“Because you take blood thinners, it’s better that you have a virtual colonoscopy, then there will be no cutting and internal bleeding,” said my cardiologist.
Great, I thought. No tube up the bum with a great big camera and polyp pruners on the end; no being put to sleep whilst people I don’t know interfere with my nether regions.
“With a virtual colonoscopy there’s no intrusion. They just take photographs with the scanner,” he said.
Great, I thought again. Just pictures. Still, I wasn’t looking forward to it.
The day came and dutifully if reluctantly I made my way up to East 84th Street to the medical imaging clinic in Manhattan.
The small waiting room was full of middle-aged and senior people. The girl on the desk had all the charm of a rabid komodo lizard. I guess she sees me as several hundred feet of fleshy tube, I thought standing there. At least I have spotless
It was the second time in a week I had performed the bowel-cleansing procedure.
A week before I had had my first appointment booked with another clinic.
“Come along to collect your cleansing kit,” said the girl on the phone. What kit, I wondered; a wire brush, a pressure hose? Perhaps one of those things plumbers use for cleaning out drains?
I got the kit. It was in a plastic bag handed over the desk. In it were various boxes and packets. I took it home. There were instructions for what was called "the twenty four hour cleanse.”
My first appointment was to be on a Tuesday. It was the start of the preceding morning. The instructions from the kit called for me to drink eight large glasses of water throughout the day, eat no solid food, (broth was okay), drink three small bottles of barium sulphate, which I thought would make me glow bright enough to turn me into a human night light. Then came the drinking of the first laxative mix, followed at nine by evil looking orange laxative pills. I wrote all this down on the blackboard and ticked off my first glass of water.
Eleven hours later, after six more glasses of water and two gallons of chicken broth that looked and tasted like chickens had washed their feet in it, I felt like a walking waterbed. With all that fluid inside me, the ablution process had begun. I will spare you the details, but by later in the afternoon the bathroom turned into a special effects recording studio for horror movies.
I’d already spent so much time in there during the day so far that I was discovering a whole extra population of little animals and faces in the speckled patterns on the floor tiles which I hadn’t seen before, and they were all laughing at me.
By four pm, as instructed, I’d drunk the first bottle of barium. Drinking something radioactive made me think of Superman and Kryptonite and I wondered if I would have the strength to take off the tops off the other two bottles. When I next went to the bathroom, I left the lights off, but disappointingly my pee didn’t glow. The first laxative packet I read had said that results would happen in 30 minutes to six hours and to stay close to plumbing. It must have been good stuff because it worked through me in about twelve and a half minutes.
By the early evening I wasn’t seeing much of my wife because, like a shy hermit, I was communicating through the bathroom door. When you think about it, the bathroom is an oddly unsavory place to consume chicken broth, but efficient. For whilst the Niagara effect happened at one end, the broth emptied in at the other. I felt like a pipe and wondered if it would be simpler just to pour the broth directly into the toilet.
At least someone was having fun. On the one occasion when I dared leave the tiled room, Kath, my wife, discovered that if she gave the side of my now watermelon sized belly a tap at one side, she could watch it ripple passed my stretched tummy button to the other side, and if hard enough, it would ripple back. While she giggled I thought the night to come was going to be very uncomfortable and sleep free.
Later I was just about to pop the four mysterious and dangerous looking pills in lieu of my evening meal when the phone rang. It was a lady from the clinic. It was now seven thirty. She was apologetic from the get-go. There had been a scheduling error, she said. I didn’t have an appointment the next day after all.
“But I have drunk fifteen gallons of water and broth, I am growing chicken feathers and I can’t get out of the bathroom,” I said, conscious that if the conversation lasted much longer I would need to get the mop and bucket and a bottle of bleach, or better still, stand in the bucket. “And,” I said, “I’ve already taken the barium.”
Why?" she asked.
“WHY?” I said, “Because the instructions told me to.”
There was a pause and some silly telephone music. She came back.
“You were given the wrong kit,” she said.
Needless to say, that night I dreamt I was a slime creature living in a dark brown swamp. It was a recurring dream, neatly shortened by my unconscious mind to fit into the ten-minute intervals when I actually fell asleep. Kath, wisely had retreated with her eye mask to the couch and was plugged into her hypnosis tapes.
