THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY
FIFTY-SEVEN YEARS ON THE ALIMENTARY CANAL
After years of nagging, hectoring, hounding, and bullying, She Who Must Be Obeyed finally managed to compel me to get a colonoscopy, a life-affirming event, so Iím informed, if you survive it, which according to the statistics is pretty likely; but if you read the fine print on the hospital permission slips, in no way guaranteed. But there you are: when She speaks, I do what Iím told, sooner or later, and there was no way to dodge it any longer. It's not something I want to repeat, and now that it's done I will resist to the death having it done again. Luckily, my doctor, who maintained a disgustingly cheerful demeanor throughout the process, assures me Iím off the hook (ha, ha) for at least 10 more years.
It was my first experience at being unconscious and at the mercy of strangers with sharp metal objects.† This is a very unnerving thing for me and thank God Iíve mostly been able to avoid it happening.† Until that day, I had never been under a general anesthetic, and the next time it happens they're going to have to dart me with a tranquilizer gun first. If you haven't been through this business, you may not know exactly what's involved.
Essentially what happens is that the doctor and his numerous assistants knock you out with a date-rape drug, and while you're unconscious they shove what amounts to a 4-foot length of garden hose tipped with a camera all the way up your butt. And I mean ALL THE WAY. To prove it had really happened, I was later given a picture of my own, personal, ileo-colic junction. I'd have known it anywhere, it was mine, all right.
A week before The Big Event I went to the hospital for "pre-op" preparation. This is Doctor-Speak for putting you through a battery of tests that include blood work and chest x-rays, an EKG to be sure your heart is up to the rigors of the process, and also to see how well you endure sitting in a very small, very hot, and very crowded waiting room listening to Plastic Talking Heads on CNN Headline News repeat themselves every 18 minutes, periodically punctuated by commercials for Vonage andÖ.laxatives.
Speaking of laxatives, one of the other steps of "pre-op" is to issue a prescription for "Miralax." This is Doctor-Speak for polyethylene glycol, a more or less inert substance that, by the way, is used in many other applications. Among these other applications is being the stuff they use for buffering buckshot in shotgun shells. It looks and feels like powdered plastic, which is exactly what it is, more or less.
See, before they can bring out The Hose, you have to be "cleaned out" so that the Doctor can see ALL of your colon, from end to end, and from side to side.† He has to see ALL THE WAY UP, so naturally, there can't be any...well, "stuff" in there that might obscure his view of the scenery. After my ďpre-opĒ I was given instructions on how to use the Miralax. Verbally, these sounded mild enough at the time, but later, when I thought upon the matter a bit, seemed more than a little frightening. I didn't know the half of it.
I was told that the day before I was to cease all solid food at 4:00 PM and begin the "prep." This called for me to dissolve the entire bottle of Miralax "...in your favorite flavor of Gatorade..." and drink the concoction over a 1 to 2-hour period. This initially seemed pretty innocuous, even though I can't stand Gatorade. However, at first I wasn't aware of just how much Miralax was involved, nor how much Gatorade it was supposed to be dissolved in, until D-Minus One, when I began my "prep."
My wife picked up the Miralax prescription. Had I done this, Iíd have planted my feet and balked like a scared mule, but She was too smart to let me do that, and did it Herself. When the bottle came out of the little white bag they use at the pharmacy I realized that I was supposed to consume HALF A POUND of this stuff. Worse, it had to be dissolved in HALF A GALLON of Gatorade.
Now, I did a rough calculation.† This amount of Miralax is roughly 15 times the normal dose used for garden-variety constipation. Iíll bet that Ringling Brothers uses less than that to "prep" their elephants so they won't embarrass the circus during the big parade through downtown Cleveland. Then there was this cheery thought: even my "favorite flavor" of Gatorade tastes enough like Gator Piss that I won't normally drink it.† Nevertheless, I had to, because the Gatorade's function was to keep me from dying of electrolyte loss.
There isn't room in a half-gallon bottle of Gatorade for half a pound of Miralax, but I assumed that the idea was to get that entire half-pound of Miralax in me and it didn't much matter what the concentration was. I drank enough of the bottle of Gatorade to make room, then mixed the Miralax in and over the next hour and a half drank it all. (By the way, I chose Orange as my "favorite flavor" because at least it wasn't the fluorescent yellow color of the other flavor, alleged to be Lemon-Lime. If there is anything that tastes less like an orange than "Orange" Gatorade, I'd be very surprised.)
