I grow intestinal polyps as well as the wine country grows grapes. Such polyps, benign growths when small and young, can become pre-cancerous if allowed to mature; accordingly, every three years I have a colonoscopy and any polyps are removed.
The worst part of having a colonoscopy is the prep the day before, which involves drinking copious glasses of water mixed with a substance that induces rapid evacuation of the large intestine, in other words, explosive, watery diarrhea. Rather than moving from the couch to the bathroom and risking crapping my pants, I wear only my bathrobe and spend protracted periods of time sitting on the can with a book. Over the course of four hours, not only the toilet gets flushed. Frankly, it’s exhausting but required.
On the day of the colonoscopy, I appear at the hospital promptly at 8:15 in the morning. Having not eaten since lunch the day before and thoroughly washed out from the inside, I can’t say my mood was high. But I’m greeted warmly by the attending nurse, Roz, who makes me comfortable in my little cubicle and helps me by tying my hospital gown in the back. That hospital gowns are open in the back I found appropriately apropos.
An IV line, placed near my right wrist so that the anesthesiologist could easily control his administration of Propranolol, facilitates the use of today’s anesthesia of choice for colonoscopies. In the past, Versed was used, which creates a state of temporary amnesia, but Propranolol is quicker-acting and makes recovery easier. In either case, for all intents and purposes I remember nothing of the procedure.
Wheeled into the chilly, music-filled operating room, one of the nurses asks me if I like Cindy Lauper. “Cindy Lauper,” I exclaim, “are you living in the 80s?” “What music would you rather have?” he asks. “Well,” I respond, feeling chipper, “given my age and the drugs you’ll be giving me, Jimi Hendrix sounds more appropriate.” Everybody laughs. It’s always a good idea to make friends with people who have you at their mercy.
The next thing I know, the guitar intro to Hendrix’s Purple Haze fills the room. You gotta love Spotify. Everybody’s smiling. The surgeon, Alexis, comes to my side. “Hi Larry, I need you to turn over onto your left side,” she says, intoning the mantra used before inserting cameras and tubes up my ass. The anesthesiologist says, “Here comes the sedative, just relax Larry.”
“I can feel it,” I say, thinking of HAL in the movie 2001. “I can feel it. My mind, it’s going.” Meanwhile, Jimi Hendrix is crooning, “‘cuse me while I touch the sky.”
Next thing I know, Roz is back. “Wake up Larry. It’s over.” I’m in my cubicle. “How’d it go?” I ask. “She took out two small polyps. They’ve been sent to lab and we’ll get a report in a week. Want some water?” she asks. “Your wife, Norma, is on her way to pick you up. You can get dressed.”
Colon cancer rates in America are on the rise, and it’s recommended that anyone over 50 years old get a colonoscopy. It’s not a pleasant day or two, but it’s a definitive modality and compared with cancer surgery or chemotherapy it’s the sensible choice. If you’re over 50, and have not yet scheduled a colonoscopy, you should. And start thinking of the music you want to hear.