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Trial by Water: Loving Your Colonoscopy and Other Rites of Middle Age

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It has been said that getting older is not for wimps. Among the great joys men experience as they slide into middle age is the prostate exam whereby one's physician affords men the opportunity to experience some of the physical manipulation that women get regularly at their gynecologists. Men are usually not accustomed to penetration in that regard, and most men I know find that particular aspect of one's annual physical to be one of their least favorite.

At the yearly physical just about every aspect of your physiology is poked, prodded and tested -- and often by someone you may actually see regularly in your hometown. Manhattan residents, as opposed to suburbanites, can cloak themselves in the utter anonymity of Gotham's millions but in a small town, more often than not you'll be bumping into your doctor somewhere or another. It is the hope of most men that one's doctor is so dizzy from looking at so many people's private parts that he's dazed and confused about yours when you run into him outside of medical channels.

When breaking the 45 barrier (some doctors recommend this even after 40) most men are urged to have a colonoscopy -- an examination procedure whereby gastroenterologists (doctors who look at your digestive system) get to insert a small camera at the tip of a very long piece of cable and go from the very end to the very beginning of your G.I. system in search of God forbid some lesion, tumor, rupture or -- really heaven forbid -- cancer or lord-knows-what hanging out up there. Moreover, this kind of exam should be done every five to seven years. Again. Repeatedly. For the rest of your life.

To enable the gastroenterologists to have an unimpeded view of your entrails (back in Greco-Roman times, heathen priests would not do this kind of examination with fiber optics, they'd just gut the sacrificial animal, pull the stuff out and "read" its innards for portents and omens from the gods), they need for you to completely empty yourself of anything and everything that might be residing within your digestive precincts. To accomplish this, some fiendish Medieval Grand Inquisitor invented the ultimate in disemboweling technology -- it's a noxious drink called "Movi-Prep," and the night before and again the morning of your colonoscopy, you are compelled to drink several liters of this concoction. (Which admittedly, tastes a lot better in 2012 than it did in 2006 -- technology marches on!) Said "Movi-Prep," will expel all fecal matter that resides or ever has resided within you -- to such an extent that you will feel very near eviscerated by the time you limp in for the colonoscopy. This doesn't happen in one sitting -- it takes quite a very protracted period and a whole bunch of times. A lot of newspaper- and magazine-reading can get accomplished in the several hours of commode communing required to attain nothingness. Oh, and no solid food for 24-36 hours while on the "Movi-Prep." This makes fasting on Yom Kippur seem like a cakewalk (pardon the "cake" pun).

Last week I had the pleasure of having my second-ever colonoscopy. They've made it so that the procedure itself is utterly painless, owing to the complete anesthesia they give you -- yes -- they put you totally under and there is an on-site anesthesiologist knocking you out for the count. Awaiting my sedation, the anesthesiologist and I had a fascinating discussion about the fact that what he was pumping into my veins was in fact the very sedative that killed Michael Jackson, the former King of Pop. I imagined the high-wattage celebrity malpractice trial that might ensue should I not awaken from the anesthesia. After feeling some burning up your arm for about 20 seconds, you're out and away they go, snapping pictures and shooting video of your innards.

They also put no end of electrodes all over your chest to monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, value of your stock portfolio as the market rises and falls and whatever all the other monitors are beeping about. When the procedure is over, it takes a little while for you to come to and even when you re-attain consciousness, you can't be operating any machinery -- light, heavy, moving or otherwise, so driving is utterly out of the question. I have a near-saintly (I say that because no one is perfect) sister-in-law who gamely drove me to and fro, much to her great credit (it used to be the wife who did this kind of thing, but sans said wife, you need a little help from your friends), and got me back safely to my home to come down off the meds and start putting solid food back into the belly.

Because it takes a number of hours to become as clear-headed as I am now while writing this column, you're not aware of everything about and around you. Throughout the afternoon after the colonoscopy, I kept feeling bumps across my torso -- lo and behold, every hour I would discover another one of those sticky electrode patches that they adhered to me so as to monitor my vital signs. For some reason, I didn't do a full-body search for these things (probably because of my semi-drugged state), and would pull off one at a time over the next four or five hours. In retrospect, given the gazillions of dollars the G.I. docs probably get from my health insurance carrier, I really can't believe they would have sent me home ready to be re-wired to various and sundry electronic monitors. Kind of makes you feel like an android (the robot, not the mobile phone) ready to be plugged back into the motherboard or the mainframe.

I'm happy to report that a clean bill of health was proffered after enduring the pre-exam trial by water and look forward to the inevitable strides in technology, which, by the time I may need another one of these exams in say 2018, will render all the fecal evacuation unnecessary because like aboard the fictional Starship Enterprise, the gastroenterologist of the future will be able to merely wave a Tricorder or other yet-to-be-invented device over me and realize an instant diagnosis with nary an inconvenience. Beam me up, please!

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