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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Peering Into the Darkness

By Robert Schwaninger

There comes a time when you accept the fact you have reached middle age. For those who don’t know when middle age starts, it’s when the creak when you get up is your back not the chair and raw vegetables become the enemy. Not too many years ago I had to realize that no one is going to ask my opinion about new music since I wouldn’t know Kanye West from Mae West. In fact I was shocked to find out that Fergie started a singing career after her Weight Watchers gig. 

One true sign of aging was noting that my life was more generously filled with lab-coated people who let me rot in frosty, poorly decorated waiting rooms until they finally get around to telling me that I need to be tested for a host of maladies. I, being an All-American male, ignored all of this advice. My wife, an intelligent and more evolved person who actually reads the Health section of the newspaper, kept reminding me that I was “not getting any younger”—an unnecessary revelation given that I have joints that sound like rusty hinges.

In response to her coaxing (nagging, whatever) I have more or less taken myself to the doctor each year for a physical. He weighs me and writes down digits I don’t recognize. He takes my blood pressure and temperature and records those next to the box that lists my age as over 50 and eligible for reporting to AARP for future marketing campaigns.

He snaps on a latex glove and checks my prostate, making sure not to smirk while he does it. And he asks me if I have any problems, other than freezing off various body parts while standing in an undignified paper gown that even Coco Chanel couldn’t make work. It is then that he begins to speak of various tests that people “my age” should get. 

The one that I dreaded was a colonoscopy. It’s just wrong. It’s bad enough that I have to endure the yearly probe of my nether regions to make sure that my prostate hasn’t left the building or grown to the size of a baby’s head, but the idea of someone video-scoping my organs in violation of my “EXIT ONLY” sign was disturbing.

Caught in the crossfire of the doctor’s suggestions and my wife’s five-year campaign of colon-related conversations, I agreed to the procedure. With horror covered with humor, I entered the gastroentro.. gastronmical.. the damn butt doctor’s office!! I tried a little levity on the receptionist, saying something like “the end is near” but she was all business. So, I sat down to fill out the endless and redundant forms on multicolored paper that look like flyers for the PTA bake sale.

Filling out the forms at the butt doctor was a queasy affair. I’m used to the normal medical questionnaire that deals with general aches, breaks, and past procedures. This one included a long list of possible past problems about everything from intestinal parasites to excessive navel lint. Just completing the questionnaire made me want to spread tissues on top of the chair I was sitting in.

After the traditional 45-minute wait, I met the doctor who explained the procedure. In a nutshell it is this: The day before you get the procedure, you will not eat real food so you have room to ingest so many laxatives that by the time you have flushed your system, the only thing circling the bowl is dust and cobwebs. The next morning you will proceed to the hospital to be placed in a room kept at a constant 59 degrees, whereat you will don a robe that is the same thickness as a butterfly wing, and be wheeled into another room where cheery people tell you to relax as they put you to sleep so that you don’t have to witness the worst humiliation on the planet.

Following the procedure, you may experience excessive amounts of gas that are the byproduct of blowing up your intestines like a balloon animal so that the doctor can get a really good view of your pipes. It is, therefore, quite normal to lie in the recovery room as around you is the harmony of bowel-blasting bassoons going off behind curtained cubicles at irregular intervals. You may choose to join the wind section and with some coaxing, the group might be able to pull off the first eight bars of Peter and the Wolf. One cheery nurse called it “music to her ears.” What the hell is on her iPod?!

Assuming that the doctor doesn’t nick something (ouch), you will then return to your normal life with practically no symptoms other than the desire to consume food at a rate that you have not tried since you swallowed half the buffet table at Thanksgiving. 

Within a few days the doctor will report whether anything was noted that will require future attention. Most of the time one gets the “all clear” and you’re off the hook for another five years. I did, and it was music to my colon.

It is now that I am supposed to tell you that “it wasn’t that bad” and “you really should consider it” and other such rot. But that’s not me. Besides, who would take health advice from a guy who thinks the four food groups are alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and grease? 

So, let me just put it this way. If you don’t mind spending a night reading all of Tolstoy’s works while perched on porcelain, if you like having a half dozen medical types chirp cheerily about your bowels, and if you think that knowing whether you have become a polyp pen is important, then by all means invite the neighbors and make a party out of your poop peek. If not, I strongly recommend an equal dose of ignorance and denial. That’s the route I’m taking until my wife corners me again.

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