Into The Belly of the Beast...in which Uncle Duke looks inward




I had another colonoscopy last week. It was way cool. I can’t remember a more memorable morning actually. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Unless I am mistaken, this is not the standard reaction. One certainly does hear a lot of moaning, grumbling and fear mongering regarding the procedure. It is a reliable subject for cable comics and is in general, correct me if I’m wrong, not highly anticipated by a majority of Boomers. More accurately, it is perceived as a dreadful ordeal and an odious violation of one’s personal space. Not to put too fine a point on it. It turns out that culturally we are not comfortable with others examining, probing, prodding our nether regions. Even credentialed people with our best interest at heart. "No, no, no," we say. "Not MY rabbit hole!"

And I have to say, I just don’t get it. In the short run at least, one would have to agree that a good voiding, a little roto-rooting, is good for one’s digestion. In my particular case, I’d been meaning to do a good purge for some time but hadn’t been able to block out the time. It was an opportunity, as I saw it, for a thorough cleansing. Which I like to do once or twice a year anyway. I figure there are always some little bits of micro-wave French fries and probably some gooey butter cake left over in there week to week. You don’t want that stuff accumulating. That could lead to a big old concretized log jam in your colon. No one wants that. No, sir. Good to flush it out from time to time. Slick as a whistle. Yowzuh! A clean colon is a happy colon.

But there is an added bonus here. Through the miracle of modern science and technology, we now have the opportunity to visually investigate our own bowels. How cool is that! Our mysterious entrails, so long blocked from sight, felt but not seen, rumbling and gurgling invisibly, are now available for inspection. And all you have to do is stay awake! The camera unlocks the process and turns it into a grand adventure. This is better than a Caribbean cruise. You’ll love it. Trust me.

I had another one a number of years ago. It was not so memorable. They knocked me out and it was a nice enough nap, but pretty much a waste of my time. And it pretty much burnt the whole morning. I had intended to do that one without anesthetic too, but at the last minute they talked me into getting the general. Anesthetists are pretty much committed to anesthetizing. That’s what they do. And most doctors would prefer working on people who are unconscious. They don’t squirm as much and generally complain a great deal less. "I don’t think you want to be awake," they say. And we are, most of us, meek souls, so we say "OK. You’re the doctor."

But for this one, I was prepared and made it clear that we would be doing this one straight up. Eyes open. Without a net. I was interested in the process and what the big deal was that we all had to be put under to protect us from.

It hadn’t always been that way. Until fairly recently, no one even had that option. I am told that in Europe, only about half get anesthetized. The way it’s presented here though, staying awake is not a realistic option. In this country the public perception is that colonoscopies are something that maybe Navy Seals could endure. If they had to. But they’d probably really rather not.

Balderdash, friends! Here’s the drill. You lie on your left side, expose your flanks and just wait for the feature presentation on the big screen. Meanwhile, your friendly gastroenterologist just slides his little lubricated endoscope up there and we begin a guided tour of the amazing colon. A journey into and out of the catacombs. My doctor was thrilled, (Thrilled, I tell you) to have an interested, curious audience. It was like he had been waiting for the opportunity to describe in marvelous detail what he does. Docent for a day. "The human body," he told me, "is a spectacular machine." And he was right. Rippled walls and beautiful vascular patterns, one stunning vista after another.

So I am the point man exploring my own inner sanctum. The magic and mystery of the lower digestive system---exposed and illuminated. My tour guide has at his disposal, it turns out, an array of colored headlights to enhance what he’s trying to look at. Or in certain instances, to entertain and amaze a viewer. Who is, in this case, me. Just like they do in caves. "Oooohh," I say, as I am illuminated from the inside and my lower colon becomes for an instant The Emerald Room. "Aahhhh," I exude, as we round the corner and flash on the World Famous Sapphire Bend. Dazzling! For a moment, I am the ultimate narcissist. "That’s MY colon!" I say, to no one in particular, with not a little pride. "Ain’t she a beauty!"

I feel like I’m exploring the Mid-Atlantic rift in my little submarine, with Jacques Cousteau behind me, explaining everything we are seeing. I even imagine he starts to develop a little bit of a French accent. My undersea world guide says knowledgeably: "You can zee dere ze opening to ze ap-pen-deex…" The Calypso forges on into the dark digestive rift, powering against the current in the valley of absorption/adsorption. Back and forth in the belly of the beast, through the serpentine caves, the folds, the switchbacks. Wonders never seen by human eyes.

There are some sharp bends in there, so to make the corners a little wider they inject some CO2. There’s a little discomfort. Not much. We’ve all had gas. They used to use air, but that led to some uncomfortable and embarrassing flatulence issues, post-procedure. Now, the CO2 just gets absorbed. Sweet. Very user friendly.

Oh, you can watch the video, sure. But it just ain’t the same as seeing it live. It is a multi-sensual, 3D movie with the doctor doing the voice-over in which you feel the little TV vessel probing the depths and simultaneously watch its spotlight shine on the nooks and crannies. It even has a spray nozzle that squirts water intermittently to clarify stuff we want to get a better look at. I tell you, this is real time Discovery Channel. Spelunking without the claustrophobia. Scuba diving without the sharks.

And it turns out that I am the picture of health, colon-wise. Woo-hoo. The best of all worlds. The aid came up with the wheelchair, and my recovery nurse said, proudly I thought: "It’s OK. He doesn’t need a chair. He did his without anesthesia." Heads subtlety turn. I feel respectful glances as I saunter out of the operating theatre. A little gingerly perhaps, but with a newfound-respect for my inner workings.

Worth the price of admission, I tell you. And insurance pays for it. When can I come back?