Saturday, August 16, 2003
Dr. DeMille, I’m Ready for My Close Up, Or, How I Spent the Blackout of '03
While the Northeast waited for the power plants to reboot themselves, I spent the past two days preparing for and receiving my first barium enema. Perhaps it could have been worse for those folks.
My problems began two weeks ago tomorrow. A sharp pain to my abdomen.
I finally broke down the following Thursday morning after the pain had spread throughout my gut, making it painful even to get up in the morning. It’s normally painful to get out of bed in the morning, but that’s a different kind of pain altogether, related to having to go to work. This felt more like a team of microbial prisoners shivving me. I was now moving around like those old men on t.v. Slow getting up, a little hunched, feet not lifting too high off the ground for fear of jostling something inside. I figured when it hurts even to roll over in bed, it’s time to see a professional.
I started my journey at the free clinic for Vanderbilt faculty, where I had a rectal exam. I usually don’t do this on a first appointment, but there was something about my doctor. His Swedish good looks. The Canadian accent. His long fingers. Whatever it was, I was soon on my side with him knuckles-deep in my rectum. He praised my smooth prostate and admired the lack of occlusions in my colon, besides his hand.
He said it was probably one of two things: either I’m one of the handful of people who has his organs reversed and it’s appendicitis, something he can only check on x-ray and, well, it’d be a nuisance to schedule that because the clinic doesn’t have the equipment; or, diverticulitis, a slight bulge or vagination—what a cool, descriptive word—that was irritated. It would be annoyingly painful for a while, and then it will stop. I told him, “Well, there’s a reason it became a sketch”—referring to Joe Piscopo’s and Robin Duke’s Doug and Wendy Whiner characters. He laughed. (I knew my instincts were right about him.)
However, this being Thursday at the clinic and tomorrow being Friday, he didn’t want to begin treating me “because I just work here one day a week” and my doctor wouldn’t see me until Monday because he doesn’t see patients on Fridays. So, I settled for my 2:30 appointment Monday.
After a weekend in which my pain subsided on its own and two hours in the doctor’s waiting room filling out paper work, my doctor made his appearance. Ten minutes after awkward small talk, a few presses on my abdomen, and a listen to my breathing, he prescribes a barium enema and when would that be convenient for me?
I figure sooner is probably better than later as this whole episode of pain is likely to be over by the time they finish their investigation. We settle on Friday—a mere 13 days after my first symptoms and 8 days after my initial visit to the Swede. However, because it’s now after 4:30, the staff has left for the day—academic employment ranks with government employment in workload—I will have to come back to pick up my “bowel cleansing system.” (God, I wish I was a copywriter and could come up with cool euphemisms like that.)
For the uninitiated, the “system” is a 24-hour fast. A diet of water, naked soup (a.k.a., broth), water, and laxatives. And water. I’m not sure about my bowels, but my kidneys appreciated the attention.
The box promised activity within ½ to 6 hours of taking them. And after my friend Jason’s horror story—which I must have him write down and allow me to post here—I figured this stuff is fast-acting. I mixed the liquid laxative and drank it while sitting on the toilet, turning my body into a giant funnel and expecting a sort of fecal trans-substantiation, and I thumbed through my double-issue New Yorker.
But with no activity in an hour, I gave up and moved to the living room to watch Scrubs—god, that’s a fun little show—and switch back and forth between “Force Feed TV” on NBC and ABC’s blackout coverage—speaking of which, how hot did Diane Sawyer look with her mussed hair, her glasses, her husband’s oversized dress shirt—I nearly forgave her working for Nixon.
Still no luck. By the time I had suffered through Leno and his interviews with Kevin Costner—I don’t remember him being this much of an ass—and the Queer Eye guys (I refuse to use their officially sanctioned nickname)—by the way, if you want an example of what a network whore Leno is, Thursday and Friday were Exhibits A and B (follow this link for my Leno thoughts)—and I realized that Conan wouldn’t do the whole show in the dark—I really hoped he would just interview the writing staff for an hour—I went to bed.
Things started cooking at about 4:00 a.m., and I hurried to the commode. However, it was pretty anti-climactic. I had lain out a couple magazines to read, my shower radio was set to sports talk, the telephone rested on the edge of the tub. I’m never so ready for a tornado. But after a few rectal gusts I went back to bed. Was this all? I had taken plenty more meaningful and memorable dumps in my life. I guess the fact that I hadn’t eaten solid food in nearly 36 hours had something to do with the lack of content. In fact, I have no idea why I needed to bother. People envy my regularity. There are two things I do well: watch t.v. and move my bowels. Within 30 minutes of eating, I’m “evacuating” (yeah, copywriters).
