100 Feet of Joy

I had been putting it off for several years.

Not that I was afraid, mind you. Such things don’t really scare me a whole lot. But most of the people I spoke to who had been through it told me that the truly awful part was not even the event itself.

No, they said, it’s the preparation that will kill you.

After Tess’s post yesterday about old coots like me who continue to write and will likely do so until our dying day, I’m thinking that a true sign of old age is when you start talking about your health.

I remember as a teenager listening to my grandmothers talk about this or that ache, this or that procedure, this or that disease, this or that pill.

Now, here I am talking about it, too.

You see, I went for a check-up several months ago and was ordered by my doctor to get a blood test. But I put off the test for one simple reason: it was hugely inconvenient for me to go to the lab and get it done.

What happened to the days when they did that stuff right there in the doctor’s office? I mean, come on. How hard is it to draw some blood?

Anyway, just a little gripe of mine.

So flash forward several months and I finally go to the lab to get the blood test done. I walk into this place and I’m telling you, it’s a low rent, one room office with a desk, a few chairs, a cheerless receptionist making Xerox copies of my medical cards, and a “technician” who draws blood with the same enthusiasm as a kid handing out burgers at the drive-thru.

Maybe less.

The word skeezy comes to mind. Assuming that’s actually a word. Even if it isn’t, it fits, because I was seriously wondering about the needle they used to draw the blood. But I let them do it and hoped I wouldn’t come down with some rare blood disease that would render me blind. Or stupid.

So, a few days later, my doctor’s office calls and the nurse says, “Your tests were all fine, except you’re anemic. The doctor wants you to get a colonoscopy.”

Oh, joy.

But I was overdue. As I said, I’d been putting it off for several years.

A couple weeks later, I went in to see the gastroentronologist and he described the procedure to me, and for those who don’t know, a colonoscopy is basically when the doctor sticks a camera up your ass and takes movies of your colon. All of it. From top to bottom.

But no sweat, right? I’ve known people who have had one, and they all said they were put to sleep. Didn’t feel a thing.

“We won’t be putting you to sleep,” the doctor tells me.

“Say what?”

“You’ll be given a mild sedative that will calm you and make you a little drowsy, but I’d prefer you to be awake so we don’t have to worry that you’ll stop breathing.”

“Say what?”

“Oh, and don’t worry. I very, very rarely puncture the colon wall. My track record is quite good.”

“Say the fuck what?”

That isn’t the conversation verbatim, but that’s pretty much how it felt. But I merely shook off my initial trepidation and figured he must know what he’s doing. I smiled politely as he wrote me a prescription for the prep medicine — something called MoviPrep. It is, I was told, the least offensive of the choices.

Friends had told me that this prep is the worst part. You have to drink a whole boatload of this stuff, then you sit on the john for about six hours and — as Dave Barry pointed out a while back — it’s like the space shuttle taking off from the launch pad, only YOU’RE the space shuttle and the fire is coming out of your ass.

Dave may not have put it so crudely. But it’s early and I haven’t had my coffee yet.

Anyway, I was really not looking forward to prep night. The worst thing, I was told, is that the stuff you have to drink tastes so awful that it’s nearly impossible to choke it down. And you have no choice but to drink it. The doc needs you COMPLETELY cleaned out or he can’t go forward with the procedure.

Finally, prep night came and I dutifully mixed up a liter of MoviPrep and, as instructed, I downed a glass of it every fifteen minutes until it was gone.

And you know what? It wasn’t bad at all. I’ve tasted much worse, believe me. Hell, a gin and tonic tastes worse to me.

So I had no trouble at all downing the liquid other than the simple fact that I felt like a bloated buffalo. The last glass was chugged in one gynormous gulp and I gagged a little toward the end, but a quick mouth rinse and I was fine. It was certainly not even close to being as bad as everyone said it was.

And as nature (or the chemicals) took its course, I kept my little netbook close and actually did some work.

How’s that for a little slice of TMI?


The next morning, at 4:30 am, I had to drink another liter of the stuff and spend more alone time. Then around noonish, feeling clean as a whistle, it was off to the clinic for my date with destiny.

I wasn’t really nervous. The nurse who took my blood pressure will attest to that. For some reason hospitals and clinics and the like don’t really scare me. I figure I’m there for something that could potentially save my life, so what’s to be nervous about?

They hooked me up to an IV to hydrate me a bit, then I waited for an hour. Largely because the doctor had some complications with the guy before me. Turns out they found a very large polyp and it took them awhile to excise it. From the way they spoke to the man’s wife, you’d think it was the size of a golf ball.

Who knows, maybe it was. It was, as the doctor told her, 30% likely to be cancerous — and that’s when I got scared. I do not like the word cancer.

