Thursday, March 27, 2014

Do not Go Gently into that Good Night

This week’s blog has to do more with staving off potential cancerous death than it does with actual death, or cemeteries for that matter. But allow me a bit of literary latitude so I can get this out of my system, so to speak. I had my first ever screening colonoscopy today. Being a guy on the wrong side of fifty, they highly recommend such things. If you’ve never had the pleasure, let me just say that I hope I don’t live another ten years, after which time they recommend a second one.

In all fairness, the messy buildup was far worse than the actual “procedure.” The latter is difficult to describe in any delicate manner, so allow me to elucidate:They put a flexible endoscope up your butt and look for polyps and other cancerous evidence. (I swear, when I was “waking up” in the recovery area I thought I heard a nurse answer the phone, “Butt Room ….!”)

I put quotations around the phrase “waking up” because I’m not at all sure I was unconscious. The drug they give you is called Propofol, which, disturbingly, is neither an anesthetic nor a knockout drug. It is, according to Wikipedia, an “intravenously administered hypnotic/amnestic agent.” Does that mean the medical staff was communicating with me and I was responding to requests like “Roll onto your right side?” (or for that matter, “Quack like a duck?”). The drug has a nickname, given because of its milky liquid appearance: “milk of amnesia.” Maybe death is like this? After we die, do we forget that we were ever alive? It would make sense, since we will all spend much more time being dead than we spend being alive. What’s the sense of remembering such a miniscule portion of our existence for an eternity? Personally, I would much rather forget the colonoscopy (as well as a number of other things in my life, for that matter).

Cemetery statuary under a blanket of snow
As I drove in to the hospital on this cold March morning, the radio stated that there was a “Wind Advisory” on for this twenty-degree day. Apropos for a colonoscopy, I might say (as you will later learn). It was very sunny but cold; with all the snow gone, everything looked, well, boring. Also filthy, as the high winds blew everyone’s trash all over the streets. Great. My sister is coming to visit in two days – she’ll think we live in a landfill. Anyway, I figured I wasn’t missing any cemetery photography today, so I may as well get this over with. The cemeteries looked so serene and exotic under all the snow we’ve had this year. Now they look, well, boring.

Death, mixing it up ...
So, about that messy buildup prior to being sent to la-la land. Death would be preferable. With all respect to Dylan Thomas, I did not go gently into that good night.  They have you “cleanse” your bowels for the two days leading up to the procedure. The first day, you ingest only liquids. Clear liquids. I wondered if vodka fell into this category, but I didn’t want to sound like a smartass (pun intended) by asking. The all-liquid diet was extra difficult for me as I was invited to a catered buffet meeting at work. Thank God I can’t smell, or the aroma from all that crispy roast pork and other great Chinese food might have compromised my preparations.

My lovely wife Jill arriving with supplies
The next part of the prep is when you take monster doses of laxatives the day before the procedure. Some are unassuming little pills, the other is in powder form, which you are to mix with a gallon of Gatorade. I hate Gatorade. It gives me intense heartburn. And you can’t take any medicine. Not one TUM. I felt like I poisoned myself. Then the fireworks began. That all lasted about two hours. I wanted to die. As I’ve said, this was the worst of the ordeal. The actual procedure was not nearly as bad, that is, except for all the tricks your mind plays on you. The medical staff is always there to remind you that you might, inadvertently, die. They subtly ask things like, “Do you have a living will?

After the opto-electric colonoscopic procedure was over, the “Wind Advisory” kicked in. The nurse told me in advance that the doctor inflates my colon with gas and afterward, it has to come out. I don’t think I have to paint you a picture here. Suffice it to say that the recovery room sounded like it was staffed by an orchestra of kazoo musicians equipped with naughty noise makers. 

So after the colonoscopy, the doctor who, um, guided the scope on its merry way told me that my colon looked perfect and that I should continue doing whatever I had been doing. I looked at him and the nurse and said, “Eating fried chicken and drinking bourbon?” The nurse let out a gasp and said, “What?! And I’ve been starving myself all this time?!....” I shared the fried chicken and bourbon line with my wife, much to her chagrin, as she insists on shopping at Whole Foods. The other thing that I will continue doing, of course, is writing my “Cemetery Traveler” blog!

Given my habit of falling in odd places while making photographs in various abandoned cemeteries this past winter, I thought it was ironic that they placed this “Fall Risk bracelet on my wrist before I was sent home. Do you suppose they’ve read about some of my exploits …?