With my wife MaryJanice out of town - nay, out of state - nay, out of the country! - I have hacked the password to her blog (hint: every password she has is a variation of “asshat”) and intend to bring you, the gentle reader, the first highly reasoned entry this entire blog has ever seen. No outlandish statements, no random insults, no stream-of-what-passes-for-consciousness in her mind; just good, wholesome reading for the entire family.
That’s why I’m going to talk about my ass.
Seriously. (For about one paragraph.) By the end of this blog posting, and probably by the end of the next sentence, you’ll figure out the rationale for this topic. Of course to get there, you’re going to have to read about a colonoscopy. I had one recently, and it just offers too much material. MaryJanice spoke to me before she left about sharing the experience with her readers, since many of you might find yourselves in the same situation someday. She thought it would be a good idea. I’m still not sure it is myself - I’m an elected official running opposed this year, and even the most extroverted candidates don’t generally disclose THIS much information about themselves! Still, I’ll do a lot for the sake of good health advice, and if everyone can have a bit of a laugh at my expense along the way, that’s just fine.
So, we’ve all agreed that if you’re reading further than this, you’re not going to whine on the Internet about “too much information!”, right?! We’re all big boys and girls here, right?! Okay, let’s get to the mockin’.
The American Cancer Society recommends colonoscopies for adults over 50. I am not over 50, but I’ve got some family history that convinced my doctor that my ass may be ten years older than the rest of me. I put him off for a couple of years because, I dunno, my butt didn’t feel like it had cancer; but after he pointed out a few months ago that all of the good eating habits and stomach crunches and push-ups I was doing wouldn’t mean shit to a malignant tumor if it was sitting there already, I made the appointment.
Then I postponed the appointment three months, because I had a professional development opportunity.
Then I lost the prep letter they sent me.
Then I got snippy when the clinic called and asked if I had received the prep letter and understood it.
Then I made them send me another one, which I read and fumed at before I stuffed it back in the enveloped and tacked it to the kitchen corkboard, well within reach of my dog’s jaws if she were so inclined to taste the inexplicably gravy-tainted paperwork.
My wife has observed, on occasion, that I am not a model patient. Of course I’m not. Most models get paid - she should know this, having dabbled in that career path herself. My service to the medical profession is to avoid being sick in the first place. The less the doctors, nurses, and other devoted health professionals see me, the happier we all are. I’m not the first person to feel this way, and I won’t be the last. I consider myself in plentiful and distinguished company.
Still, it’s hard to ignore things like mortality, especially once trauma hits someone you know. Also, it occurs to me that I will make a kick-ass grandfather someday, because I very much enjoy entertaining children for short bursts and then off-loading them onto someone more responsible. But I can’t have that sort of fun if I’m dead. So I wiped the gravy off the envelope, fed the dog a biscuit instead, and kept the goddamn appointment.
Prep letters for this sort of procedure are written by well-meaning people who didn’t exactly major in communication or marketing. That’s okay, because I’d prefer they pursued the medical degree. Still, it’s obvious that these letters have some passionate authors, because they have warnings heaped after bold-faced warnings heaped after bold-italicized warnings heaped after bold-italic-underlined warnings. You can just hear the staff as they plink away at the keyboard:
Tappity tap. “Okay, I’m listing the low-fiber diet. Should we explain why it’s necessary?”
“No, let’s just start listing foods they like. What do people like?”
“Hmm. I like nuts.”
“Nuts. That’s the first thing to go. Add raw fruit and vegetables, too.”
Tappity tappity. “Raw fruit...vegetables...anything else?”
“Hmmm. There’s a lot, aren’t there? Just list ‘high-fiber foods’.”
“Wait. We’re going to make a list of high-fiber foods, throw a couple of examples, and then just close it out with an actual entry that says, ‘high fiber foods’? That doesn’t explain very much. Isn’t that like defining a word by using the word, or something?”
