State Street Scribe
by Jeff Wing
What is Life? The two competing theories are at odds. Intelligent Design supposes we are the deliberate invention of a Supreme Creative Intelligence outside the cosmological system. That elegant and empirically diaphanous view is countered by Darwin’s Theory of Driving a Cheap Rental Car Down 30 Zillion Culs-de-Sac and Then Patiently Backing Out Over Flower Beds and Garbage Cans Until all Dead Ends Have Been Noisily Exhausted and the Potholed Highway is Reached (as I believe it’s known to science).
Whatever one’s leanings regarding Life’s Origins, this much is plain—our miraculous insides are a jelly-packed collection of crazy-looking tubes, filters, and bags that appear to have been poured down our open necks in haste. The large intestine looks like a radiator hose tossed carelessly over a clothesline, the liver drapes itself over the stomach like a sentimental drunk, and the heart—metaphorical repository of all man’s hopes and dreams—lopsidedly nestles between the lungs, a lumpen spitball launched through a straw in 2nd period Social Studies. The disgusting-looking pancreas is stuck randomly into the gutworks like a Mr. Potato Head afterthought. Miracle? It’s a miracle this macabre junk drawer even works. But it does, marvelously, and it underwrites our every human whimsy.
The Right Shoes
You will deliberate for a solid hour over the purchase of a wristwatch, leaning over the glass case with furrowed brow. You will spend an entire afternoon selecting the perfect shirt-trouser-and-shoe combination, toting the goods jauntily to your car with a bounce in your step, touchingly alive with the anticipation of leveraging the attractive new stuff in social transactions whose tribal nuances rival the complexities of the spleen.
Underneath it all, though, your “person” exists at the pleasure of this other thing—your body; an animate, warmth-radiating contraption, insanely complex and in need of frequent maintenance. The human body has not been over-praised. It is a marvel in whose majesty one may truly revel. Until you receive something in the mail that reminds you it needs to be raised on a jack and its delicate undercarriage intimately probed by a professional stranger. So it was that I recently reported to the garage to have my Exhaust Manifold inspected. The technicians call this a colonoscopy, and it deflates the Majesty thing in a jiffy.
Spelunking Without a Helmet
A colonoscopy, recommended as a pre-emptive procedure for persons of a certain age, is the exploratory spelunking of the large intestine by a photographer wearing a smock. We don’t want things growing in there that can eventually kill us, and so it is periodically necessary to enlist a helpful professional to have a look. Cellular Life is opportunistic, after all, to our generally good fortune. It always means well, but sometimes it effloresces under less than optimal circumstances and needs to be dealt with. The colonoscopy procedure is surprisingly quick and is not in the least bit uncomfortable, honestly. Unless one’s pride has nerve endings. Here is my own tale of “whoa!” told with the helpful immediacy of the omnipresent tense.
High Pressure Magic
On the Courageous Medical Specialist continuum, the Gastroenterologist is to medicine what the Mercury-era astronaut was to space exploration; a brave Magellan of the nether regions. But bravery isn’t foolishness. This medical specialist insists on a completely empty large intestine for the procedure—understandable since his fashion sense runs to brilliant white garb.
No problem! In their wisdom the colonic engineers have devised a fiendish catalyst to get things moving.
There are a couple or three different colon-voiding elixirs on the market, and the one prescribed for my adventure is called “MoviPrep”, which sounds like putting on a necktie to go see a matinee, but it’s more like having a diabolical team of burly movers hurriedly empty your home of its furniture through a peephole in the back door. Okay? MoviPrep tastes like salted lemonade sucked through an old dishcloth, and the regimen requires drinking two liters of the stuff in 15 minute intervals.
Within an hour (as reliably reported on the box), the magic potion chemically tricks the colon into believing it is the ass-end of an F-16. A nightlong series of delightful spasms ensues, yesterday’s benign ham sandwich now exiting in a weaponized blast that could tear old chewing gum off a city sidewalk. I spend the evening making the Betty Boop face. “Boop-Oop-a-Doop!!”
The next day I report to the clinic with my ex-girlfriend (wife). The procedure offers the jittery customer an optional relaxant, and so it’s recommended one arrange a ride home—lest the doped-up patient stagger out of the clinic to blearily wander the streets with his pants around his ankles, singing the Henry Mancini songbook and gesturing like a tenor.
My appointment is at 7 in the morning. Entering the Gastroenterology waiting room at that hour is like wandering into the middle of a French existentialist play. A gaggle of gloomy men and women sit with unread magazines drooped into their laps, each of them staring bug-eyed into an abyss of their own hellish design. I barely have time to sign in when a cheery clinic interlocuter appears at the door. “Jeffry Wing?!” She surveys the expressionless damned in their seats and I do the same. Surely he’s here somewhere? My beloved jostles my arm and I fess up. “Follow me!” my attendant chirrups. When I crane my neck to bid my ex-gf farewell she is already halfway out the door. “Bye sweetie!” she calls with her beautiful, predictably mirthful smile. O how I love her! Also, she’ll get hers.
