Saturday, June 07, 2008

My Fiftieth Birthday Present

The Reader is Warned: this post is all about my bowels. No spiritual revelations, effusive poetry, or lyrical descriptions of massage here. Feel free to skip.

I watched, on the monitor, the endoscope nosing its way up my colon. The surprising thing was how colorful it all was. It had a little spritzer, and it would occasionally wash away a patch of bright yellow scum to reveal the pink, rose, or red surfaces. Along came a polyp, like a little skin tag, and a black tongue snaked out into view and bit it off. It was like that movie, long ago -- Fantastic Voyage, was it? Except the graphics were much better.

I'd asked them to go light on the anesthetic, so I remember it all, though it has a dreamy quality.

While waiting for it to start I was impressed -- as I often am, in hospitals -- at how little they knew about how to make the body rest comfortably. It's not rocket science: it's something every massage therapist knows, how to make people comfortable in a resting position. One thing you don't do is leave someone in a semi-recumbant position with their legs stretched out straight in front of them and nothing under their knees for 45 minutes. When I sat up and stretched and sat cross-legged instead, they worriedly came over and asked if I was okay. "Just stretching," I said. They'd given me this blanket folded narrowly, just wide enough to cover my legs; I was apparently expected to half-sit, half-lie there with my legs poking straight out till doomsday, if that was how long it took the doctor to get to me. You couldn't dream up a better position for instilling trigger points in the lower back and anterior neck.

I liked the doctor, when she finally showed up; a young woman with a wry sense of humor, who was happy to accommodate my request to go light on the anesthetic. But oh, dear, those hunched over shoulders.

"Hi! So you're the person who's going to push five feet of optical tubing up my ass!" is one of the things I didn't say. I also didn't say, "hey, I probably don't really need this colonoscopy, but you really need somebody to work on those traps and pecs. Why don't you get on this table instead?" I was very well-behaved. Afterwards she and the nurses said I was a great patient, they wished all patients were like me, which mystified me a bit. I lay there on my side for half an hour and let them get on with their work: surely that's what most people do?

I was surprised by how grumpy and nervous I was about this. Not the procedure itself, but the business of not eating seeds for three days, and then the liquid diet for two days, and the horrible gallon of laxative stuff you have to drink the night before. Almost everything I like to eat, I discovered, has seeds in it. Raspberry seeds in my breakfast jam, cucumber seeds in my lunch salad, pepper seeds in my dinner salsa. It was, however, easy to "avoid consuming red or purple products" (shudder) on the liquid diet days.

There's nothing I have less equanimity about than food. It's downright weird -- given that I've had plenty of food, all my life -- how screwed up I am about it. The levels of anxiety I have when facing any minor restriction to my diet would be appropriate to someone who had faced starvation multiple times: for someone who's lived in dietary luxury all his life, it's really rather repulsive: possibly the thing about myself I am most ashamed of.

So anyway. Now -- having just had my breakfast with raspberry jam -- I am as happy as a buttered clam. I am in my fifties. My "rout of passage rite of passage," as Martha was pleased to call it, is over.

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