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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
“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?”