The Joys of Colonoscopies

Like a good doobie, when I turned 50, I made an appointment for my colonoscopy.  A cancer you can totally prevent?  Im in.  Let’s set aside for the moment that the general area of the colon is NOT my favorite body part.  And the idea of someone excavating down there — well, let’s just say I’d rather prepare income tax returns for my entire cul de sac.

When I scheduled the appointment, however, I hadn’t focused on the fact that it was the day after ten of us college buddies would gather at a Wisconsin lake house to celebrate turning 50.  It’s important to note here that my in-laws had decided to plan a last minute visit to our house that same weekend.  My husband would be hosting alone.

On the day before the procedure, I woke up like Henry the 8th, bloated with gout-like symptoms from massive amounts of cheese, wine and food.   The instructions called for me to fast.  By the time I rolled into my New York home from Wisconsin, although I was starving, my lower abdomen still protruded, like a pig in a blanket, from the weekend festivities.  The anticipation of drinking the noxious cocktail that would scrub every molecule from my intestines had me in a foul mood.

I take the pills and chug the bottle of swill, which tastes like carbonated Dead Sea mingled with Lemon Pledge. I gag, unpack, and begin to cook dinner for the family and Bob’s parents, which I am forced to stare at but cannot eat.

Bed time.  Nothing yet.  The combo of cheese, bread and pasta that I have consumed all weekend has clearly fastened itself to my innards like grout.   I somehow manage to fall asleep—but it is the sleep of the wary, a one-eyed kind of sleep.  By 2:00 AM, small rumbling things are happening somewhere in my digestive tract.  We might have the makings of explosive diarreah, I think grimly, a term I once snickered at and is now too painfully personal to find humorous.  This, I know, will be me in a few short hours.  The butt of my own joke.  Literally. 

Sure enough, at 3:00 in the morning, my abdomen begins to emit the dreaded Orca the whale sounds, calling from one end of my intestines to the other.  I sprint for the toilet and spend the next three hours grimly running between bed and bowl, hoping against hope that there is no damage to the new bedroom carpet.  Suffice it to say that the “cleansing process” as they call it—something that evokes gentle loofas and essential oils, has the vengeance and frothing rush of an airport automatic flush toilet.  How humbling, I realize, to endure the entire liquefied contents of your entrails flying out in one Old Faithful-style geyser blast.  

Too old for maxi pads and too young for Depends, I realize that some kind of physical protection would help me sleep.  Military body armor would be welcome here. This is what leads me to the low point of raiding my daughter’s bathroom closet for feminine hygiene products to fashion, with sticky strips, a thong adult diaper.  Don’t ask.  Let me just say that this invention allowed me a few more minutes of sleep and eased my transport and mobility worries the next day.

The next morning, however,  I learn that my in-laws are not in fact leaving.  They are here for another whole day. NO one has factored my colonoscopy into the scheme of things. This is when my husband thankfully decides to take the morning off work, dump me at the doctors, take them to breakfast and pick me back up.

Starving doesn’t begin to describe it.  At breakfast I had reached hunger levels critical enough to munch my own back fat.  And this made me grumpy.  My mother in-law, who is having memory issues, was unable to grasp the facts.  Who is going to the doctor?  Me, I answer calmly in the car on the way there.  Now why are you going to the doctor?  A test,  I answer again,  After the fourth time, my fatigue, my hunger and my lack of patience cause me to snap.

“Mom, I drank some horrible liquid that made me poop all night and right now your son is taking me to the doctor so he can put a stick up my butt and make sure I don’t have cancer.”  Well, that was a showstopper for the whole car.  Thankfully we had just pulled up to the curb so I could hop out.  Delicately hop.

The anesthesia was sweet, liquid sleep.  I would have endured five colonoscopies in a row if I could just stay under a little while longer.  Hormones, kids, schedules and work….. what low point was I at in my life that a medical procedure where I got to be unconscious was sounding like a spa visit?

But when I woke, abruptly, with a nurse shaking me, the misery of the situation hit me.  My first hazy thought, as I looked at my paper gown and realized grimly that things were still “cleansing,” was that I had fast forwarded in life and had been admitted to a state-owned nursing home, lying in a pile of my own excrement.  As my head tried to clear itself from the cloud of anesthesia, I looked at the nurse suspiciously.  Were they going to feed me cat food next?

“Boy, you have a long colon,” the doctor said to me in our little post-op chat where I was dressed but still slightly out of it.


“Yeah! A lot of colon packed into that abdomen.”   I’d be sure to remember that fun fact for my next cocktail party.

“Does that mean I’m full of crap?” I asked.  Ooops. Had I said that out loud?  Clearly the anesthesia was still affecting my filter.  He smiled lamely. He’d heard it all.  But Mother of God I wished and hoped for this man that he got to do other, fun things with colons; surgeries maybe, transplants, research, anything but being elbow deep in people’s poop all day.

Exhausted now and back at home I try to sleep. But sleep will not come because I know Bob’s parents are downstairs and I’m channeling the same low-level anxiety I had about crating our new puppy.  Like all older people temporarily displaced from their own homes, they have absolutely nothing to do. I can hear them downstairs ricocheting off furniture like a pin ball machine.  And what if Bob’s Mom burns the house down with her cigarettes?  I rise. I go downstairs.

“Lets go to Costco,” I say with false cheer. This excursion will serve two masters.  My mother in law loves to shop. And we have no food. This is how I found myself, hours after my first colonoscopy, loading grosses of Gatorade, pounds of grapes, frozen sausages and steroidal boxes of Captain Crunch into my giant cart, lurching slowly down the aisles.

“You’re like the peasant women in Pearl Buck’s, The Good Earth” my husband joked to me on the phone later when I tell him about my afternoon.  He’s referring to the part  where the Chinese woman squats and gives birth in the rice paddy and then goes right back to work picking.  Yes, I thought with the Celtic pride of my immigrant ancestors,  it was a bit like that, minus the placenta.

“So that’s a relief. ” My husband says. “No cancer.  You got that one behind you for ten years.”

“Well, not exactly,” I said, recalling the little post-op chat with the doctor. 

“Why don’t we make it seven, just to be safe,” he had offered.  Ten seems like such a long time.”  Oh the joys of getting older.



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