(The ‘aging’ dance continues. And I thought eyebrow dandruff was bad.)
First of all, let’s give credit where due. I tip my hat to my hero, Dave Barry, who beat me to this topic. As a result of his groundbreaking medical research, Dave has made it harder for a humorist to write about a colonoscopy than to actually have a colonoscopy.
Thanks a lot, Dave.
A Brief History of Invasive Surgery
Recently, I was a more-or-less unwilling participant in an age-based rite of passage that goes something like this: “Oh, you’re fifty years old? Well, let’s get you naked, define the most unlikely spot imaginable and then insert a camera!”
First off, I had no idea I was fifty. I haven’t seen my wristwatch since college, when an old roommate “borrowed” it so he wouldn’t “stay up too late” at a “friendly poker game.” Of course, I never “saw him again.”
Now to be fair, a colonoscopy is a fairly common procedure these days, if you define “fairly common” as being starved, purged, drugged, prodded, and having several total strangers co-star with some of your internal organs in a reality show that you can’t watch, but which you get to pay for.
What this entire endoscopic exercise does is this: it gives you a whole new appreciation for the term “private sector.” Hopefully, this is as close to prison as I’ll ever get.
After resigning to my fate, my first chore was to go to the hospital and have some blood drawn. For reasons that were never explained, my potassium levels were critical. Maybe the film crew were worried that the camera’s light would break, and the doctors would have to strike a match.
Lawyers, who are trained to spot anyone facing this pending procedure by that “hunted duck” look in the patient’s eyes, surrounded me in the hospital lobby, loading me up with business cards and oversized refrigerator magnets.
The sign-in counter at the hospital’s lab featured all the standard forms. You know: sign in; write your name; your birthday; your doctor’s name; the time you arrived; no, the time you really arrived; now be honest – we were watching the clock when you arrived; your gender; the gender you would like to be if you worked for the city of San Francisco; why you think your medical condition is George Bush’s fault; have you ever been bitten in the afflicted area by a ferret, and so on. Standard stuff.
But on this counter was another form: some kind of internal Employee Recognition project, obviously printed in-house, bearing this bold-cap title: “THEY KEY TO THEIR SUCCESS IS YOU!”
Not a very good feeling, knowing you’re putting your life in the hands of a gang that can’t spell “the.”
Insurance, we already discussed, elsewhere. Since I was well, it didn’t go well. My health insurance non-provider (Evil Inc.) indignantly refused to discuss paying for stuff that happened before I got sick, or that didn’t involve me currently being sick, or screening procedures or anything else that might possibly keep me from getting sick. On the plus side, though, should I ever get sick, they promised to show me how a simple screening procedure could have prevented my getting sick, just before they promised to refuse to pay for anything I needed until before or after I was no longer not sick.
Here’s how bad Evil Inc. is: even President Obama can’t help. It’s true! I called him, personally, on his Bat Phone. Eight times. Each time, he was on another vacation.
The Ever-Popular Cleansing Day
On this topic, there’s just not much left to say that hasn’t already been said. Let’s go with an allegory.
In a nutshell, you’ve got a colon for sale. Tomorrow morning, your realtor, a member of the Million Dollar Colon Roundtable Club, is coming by with a “hot” buyer in tow. The eager buyer is Duke Sigmoid and his life partner, the Duchess of Ileum, who lost their own colon due to a glitch in the Universal Health Care Bill. Your colon, like your college dorm room, hasn’t seen a broom or a mop since the Truman Administration. There are actual pizza stains on the ceiling fan in the great room (what doctors call the “intestium crassum,” if they’re doctors with a really good sense of humor).
And now you’ve got exactly one day to make the place spotless.
Fear not. Extremely bitter people have invented drugs that will do to you exactly what you need to have done to you, which is, coincidentally, exactly what needs to be done to Congress.
How does the cleansing process work? Let’s whip out another allegory. Imagine yourself as the cleansing drug. You walk into a long, narrow room, filled with old college roommates who owe you money and a wristwatch. A violent chemical reaction occurs. Boom. Room empty.
The Day Time Stood Still
Pre-op was mostly just a case of self-inflicted nerves; you know, the way anybody would feel when people are about to play “Up Periscope” and you’ve been tagged as The Surface Of The Ocean. The hospital staff was just as kind and helpful as they could be, but they kept dancing by, hitting me with statements one doesn’t normally hear in an average workday.
