former President of the United States and myself had a lot in common. It seems we had both been made the butt of a national joke. I guess our wives must watch the same TV shows or read the same women’s magazines. Ever since Katie Couric’s husband died of colon cancer my wife has been nagging me to have a colonoscopy.
It seems to have taken hold of the national psyche as an essential medical procedure more common than the traditional appendectomy or the extraction of wisdom teeth. This particular test is most popular with those of us who have made it over the 50-year hump. It also is said to have the capacity to allow one to drop a pound or two. My wife started to plague me about taking the test right after my 50th birthday. She kept on telling me that I needed a 50,000-mile checkup. I took this as a compliment because I figured she wanted to keep me around for a few more miles.
I tried to put it off by scheduling as many other tests as possible, but eventually I was confronted with the inevitable. Earlier this summer I was scheduled to meet with the doctor who was to perform the task. I went through all the preliminary questions about my health and insurance and, as usual, the questions about my insurance were longer and more involved than the questions about my medical history. Apparently my credit history checked out because I finally made it to the last desk, where I was to make my appointment.
I was confident that the procedure would be scheduled well into the next decade but to my absolute horror I was told they could fit me in the Friday after next. The ensuing two weeks had to be the longest I have ever endured. It seemed like everything I did reminded me of what I had in store, and every time I drove by a Dunkin’ Donuts I had to avert my eyes. It also seemed like everybody I talked to had a story about how the test went wrong for them because of a twisted this, or a bent that. I began looking for an excuse to back out, until my wife reminded me that she had gone through it for me and why shouldn’t I do the same for her?
Being the old romantic that I am, I was doomed. I was advised by all of my friends to be careful of the preparatory potion they would give me to drink and not to eat much the day before the test. I responded by eating more than at any time since I was a fat 10-year old, hoping to be the new offensive tackle of the Pop Warner Football Team. I guess it was nerves or the idea that the more I put in the easier it would be to take it all out, and take it out I did! The morning before the procedure I had to drink the foulest-tasting potion I can ever remember drinking.
I tried mixing it with ginger ale but I think it would have taken something a lot stronger – like Scotch. Still, it did what it was supposed to do and I spent some serious time re-acquainting myself with the wallpaper pattern in our bathroom. Three hours later I had to drink the same awful potion again and I don’t know what was in this stuff – it felt like a mild type of plastic explosive – but I swear it removed every residual particle of food that might have been left in my system since my 10th birthday.
My wife drove me to the hospital for two very good reasons; (1) because I was not supposed to drive; (2) she wanted to make sure I went through with it instead of hiding in a sports bar somewhere. When I checked in at the reception room I felt like everybody in the waiting room was staring at me. I wondered; did they know why I was there? Did I look as terrified as I felt? Or was it the cold sweat dripping from my forehead? I found a seat away in a corner and hoped the dozen-or-so people waiting there were scheduled to have their procedure first. I was also hoping the hospital might just run out of time and have to re-schedule me. I picked up some obscure nature magazine and leafed through the pages without taking in a single word.
About a minute later a nurse appeared and uttered the awful words: “Mr. Fabiano, we are ready for you.”
I looked around hopefully to see if there was another Mr. Fabiano in the room, some long-lost relative I could flash a sympathetic smile at – but there wasn’t. The nurse stared at me and repeated my name.
“Yes.” I answered staring back blankly.
I didn’t get up or anything, I just sat there and said, “Yes”, as if I had no idea what she wanted. I don’t know how long I sat there, whether it was a few seconds or a few minutes but I guess it was long enough for everybody in the room to turn their attention to me too.
“We’re ready for you, “she repeated gently.
“Yes,” I said, but, still I didn’t move. I felt a sudden sharp dig in the ribs from my wife.
“Get up, ” she whispered.
“Oh,” I said numbly, as if I’d just realized I would have to stand up and physically go with the nurse. However, I knew what I was doing! I knew that as long as I sat in that chair there was nothing they could do to hurt me. Somehow I got to my feet and followed her, like a duckling follows its mother, but feeling like it was the most unnatural thing in the world to be going off with somebody to let them do what they were going to do to me.
The nurse was wonderful. She knew that I was on the verge of panic and she told me in a nice soothing voice that I had nothing to worry about, and that it would be over before I knew it. All I knew at the time was that it wasn’t over. She also told me that it wouldn’t hurt at all. I resisted the temptation to tell her that I failed to see how having a television camera pushed up one’s butt would be over before I knew it. I then asked about the drugs. She told me that I could go one of two ways. I could take a Valium to relax me and I could follow the entire procedure on TV or I could have something “a little stronger.” I must have given her some sort of a signal because I didn’t have time to answer before she said: “Demerol.”
A few minutes later the doctor arrived and asked me how I was and I asked him if he was kidding. He then told me that I must have been upset that Italy lost in the World Cup and again I asked him if he was kidding. The procedure started soon after and I found myself having a conversation with the nurse who now held my hand. Not knowing the proper etiquette for making small talk with a stranger while another stranger inserts a camera into one’s posterior I started out by telling her I had recently seen Andrea Boccilli at the Fleet Center. She asked how I enjoyed it. I told her better than I was enjoying this particular experience. At that point I thing the doctor made it around the first corner.
As the nurse attempted unsuccessfully to distract me with meaningless conversation I could hear the doctor mumbling to himself with ever little twist and turn. I told him I didn’t mind him mumbling as long as I didn’t hear ‘oops’ or ‘oh-ohhh’ or ‘Oh my God.’ There was a sudden twinge as he made it around the second corner. I found myself wondering how long the human colon was. It felt like it was as long and as twisty as Boston’s Big Dig and that it was having new fiber-optic cable installed within its entire length.
The nurse asked me what I did for a living. I told her that I was a teacher. She then asked me if I wanted a tape of the procedure to show my students. That distracted me! I thought about the first day of school and how I could take my new students on a guided tour of my colon. I could imagine the excited accounts they would take home to their parents: ‘Guess what our science teacher showed us today?’
I told her I didn’t think I would be able to make use of the tape.
At last the doctor made it around the final corner and asked if I would like to take a look at the screen. Against my better judgment I glanced quickly at the monitor and, for the first time in my life, saw the inside of my large intestine. My only impression was that the cleansing potion they gave me sure did a good job. Other that that, it was not a part of my anatomy I had always had any great desire to see so I went back to my weird conversation with the nurse. She asked how I was doing and I said ‘okay’, but I compared this okay with being run over by a large truck.
Then, it was over. Not exactly before I knew it but not as bad as my worst fears, which envisaged road crews working long into the night. The nurse asked me if I wanted to lie there a bit longer to regain some composure. I thought that was very nice, considering what we had just been through together. I unclenched my sweaty palm from hers and told her not to take it personally but I would much rather leave the premises as soon as possible and never see any of them again as long as I lived.
After I had dressed the doctor reappeared and told me all was fine and that I shouldn’t have to go through another one of these for at least a decade.
‘Only a decade’, I thought.
That night I slept the sleep of a deeply-relieved man and woke up relaxed and refreshed the next day.
I went eagerly to the bathroom and stepped on the scale to see how much weight I had worried off the day before.
Oh, my God, I thought. I had gained a pound!
How the President and I became the butts of a national joke.
By J. G. Fabiano
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and a writer living in York, Maine, USA
e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org