Endoscopy! (The Inside Story)
It was a very nice hotel, we all thought so... especially for an impromptu summer break. Late August, and the chance of few days away with the wife and kids. Only a week's holiday... but a welcome one!
We'd been to a theme park, the castle and museum. We climbed a hill just for the view and got lost in the woods. We dined at some nice restaurants, and one that was not so good. The sun shone down and everything was interesting, entertaining and enjoyable. Six carefree days, work-free, no school, no house to keep or meals to prepare... everyone was happy and enjoying hearty family fun.
These are the precious days, the ones that will live forever in our memories, I thought as I wiped my arse ... and then I noticed the blood in the toilet bowl.
The blink of an eye.
There was no mistake, no sun-dried tomato or red-pepper skin, this is blood alright, and it felt all wrong - it was there, and with no explanation. My mood changed, the happiness flushed away with the blood and something that looked like a dead otter.
Ignore it, I told myself... it's just a blip, it's nothing serious!
But it stuck in my mind, the blood... every time I closed my eyes, stark, dark-red, voluminous and ominous. Naturally, I said nothing to my wife and certainly not to the kids. If you are a bloke, you know the drill. Put on a brave face, ignore it, don't mention it - and it may just go away. Some would suggest that I was in denial... but I'm not having that.
My plan worked, but only for a couple of days. Once we were home, the bleeding resumed. My wife knew something was wrong, she is tenacious and I confessed before things got ugly. She arranged an appointment with my GP and the doctor saw me the next day. A highly embarrassing little procedure involving no foreplay, a rubber-glove encased pointy finger and my arse - quickly established that hemorrhoids were not the cause of the problem. No piles, what a bummer! My doctor is not too forthcoming, she won't speculate about possible causes, and a test is arranged. I am to have a ‘Flexible Sigmoidoscopy'.
"This is a procedure in which the inside of the sigmoid colon or lower bowel, is examined with a micro camera within lighted scope." She said routinely, like a woman who hadn't just had a finger up to the knuckle in my anus. I nodded dumbly, still wide-eyed in shock as she wrote flowery script in doctor code on a form marked ‘request for examination'.
* * * *
"Basically, they are going to stick a bendy webcam up my arse !" I explained to my wife, who blurted her coffee in shock. Joyful shock, according to her wry smile and sparkling eyes. I knew she was visualizing me the enduring the process.
"Is it a private consultation?" She asked supportively, between un-suppressible giggles. "Do you want me there?"
"I don't even want myself there... tell nobody, please!" I feel an urge for anonymity and privacy, my dignity demands it.
It takes ten minutes until my eldest daughter greets me excitedly, "Mum said that you are going to be on TV!"
It's probably nothing, everybody says so. I have a dreadful pang inside but it's not medical, I feel morose and fateful. Complete overreaction is the order of the week, as I check my will along with the various insurances. For the first time in my life, I seriously consider the event of my own demise. I'd never really thought about the consequence of me dying before, even when I had come close on a couple of occasions. That was back before I'd gained a family, now it is different... I have responsibilities, I have dependants. I have a headache.
Waiting for the test is agonizing and I become preoccupied. At work I am remote and things happen around me, my concentration is shot. I leave keys in doors and am forgetful. Brief moments of euphoria interlace my doom-laden mood.
* * * *
The late summer evening is gorgeous and mid-week I lay on the sweet grass watching my young son playing in the garden with his sisters... I consider them having another father, the thought is unbearable. I am surprised by my wife's beauty and notice just how wonderful the flowers of the fuchsia are. The sky is pure blue and I watch the cotton puff clouds drift across the awesome space. I can't remember the last time that I noticed a flower or looked at the sky simply for the sake of it.
* * * *
I feel a little detached as I mow the front lawn. It's Sunday afternoon and drawing towards the end of a pleasant day. The grass is lush and fragrant from a morning rain shower. The Sun, low and orange, throws long spindly shadows across the garden. Tomorrow afternoon is the appointed time for the endoscopy procedure and I'm pensive. I'm also a little light-headed, the ‘water only' diet is surprisingly easy to adhere to... my stomach is full of dread.
As Martin, who lives opposite, approaches, I am reminded of the CD that I've been periodically promising to copy for him between bouts of forgetfulness. We agree that it's safest if he escorts me to my PC, and I burn the disk while he waits. I use a broad pen meant for marking sports equipment to scrawl on the silver sided CD. The ink is bright green and claims to be indelible. I don't remember putting the pen into the front pocket of my jeans - but I obviously did.
Martin mentions the oak tree that I'd volunteered to lop for Norman, another neighbour awaiting the fulfilment of a forgotten promise. I perk up at the prospect of swinging around in the boughs of a tree with a chainsaw, and a small neighbourly crowd gathers, expectant that I'll dismember myself spectacularly or a least bring the tree down onto a house. The offending branch is amputated without disaster, much to the disappointment of the camcorder hopefuls. I'm pleased with myself and the uneventful operation, until my youngest daughter points out my crotch to the huddle of spectators. My ‘master of disaster' status is restored - the mob appeased. The marker pen has disintegrated in my pocket, leaving a large green stain across my right upper thigh and crotch.
So there I am, my mind reeling at the unfairness of it all. The very evening before the one day in living memory, that I am required to present myself for a bodily inspection of the underpants down variety - and I've accidentally dyed my genitalia luminous green. A forty minute shower and every cleansing agent I could muster could not undo the indelibility of the ink. I just managed to make the pink bits red-raw and red and green should never be seen. Normally the chance to glow in the dark like the Green Hornet would amuse me... but on this occasion I went to bed feeling stupid and thoroughly depressed.
