Saturday, December 13, 2008


It was all about anticipation. First, the calendar kept speaking. You are 55. Past the time for your first colonoscopy. Then, my doctor. It’s time. Your insurance covers it. It’s time.
Well, no one in my family had colon cancer. Well, at least no one that I knew about. And, perhaps some of the family had it, but I never found out.
One of my mentors died from colon cancer. Untested and undetected, until it was too late. He died too young.
Several of my friends have done their colonoscopy. I even picked up one of my friends from the hospital after his. And, he was fine, and said it wasn’t much of a deal. Except for the prep work.
A few months ago, one of my staff members had a real scare. A fast growing tumor, and her doc thought it might be cancer. So, she had the exploratory surgery, and it was benign. In our discussions on her pending time off from work, she simply announced she was going to schedule my colonoscopy. It was a done deal. My wife was thrilled. She had had her colonoscopy a few years ago, and was relieved with its positive results, and the fact that she, too, was proactive about her health.
OK, OK, I get it. I went to my appointment with Dr. Colonoscopy. I’ve known him casually for years. A nice guy. Other folks in the community said he does a good job with this stuff. So, we chatted, mostly about my medical history, my dad’s fatal heart attack, my mother’s leukemia, my diet, and some of the social problems we both see in the community.
I left his office with the instructions, the surgery date, and my “prep list”. I dutifully marked all the dates on the calendar on our refrigerator, and tried to ignore the march of time. All too soon, it was the day to stop taking baby aspirin, so that my blood would clot well if the doc removed any polyps while he was looking around inside of me.
My wife stocked up on jello, and, a day before the start of my serious preparation, I went to the store to buy my very own bottles of some odd stuff called “magnesium citrate”. Oh, the label said, new and improved. Now, lemony and sparkling. Comments from my wife and my friends were to the contrary.
I also bought some Ensure, a kind of “complete meal supplement” in liquid form. I could drink some of that for the next two days, along with coffee, thank God, tea, bullion, and, the ever popular clear jello.
When I got home, my wife had a big bowl of jello already cooling in the refrigerator, and I opened my first bottle of the “lemony” magnesium citrate. I mixed it with cranberry juice, thinking that would kill the taste, but the baking soda-ish, bitter tang of the stuff overwhelmed the delicate flavors of the cranberry. I added a bunch of ice, and nearly chugged the stuff, before I could think to gag. Yuck.

