I’d call myself—among other things—a nervous urinator. By this, I mean that whenever I’m a bit anxious, whether it be leading up to giving a talk before a large audience, getting ready to run a half marathon, or sometimes even before going to bed (what?), I feel as if I have to go to the bathroom even though I know I really don’t. All of these feelings were amplified the Friday at 7:30 in the morning when I was walking past the men’s restroom in the empty second-floor hallway of G.I. Health Specialists of Trumbull, Connecticut. My nerves were not at all related to what might go wrong. I believe, to some degree, that a person gets to choose what they think about, and so I tried to interrupt myself every time I caught myself beginning to imagine a perforation or something worse. Additionally, I think writing and thinking about events can sometimes draw those events into reality. According to that philosophy, if I’d have thought too much about all that could go wrong, then I might have increased the chances that something would. Call it superstitious, but that’s my theory, and I believe it works the other way round too, for good stuff.
Following my posting of “Colonoscopy Part I,” I received quite a few messages from people who have a colonoscopy scheduled and what they want to know is what to expect. I’m thinking—with a nod to the pregnancy book by Murkoff and Mazel—that this piece needs to be more of a What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Colonoscopy. It won’t be the full out book-length version but I’ll go into a little more detail than I first planned. If you’ve got your upcoming procedure and have a non-medical question, look me up on Facebook, and I’ll see if I can help.
First off, the day before the procedure, there is no eating. I drank water, a couple cups of coffee, and many many bottles of Gatorade. I was told that I could “eat” Jello and broth but what’s the use of that? There’s like 15 calories tops in a serving of Jello. The day before a colonoscopy is at best a day for a sugar high. The very tricky part for me was that I was supposed to take the tornado-strong laxative at 3:00, the exact time that I finish teaching my last class which is followed by a commute home which takes over an hour. The directions called for me to take two pills, wait an hour, and then start drinking this big tub of solution that came in a sort of colonoscopy care package. The mixture, as my doctor explained, tastes nasty but the good part about it is that you forget that you are very hungry.
My original—VERY BAD—plan was to mix the tub of solution to drink the night before, leave it in the fridge, and then take my pills when I got in the car and be ready to sit next to the toilet by the time I got home. I had been thinking that the time-delayed laxative would work on a schedule the way I do: right down to the very correct and planned second. Fortunately, my wife Megan (who knows even more than my old cross-country buddies that my intestines work on hyper-speed) talked me out of this idea.
My revised plan was to let my students out of class a little early, then take my pills halfway home, giving myself thirty minutes or so to make it into the initial vicinity of my toilet. Even with this revised plan, I was unable to pull the trigger of popping the pills into my mouth. In my mind’s eye, I could see traffic slowing to a stop just as the pills went down my throat. Would I just go in my pants? Pull over to the side of the road and look for cover? I didn’t take the pills until I was rounding the final corner of my last curve on Interstate 95.
Fifty three minutes later—I timed it—I made my first trip to the bathroom. That was followed by my first chugging of the cleansing. I chose the cherry flavor and am not sure it was of any taste benefit. It was like spraying potpourri into a stanky bathroom. The stanky smell stays but now it hints of rotting wildflower. I went to the bathroom ten or so times in the next three hours and drank from the tub every fifteen minutes. I was chugging the stuff well over an hour. I went to bed early and then rose to go to the bathroom around midnight. Then I went again around 6:00 a.m. and right before I left for my 7:30 a.m. appointment. Only the first and maybe the second was really anything like having a bowel movement. Actually my hiney had turned into a kind of nuclear power water gun which I fired into our toilet.
In that empty hallway of my G.I. specialist, I stood there looking at the “Men” sign on the restroom door, then I started to go in. Next, I told myself, you don’t have to go. You’ve had practically fifteen bowel movements in the past twelve hours. I walked ten or so steps down the hall to where the office was. I didn’t even have to go to the hospital for this, just a special room with what I’d imagined to look like a dentist’s chair or one of those ones where a women’s legs are put in stirrups so she can be examined. (I think I remember something like this from when my wife was pregnant.) Of course in my imaginings I’d have to be placed face-down in this special colonoscopy chair.
I stopped walking to office, turned around, and came back to the restroom door. I almost went in. I’d heard that I’d be given something to help me relax and that short term memory loss was a likely side effect of this drug. I thought of women being given this drug for childbirth. I’d read or imagined that bit of info too. As you can see, I read just enough about certain topics to be dangerous. I thought of women howling in pain but forgetting later about what they’d felt. I wondered about feeling intense suffering in the moment but not remembering that you’d suffered. Would this be a benefit? Would one want to remember their suffering or not? It all made me feel as if I was in the Matrix or that other movie, Vanilla Sky. Did I want a dreamy colonoscopy or did I want reality?
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not trying to connect the pain of colonoscopy (there didn’t turn out to be any) with childbirth. I’m just telling you what I was thinking about before I went in. I was also thinking about my bowels and that if I was given something to relax then did that mean that my bowels would relax too? I remembered that my doc had said he’d done thousands of these. I figured whatever I might do had surely already happened over his experience. I might or might not remember. I decided to go on into the office and forget one last attempt on the can.
For some reason, I’d imagined that it would be my doctor and an assistant that would be in the office waiting for me, but there was a lot more action than that. There were at least five or six people behind the desk, all of them women and obviously used to being up early on Friday morning. I was asked who was picking me up and for that person’s phone number. I told the woman behind the counter that my wife was picking me up, and then without yet realizing it, I gave the nurse my phone number. She asked me if I had a living will or some other directive. I told her no and shrugged those questions off the way I’d shrugged off signing waivers before running marathons: I tried not to think of it. I succeeded almost immediately.
There was one other man already there, a lot older than me. I’m thirty-nine by the way. Doc says if I was a few years younger then he wouldn’t have even bothered with the procedure; a few years older and he’d have wanted to do it for sure. I was a tweener, I guess, when it comes to colonoscopies. A woman about my age came in with her friend after that. She got into a long thing with the nurse about her husband living all the way across the country in the state of Washington so he could work. Talk about a long commute.
On the flat screen in the waiting room there were videos of colonoscopies being shown. Mostly it was just fleshy pink insides with a light worming its way into a dark tunnel in the distance. I thought of this as a sort of “best of” compilation of the doctors previous colonoscopies. I hoped that once inside I’d get to see my own procedure, perhaps even be able to make some suggestions towards the final production.
Sorry that this has gone on so long. I really do hope that Part III will be the last of this.