* * * *
Ensure that you bring a dressing gown and suitable footwear i.e. slippers with you to your appointment. It was stressed upon the instructions for patients. I had a dressing gown, a nice long towelling bathrobe, liberated from some hotel, and a pair of flip-flops. I'd packed them in a small rucksack with a motorcycle magazine and left them by the door ready to go. And that's where they remained. I explained my deficiency to the nurse who gave me a frown and a "Tut!" by way of reply.
This is Britain, we have ‘free' healthcare provided by the state. All you have to do is pay a huge proportion of your wage in Income Tax; plus a large ‘National Insurance' payment, plus a hefty ‘Local Authority' Tax, add a ‘Road Tax' for every vehicle you own (whether used or not), then 78% tax on the fuel that you need, a tax for owning a television and then another 17.5% purchase tax on just about everything you buy with whatever money is left. After you have paid all of that, healthcare is provided ‘free'.
How would that work on the high street? Make a £1,000 cash donation to Dixons, and they'll put you on a waiting-list for a free T.V?
If it were any other country, the inhabitants would burn the place down.
The point is that with ‘free' healthcare, you lose customer status. If you go ‘private' and pay commercial rates for your treatment, then you are a valued customer. If you have a wife, three kids and a couple of motorcycles to support, and find yourself having to use the National Health Service, you are afforded no status or standing - you simply get what you are given. This includes condescension and rudeness - which are also provided on a free basis.
I am tossed a backless surgical gown and advised to strip and adorn. Free healthcare comes in one size and colour... ladies size six, white with an insane floral pattern. The handkerchief sized garment is lost upon my 6' 2" brawn and fully complemented by my ill advised choice of footwear for the day... a pair of hiking boots. My overriding concern at this moment is that due to the scant attire, the green mamba will make an appearance. I am directed to the waiting room, but without the cover of a dressing gown, my entire, naked back is exposed. The gown is mini-skirt length and very tight across the shoulder, causing me to hunch forward. I grab a magazine to cover my bare butt with one hand, and use the other round the front to tug the hem of the gown down and shuffle hunched and crab-like into the waiting room.
It takes something very special to make a room full of apprehensive patients awaiting a biopsy test for cancer to forget their worries and laugh heartily. Apparently it's me. I am the special one. I sit amongst the smirks and approving nods with my knees firmly together pretending to read the women's health magazine that provided the modesty screen to my rear on the way in. After twenty minutes I am ushered to the examination room. The titters and sniggers rise as I resume the front and back protective crouch posture, and shuffle from the room sideways.
The examination room nurses operate like a pair of interrogating policemen adopting a good nurse, bad nurse routine. One nurse is slight and ethereal, with a pleasant face and soothing demeanour. Her petite frame accentuated by graceful movement and good posture. I can't help but notice that her small, delicate hands are attached to her arms with slim wrists. She laughs sweetly at my appearance, booted and backless in the floral micro-gown.
The second nurse grunts at me in pigeon-English through teeth that resemble a row of bomb damaged houses and points to the table. I climb aboard gingerly, holding the gown, taking care not to spill the jolly green giant, I don't want Frankenstein's sister to see it, there's enough indignity already. She has a head the shape of a dumpster and appears to be of eastern European extraction, probably rendered homeless and unemployed since they shut Stalin's gulags. Her hairy grey arms are adorned by hands like shovels, and I immediately know which nurse is going assign herself to the paperwork, and which one is going to perform the cuffing and stuffing.
"Lay on your left side and pull your knees up... further... that's it!" says the ballerina nurse encouragingly from the side lines whilst the dumpster simply puts me into some kind of eastern-bloc body lock and wrestles me into the turkey position.
Once suitably presented, it feels like she inserts a tight bunch of four stubby fingers into my anus and then against the force of my instinctive clench, opens her hand. In the same movement her other hand comes in with a flat palm, smacking a large pat of chilled lubricating jelly into the forcibly un-puckered orifice. My toes curl towards my shins and I'm Caligula'rised by some kind of unseen device that is driven in like a tap into a beer keg.
Another door behind me opens and Doctor Dragas enters the examination room. I lay before him, prepared and presented like a virgin sacrifice whist he readies his instruments.
"Watch that screen up there!" He says, as he starts to push a long rod inside me. I'm not entirely sure how the effect is achieved, whether it be mechanically or by the gulag-nurse blowing it up my arse - but my bowel is suddenly filled with compressed air. "To open your pipe-work" Chirps nice nurse as she knowingly pre-empts the What the fuck? question that explodes across my mind as the inflation invokes the sensation of chronic constipation times one thousand.
And so with teeth clenched, I watch the screen and endure the sensations of Dr Dragas winding the thing into me with the skill and enthusiasm of a chimney sweep and driving the camera around my innards.
"Here's the problem," he zeros the camera in on an inflamed vein. "You have a diverticular pocket that has raised a blood vessel. This has ruptured... but it is healing fine."
The blink of an eye.
"A minor issue, a short course of anti-biotics and always remember to eat plenty of fibre."
I grin. The dread evaporates. What a relief!
I'm pumped so full of air that I feel I will burst. The tendril is removed, it slips slowly from my back passage followed by the wind. If they'd have stuck a bugle up my arse at that point, they would have gotten a boogie-woogie tune out of me.
I grin. The lubrication adds tremolo and rasp to the long, low note as the air evacuates the re-puckered orifice.
A quick check over my shoulder confirms that dumpster-head is stood directly behind me in the back-blast area... life feels good.
* * *
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> A day in my life