• “Hi, I’m Mindy. I’ll be sticking a needle in your wrist!”
• “Hi, I’m Teencie. I’ll be putting all your clothes and your wallet in a large un-tagged plastic bag.”
• “Hi, I’m a patient in the bed partition beside yours. Have you any Grey Poupon?”
• “Hi, I’m Detective Phillips. We’re looking for a troublemaker named Norwood. Domestic violence case. Keep your eyes open. Here’s my card.”
• “Hi, I’m new here. Are post-op patients always that bruised?”
• “Hi, I’m a large, unshaven man. I’ll be waiting behind this curtain until you take off all your clothes.”
• “Hi, I’m an imaginary character in a bad dream you’re having. Wow. You sure do bruise easily!”
• “Hi, I’m Norwood. I’ll be in charge of administering drugs through that needle in your wrist until you’re irretrievably unconscious, and then later, if all goes well – and if my infuriating ex-wife and her grope-crazed attorney will leave me ALONE FOR FIVE BLOODY SECONDS – I’ll be bringing you back to life.”
In the bed partition next to me were 3 female members of the Tank Top Nation, Momma and 2 daughters, estimated combined tonnage: 750 lbs (excluding tattoos). Momma wasn’t happy to be “kep waden” for something that “weren’t my [bleep] idear na furz [bleepin’] place.” She spent the morning calling people on her daughter’s “sale foam,” threatening to tell “at dock” that he could kiss a specific, albeit broad, segment of her south-facing tonnage.
My, that woman could swear.
Truth be told, I remember more about my Senior Prom.
I was wheeled in to the O.R. and coddled like someone who, if treated very nicely, could be convinced to disclose the location of a bunch of hidden money. Then I was coaxed to roll over onto my left side. That’s when I noticed the high-def camera suspended from the ceiling. In the screen, I could see my partial contour, lying on my side, and several serious figures in the background, purposefully scurrying back and forth among complicated pieces of machinery. I felt like I was in an episode of ’24.’
Shortly, Mindy (or it could have been Teencie, or Detective Phillips) leaned in and said, “Okay, I’m gonna put you under. Ready?”
“Okay,” I said. “But I still think we should see other people.”
Next, the surgeon walked in, wearing a mask, and said, “Gimme all your money!”
I’m kidding. That didn’t happen till later.
And then, as Hunter Thompson might put it, the drugs kicked in.
After the Dance (the post-op)
I snapped awake. And a good thing, too, because I’d been deep in the grip of an anesthesia-induced nightmare involving androgynous nurses from San Francisco who kept urging me not to vote for Proposition 8.
It was done! I asked a few “how’d it go” questions, but I quickly shut up. We tend to forget that these Operating Room people are paid professionals, who do this all the time. And because they do this all the time, they get bored.
Remember the World Cup games in South Africa, and that constant, hypnotic, never-ending one-note blare from the crowd? That multi-hour single-tone symphony was generated by hundreds of three-foot-long Zulu horns, known as vuvuzela. Now, I’m not saying that my O.R. crew had access to a vuvuzela. But they do get bored.
And when I came to, my hair was parted on the other side.
But, at least it was over. Well, almost. Thanks to Evil Inc. and their single-tone symphony (no no no no no no no no no), we had one more procedure to complete. So I leaned over one more time, and the nice doctor deftly performed a full wallet extraction.
The First Day of the Rest of My Life
Afterwards, once I got home, I had a sore throat. I don’t want to think about that.
And I did get photos, though they’re not exactly the sort of wallet-sized proof-sheet winners that you whip out at the office water cooler.
“Hey, Fred! Looka my sigmoid!”
“Congratulations. Looks just like you, Harold.”
But it wasn’t a total loss. One photo clearly shows Geraldo Rivera closing in on Jimmy Hoffa.
Most importantly, I’m home. Home from my visit with the local hospital’s Rear Admiral, with a clean bill of health, along with several other extremely clean things. Home, and healthy. Nice feeling, that. And I didn’t nick a single one of Dave Barry’s jokes.
Oh, and they found my watch.