In fact I fucking hate cancer. Two of my uncles died of it. My aunt had colon cancer. My cousin has brain cancer, my ex-brother-in-law has esophageal cancer, my wife’s family has had its share of cancer scares, I’ve had skin cancer, and my daughter’s boyfriend had a prolonged illness and finally died of it — one of the great heartbreaks of our family.

So the word cancer gets me going. And at the moment the doctor said 30%, I got a little panicked. But then I told myself, calm down, Rob, that’s an anomaly. You’ll be fine.

A few minutes later, they finally wheeled me into the operating room (or whatever the hell you call it) and hooked me up to a couple machines. Then the nurse gave me a couple shots of some stuff that was supposed to make me sleepy.

Which it didn’t. Not one bit. And as I turned, I saw this technician walk into the room carrying a coil of what, I swear to God, looked like about a hundred feet of black garden hose.

And that’s when I REALLY got scared. Holy shit, I thought. THAT’S what’s going up my ass.

It’s a miracle I didn’t faint. But what’s even more of a miracle is that, despite the fact that I was wide awake, I did not feel a thing.

Oh, a slight bit of cramping and discomfort when they had to turn a corner or two, but for the most part, it was the proverbial walk in the park and — get this — I watched it all on TV.

I don’t know what drug they gave me, but it was certainly made by someone who knew his stuff. And I can say, without hestitation, that I have one of the most handsome colons I’ve ever seen.

The whole thing was completely fascinating.

And, fortunately, I was given a clean bill of health.

So, what, you may ask, does any of this grossness have to do with writing? Well, I can guarantee that this material will, at some point, wind up in one of my books. I don’t know when or where, but it’s bound to work its way into a story somehow.

That night, I started thinking about possible scenarios. Imagine if they hadn’t given me any drugs before uncoiling that 100 feet of joy?

Anyone remember the dentist scene from Marathon Man?

What if, instead of a dentist, the interrogator was a gastroentronologist?  I can just see him hovering over the hero, the nozzle of that hose poised and ready to make entry as he says:

“Is it safe?”


24 thoughts on “100 Feet of Joy

  1. J.D. Rhoades

    What if, instead of a dentist, the interrogator was a gastroentronologist? I can just see him hovering over the hero, the nozzle of that hose poised and ready to make entry as he says:

    "Is it safe?"

    Oh, thank you SO VERY MUCH for that.

  2. karen from Mentor

    Oh my gosh,
    I laughed and laughed and then laughed some more. I’ve had some pretty gruesome stuff done, including having my heart stopped on purpose while a bunch of people stood around and said "don’t worry you won’t feel a thing" (wrong)…..and even though this whole ordeal was gruesome, your description was freakin hilarious.
    I hope you work the experience into something. It’s the least your colon can do for you.
    After I read the posting the line "up your nose with a rubber hose" sprang to mind….but I’m sure that was a much shorter hose.
    Thanks Rob and I’m glad that you’re fine. P.S. If you email me I’ll tell you a really funny story about colonscopies.
    Karen 🙂

  3. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Man, I’ve been there. I had the same procedure about ten years ago, when I was thirty-four. I’m sure I’m due for another one now. God, this age thing is just beginning to kick in for me. A couple years ago I broke my foot by simply looking at it. I mean, that’s what it was like, I just turned two degrees to the left and there was this crack, and suddenly I’m on crutches for four months. And I’m getting these cysts in the back of my writsts (hey, how am I supposed to WRITE with cysts in my wrists?) And the contact lenses aren’t doing what they used to do, and….
    Well, as Tess reminded us yesterday, I’ll have plenty of time to write about this stuff…

  4. James Scott Bell

    All right, Browne, didn’t you ever go to nursery school? Don’t you remember the teacher saying, "Over sharing" to little Billy when he "shared" about his morning bowel movement to the entire class?

    Actually, your account brings me a little comfort for that day when I, too, will be looking at the garden hose. Or rather, the garden hose will be looking at me. "I did not feel a thing" are six wonderful words in the English language.

  5. Rob Gregory Browne

    Dusty, you’re very welcome.

    Karen, I’m not sure I have the emotional strength for any more colonoscopy stories…

    Pari, get it. Don’t avoid it. It’s not that bad and the procedure has saved many lives. Including the guy with the golf ball up his ass.

    Toni, I was at the 99 Cent Store and they were offering them cheap, so I figured, what the hell.

    James, I often overshare. Wait ’til I start talking about sex.

    I’m not nearly as bad as Stephen, however. He llost me at cysts.

