As I sit here, sipping my cup of chicken broth, about to undergo yet another cleanse for yet another colonoscopy, I realize how blasé I’ve become about the whole ordeal. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not fun. I don’t enjoy a whole day of only consuming a clear liquid diet, followed by hours in the bathroom as I prepare my intestines to be gawked at like a archeological find, my proctologist the unfortunate Indiana Jones, with not even a cool fedora to wear (but oh, how awesome if she did). No, I don’t enjoy any part of this, but I’m no longer upset, scared, or even bothered by the thought of undergoing the procedure, nor should anyone be.
See, I’m in the weird position of being a forty year old man, who should be getting his first colonoscopy, but this will be number six because I have Crohn’s. For me, it’s no big deal anymore. I’m fortunate because I’ve yet to have a surgery or serious complication due to my condition where many people the same age or younger are far worse off than I am. I realize this every time I have to go through it and thank my lucky star for my health. But today as I was playing in the park with my kids, I sat down in the shade, feeling suitably light headed for not having eaten since the regrettable choice to have Mexican on the night before a colon cleansing, and I hear my daughter tell my son to not bother me and let me rest. That I needed to save up my energy. That I was being so brave taking them out while I suffer like this.
I had two thoughts at that moment: One, I really must get my anger issues under control when I’m hungry. When my daughter learned I couldn’t eat today, she looked at me the same way a hiker does when they come across a bear on a trail. ‘Am I going to get mauled?’ was clearly written across her face. Two: What does she mean “brave?” She has no idea of what I’ve been through, what other people who rightly deserve the title “brave” have been through. Patient as hell with the three of you? Yes. Stupid for taking all of you out for lunch and a romp in the park when I can’t eat? Probably. Brave? Nah, girl.
However, it reminded me of a time when I was called “brave” by multiple people, some of whom have seen things man. I had blocked out most of it, but it all came rushing back. So now, I’ll share it with you. Not because I need more people to tell me how brave I was or wasn’t, about real bravery, but because we, as a people, need to be able to talk about this sort of thing more freely. Too many people suffer in silence, making illnesses both physical and mental taboo. Besides, misery loves company, so let’s share…
About a year ago, Long Island Jones, my hatless proctologist, told me I need a sigmoidoscopy. This is basically ordering a Colonoscopy Lite. They don’t go as far and just poke around the first level of the old derriere, however the date she could do it my wife was out of town for work and the next available date was weeks away, after school had started. I teach, so doing all the prep work for something like this while trying to wrangle teenagers is not recommended. My wife needed to be there to drive me home after the anesthesia wore off, so she had to be available.
“Do I need to be put under?” I innocently ask. “That way I can drive myself, right?”
Somewhere from deep within, a few feet below the cockles, some part of me said ‘Uhhh, excuse me? This is your ass on the line, literally. No way, buddy.’ But what I said was, “Can we do that? Probably not, huh.”
Dr. Jones sucked her breath in through her teeth, like she’s about to deliver bad news, which she did, “Yeaaaaah. We could, but you probably wouldn’t want to.”
“Well, I’m not going to want to do this during school either.”
I felt a subconscious kick and something hissed, ‘Shut up!’, but what I said was, “Well, what would happen if I did?” I heard my intestines rumble as if to say, ‘Really, dude?’
My doctor proceeded to tell me how it wouldn’t be that bad, that once you get past the “event horizon,” I wouldn’t feel much because there’s no pain receptors in there. It would last about twenty minutes and I’d be free to go, after I took care of the excess gas they pumped me with, which I may feel some discomfort from.
Now, to anyone who’s been to the doctor or dentist, when they say things like, “you won’t feel much” and “it may pinch” you know that’s a bald faced lie, and she was throwing these buzzwords around like it was ring toss which meant pain and suffering galore. I had apparently forgotten this truth because I said, “Doesn’t sound too bad.” Somehow my ass facepalmed itself.
Now, to all the men out there who have never been married and/or don’t have kids, shut it. To the rest of you, you understand why I couldn’t back out of this. My wife has had three kids, and they were not small. You understand me now? You think I can say, “Gee, these fifteen minutes of slight discomfort is too much for me, I’ll pass,” when my wife brought forth a net weight of 26 pounds of baby and was pregnant over the course of 27 months? F*@& no. Not if I don’t want to hear it about it for the rest of my life.
So, I said yes. As I walked out and made the appointment with Long Island’s receptionist, she started giving me the standard spiel about having someone drive me when the Dr. said, “Oh, he’s elected not to have the anesthesia.”
The receptionists eyes widened and I heard it for the first time, “Well, you’re brave.” This would not be the last.
A few weeks pass and I’ve more or less forgotten about all this unpleasantness. The day before I went in I started my prep work, which was a little different since they’re not doing the whole works and I only had to stop eating after lunch! This would be a breeze. The next day my wife kissed me on my way out the door and said, “Good luck. Be brave.”
There was a slight clenching on my part. I had sort of pushed what exactly I’d be doing out of my mind. I half heartedly waved good bye, like some soldier of misfortune on his way to battle and made it to the office with no problem. As I was checking in, I see the main office receptionist look up and say, “Oh, you’re the one who’s skipping the anesthesia, ay? Whooo! Good luck, man!”
