“Ah, geez!” That’s what I thought as my internist, Dr. Hugh McClung, and gynecologist, Dr. David Cook, sounded like the Righteous Brothers admonishing me in January, “It’s time for your colonoscopy.” It had been ten years since the last one and over the years of landing on Mars and immediately finding vaccines for COVID-19, I thought, “Surely, someone has come up with an easier way to do this.”
It wasn’t the event itself that bothered me. In fact as I recalled it was almost soothing thanks to the IV’s twilight-type juice. And then there was that wonderful feeling of being lighter than ever.
Yes, the actual procedure would require absolutely nothing of me except lying down. On the other hand, the skilled hands of a team of well-schooled professionals would guide an itty-bitty camera to check out the inner workings of my lower torso.
It was the night before prep work that was the ugly memory maker. In addition to being distasteful in every sense of the word, it is one that humbles all. It actually gave me comfort knowing that everyone from U.S. Presidents to Queen Elizabeth II and Popes would have to experience the torture in preparing for this laid-back examination. No matter how much money or how many bodyguards they have, they would still have to spend the night before having an intimate relationship with le toilette.
Over the years comedians had actually made it sound like fun. Martin Short had reported that he, Steve Martin and Tom Hanks had Jell-O shots and a colonoscopy poker game that they called “Colonoscopy Eve.” All I remembered from the previous exam was that nasty tasting “yuckie juice” that you had to drink and its after-effects.
But I was older and knew that things in the prep stage had probably changed dramatically.
The only problem was that they really hadn’t.
The original date for my latest down-under exploration was Friday, February 19. When a very nice lady contacted me on Friday, February 12, to set up a pre-check COVID-19 test that would take place on Tuesday, February 16, we had a meeting of the minds.
“I hear that we may have icy weather next week. What would you do?” I asked innocently. Actually, it was the same voice I used when I postponed a stress test in the middle of last year’s pandemic.
She hedged. The question was really putting her in an awkward place. She didn’t want to discourage me from the procedure, but she also had heard the rumblings of the coming week’s ice slam to come.
In a low voice, she said, “I think I might put it off.”
Good enough for me. I liked her.
It was then that I contacted my “navigator,” who had been so upbeat and perky in scheduling the February 19 date. She wasn’t quite as perky this time when I said I wanted to postpone the procedure. Now, she wasn’t angry at me. I got the feeling that this call hadn’t been the first one of the day postponing original plans.
Her first offer was for Monday, March 1.
I begged off. My voice had a tinge of pleading. “That’s my birthday, and I’d really rather not spend the night before ….”
Taking pity on my situation, she offered a backup of Thursday, March 4.
I was eager to please at this point and agreed, quietly thinking of the days leading up to the big down under.
When I received the detailed instructions on what to do, I saw the same dreaded protocol that had taken place ten years before.
As I picked up the 4-litre jug of intestinal nitroglycerine from the pharmacist, she asked if I had any questions. I replied, “Is this really necessary?” She laughed. I didn’t. As I waved bye-bye to her, she could hear me say, “I’ll be thinking of you that night.” Her laughter only got louder.
But I was determined to overcome my fears and impress my doctor with what a “clean sweep” I was.
Step by step I examined the do’s and don’ts of preparing. At this point I was sorta wishing I had been better in math. The night before, I was to drink an 8-oz. cup of the concoction every 15 minutes until half of the jug was done. It took some figuring, but I finally decided it would take two hours to down 64 ounces of the stuff.
To help sweeten the deal, the jug should be kept in the frig and it would be okay to mix some Crystal Light in it. Not going halfway, I scored packets of citrus, lemon and peach mango for the big drink-athon.
Like a girl getting ready for her first date, I sought advice from friends. Anyone over the age of 45 was asked, “Have you had a colonoscopy?” Okay, so I didn’t ask strangers, but almost everyone else. Some had greatest suggestions, like suck on some lemon drops after you drink the stuff; others laughed and thought I was kidding. Not.
In typical 21st century desperation, I searched the internet for tips and war stories. While I laughed at Katie Couric’s taking Jimmy Kimmel to his first colonoscopy, I thought Will Smith’s story was both funny and enlightening. His doctor pointed out that men of African descent are more susceptible to colon cancer than any other group. And, yes, he did have a precancerous polyp that could have been a real game changer if he hadn’t had the colonoscopy.