  6. Cornelia Read

    Rob, I haven’t even had my coffee yet, but I don’t think this was oversharing. And the video was hysterically funny, thank you so much for that. Glad you’re fine, glad you did this.

  7. TerriMolina

    I’m speecheless. I think Toni’s blogs are starting to rub off on you. 😉
    I’m so glad everything came out okay (no pun intended or maybe it was).
    I enjoyed the blog but gotta admit I had the occassional eww response. 😉

  8. B.G. Ritts

    Louise, you thought of my line before I got the chance! (I just finished a church’s pipe organ web page.)

    Pari, remember: drugs is good! One minute I was on my side looking at the monitor and the next thing I remembered was being groggy and in ‘recovery’.

    Rob, sometimes TMI is very important.

  9. Wilfred Bereswill

    Rob, you made my day. Me? I lost 13 pounds during my prep. My wife kept telling me I’m full of …

    Now see, both times I’ve had it done, I’ve been out like a light. In fact the last time, I don’t remember rolling into the "Procedure" room. I’d love to get me some of that drug, though.

  10. kit

    I’m glad you are ok..and everything checked out fine…
    yeah, isn’t different to be at an age where we need to do these things…and in some cases having a lively imagination is more a detriment than a comfort!
    *it’s all grist for the mill* is a favorite motto of mine…that some day …some way we can use these experiences, file it away for use at another time.

  11. JT Ellison

    Having had my share of colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies, I feel for you. But you’re right, they don’t hurt, they are rather fascinating, and the worst by far is drinking whatever they give you. A good book or you a laptop and you can get a lot done.

    More importantly, so glad you’re anemia isn’t related to your tushie.

  12. Dana King

    I’ve had two colonoscopies. The first was just as Rob described. Drinking the laxative was a chore, but not unbearable. ("Lemonade-flavored snot" as my father described it, but, as a post-nasal drip survivor, I focussed on the lemonade flavor.) The procedure was fine, and watching on TV was fascinating. Like my own person Discovery Channel. They found a polyp and sucked it right through the tube. (Benign, no problem.) The best part was coming off the drugs. I spent the rest of the day in a relaxed, more or less semi-alert state, wactching hockey and dozing. Woke up the mext morning feeling better than I ever have.

    The second was fully anesthetized, with an over the counter laxative. The laxative was wicked nasty, and didn;t work as well. (So I’m told.) As for sleeping through it, for all I know they played tic-tac-toe on my bare ass while I was asleep. it’s not like I can see back there. My daughter (who wants to be a doctor and is interested in all of this) asked if they gave me pictures, like that would prove they’d actually done me. Like anyone can pick their colon out of a photo array.

  13. Rob Gregory Browne

    Like anyone can pick their colon out of a photo array.

    Clearly Rob can. "And I can say, without hestitation, that I have one of the most handsome colons I’ve ever seen."

    It is quite lovely.

  14. karen from mentor

    It isn’t really a colonoscopy story per se….more of a horrifying topic for a first date story….but well now I don’t have to tell it…cause that’s it in a nutshell. lol (needless to say..there wasn’t a second date…there ARE times when tmi is tmi….)
    btw: I want to come back for the sex talk……heads up on when? ????

    The puns! lol
    oh my.

  15. ArkansasCyndi

    OMG – I’m LMAO! The shuttle launch analogy…oh, yeah. We don’t discuss how very very rough toilet paper becomes as the evening wears on.

    I remember NOTHING from my three tests. The drugs were just wonderful and I’ll take my doctor’s word that I’m as lovely inside as out!

  16. Becky Hutchison

    Funny blog, Rob. I have to have my third one this summer. Yuck! For my first colonoscopy, I had to use that gross drink and couldn’t get but about half of it down. The second time I was prescribed pills that I took with lots of water. That was 100 times better and will be the pre-drug of choice for me this next time. And not only do I get to see my procedure while it’s being performed, but I get to take home souvenir pictures with the report. Ahh, the miracle of modern science!

  17. Allison Brennan

    I just don’t have anything to add . . . other than to ditto "glad you’re healthy and well."

    Now that you’ve gone through the gamut of docs covering most everything imaginable, we’re probably safe from medical procedures on living people as blog topics for awhile . . . or I may drag out each of my five birth stories, including the one where the idiot nurse couldn’t find my vein then, jab! my blood hit the ceiling and I wanted to deck her. I’m not normally a violent person, but when you’re 39-1/2 weeks pregnant and look like a beached whale, violence is generally forgiven.

  18. Fran

    So glad you’re healthy! And good on you for doing it!

    Okay Pari, your turn!

    And I speak as one who went through it too, and it really isn’t a big deal. They gave me the option of watching or not, and I snorted and handed them my glasses. The rest is a quite lovely fog.


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