From there, it was to the main office where I was asked to be seated. I didn’t want to be seated. I wanted to go in and I wanted to pace; I didn’t want to sit and contemplate. Just then the door opened and a nurse came in with a clipboard. “Curet! Where’s the brave lad?”
I sat. It wasn’t intentional, but she hadn’t seen me yet and I felt like I suddenly needed a moment to sit and think. That was not to be as the receptionists ratted me out, both pointing at me like a condemned man.
“Well, not doing the anesthesia today? Wow. That’s something! Why not?” He asked as we walked down the hallway. His incredulousness was only matched by his sincere awe. I wanted to go home.
“Well, I don’t have a ride and I thought this would be easier.” We both thought that was stupid, but fortunately neither of us said so.
I reached the inner sanctum where people are prepped for their visit and I was told I was brave by two more nurses. Not just random people. Nurses. They’ve see when shit goes wrong (pun intended) and they don’t flinch, but suddenly I’m something new. One woman said she’d been doing this for ten years and didn’t know that was even an option.
Now, I want this to be said, that I received the finest attention and care from my doctors and my nurses, they were understanding and very kind, but the fact that I got pretty much the same reaction from about ten people since I walked in the door was a little overkill. Though, to everyone’s credit, after their initial shock, they were all super professional. Everyone, except one woman.
She was pleasant, she did her job well, but she was the kind of person who joked around with you to make you calm or take your mind off of things. And I was in no mood for it. I’d resigned myself to my fate; I just wanted to get in and get it done, but she wanted to put on a show.
“No anesthesia! Looks like we won’t be taking selfies with his naked butt today!”
“After we’re done, I think I should buy you dinner. Or at least make you breakfast.”
“I promise to be gentle. Do you want to cuddle afterwards?”
These are jokes I’ve made to nurses and doctors myself, because dammit, I’m the same way! But that day was not my day, and soon enough she got the hint. She even apologized, and it was her sincerity and the honest pain in her eyes because she thought she upset me that took me out of my funk. Soon enough I was joking with her too.
“Don’t spank me (as my butt hung out of my gown), I bruise easy.”
“I’ll tell you you’re my first, if you want to feel special.”
And on it went. She was a great sport and we all were laughing along, though I noticed my laughter had a slight manic quality to it, but I couldn’t help it. I was finally wheeled in after what felt like an eternity, made longer due to the genius in line in front of me who had eaten that morning before her colonoscopy, but I kept my cool as I made it into the Scoping room; I call it the Rectory.
By this time I’m usually getting some meds being pumped into my system and I don’t remember much else at that point, but I had a nice clear shot of everything going on without the purple haze. The first thing I noticed was how many people were in there with me. Who knew it took five people to put one little tube up your exhaust. I think mechanics are missing out on an opportunity. Then I realized this happens every time and I made a mental note to start working on my glutes if I’m going to have so many people looking at mine.
The next thing I took in were all the scopes. Did you know they came in different sizes? I didn’t. Apparently they go from size infant to Sumo Wrestler. I was hoping for something in a slimmer size, and for once I wasn’t disappointed. I won’t go into to gory details, but with Crohn’s they are overly cautious and don’t want things that are already compromised to tear. Thank goodness for small favors.
I’m not going to lie and say, “And after all that, it actually wasn’t that bad!” or try to sugarcoat it; it was uncomfortable, mildly embarrassing, and not something I’d elect to do if I didn’t have to, but it wasn’t terrible. I’ve had routine dental appointments that were more painful. There was one moment when the doctor suggested they try a larger scope, because after I relaxed (huh, huh) they had more room than they thought. And when they pumped the air into me was also uncomfortable, but only somewhere along the lines of a Taco Tuesday where the meat was a little hinky.
After it was all said and done I was cleaned up and allowed to dress, then I was given some snacks and again I was told how brave I was. Now at this point, with the worst behind me (if you’re keeping track, this should be pun # 7) I was actually taken aback a little. I know for a fact that there are people who have been in that office with terminal cancer, others with large sections of digestive tract missing or decaying inside of them, and I’m brave? For something I chose to do that ended up showing that there was not much wrong at all? I understand that bravery, just like happiness and fulfillment, sadness and pain, is subjective to the person, that what is brave for me is a walk in the park for others, and my everyday life, talking in front of people, is the epitome of conquering a fear for many, but none of those people knew me and if what I was going to do was bravery or not? Maybe we need to stop assuming that someone is going to find a thing terrifying or horrible just because we think it is so. We need to stop transferring our fears and hang ups onto other people, because had most of those people who told me I was so brave not done so, I would have had just another routine procedure instead of thinking I was going to be tortured. I’m not saying don’t be compassionate, we need that more than ever, just don’t pass on your anxieties to others.
Now, as you are reading this, I’m on my way to the hospital or am just finishing up and hopefully all is well. I’ll maybe draw a smiley face on my cheek and try not to say anything stupid in recovery. And if I see that nurse again, I’ll take her up on that cuddle afterwards, maybe even have her tell me I’m pretty. Over waffles. Lots of waffles.