We all know by now that the jocularity of the medical attendant ratchets up in concordance with the gravity of the procedure. So it is that people are wheeled into brain surgery attended by mimes and dancing bears in tutus. One is reminded of the movie Patch Adams, in which Robin Williams plays a doctor who delivers himself of dire diagnoses wearing a clown’s nose. Is this a good idea? Sartre would surely have approved.
But the nice lady who takes me by the arm is genuinely laconic, and a dear. She understands the rueful comedy implicit in the colonoscopy and her subtext enjoins me to see the harmless bigger picture. I begin to calm a little.
Everything happens now in fairly short order. We repair to a little room with dressing cubicles and their flimsily translucent “privacy” curtains. I’m to wear a tunic such as the alien ambassadors wear in the old Star Trek episodes; a one-piece shift of pale blue hospital-issue cotton. I stare at it for a long moment. “Pull it down over your head,” my keeper instructs helpfully, seeing my paralysis. “I’m naked underneath?” I ask. “Uh, YEAH?” she replies in her best “duh!” I can’t help but smile. Soon, the smile fades.
“What did your last movement look like?” she asks me. “Murky? Yellow?”
“Could you see through it?” she wants to know. Like it’s the most natural question in the world.
“A little, I guess?” I offer bashfully. Do we have to talk about this? I’ve never been one to stare thoughtfully at my own crap, particularly not when it’s shooting out of me like hellfire.
“Well,” she says, “…maybe they’ll get you started without anesthesia until they know if they can proceed.” Great. I doff my clothes and stuff them into a locker, move to an adjoining room where three chairs face a large screen t.v. Another middle-aged guy in a tunic is sitting there and we exchange nervous pleasantries about our respective professions. To my chagrin he works in pumped concrete. My bowel stirs.
A handsome woman arrives, dressed in business casual. “Jeffry?” I look at the only other gentleman in the room and he looks back at me with an arched eyebrow. “Yes”, I confess. She leads me to the Procedure Room. She is likewise relaxed and relaxing. “Here is the Procedure Room,” she says as we enter, and I consider making a joke of it. “Wouldn’t it be better to call it something like the candy lounge?” My original attendant arrives to talk loudly about my crap. “HE COULDN’T SEE ALL THE WAY THROUGH HIS CRAP,” she remarks loudly. Another patient passes us, a nervous-looking woman in her own pale blue tunic. “Oh no,” I manage. “We wore the same outfit.” She looks at me absently, smiles politely, and walks on.
Pat Boone Bowel
The Procedure Room lives ringingly up to its name. There are countertops and stainless steel sinks and dangling apparatus, all bathed in that stark Western Medicine fluorescence whose chief effect is to shout “Mortality!” I’m bade lie down on the gurney next to the wall and the handsome lady fluffs the pillow before I lay my fat head on it. “Are you comfortable, Jeff?” I’m intrigued by these niceties, preceding as they do the introduction of a camera-festooned freight train into my harshly illuminated ass. “Yes. Thanks.” Following instructions, I roll onto my left side. A photograph of a bright yellow bird has been taped to the wall. “Comfort Bird,” I murmur sardonically. Momentarily I’ll be glaring beseechingly at Comfort Bird as at a long-lost lover.
Another nice lady arrives to ask how I’m feeling. She painlessly slips a needle into my right arm. “It’s not a needle, it’s a flexible tube,” she says with what is meant to be assurance. “Yeah, but there’s a freight train a comin’,” my mind hollers. Yet another young lady enters the Procedure Room, snapping her gloves on like a movie surgeon. She pleasantly tells me her name and says she’ll be assisting the doctor. The idea of bearing my bottom in front of these three attractive medical professionals has me all a-twitter. It’s not clear what could be more humiliating. Maybe some arcane procedure involving my urethra and a sparkler.
The doctor arrives, handsome and of good cheer. “How we doing? You’re going to feel a little pressure.” With doctors it’s always a “little pressure” or a “little pinch”, even when they’re cleaving your breastbone with a circular saw. My tunic is raised and I feel what the writer Thomas McGuane has described in similar circumstances as “…the horror of circulating air”. I’m quickly lubed and the totemic object of my terror is introduced into my Yoo-Hoo without ceremony. I fear the camera will catch an inscription on the wall of my bowel, a message from Arne Saknussemm, the mysterious Icelandic explorer whose cryptic scrawls are described in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. This would mean the film version’s Pat Boone is wandering around my colon with a torch and no shirt. Not good.
Fifteen minutes later the utterly painless procedure is over. I’m clean! And in the course of our chit chat the good doctor has learned I’m a writer, has recommended a couple of good books; one about the history of the bicycle, and another about a celebrated collegiate rowing team. I gamely thank everyone and walk to the recovery room. I did it! It’s over! I crack wise with the witty nurse there, and she hands me several stapled sheets featuring garish color photos of my gastronomic soul. I shut up.
But in the car I’m full of bravado. “Hell, that was easy!” My dear one smirks as she drives. At home the mild drug cocktail I was belatedly given kicks in, and I fall into bed like a boozehound.
Dear reader, if you’ve been putting off this procedure, you needn’t. It’s a piece of cake, for real. Though I realize this well-meant assurance may wreck your love of cake. All a colonoscopy costs you is your pride. And that will grow back.