“What is this, War and Peace? Just tell them to lay off the fucking fiber. Everyone knows what fiber is. Finish the list and let’s move on to liquid diet day.”
“Got it...all right, doing the part about mixing the laxative and the Gatorade. Should we explain why this is necessary?”
“They’ll figure it out within an hour. Hey - make sure it’s not RED Gatorade. We don’t want this solution to taste like anything but fake lemon-lime. Underline that: not red.”
Tappity tappity tap. “Not...red...underlining...okay...”
“Did you boldface it?”
“I underlined it. That’s not enough?”
“They won’t read it if you don’t boldface it. Also, it should be all caps. Patients need capitalization when they read about colonoscopies. That’s how they know it’s important.”
“Do you think they won’t read the stuff we don’t capitalize, then?”
“Good point. Better capitalize the whole paragraph.”
Of course, everything they direct the reader to do is actually important, and I did it. It helped to take a vacation day or two off beforehand, and I was also glad MaryJanice was home with me because like most people who don’t normally work out of the house, I lost track of what day of the week it was and almost made a cataclysmic mistake when I popped open a Greek yogurt the day before, thinking it was Wednesday instead of Thursday. Actually, truth be told, in that moment I thought it was Sunday since I’d been home the day before. This whole thing was really hiding my water bowl, so to speak.
During this short liquid diet, I got a brief glimpse into the life of an anorexic. I’m not jesting there; I know many people with eating disorders resort to liquid diets because they’re effective at purging the weight of whatever’s in the digestive tract. It’s wildly effective for about 24 hours - you drop a bunch of pounds right away. The problem, of course, is that this is a one-time loss of solid material from your body, and to sustain the lower level you have to keep sucking down nothing more than chicken broth and sports drinks. Say what you will about the evils of fiber, but I found that I was nearly keeling over every three or four hours without it. Apparently, foods with fiber also tend to have these crazy things called “nutrients” in them. So don’t skip ‘em.
In between fainting spells, I was also mildly cranky. Wedded life with me is normally uninterrupted bliss, as MaryJanice will be the first to attest (though there’s no need for her to exert herself editorially in this blog entry, to do so). Still, when not properly fed, I can do an admirable impression of that honey badger that went video-viral about a year ago. Cute as a button, but perhaps a touch aggressive. Here is a list of things I found annoying during this time:
* the cramps (no way this doesn’t come first);* the fact that I knew I couldn’t play basketball or do any significant exercise;* the taste of Gatorade laced with Miralax;* the fact that my wife, in a fit of well-intentioned helpfulness, bought three times the volume of liquids I could possibly consume for this time period, apparently thinking me to be some sort of exotic fish;* every Gatorade commercial I saw on television, which showed other people drinking the stuff during the course of actual physical exertion;* the way the dogs barked every time a squirrel crossed the street;* the inexplicable career success of Kristen Stewart;* my children’s voices;* the air from the ceiling fan;* the stuffiness of the room when the ceiling fan wasn’t on;* my persistent inability to beat the demon Belial on normal difficulty in Diablo III (since rectified, but still);* the endless chain of leashes my family has constructed for the puppy so that she can explore more of the yard while being taken outside, which is both unnecessary and in fact counterproductive to proper training (this may still be bugging me); and* the worry that this procedure may, in fact, find something requiring follow-up.
The morning of the procedure, MaryJanice and I drove in to the hospital together. (I couldn’t go alone. You need to have someone there to drive you home, so they can start laughing at you and your ass camera procedure right away. Delaying the mocking process can entail severe side effects.) The office made it very clear (note how I’ve bold-faced, italicized, and underlined that) to be there forty-five minutes before the actual start time of the procedure. Lots of paperwork to do, you see, and it’s the start of the day and we need to be there on the spot so that they don’t get behind with everyone else. Everything depends on us! So we’re there forty-five minutes early. Is there a soul out there who hasn’t already predicted that we had to sit in their waiting room for a good chunk of that time, anyway?
