal surgeon, and I had to go now.
I found a colorectal surgeon, a Jew (which is how I pick my doctors in a city that has too many) named Stephen Brandeis.
So I get to the office on E. 33rd Street. There is a downstairs check-in area and an upstairs waiting room. I go to the check-in area and have a half-hour argument with the woman behind the desk about whether I have a referral. At a place like that, you shouldn’t have to go through that kind of trouble. It should be, “You’re with friends now. Have a seat on this heavily cushioned chair. We know what you’ve been through.”
I finally make it to the waiting room. There is no waiting room like the one for a colorectal surgeon. In other doctors’ offices, you aren’t sure what condition each person is suffering from. In the waiting room for a colorectal surgeon, that remains the case. However, no matter what condition each person has, you know it’s in their ass.
I’m surprised the waiting room isn’t filled with empty chairs and people standing, looking forlornly at the seats. Mostly, people are sitting with no visible discomfort except that which comes with being elderly. I am by far the youngest person there.
Brandeis calls me in. We talk in his office for a little bit. I tell him my symptoms. Apparently my self-diagnosis was absolutely correct. This news strengthens my hypothesis that I am right about 95 percent of the time.
We go into the actual room where the magic happens. Inside, there seems to be a standard bench, but this one has a outcropping to place your knees on. I was told to drop my pants, put my knees on the outcropping, and lean over the bench and relax. The doctor fiddles with something and with several mechanical whirrs, the bench rises about a foot and dips forward. I had not expected that Transformers would play a role in my butt-health crisis.
So I make some jokes, and the doctor puts his finger in me, and I stop making jokes. He feels around. I realize that I haven’t gone to the bathroom yet that day, and begin to worry that he may effectively be destroying a dam. He brings out the finger and, instead, uses an instrument called an anal scope. I need not describe the instrument. Let’s just say it is as horrible as you can imagine. It also has a light on it, because, obviously, my ass is poorly illuminated.
“You have three or four in there.”
This is bad news to me. I go from thinking that I have a one-time hemorrhoid and that was it, to realizing that this is a chronic problem I might have for the rest of my life. Just what I needed, regular visits to the sodomy doctor.
I clean up and go back to his office and we talk about options. It’s funny, because he says “options,” but when we discuss the “options,” there are two. The first is doing the one thing he suggests. The second is going to a different colorectal surgeon. Option one is a banding procedure, which, thankfully, is exactly what I want.
A banding procedure is placing a strangling rubber band around the base of a hemorrhoid. Within six to 12 hours, it sloughs off.
“Let’s do it,” I say. “Let’s do all of them. I want to get it over with.”
Brandeis immediately tells me that we should start with one and see how that feels, harboring an expression on his face that lets me realize how painful this procedure would be.
We go back to the room. The magic happens.
I’m still worried about going to the bathroom, but here we are—que sera sera. Brandeis shows me the instruments he will use to do the banding procedure. One long metal device is like a tube that goes around the hemorrhoid. It has a rubber band ready at the end to be fired onto the hemorrhoid’s base. The other tool is a long, metal, toothed clamp that pulls the hemorrhoid into the tube. He’ll use the two like he’s picking a lock.
Gross, I know.
I bend over the bench.
“Oh, let me get my assistant in here.” When he says this, I get a feeling that the assistant’s a girl, and I am right. He pokes his head out the door. “Hey, Karen, can you come in here?” Karen is obese, an unattractive 20-something, but she’s a girl.
“OK, this is going to feel uncomfortable,” Brandeis says, as if it weren’t already.
He slides the instrument in. The room disappears. Karen disappears. All that exists is me and my asshole. I immediately understand why most girls aren’t into anal sex. And people who talk about prostate massaging have obviously never had a hemorrhoid removed.
He moves around a lot.
“That’s easy for you to say.”
“Just relax your muscles.”
“I have a guy sticking metal instruments up my ass—what am I supposed to do?”
At some point he changes positions from one side to the other and I feel like I’m being opened up like a bag of potato chips.
“Jesus fucking Christ!”
“Hey, if cursing makes you feel better, go for it.”
It doesn’t make me feel better. The only thing that makes me feel better is when he pulls that goddamn instrument out of my ass.
We set up follow up appointments. I walk slowly—very slowly—to the train. There is a rubber band in my ass and I feel it with every step. Interestingly enough, it’s not just my ass that hurts, it’s my entire body, as if I’ve been hit by a car or just had a boxing match.
Over the next two weeks, every time I go to the bathroom it is an adventure. What’s going to happen? How’s it going to feel? What’s going to come out? Will it be normal, or will it look like chicken entrails? Will there be blood or will there be a shitload of blood? Am I going to see veins?
I get through it and go back to the office for two more appointments. I’m used to things now, even though it just seems to get worse. I greet Karen by name when she comes in the room and tell her, afterward, that I feel very close to her. I am back to my old jokey self, though again, when objects are actually inside my anus, it is hard to maintain humor.
Now, as I sit writing this, I am hemorrhoid free—but I know that this will not last forever. I like sitting on the toilet too much. I eat too poorly. Of course, the most practical, applicable, and scientific reason that I will continue to get hemorrhoids is that the universe insists on punishing me. I can’t just be successful, content, and healthy like many people.
If that were to happen, I might be able to meet a girl I like, get married, and pass on my DNA. I might be able to live a long, rich life with little tragedy and lots of accomplishments. I might be able to be normal. And nobody wants that.
Nobody wants me to be a happy person, because then they would feel bad about themselves. My life, shitty in every single aspect of it (documented here), gives others hope. No matter how bad things could be for them, they could have all those things and five hemorrhoids. Five. Five distended growths in their assholes. Thus, in order for the universe to have some semblance of order, I have to be miserable.
At least the misery will give me something to write about.
In the meantime, I have to go throw up.
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