But now I was worried. The labeling had promised activity within six hours, and here I was nine hours post laxative initiation having such an underwhelming performance and facing a 6:30 suppository laxative administration that promised action within one hour. Great. I’m going to use this stuff, I’ll have no response, and then at 8:15 when I’m driving to the doctor’s office KABLAM! It was also at this time that I read the labeling a bit more closely and noticed that the laxatives had expired a year ago. Great, now I’ve poisoned myself.
But, my good friends at Morning Edition put me back to sleep before my 6:30 duties, which went without incident and roughly on time, though with even fewer fireworks than my previous visitation.
I arrived at the imaging office for the 8:30 appointment and filled out my medical and financial information for the umpteenth time in the past week—seriously, why do doctors and hospitals even have computers when they still do everything on paper and even when they do enter the information on the computer they refuse to use it or cannot access it from any central source (even though it’s all the same “covered entity” for HIPAA purposes so there’s no confidentiality concern)—and they whisked me back to the changing room.
I stripped naked except for my shoes and socks—a shorter, fatter Nuke LaLoosh if you will—and now understand all the hospital gown jokes, though after 12 years of competitive swimming—swimming in competitions that is, not that I was competitive in the races—I don’t have any qualms about exposing my naked ass to the world.
The nurse explained the procedure: I’m going to place the barium tip at your rectum; then I’m going to insert it; it will feel uncomfortable, but not painful; you’ll feel like you have to go, but don’t bear down; you’ll get used to it; I’ll insert a balloon to hold the tubing in place; I’ll feed the barium into your colon, and it will feel cool; the doctor will come in and take your pictures; then, he will pump your colon and stomach full of air to empty the barium; and, then we’ll let you go to the bathroom to empty the rest on your own. I guess they’ve done this before.
They had me lie on the table and immediately turned me away from the “activity” of preparing the tubing. Perhaps an adaptation by the system after too many middle aged men had come to doubt their sexuality upon seeing the length of tubing that was about to violate their nether regions.
However, my mind had wandered to where I was worried about whether my ass was clean for the nurse. I’m about to have a piece of hard plastic attached to a rubber hose plunge into my rectum, and all I can think about is my not so fresh feeling. Which reminded me of a joke by Aristophanes, later modified to considerable effect by Chris Rock, about how no matter how much you wash that sphincter, it still feels unclean.
The hard plastic and an intense urge to shit broke my reverie on the timeless quality of shit jokes. She was right; it was uncomfortable. I will never look at a vacuum cleaner and its retractable electric cord in quite the same way again. But, slowly, as they do in pornographic letters, I accommodated its length.
I first met my radiographer as a disembodied voice, his Orson to my Mork as it were. He had the decency to come around to my field of vision and sort-of-introduce himself—I still don’t know his name, but he had on a white coat so he had to be a doctor. I asked him what he expected to find, since, as I had feared, I no longer had any abdominal pain. He basically ignored the question, saying he will see what there is to see. Fun, a Zen doctor.
The doctor rotated me from horizontal to vertical (feet down) to nearly inverted (head down) snapping pictures all the while. “Don’t breathe. Stay absolutely still. And you can breathe.” Suddenly, I’m in an industrial medical pornography photoshoot. “That looks great! Now roll onto your stomach. O.k. now roll back to me. Perfect. It looks beautiful. Now I want you to rotate on the table. Good. And one more time. Fabulous!”*
And then it was over. The doctor had snapped his money shot, and I was left with a sticky white residue leaking from my anus. No cuddling. No note by the table. I bet he won’t even call. I did my best to clean up after myself. I put on my clothes and left.
After 36 hours of not eating, I was ready to gnaw my arm off. I rushed to Sonic for a Chicken Club Toaster sandwich combo meal. Two hours later, I would stop at Wendy’s. I had thought in the days before the prep that maybe I would take this opportunity to start fresh with a good, healthy nutritional program. Now my body would get all the nutrients it needed, no longer impeded by the three decades of fast food buildup!
But, no, immediacy took hold. I chugged a lemonade and vegged on the couch for a couple hours as I popped tater tots like a raver pops X. Turns out FOX in Nashville now carries the network’s mid-day show with Jigglin’ Barberie (another Canadian!). I eventually forced myself to go to work—why should today be any different than all the other days I force myself to go to work?—where I got a little stuff done, but mostly sat in a food coma staring at the computer screen.
I will update you on the results, if I ever hear from those folks again.
*: Except for the word "fabulous," these are actual remarks by the doctor.
Update: As exepected: "I find nothing wrong with you," says the doctor.
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