At this point, I get some new papers that outline what the procedure will actually be like, and what I’ll need to do afterward. It’s legal stuff masquerading as medical information (you can tell because of the way you have to sign at the end and give them back a copy, even though they already know everything on the sheet). Still, I read it and found it informative. One of the things I learned was that the endoscope didn’t just have a camera on it; it also had a tiny pair of scissors capable of taking tiny biopsies. That way, if they found anything, they could snag the sample right away, instead of pulling the camera back and then blindly jamming some spinning blades into my intestine.
“That’s thoughtful of them,” I remarked to MaryJanice. She nodded, nose stuck in People magazine.
Eventually I got to go back to the prep room, where you undress and put on the stupid smock. I had to use the bathroom again, which inspired the nurse to reassure me that I would likely not have the urge again during the procedure. When I asked her the basis for her astonishing prescience, she pointed out that the endoscope also had a suction tool.
Wow, I thought to myself. A camera. A scissors. And now a vacuum cleaner. It’s like getting an enema from a Swiss Army knife.
Flash forward twenty minutes, and yep, that’s what it felt like. No, okay, it wasn’t that bad! While I was in the prep room, the nurse set up the intravenous for my sedative, which not only keeps you from driving home alone later but alsokeeps you from jumping off the operating table mid-procedure screaming “aaaiiiiiiieeeeee...that thing must be at least four feet long!” Here, the writing skills of whoever authored the prep memo shone brightly: they used the word “discomfort”, which is spot on.
The doctor herself was a superstar, a fine mix of pleasant and professional, who hadn’t forgotten that patients like things like introductions and explanations and warnings. She was kind to her staff, who were also excellent, and she recognized me in my city council role...which led to the only surreal part of the entire experience.
I understood immediately, when she began asking questions about a specific city planning issue, that she was trying to distract me from the discomfort of the procedure. (I’m like a quasi-slim Jabba the Hut, in that Jedi mind tricks don’t work on me...also, I keep an enormous beast in the basement, under a trap door.) Still, it was an odd topic to pick. At one point, one of the nurses chimed in with mild disagreement about my take on the issue, which didn’t strike me as fighting particularly fairly. I mean, I think I held my own in this particular debate; still, I trust everyone involved will cut me some slack if I didn’t recall correctly every precise detail of the city’s landmark purchase of the Hudson Sprayers building for riverside redevelopment purposes.
Just at the point where I started to feel sufficient discomfort to request a change in conversational topic, I felt the Swiss Army knife retract. It pulled back with alarming speed, but it seems churlish to complain. I got up, they guided me back to the prep room, I got to dress and have an orange juice and cookie, and then my wife drove me home.
Oh, I almost forgot: no growths. If cancer’s going to get me, it’s not taking the back door! In fact, given some thinness in some of the lining in there, the medical staff actually had the outstanding sense of irony to recommended a high fiber diet for me. I tried hard not to say anything in response to that. (I lasted until this blog, anyway.)
So that’s how I started my Memorial Day weekend, which put me in a mind of the real sacrifices many people have made, which far outstrip anything I’ve experienced inside or outside a hospital. I’m grateful for the life I have, the city and state and country I live it in, and the people I know who’ve helped me along the way. They care about me, and the least I can do for them is take reasonable steps to ensure my long-term health.
Do I have to spell out the moral of the story? Very well, for the less subtle among you, especially the men, I will. Those of you who are over 50, or those younger who fall into one of several high-risk categories, should get an occasional colonoscopy. You can learn more about the necessary frequency for this and other tests at the American Cancer Society website (http://www.cancer.org/). You won’t sacrifice your dignity or self-respect - in fact, you’ll gather more of it by demonstrating what people do when they care for each other.
Thanks to MaryJanice for letting me use her blog to carry this message to a wider audience than many politicians enjoy, thanks to all of you for reading (and of course, for reading my wife’s books), and special thanks to those of you who take the message of testing to heart. Many happy returns.
Published on June 03, 2012 02:57 • 234 views
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