I am never, and I mean, NEVER, going to do this again. Next time I'll have them give me an enema: at least I wouldn't have to taste that. I thought for sure I was going to puke the Gatorade up, but that would just mean I'd have to get another prescription and start over again; so I dutifully kept it down, knocking the swill back like a college student at a Spring Break keg party with free Bud Lite. And with roughly the same results, except I didn't get drunk. Instead I gave myself diarrhea that would make a cholera victim proud.
Within an hour of completion of the last ounce of Gatorade, everything I'd eaten for the previous 12 weeks was on its way to the local sewage treatment plant, and my water bill had doubled for the month. I'd no sooner got rid of the pizza I'd had a week before the previous Saturday than the next day's pasta and meatballs were there in line demanding exit. This went on for several hours, culminating with the previous Wednesday's lunch, which made a loud BANG as it went out. After that, nothing but neon-colored Gatorade emerged, but that emerged more or less every time I stood up.
My instructions were also to eat nothing solid after 4:00 PM and to "continue liquids until midnight," at which time I was to knock off ingesting anything at all until further instructions. That was just fine with me: at the rate things were exiting, if I'd eaten a hot dog at 9:00 PM, it would have come out with the casing intact, still on the bun with mustard and sauerkraut undisturbed.
Once my gastrointestinal tsunami had slowed to reasonably controllable proportions I went to bed. Amazingly I managed to get through the night without having to get up more than six times. At 5:30 AM the alarm went off; I had to be at the hospital at 7:00 sharp for The Incredible Journey.
My instructions had been very specific on this point, insisting on punctuality: "Be at the hospital the day of your procedure PROMPTLY..." with vague threats of canceling my appointment and making me do the "prep" all over again if I were to be late. I walked through the doors on time, and a good thing I did, too: being on time meant I only had three and a half hours to wait until Dr S___ was ready to deal with me.
First I was taken to the Outpatient Waiting Room.† This a sort of First Circle of the Damned, where those unfortunates scheduled for "a procedure" (and their next of kin) could be together until the Damned is transported to the Second Circle and subsequently deeper. The elderly hospital volunteer who led me back there in company with a woman about my age cheerfully informed us we were both there "...for the same reason..." which I'm sure was something neither of us needed to know about the other.
The First Circle, like all waiting rooms these days, had CNN blathering away about something or other on the TV set. There's no escape from this, it's one of those things we Damned have to endure in airports, hospitals, restaurants, and nowadays even gas stations and convenience stores. But it was at that point only a minor irritant. I was having aftershocks from the tsunami, and mercifully the First Circle had a restroom.
Shortly thereafter a nurse came in, tried to call out my name (I always know it's me when they say, "Mr Ca-ca-ca-uh...," and stop there.† I just stand up, I know who they mean) and led me back to the Second Circle of the Damned, also known as Outpatient Room #3.† Therein I was told to "remove everything but your socks" and to don a hospital gown. I was also given a pair of Tyvek booties to put on OVER my socks. (I once saw an old porno film entitled "Moustache and Black Socks," in which the hero wore exactly that outfit. Of course, he had a motivation far better than mine to take everything else off. And he didn't have to wear Tyvek booties, the socks were enough.)
I have no idea why I was supposed to retain my socks, but Doctorís Orders is Doctorís Orders. I removed everything else and put on that gown. Paris Hilton or Madonna would have found that gown a little too revealing, but at least I had socks to provide modesty to my feet. And the booties. I still don't know why I was supposed to retain my socks: I never got off the bed from that point on until it was over.
Shortly thereafter a second nurse entered. She took various vital signs, then stuck an IV drip into my right hand, through which, she cheerfully assured me, "...they'll give you your drugs and you won't remember a thing." She was kind enough to use a local anesthetic first, injecting which hurt only a little more than the IV would have had she not used it. She assured me I had "very nice veins," which was some comfort. At least if I died there'd be something to engrave on my headstone: "He wasn't much to look at, but he had very nice veins."
Before she did this she asked me The Question: "Do you know what you're here for?" This was the third time since entering the hospital doors I'd been asked that question, and it seemed to me that if anyone ought to know, it would be the nursing staff. But apparently they like to get things right, because every single person who came in asked me the same question. I was waiting to be asked "Do you know why you were here?" when I was discharged.