That is why anyone — man or woman — over the age of 50 should have a colonoscopy done to create a baseline.
In learning about the whole procedure, I realized the purpose of the night-before purge was to Spic and Span my system, so the little camera complete with lights, surgical instruments and water could make the rounds to check out any ulcers, polyps, lesions or other stuff that might cause problems.
With that in mind, I figured that if I were to start transitioning to a lighter diet in the days leading up to the Big C exploration, it would require less Roto-Rootering.
It was a hard transition for a person who had comforted herself through the year of the pandemic by relying on Mexican food, Andy’s Frozen Custard and blueberry muffins. But I was mission-driven. And who knows? I just might lose some of that COVID-19 weight gain.
In the days leading up to the “day-before,” I had my supplies in place: Crystal Light, bouillon cubes, banana and pineapple popsicles and Jell-O. In spying my collection of “stuff,” Husband Unit smiled and said, “I’ve put extra toilet paper in the bathrooms.” He thought he was being funny. Little did he know that I had already stashed rolls in the cabinets along with Febreze Air Freshener. I was also secretly grateful that this whole thing hadn’t been taking place during the early days of the pandemic when toilet paper was scarce, nor during the recent Winter Storm Uri. Imagine having no electricity or water and trying to keep the jug icy cold and repeated flushes of the commode.
The Monday before the big event I had to do a COVID-19 test. When I smugly told my navigator that I had already had my two doses of the Pfizer vaccine three weeks before, she wasn’t impressed. I still had to have it done.
I had heard people talk about how it was uncomfortable, but a little cotton swab of the nose couldn’t be that big a deal… or, so I thought. As I sat in my car and once again answered the same old questions of name and date of birth, I knew it was going to be a snap. Only when the staffer approached with a swab that looked like it was a foot long did I have second thoughts. But there was no backing out. As he inserted the stick in my nose, I felt sensations I had never felt before and hope never to again. I swear I think he took part of my grey matter out. He said I would get my results the next day. At this point I was starting to think I was going to need brain surgery in addition to the colonoscopy.
But the good news arrived via my cellphone that night that I was “negative.” I looked at Husband Unit and asked, “Negative is good, right?” He nodded.
The next night I felt like a condemned prisoner having my last meal of salmon, broccoli, white rice and water. But I was ready for what lay ahead and kept reminding myself that by Thursday night I would literally be back in the land of milk and honey and chocolates and pasta.
Wednesday morning I woke ready to take on step one: drinking at least eight 8-oz. glasses of clear liquid through the day. I was gonna show them. I drank ten.
Just before the 5 p.m. start time of gulping of the jug’s contents began, I started measuring the exact amounts for the siege. Like a mad scientist I poured the liquid into a measuring cup to the 8-oz. line and mixed it with the Crystal Light. Then I poured the combination into a bottle and shook it as if I was preparing a martini. As I prepared to swig the first dose, I thought about holding my nose or, as one person suggested, drinking it through a straw to override the taste buds. But my money was on the Crystal Light saving the day, and it did as I jugged the whole thing down in one gulp.
The first two glasses were lemon flavored followed by two more of peach mango then two of citrus and the final round with lemon. I was sorta shocked. It didn’t taste bad at all. Still, I would not recommend it for a cocktail party.
Before the evening’s final cup was bottoms-up, the stuff kicked in and I found myself in what was formerly known in our house as the “Powder Room.” On this occasion it was renamed, “Reserved.”
But once again it wasn’t all that bad. Here I had been prepared for an all-nighter, and the worst part was pretty much over by 10:30 p.m.
Husband Unit was nice enough to eat his Whataburger, fries and milkshake at his desk. I literally couldn’t have stomached that.
Still, the next morning was going to start at 8:45 a.m. with an encore performance of the jug routine. As I fell asleep I started fantasizing about my next meal Thursday night. Would it be box of Godiva chocolates? Campisi’s crab legs? S&D shrimp salad? Or just a dark chocolate mousse cake from Paninis? But at this point, Ritz crackers sounded yummy.
The night went without much upset except that I woke at 4:45 a.m. because I really wanted to get going with the next stage. I heard what sounded like the wailing of an abandoned critter in a deep hole. Within minutes, the plaintive sound changed to a growl. It was my stomach.