Within a few minutes, I could hear a few rumbles from my stomach and deep in my gut.
“Working already,” I thought. But, then, all seemed well, and I began to anticipate my delicious dinner of Ensure, jello, and ice water, followed by the second “cocktail” of the day.
As my wife tried to hide her dinner from me, I could still detect she was eating some really good looking left overs from the night before, my “last supper”, a baked potato, and some great looking baked apple dessert. My jello and ice water were OK, but the chocolately Ensure was less that Godiva like, and certainly not Hershey’s.
In the midst of it all came my first of many trips to the bathroom. My thoughtful wife had piled up eight rolls of toilet paper on the bathroom counter, causing me to laugh heartily, which also helped move things along. I brought a book with me to read there, but I found that the frequent visits were, well, quick and busy, and one has no time to become enraptured by any book.
I was begging to wise up a bit, and my last cocktail of the day was mixed with orange juice (no pulp, per the doc’s orders), and that was a bit better. My anesthesiologist compared the gunk to “the bad side of a daiquiri”, and that was the best description I could think of. Still, the stuff went down pretty good, and then “out” pretty good later on.
I slept pretty well, but with one ear open to any rumblings, and there were a few quick trips to the bathroom during the night. My wife had teased me about needing a spare set of sheets to hold in reserve in case I had an “accident”, but I think I disappointed her and managed to not make a mess out of anything outside of my throne.
The next morning, at least I could start the day with coffee. Orange juice, a small bowl of jello, and, this time, the vanilla flavored Ensure. That was the saving grace, as the vanilla stuff was much more palatable than the fake chocolate stuff, or maybe my taste buds were dying off. Hard to tell, as the cocktail was still the “back side of a daiquiri”.
As I read the doc’s “prep” instructions again, I realized that Day Two involved twice as many cocktails as Day One. And, so there was more orange juice and the ‘delightful lemony flavors ‘ of the magnesium citrate. Interesting they aren’t required to sell it with a huge warning label “This junk causes massive and prolonged diarrhea”. Or, at least label it as a “weapon of mass explosion”.
I did get an idea for my Christmas list, the one where coal is the main item of giving. But, even my enemies don’t deserve that, do they? I vacillated, but it was a healthy fantasy.
This increased use of this devious weapon soon had me believing I was completely emptied out by noon, but either I’m a guy who is really full of it, or Mother Nature just stores a lot of “fiber” in one’s intestines, and doesn’t want to give it up without a real struggle.
My kidneys were working well, too, as all of the soda and, well, it must be wood ashes, in the gunk made me pretty thirsty, so there was no problem keeping hydrated between my trips to the bathroom.
I found myself not feeling like I was starving to death, either. All that liquid kept my stomach feeling not terribly deprived, and the carbs in the vanilla Ensure and the jello kept my energy up. I was able to do some reading, some writing, and able to watch a few movies as well. No long walks or even a trip to town, though. The calls of nature were sudden and urgent, and the toilet paper roll became “my friend”. Yet, contrary to my wife’s devious planning, I didn’t need the entire eight rolls of TP, but, then, I was glad she had laid in a good supply. It was, well, comforting.
Towards the end of the day, I was amazed to see that I was losing a lot of green and blue. Maybe I was really a Vulcan, because I know that Mr. Spock had green blood. But, alas, I realized I wasn’t a spaceman, and instead, my little old gall bladder was feeling lonesome and apparently hadn’t gotten the message along the line that all the rest of my system was taking a vacation. Still, the colors were a shock, and my two pages of “Prep Digest” didn’t alert me to this phenomenon.
At seven that night, I had the last cocktail, and nearly danced a jig in the kitchen as I threw away the last empty bottle of the horrible magnesium citrate. Now, I worried if I would really be empty of everything before Dr. Colonoscopy and his crew got to take a real close look at me.
Prep Digest contained the bold type warning that I could not have any liquids after midnight, so, of course, when I went to bed, I had dreams of crawling across the desert, craving water, or standing under a waterfall, with cool, refreshing water pouring over my head.
Food fantasies began to creep into my brain, as I wanted something crunchy, chewy, and even creamy. Maybe on the way back from the hospital, I’d stop off at my favorite greasy spoon diner, for an extra large platter of biscuits and gravy, blackened sausages, and greasy, crunchy hash browns. Or, a giant salad for lunch. The list kept growing.
The next morning, I awoke to the thought of no coffee, no orange juice, not even a tempting, cool, somewhat creamy bottle of vanilla Ensure. No coffee and a colonoscopy didn’t sound like a good morning to me. Yet, the end was in sight, and I had gone this far.
I showered, paying close attention to my nether regions, as I didn’t’ want to offend the hospital folks. But then, they were getting up this morning knowing that they were going to explore the butts of a number of folks. At least I’d be unconscious for that experience, and I didn’t have that chore on my job description.
My wife dropped me off at the hospital. “Have a good time, dear,” she joked, as she left to go to her workout at the gym, and, I speculated, probably a huge breakfast with platters of rich, chewy comfort food. I’m sure she disappointed me, and stuck to her fitness regimen, and not even a stop at Starbucks for a mocha.
The prep nurse was a delight, and we ended up talking about Weight Watchers and portion control. She was all bubbly, remarking that I must be feeling pretty good, as I was “all cleaned out”. Well, in a way. At least, I was done with the cocktail drill, and was only a few hours away from real coffee and real food.
She poked me a good one with the needle for the IV, and gave up, letting the anesthesiologist take a “stab”. He had the wonderful idea of deadening the area first, before he poked me, and for that, he wins the blue ribbon of the day. He joked with me about his colonoscopy experience, and kept shaking my hand every time he came in to check on me or give me something in the IV. Maybe he wasn’t sure if I had brought my switchblade with me, lying in wait for the team with the giant black snake, or whatever they were going to try to slide up me.
Soon, I was rolled over on my side, a nice fluffy pillow under my head, and the last thing I remember was the anesthesiologist saying he was going to give me a “little hors d’oeuvre”. What, food? Yeah, food. But, no sensation of sizzling steaks, or juicy hamburgers, or apple pie with ice cream touched my lips, and I slipped away before I could even send in my order.
The next thing I knew, I was in the next room, with the nurse saying I was all done. As soon as I could pass a little gas, I could go home. Well, she’s talking to a real expert in that department, and it was not very long before I did not disappoint her.
“Oh, I see you’re ready now to go home. I’ll call your wife,” she said. I was still pretty groggy, so I didn’t notice if she turned green or gagged as she fled the room, but then, I was proud of what I can do so well, every day.
My results were good. No polyps to see, and thus, no lab results to await. Still, I keep looking in the mail for my very own DVD. Christmas is coming, you know, I have to shop for a few more gifts for my friends. I know they want to get to know me a whole lot better.
My wife had wanted the nurse to call her on her cell phone. I imagined she was at Starbucks, quaffing her third mocha, or chomping down an apple fritter, or even scarfing down one of those greasy spoon diner breakfasts I like, but she doesn’t, just to spite me. She claimed she had finished her workout and was buying vegetables at the store, when she got the call. I’ll never know the truth. I swear I smelled biscuits and gravy on her when she showed up.
Soon, I was home, filling my cup with coffee. Alas, the anesthetic had turned my tastebuds around, and it tasted like mud. Still, there was caffeine and that was important. I soon was stirring up a big breakfast for myself, and even poured a big glass of orange juice. Alas, we were out of magnesium citrate, so I had to drink it plain.

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