Shortly thereafter my wife was ushered into Outpatient Room #3. Yet a third nurse came, asked me The Question, then proceeded to check my heart, my lungs, and to fit me up with EKG electrodes. By then it must have been about 8:30, so it was a good thing I'd got there at 7:00 because otherwise I wouldn't have had only another two hours to wait.
I spent most of that two hours in a light doze, interrupted only by the nurse-anesthetist and the anesthesiologist who came in, asked me The Question twice more, had me sign papers consenting to my alimentary canal being ravished, and holding them and Montgomery Regional Hospital, each and severally, non-responsible, immune, and totally un-sue-able should I die or be maimed or killed as a result, or in an explosion, or by a building collapse; and agreeing to the assertion that no matter what they did, said, or didn't do or didn't say, it wasn't their fault and they could bill me anyway. I signed all these papers. Why?† Because they had a needle in my hand and could have killed me if they'd wanted to, after all. Besides, what the hell else was I going to do?
Ever try writing with a needle in a vein in your hand and a foot of plastic tubing taped to it? I could always claim those signatures were forged, they look nothing like mine, Your Honor.
Sometime around 9:00 or so, another nurse came in, asked me The Question, and said she was going to take me to the Operating Room (the Seventh Circle of the Damned. I was on the Express Gurney and skipped Circles Three through Six inclusive). Then she popped out of the room.† Not thirty seconds later she returned to say that she wasn't going to take me out to the OR, not just yet, because Dr S___ had had to go and help another surgeon with something. No sweat, by then I was sufficiently hardened that I just rolled back over and went to sleep. Within an hour, Dr S___ was done with his emergency it was my turn.
Up popped the anesthesiologist, who started the IV drip of whatever drug he used. I asked him but don't remember what the name was. All I can say is that it would completely replace Rohypnol as the date rape drug of choice if it were freely available. Once it gets into your system it hits you in about 30 seconds and you're OUT. They weren't lying in telling me I wouldn't remember anything. I remember being wheeled into the OR, where two more nurses were doing something, and the next thing I knew Dr S___ was saying "OK, we're done with you now!" I was wheeled back to Outpatient Room #3, where my wife was waiting to hear the news.
By that time, which must have been about 11:15, I had been completely without food and water for well over 12 hours, since I wasn't allowed to even have a cup of water after midnight the night before, and had had nothing to eat from 4:00 PM the day before. I was ready to eat the hospital gown if nothing else was available.† With Tyvek booties for dessert. One of the nurses gave me some ice water, my tongue sizzling as I slurped it. I'd been given strict orders not to try to get off the bed until Dr S___ had come in; not that I was going to try, seeing as to how I was still hooked up to the IV and would have ripped a hole in my hand if I'd done so. Eventually he came in, made a few jokes about "everything coming out all right," and told me he'd found nothing. No polyps. Not a polyp in the entire thing. An absolute dearth of polyps, growths, excrescences, etc. A touch of diverticulosis, maybe, but not a single polyp, no siree. I am devoid of polyps and my large intestine looks like a vast seamless plain of goo, to judge by the pictures. Kind of like a wet Sahara desert, which I understand lacks polyps, too.
This was not exactly a surprise to me. I had been assuring Her for years that there was absolutely not a damned thing wrong with me and there was no earthly reason why I should endure this sort of nonsense, but to no avail. However, it was heartening to have it said by a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, of Columbia College of Physicians & Surgeons, a Diplomate of the FACS, and a Pillar Of the American Medical Community, and in front of witnesses, yet. Earlier that morning when she was checking something, one of the nurses had remarked that I was "very healthy," and if I'd been able to I'd have asked her to put it in writing, just for the record. Dr S___'s pronouncement of the sterling polyp-lessness of my colon just set the capstone on it.
So I am completely polyp-free and have been so since 1947.† While I'm extraordinarily dissipated for a 19-year-old boy, I'm in pretty decent shape for a guy who'll be eligible for Social Security in less than 5 years. It even appears I'll be around to collect it. In the past three weeks I've had a CAT scan, chest X-rays, TWO rounds of blood work, a complete physical exam and routine check-up, an EKG, and a whole bunch of other pokes and prods of an extremely undignified nature, not to mention having half my digestive tract photographed for posterity. I am revoltingly healthy despite all my efforts. I think I'm entitled to a French fry or two at this point.