Baby’s first colonoscopy

When Anne and Gene Culver, late of Florissant, Missouri, welcomed their third child into the world some 52 years ago, I can guarantee they weren’t envisioning a day when I’d be this old, having this procedure. But I sure felt like a tiny little kid. I’m looking balefully at people having a beer on the sidewalk, or at the fancy chocolates lined up at REI by the check-out stand.

But no! Not today! There will be no indulging my (many, many) whims today. It’s all liquid diet for a day before this treatment, which I have been dreading ever since I heard about it. I’m not dreading the treatment – I am freaked about the liquid diet day.

I don’t like going without food. I’m not at my finest. Ramon said that in his Academy days, he and the other slender cadets who weren’t so dependent on food did better in maneuvers, practices and missions – they survived longer, more comfortably, without being fed constantly. That is not me. I would have hung out with the big dopey weightlifter types, who liked eating every hour or two.

So, forthwith, a day in the life of a whiner. Starting the night before.

Jokes are not enough

The nice lady at the colonoscopy doctor’s office joked with me about what I was and was not allowed, musing convincingly about whether a popsicle dissolved in gin was a no-no or not. (Just don’t, was the verdict.) She told me I needed to be squeaky clean on Monday morning.

The night before

It’s 11:42. Tonight I’ve had McDonald’s burger and fries, popcorn, a little milkshake, and some white-ish-pink wine. I’m trying to pack it all in before my last bite at 11:55 p.m., and then onward to my liquid diet day. Oddly, for all that food, I don’t feel terribly full. I feel, in fact, already grumpy.

The middle of the night

I wake up from strange dreams involving people I haven’t seen in a long time. There is no falling, but also no food or drink.

8:24 a.m.

Raya wants breakfast. Shouldn’t she have to fast, too? In solidarity? I could use a day without her whining at me about food every two hours. (Yes, I hear the parallels.)

So what am I supposed to do with myself? Sunday mornings, I usually make French toast and bacon, get a “real” hard-copy newspaper, and linger. I feel lost without French toast.

I go to 7-11 and buy the newspaper, juice, gatorade and a Red Bull, since I’m not sure whether I can have coffee. One instruction says yes, another no. How do they expect us to make sense of all this? I am already snarky and I have barely begun.

I have a couple sips of the Red Bull but I’m afraid to drink it, lest I have to repeat this exercise at a later date. I will just have to deal with the out-of-coffee headache if I have it.

9:15 a.m.

I have the out-of-coffee headache. I have one more sip of the Red Bull, hoping the caffeine content is sufficient. Turns out, it really isn’t.

10:30 a.m.

Dad and Ramon both call at the same time, and both have something to ask of me. It feels like I’m being assaulted – which, quite obviously, I am not. My utter inability to multi-task is exacerbated by not being fed. It feels like I’m shouting even though I’m not.

Also, as they’re two of my favorite men in the world, I would do anything for them – which makes the tasks seem urgent. Somehow I remind myself they aren’t, that I can handle them tomorrow.

11:30 a.m.

Cat wants food again. When I open the can the smell is overwhelming, and gross, but then again very food-like. My stomach is now actively empty-feeling. I check and see if I am thinner, by trying on my skinny pants. No luck. I will try again later.

1:15 p.m.

Really want coffee and food, but not enough to have to repeat this exercise. I drink a full bottle of Gatorade, which I loathe, and look around for another. Down goes a bottle of juice and several glasses of water. I convince myself to go to REI on my bike for an allen wrench I need. On the way, I count the hours I have been fasting versus the hours I still have to fast, and try to come up with a percentage. But I can’t decide if sleeping hours count. I have to use the REI bathroom. Twice.

2:15 p.m.

I am not happy that the clothes I try on at REI fit as if I have not lost any weight, when, clearly, after all these hours of self-abnegation, I should be the approximate width of a Number Two pencil. Also, I am dizzy now. I bike home slowly. It could as easily be the heat but I know it is not.

2:40 p.m.

Shouldn’t I be learning something with this? Like, some zen thing about the fleeting nature of desire, and about my own will to stand tall when I have a goal in mind? I have not noticed any learning as yet. Mostly I feel an id-like yearning, which sounds a bit like learning, but isn’t right at all. Amazing the difference one letter can make. Yearning is as far from learning as it is from earning, burning, or spurning.

One day without food puts me in this state. Not even a day – not even twelve hours yet. What must it be like to live from hand to mouth all the time? You can’t function!

3:15 p.m.

Another trip to 7-11 for water and juice. I pull a lemon freezey cup out of the freezer. But I worry that it might have pulp, which is expressly (and consistently) forbidden in the colonoscopy paperwork. I read the label, then inspect the lemon ice itself from various angles. It doesn’t feel pulpy… I run my tongue back and forth over the top of it, on the alert to detect any evidence of texture. Lord I do not want to do this again. I search “do lemon ices have pulp” on Google. I think I am safe.

A sly side of me realizes that if I find pulp, I could go back to eating today and put off the colonoscopy. I consider it, but I am a Rule Follower. I want to do this and get it over with. I have found new Purpose!

That lasted four minutes. By the time I was even typing it, it was already waning.

