I was closing in on 50 when, at my yearly checkup, my doctor asked that question we all understand to be key these days, about the medical history and cause of death of my two parents.
“My mom: heart attack,” I said “but my dad left before I was born, so I have no clue how he died.”
“Find out,” the doc said. “Do some digging if you have to.”
So, I dug. It took months, but by the time I came back I had my answer. “’Intestinal cancer’ it says on his death certificate.”
“OK, then. You’re overdue for a colonoscopy.”
“ Hey come on,” I said, going for the joke. “I didn’t even know the guy!”
He didn’t laugh. “A colonoscopy is indicated for anyone past a certain age either of whose parents had cancer ‘below the bellybutton’. Here are the names of some people who do this procedure. Pick one and get it done.”
So… I picked one, and in a month’s time found myself seated across from a white-haired GI doc for a little facetime. Did I have any questions? he wanted to know.
I did indeed. “My sister has had this procedure and she says it’s super uncomfortable and I should ask for medication, so I wondered: what do you give people?”
“A muscle relaxant of course, as well as a drug called Versed which acts an amnesiac.”
“An amnesiac?! You want us to forget then, which means it MUST hurt!
“But does it, really?” I asked, hoping against hope.
“Oh, I won’t say I haven’t heard a few good groans over the years,” he answered cheerily. “I mean think about it: You’ve got a five-foot probe and…three right angles.”
I thought about it; pictured that flexible wand and its seeing-eye fiber-optics. Then I pictured the colon itself, an inverted letter “U” that you explore by ‘driving up’ a squiggly on-ramp.
I went head anyway and booked the procedure.
When the day came the two drugs, administered in painless I-V fashion made me feel fine. Wonderful, in fact.
“Let’s see that five-foot probe!” I gamely sang.
“Here it is!,” the genial doc sang back.
I turned then to look at the monitor – and then somehow a 90 minutes swath was cut from my life. I was lying on my side and it was 8:41; then suddenly I was sitting up and it was 10:11.
I do have a vague memory of turning in protest once, but it seems more dream than memory and, as the saying goes, if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a noise? If a highly ‘personal’ but beneficial experience is visited on you and you don’t remember it, can you call it uncomfortable? Maybe not.
So line up and get it done if you’re at the magical age. The dread snacks you get in the Recovery Room alone are make it all worth while.