10/24/2011 11:46 am ET | Updated Dec 24, 2011

Colonosco -- What?

Like a good doobie, when I turned 50, I made an appointment for my colonoscopy. A cancer you can totally prevent? I'm in. Let's set aside for the moment that the general area of the colon is NOT my favorite body part. And the idea of someone excavating down there -- well, let's just say I'd rather prepare income tax returns for my entire cul de sac.

I happened to schedule the appointment the day after a girlfriend weekend at a Wisconsin lake house to celebrate turning 50. It's important to note here that my in-laws had decided to plan a last minute visit to our house that same weekend. My husband would be hosting alone.

On the day before the procedure, I woke up like Henry the Eighth, bloated with gout-like symptoms from massive amounts of Wisconsin cheese, wine and food from the girl's weekend. The instructions called for me to fast the day before, so I took the pills and chugged the prescription bottle of colon cleanse, (think Dead Sea with a twist of Lemon Pledge.)

Bed time Sunday night. Nothing yet. The combo of cheese, bread and pasta that I had consumed all weekend had fastened itself to my innards like grout. I somehow managed to fall asleep--but it was a sleep of the wary, a one-eyed kind of sleep, like a sailor in a crow's nest. By 2 a.m., small rumbling things were happening somewhere in my digestive tract. I thought grimly about all the times I snickered at the phrase "explosive diarrhea." The price of that smugness, I suddenly understood, would be coming home to roost. Soon, I would literally be the butt of my own joke.

Sure enough, at 3 a.m., my abdomen began to emit Orca whale-like sounds, calling from one end of my intestines to the other. I sprinted for the bathroom and grimly spent the rest of the night running between bed and bowl, hoping against hope that there would be no damage to the new bedroom carpet. Suffice it to say that the "cleansing process" as they call it--something that evokes gentle loofas and essential oils, had the vengeance and frothing rush of an airport automatic flush toilet. I will note here that I received no comfort from the thought that legions of other 50-somethings had also endured the Old Faithful-geyser experience in the name of cancer prevention and detection.

The next morning, starving doesn't begin to describe it. At breakfast I had reached hunger levels critical enough to munch my own back fat. And this made me grumpy, snappish even. Mean as a pole cat. I might have even been churlish with my in-laws, who were still hanging around on colonoscopy day.

At the doctor's office, once I was gowned up and on the table, the anesthesia brought sweet, liquid sleep. I would have endured five colonoscopies in a row if I could have just stayed under a little while longer. Hormones, kids, schedules and work..... what low point was I at in my life that a medical procedure where I got to be unconscious sounded like a spa visit?

But when I woke, abruptly, with a nurse shaking me, the misery and reality of my situation hit me. My first hazy thought, as I looked at my paper gown and realized grimly that things were still "cleansing," was that I had fast forwarded in life. I was certain that I had been admitted to a state-owned nursing home, and was now lying in a pile of my own excrement. As my head tried to clear itself from the cloud of anesthesia, I looked at the nurse suspiciously. Were they going to feed me cat food next?

"Boy, you have a long colon," the doctor said to me in our little post-op chat where I was dressed but still slightly out of it. I was getting the bum's rush out the door. My easy access to drugs and the "twilight state" had been hastily cut off.


"Yeah! A lot of colon packed into that abdomen." I'd be sure to remember that fun fact for my next job interview or cocktail party.

"Does that mean I'm full of crap?" I asked. Ooops. Had I said that out loud? Clearly the anesthesia was still affecting my filter. He smiled lamely. He'd heard it all. But Mother of God I wished and hoped for this man that he got to do other, fun things with colons; surgeries maybe, transplants, research, anything but being elbow deep in other people's poop all day.

Exhausted and back at home after the procedure, I tried to sleep. But sleep would not come. My in-laws, who were staying an extra day beyond the weekend, were downstairs all alone. I began to channel the universal, low-level anxiety of the hostess, the same kind of nervous feeling I'd had about crating our new puppy. Like all older people temporarily displaced from their own homes and towns, they had absolutely nothing to do while their son was at work. I could hear them below me, ricocheting off furniture like a pin ball machine. I rose and went down to visit with them.

"Let's go to Costco," I offered with false cheer. The excursion would serve two masters. My mother-in-law loves to shop. And the fridge was empty. That was how I found myself, hours after my first colonoscopy, loading grosses of Gatorade, pounds of grapes, frozen sausages and massive boxes of Frosted Mini-Wheats into my giant cart, lurching and wobbling down the warehouse aisles.

"You're like the peasant women in Pearl Buck's The Good Earth," my husband joked to me on the phone later when I told him about my afternoon. He was referring to the part where the Chinese woman squats and gives birth in the rice paddy and then goes right back to work picking. Yes, I thought with the Celtic pride of my immigrant ancestors, it was a bit like that, minus the placenta.

"So that's a relief. " My husband said later that night. "No cancer. You got that one behind you for ten years."

"Well, not exactly," I recalled the little post-op chat with the doctor.

"Why don't we make it seven, just to be safe," he had offered. Ten seems like such a long time."

I'm already counting the days.