The next morning I felt empty and uselessly cleansed, but didn’t know what to do with it. Totally miffed, I called my doctor. We found another clinic that had a chance of knowing what they were doing, and booked another appointment in a week’s time.
Now a week later, there I was, once more cleansed and internally sparkling from my second barium-free and little brown tablet-free, twenty-hour human sewage farm ablutions.
This new place had been a lot easier on the chemical intake and even better, had let me eat Jell-O, no red though. So Kath helped me pick out green lime and yellow pineapple at the grocery. (We called Jell-O “jelly” in England when I was a kid. In fact I hadn’t had jelly since Alan Digby’s tenth birthday party when we had that jelly fight in their front room that ruined his mum’s wedding photographs and stained the wallpaper.)
The only weird thing about eating Jell-O was when I got up in the middle of the night to use the facilities. I was shocked and surprised to see that what came out of me was bright green.
In the waiting room I looked round at the other internally cleansed people. They all appeared to be hollow, but not fearful, I thought. Probably like cattle before they step into the burger-making machine. These others would all be having the lights and cameras, tubes and cables and pruning shears stuffed up them. Ha, whilst all I had to do was lie there and have some pictures taken. Piece of cake and I wasn’t even hungry. It wasn’t a long wait. My name was called.
There’s something disturbing about overly chatty, chirpy and cheerful attendants
in clinics before treatment, don’t you find? Like birthday cards on the walls and soft music playing in dentists’ waiting rooms to deflect your attention from the wailing drill and the screams from the back.
The chirpy chappie spoke to me like I was his best lifelong pal who loved sharing gags with him. His white coat was very white I noticed. A good sign, I thought, bearing in mind what his job entailed. Beyond the door through which he called me there was a line of blue curtained changing rooms.
“Trouser and pants off and gown on.” The gowns matched the curtains. Nice touch, I thought.
I knew I was in a clinic, but don’t you feel weird dropping your pants in a strange place? I do. Of course the gown had those little ties that were so short it was impossible to make a bow at the back, even if I could tie a bow without looking, which I couldn’t.
“Okay, John,” said the chirpy chappie who came from Queens. “In here, please.”
There was the table that I had to climb up on and the great big CT scanning machine with the hole in, into which I knew I would be stuffed. I thought, no sweat. It’s just a big camera, and I won’t be put to sleep and there’ll be no camera up my bum with the polyp shearers. Then I can go and have an Italian meal and a glass of Cabernet round the corner. Good excuse for a day off really. I thought, of course they would have to have a terminally cheery chap doing this job because all day long he’s looking at old people’s backsides, how awful!
“Roll onto your side,” he said.
“Won’t that make it a bit awkward to get me into the hole,” I asked, ”with my knees up?”
“I have to put the pipe in,” he said matter of factly. I looked over my shoulder at him, he had a winter tan and his hair looked like it had been microwaved.
“What pipe?” No one had said anything about a pipe.
“I have to blow you up,” he said. This guy was obviously a saint; not only did he have to look at people’s wrinkly old bums all day, he also had to blow them up as well.
“Gosh that must take a lot of strength,” I said. “You must have a great pair of lungs.”
“With Carbon Dioxide,” he said like I was an idiot. No one had said anything about carbon dioxide. Isn’t that what people gas themselves to death with in sealed garages?
“No that’s carbon monoxide. Carbon dioxide gets absorbed into the blood stream.” It may well do, but it sounded terrifying.
“Why do you have to put carbon dioxide into me?” I asked, thinking about how much gas I had passed in the last twenty-four hours.
“To inflate your intestines so we can see into them.”
“Oh dear,” I said. “Does it hurt?”
“Possibly,” he said. At which point he stuffed something into my anus and asked me to roll onto my back. I suddenly felt like begging forgiveness for all the wicked things Peter Bradley and I had done to small creatures and insects when we were five behind Granddad’s potting shed.
“I am turning the gas on now. Hold it in.”
I imagined him turning the knob with both hands on a giant carbon dioxide tank.
“This will take a minute or two,” he said and then left the room.