At 8:15 a.m. I pulled the half-filled jug out of the frig for the last round of gulps. This time it wouldn’t be the 15-minute swallow of eight ounces. Instead it was a ten-minute turnaround to meet the 9:45 deadline. Between the lack of food and the day before of 64 ounces of plain water and 64 ounces of intestinal Drano, I was starting to slosh instead of walk around.
The results were more dramatic but successful in completing the mission.
I now dreaded the drive to the outpatient surgery center. Should I have broken down and gotten the adult diapers? But, no. Pride had prevented that purchase and now I was paying for it. Luckily, I was high and dry.
Once at the center I was among friends, from Courtney, who checked my insurance, to the team who would do all the work while I slept.
After being led to my curtained off room, I started my disrobing from street clothes to a surgical gown with the back open, of course. I even got yellow gripper socks. Then I got in the hospital bed thanks to nurse Clara, who covered me with a warm blanket and made sure I was comfortable. Next she checked over my information and opened up the IV kit to apply to my right arm. My left arm was already an array of colorful paper bracelets. I warned her that it would be a challenge to find a vein. But before I got the words out, it was done and I never felt it. As we waited for the next step, she made me feel right at home and we talked about our families. She looked way too young to have three grown children.
Then the curtain pulled back and it was Rick, the anesthesiologist, who was adorable and walked me through every part of the procedure. He told me how the anesthesia would work with no hangover effects. As he left, I told him that I looked forward to getting a good result. He laughed and said he knew I was actually looking forward to eating again. My stomach loudly agreed.
A few minutes later, Dr. Greta Szabo pulled back the curtain to review what was going to happen. Like Rick, she was also married to another physician. As I tried to pry into her being from Romania (“I’m actually Hungarian, but moved to the states when I was ten”), she knew I was just delaying the main event. “Let’s go over the procedure. We’ll have time to talk in the room.”
Seconds later I asked nurse Imelda for my cellphone that was now with my clothes, shoes and glasses in a see-thru bag in the lower part of the rolling bed. I wanted to take a photo of the team. They waved me off, saying that it was against policy. With IV in arm and held captive in the bed with its side rails, I knew I wasn’t going to have my way.
As they wheeled me down the hallway to the room, I was blissfully wondering when the juice would start kicking in. Little did I know that the sedative had already started its work.
Once in “the room,” Rick’s talents were really going to work. I felt like I was at a party. I was surrounded by my new BFFs, who were laughing at everything I said. In hindsight, I must have been acting like a drunk freshman at her first fraternity kegger. I was now a rag doll being gently turned on my left side and having my head stroked. My mask was gently raised briefly to place an oxygen cannula in my nose. Then, as Rick had promised, it was lights out.
The next thing I knew, nurse Kathy was with me as I emerged from my slumber in the recovery room. I was no longer lying on my left side. Instead like a contented baby in swaddling, I was peacefully lying under a comforting slightly weighted white blanket. Had I really been part of a medical procedure? There was no pain, ache or headache — just the refreshing feeling. Kathy offered me an apple juice box complete with a straw. Sure! At this point, I probably was so complacent, I would have drunk the yuckie juice without the Crystal Light. Still the apple juice really hit the spot. When she offered me a second round, I was up for it.
Just as I gulped down the second apple juice, Greta arrived and praised our project, as if I had been an active participant. She went over all that had happened, the results and what to expect in the hours ahead. I smiled underneath my mask as if I was understanding it all. If she had told me that the FBI was outside with a warrant, I would have happily nodded.
Greta finished up and told me not to worry about what she had said. It would all be in my paperwork that I would receive before leaving.
Kathy called Husband Unit, who had been a nervous Nellie about the procedure. She told him all was well and to pick me up downstairs. Next she removed my IV and helped me turn and sit up. I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay and party on. She laughed. I dressed myself and slowly stood only to find a wheelchair for my departure and the see-thru bag that had contained my clothes. It now had a blue folder with the paperwork. Kathy asked if I wanted my gripper socks and the green clamshell that had held my glasses. Sure! As she put them in the bag, I was feeling like a red-carpet guest with a swag bag of goodies and bracelets on my arm.
Still loopy, I waved like a Super Bowl MVP as Kathy wheeled me past the staff, who all laughed and waved back.
As I got in the car, I realized that the worst part of the whole thing was now taking place — the ride home. Shall we say Husband Unit’s driving is tentative at best? But who cared? I was still floating thanks to Rick’s juice and Greta and her team’s care.
BTW, I got a clean sweep and the gift of peace of mind.