3:55 p.m.

I spend a bit of time looking at some paperwork for Ramon. Some of it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s the UN, so I’m not even going to blame my foggy-headed-ness.

Now I have to do the Prep, which means drinking a syrupy liquid and following it up with water and then waiting for Vesuvius to make his New World appearance in my colon.

It is hard to make myself take the Prep liquid. I don’t even like taking an aspirin, much less some new thing whose effects are unfamiliar. I stare at it; I rearrange it on the table. I fill my water bottle. I go get the mail – oh wait, it’s Sunday, no mail. Just take the stuff, Keri. Take it and get one step closer to the end of this.

5:10 p.m.

Wow, this is a great treatment. They should offer this at resorts, to enhance your vacation.

That hour was not fun, but it seems to have leveled off. I do feel hot and light-headed, so I drink more water and Gatorade.

My forehead feels more forward than normal. My whole face feels very out front of my head, like it is pressing forward of its own accord. Why would it do that? Why would the lack of food make this happen? Everything feels very pressured.

Just keep drinking water. Water, water, water.

5:15 p.m.

I am hungry again. Still. It’s amazing how often you think about food when you’re not having any. My tongue feels like it’s shrinking in my mouth. Drink more water, Keri.

7:20 p.m.

I had a little nap while watching TV. I wish I could just sleep from now till the end of the procedure. But I have to drink another round of the Prep liquid. That’s cruel – one round ought to do it.

Watching TV passes time well. It’s easy to drop into another reality and out of mine. Even if I know my whining is unwarranted.

11:45 p.m.

The second round of Prep, another hour of “making cappuccino,” as my friend back in Vail used to call it. It is unpleasant but at least this time I know what I’m in for. An hour from now and I can go to sleep.

2:15 a.m.

Okay, so it wasn’t over as quickly as last time. I think I am ready to try to get some sleep. I have to be up in less than four hours’ time, to shower and get ready. Thank God for Tony, who is taking me to the appointment. When I wake up I have to remember not to drink anything. Nil by mouth.

8:45 a.m.

I spent a long time on the gurney, punctuated by friendly gestures from overworked nurses, one of whom sets me up with an IV thing in the back of my hand. No problemo. I can handle a strong scratch. The end is in sight. There’s no food or anything here to tempt me. Just stuff to sign and lots of confirming what I’m there for. And patient after patient after patient – lining up for this same treatment.

They wheel me into the Operating Theatre which is no grand thing, though I’m surrounded by (and then attached to) beeping machines. A little nervous, but okay. I have to curl over on my side in the fetal position, and my gown slips off my be-hind. I don’t bother trying to replace it – that’s what I’m here for, I think with a giggle.

Then, without a giggle, I think of Ronald Reagan doing this. Remember his polyps? First I’d ever heard of such a thing. It’s humbling to be in this position. Not that I worry about RR being humbled, not at all. But all of us, the whole of society, curling up for this with our gown opening at the back? That’s kind of sweet and vulnerable of us, as a people.

The anesthesiologist arrives. One final burst of Keri-worry and then, goodnight.

One month later

Despite having done the prep per instructions, that colonoscopy did not work. So I had to do it all again, when they could fit me in for another appointment. I have to say, I was a lot less of a whiner this time, though I still had my moments. I would not recommend me.

I was instructed to do a low-residue diet for a week beforehand, which was THE WEIRDEST. Low residue means low fiber. So all the things you’ve learned about what to eat – fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low meat intake – were out the window. The diet calls for white bread and crackers, frozen veg, dairy, ground meat… I kept re-read the papers they sent, thinking I had mixed up “foods to avoid” and “foods to include”. It felt like I reverted to 1978. The only constant is that pulp remains a no-no.

The second time was the charm in this case. The process once I was in the surgical center was not bad – though it’s a bit unpredictable. In Time One, they put the IV in easily, while this time it felt like I was having a fight with a long-taloned cat for about twenty minutes.

Waking up from anesthesia was not at all bad – I remember it being much worse. Before I went under, I heard the doctor telling another patient, “We call this twilight – so often, people actually wake up and talk to us, though they don’t remember it.” I wonder if I did, and if so, what did I say?

The lesson

I’m awfully glad to have it over with – though of course I’ll have to do it again someday. I won’t do it at the same place, though. This conveyor-belt thing, with everyone lined up butt-first, is dehumanizing. You don’t see a doctor, you don’t get your questions answered, you don’t know why the results are as they are. A few weeks later I did an annual physical at Planned Parenthood in DC and the doctor there (the DUDE) answered all the questions this process left me with.

I’ve always read that it’s essential to be your own advocate. I have a good teacher for that, my friend Tony. It’s hard to be demanding when your butt is showing, but I think a good start is a clinic that is humane, smaller, where you actually see the doc before and after. Next time, I won’t just be the fetal-position kiddo on the gurney – I’ll channel Tony, or my skeptical Mom, or my knowledgeable nurse-practitioner sister, to say what I need and make sure I get it. If I’m going to follow their diet rules the day before, they can give me five minutes either side of this thing so I feel a bit more comfortable.

Insha’allah.

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