Jesus, I thought. He thinks I might explode. Worse, what if he has a sudden recent memory loss and doesn’t come back; what if he has a seizure, what if he gets knocked down by a yellow cab on the way to get a donut?
I lay there slowly inflating wondering if this was what it feels like to be a bubble. At first, there was no sensation, but then I started to feel a little weird as the gas gurgled inside me, the sensation was very strange. Gurgle, gurgle. I looked down at my gown; it was like that terrifying scene in Alien when John Hurt’s stomach is expanding as the creature chews through his stomach. Mine was visibly rising. I thought I could now float across the Atlantic, with no fear of sinking. Maybe he changed his white coat after every exploding patient? Anyway, where the hell was he? I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable as I continued to inflate. “Hold it in,” he’d said. I don’t know why but it made me think of Royalty.
I was just about to reach back to pull out the pipe and no doubt whizz about the room with the sound of a supersonic fart when he came back in.
“You don’t have to inflate your cheeks,” he said. I blew out. “It doesn’t come out there.” He patted my stomach. “Hmm, doesn’t normally take so long.”
Oh God, I thought. I have a blockage in there like a lump of suet.
“A couple more minutes.”
Now I was hurting bad. It was an awful feeling and increasing. I knew it; this was divine retribution for blowing up that frog with a straw when I was eight to impress Sally Brown from next door. I felt like my eyeballs were swelling. He came in and patted my barrage balloon-sized stomach again.
“Okay. That does it,” he said as he turned off the now empty cylinder. “Lie still.” If he’d filled me up with methane I would have had to be tied down. He went behind a screen into a control room. The table slid forward into the drum.
“Breathe in. Hoooold it.”
It was a lovely sunny spring day in Manhattan. As a Yorkshireman I still find it amazing that I walk the canyons of the Big Apple like a local, but there I was again this time full of carbon dioxide, nervously tripping down Lexington Avenue like a birthday balloon in a thistle patch. Still inflated, after a couple of blocks, I decided to blow myself all the way home. I thought sharing my gaseous contents with people on the subway was not fair on the innocents even if they were hard-bitten New Yorkers.
Several hours later, by the time I’d walked all the way home, I was as deflated as my wife’s cousin had been after he finally realized that he’d misread his lottery ticket numbers. But whilst I was now internally deflated, my sense of dread at the prospect of what would be observed in my guts grew large.
The next day was murder; I was worried sick. After thinking that I had avoided the polyp pruners, I now envisaged a team of shrunken surgeons with lights on their heads exploring my bowels with chain saws and hedge trimmers looking for a tumor the size of a baby hippo.
I decided it would be better not to know the results; I reckoned living in ignorance would be a better way to go. My sense of reason had been overcome with abject fear. So, with a shaking hand, I phoned the doctor’s office.
“Don’t bother calling with the results, “ I said to Michiko, his Japanese assistant. “I’m not going to be contactable. I’m er, going away,” I said. “No telephones.”
“When you go away?” she asked.
“Er, tomorrow, early. The phones will be off.” I said lying, and thinking they wouldn’t have the results by then.
“Please wait.” She came back after a minute. “Doctor has result, not looked at yet, will call at five. This okay?” Damn I thought; she got me. Wily oriental, she knew I was wimping out.
Kath took me to a stationary store in the afternoon to take my mind off my imminent death from rotting away. I have a lust for stationary items. But all the paper and pencils and crayons did nothing for my mortally challenged mind. Unfortunately, having overheard my attempt at avoiding the truth, she brought me home for the five o’clock call.
The phone rang on time. “Go on then,” said Kath. “Pick it up!” She lifted the receiver from the cradle and thrust it into my hand.
“Mr. Sunderland?” said the doctor. “I have the result of your virtual colonoscopy.”
“Yes.” I said darkly, knowing doom was about to be laid upon me.
“You are normal, not even a polyp. And all your other organs are fine too!”
I couldn’t believe it. “Oh thank you!” as tears welled up. “Thank-you doctor,” I said, re-inflated with a sudden joy.
But even though my days now are lived happy in the knowledge that I am a healthy old fart, nonetheless, I am haunted about an innocent wide-eyed frog and the horrid thing I did to impress Sally Brown.
A true story of a recent virtual colonic examination, loads of fun!