There was only one thing that really scared me about turning 50, and it wasn't extra wrinkles or menopause. No, there was something far more frightening; something that every mid-lifer is expected to do once they reach this magical age: a colonoscopy.
I wanted to stay 49 forever, if only to avoid having a camera shoved down south into no-man's land. I'd heard horror stories from friends who had been stuck in the bathroom so long that their backsides sported permanent tattoos of the toilet seat. There were also frightening tales of allergic reactions to the anesthesia, internal puncturing and of waking up during the procedure. WTF!?
This is the stuff that midlife nightmares are made of, and there was no way in hell I was going to sign on for a day spent cleaning out my bowels by guzzling special fluid that would make me poop like there was no tomorrow.
And then I met Tom. He went in for a routine colonoscopy and discovered he had stage four colon cancer. Fortunately, his doctors treated the cancer aggressively, and Tom has been cancer-free for several years. The colonoscopy saved his life, and that was pretty much all I needed to hear.
My husband, who has a history of polyps, was also due for a colonoscopy along with an endoscopy. He had the brilliant idea that we should schedule our procedures on the same day ("the couple who has a colonoscopy together, stays together") and I readily agreed. There was comfort in knowing that if anything went wrong during my procedure, that my spouse would be there to take care of me (I was also secretly hoping that the doctor would give us a buy-one-colonoscopy-get-one-free deal).
After consulting with our physician, we were given a long list of instructions and a prescription for the "magic elixir" that would cleanse our bodies of every calorie ingested since 1995. The way I saw it, I'd lose a few extra pounds during the process, so how bad could it be?
Nothing could have prepared me for the rigorous exercise in colon gymnastics that I experienced the day before the procedure. First off, my husband and I were not allowed to have any solid food 24 hours before the colonoscopy. After slurping chicken broth and apple juice all day, I was dying of starvation, ready to forage under the couch in the hopes that I'd find the remnants of a half-eaten granola bar or some stray cookie crumbs.
By mid-afternoon, my husband brought out the prescription powder that needed to be mixed with gallons and gallons of water. This was the scary stuff that everyone had warned me about. Since neither one of us wanted to spend hours sipping on the nasty concoction that tasted like rotten lemonade, we decided it would be less disgusting to down the entire jug all at once. We stood side by side near the sink and chugged away like two frat boys in a beer drinking contest.
Fifteen minutes later, I heard a rumbling in my belly that sounded like Mount Vesuvius getting ready to blow. This was echoed by a similar gurgling from my husband's stomach. We glanced fearfully at one other, then made a mad dash for the bathroom. Thank God our house has two bathrooms, otherwise one of us would have been squatting in the backyard. And it wouldn't have been me.
After playing musical chairs with the toilet for five or so hours, my bowels felt like they'd ridden on the crazy colon train to hell. My poor husband wasn't feeling any better. Curled up in the fetal position with a glazed look in his eyes, he was mumbling incoherently—something about cheeseburgers, fries and hell.
On the morning of the procedure, I was too exhausted and hungry to care that a camera was about to invade my nether regions. All that mattered was that within a few hours, I'd be able to eat solid food again, and no longer feel like a human geyser.
After checking into the hospital and putting on a thin gown that left my backside open for public viewing, I was wheeled past my husband into a room where several nurses and interns waited. Behind them was an array of what looked like industrial strength garden hoses hanging on a rack. I sat up, ready to bolt, but the anesthesiologist patted my arm and assured me that I wouldn't feel a thing. Are you kidding me? Those hoses must be six feet long and I'm only 5'9. How am I not going to feel it?
Luckily, I fell asleep within seconds of the anesthesia being administered. Next thing I knew, a kind nurse was offering me graham crackers and juice in the recovery room. Crackers? I want a damn steak! My groggy husband was wheeled in shortly after me, and the first thing he asked for when he opened his eyes was a beer.
As soon as we got home, we raided the fridge like a pack of ravenous wolves, then promptly fell asleep with our bellies full and our minds at ease. We were polyp-free.
All in all, the colonoscopy was a simple procedure and nothing to fear. I'm happy to say that my butt was spared from a toilet tattoo, but I'll never look at a garden hose the same way again.