I had “a procedure” today, one that apparently isn’t named in polite company. If you are a man about my age or older, you have probably already had this procedure and will know what I am talking about, if not, consider yourself blissfully unaware. In keeping with the apparent rules of medical etiquette I will not name the unspeakable act that I endured, but I hope to paint a picture that will allow you to understand, even if you are not a man about my age, what my last thirty-six hours have been like.
My last meal was Sunday evening. I took my family to our favorite local Italian restaurant specifically so that I could gorge myself on solid food. Since I wouldn’t be allowed to drink alcohol for a while after “the procedure” I had a nice glass of Pinot Grigio with our appetizer. Friends who know me understand that while I can drink several glasses of scotch with little affect to my sobriety, but a mere two glasses of wine change my perceptions of reality. I don’t get drunk (probably because I never have more than two glasses of wine), but I do get happy. The first glass of wine made me smile more than I normally do and also infused me with enough bravery to switch to a glass of red wine that boasted flavors of “strawberry, black cherry and new saddle leather.”
I am not an expert wine taster, but I had not ever recalled leather being used as a descriptor for good wine and was curious. When our waiter came and set the glass in front of me he said, “here’s your new leather,” then stepped back to watch me take a sip. This must be some kind of joke, I thought. Oddly enough, it tasted amazingly like it was advertised, only in a good way. Strawberry, followed by hints of black cherry and then a subtle but clear taste of “is that a piece of leather in my mouth?” Now, I have cinched enough armor straps with my teeth before to have a good idea what leather tastes like, though I wondered, as I sipped my “saddle” wine, what most normal people who tried the wine thought about it. When the meal was over I swallowed my last sip of wine and regretfully put the glass down thinking, that is the last normal thing I’ll have for the next day and a half. How right I was.
When I awoke Monday morning the ordeal was to begin, and I was only allowed to have clear liquids for breakfast lunch and dinner. Water, white grape juice, white cranberry juice, tea or coffee with no milk, clear broth with no solids, clear jello that wasn’t red or orange, or popsicles. I drank a cup of warm chicken broth for breakfast and chased it with a cup of lemon flavored tea. By ten o’clock I was starving. I brought a bottle of white cranberry juice with me to work and sipped cups of it all day to curb my hunger. Several times I reached into my desk to pull something our of it and finally had to ask Bob to take all the food out of my office. “All of the food” consisted of half a bag of uneaten and long stale fritos, but they were solid and tempting beyond belief.
Bob and Fred, two of my wonderful friends and both men about my age who have probably already endured “the procedure” took great joy in my situation. They were kind enough throughout the morning to describe their lunches to me in great detail. Bob, sinister fiend and blind scuba diver that he is, went so far as to wave his lunch near my face so that I could smell the awesome solidity of his food. Okay, I admit that I found myself standing in his cubicle so that I could smell his food but, who needs enemies with helpful friends like these? At one point in the afternoon, after I had swallowed more than half the bottle of white cranberry juice I came to the awful realization that this might be the only day in my life that my lunch would look exactly the same going out as it did going in. Great. What a high point in life to achieve.
The drive home was difficult because I normally chew one or two pieces of candy to keep myself awake. I listened to the radio and tried to ignore all the restaurant commercials, food commercials, and references to food. For dinner I had two cups of broth and a glass of juice, and had a lemon ice, sort of a popsicle in a cup, for dessert. I napped until it was time to begin the “cleansing.”
There are millions of people in the world who have never tasted the luxury of white cranberry juice and will never have the privelege of eating a lemon ice. Many of them would kill for three cups of chicken broth in one day. Heck, there are children in Africa who would be lucky for one cup of broth a day and I thought to myself, as I sat in my “misery,” that regardless of how weak and listless and deprived I felt, it could be a whole lot worse. I wasn’t starving, even if I felt like I was, and no one in my family would be dead tomorrow for lack of food. Funny how one day of food deprivation puts things into perspective. I was lucky, I thought, to be living the life I lead.
I drank the first evil bottle of potion in the privacy of my own room. Thankfully I was alone because I would never have wanted anyone to see my face twist into demonic shapes or hear the sounds of taste buds in anguish. The label on the bottle read “pleasant lemon-ginger taste,” when it should have read “rancid taste of Bog Lord infested swamp-ooze and salted honey with an overpowering aftertaste of you-have-got-to-kidding-me-how-will-I-ever-get-the-other-five-ounces-down?” I imagined offering my medicine to some African children and watching them flee in terror. “No way man, I’d rather die of starvation.” Right. I agree. This isn’t worth it. Okay, down the hatch.
Let me jump ahead and spare you the details by saying that I had to do that twice throughout the evening, the second time at 02:30 in the morning. The second time was harder as my body already knew what was coming and I really had to fight myself to force it down. “No really, you have GOT to be kidding!” All the hours from the first bottle of bio-drano until the moment we left for the hospital this morning, were spent either “purifying” in the bathroom, or lying in bed wondering when the next round of “purification” would clamp down on me with great vengeance. By the time we arrived at the hospital at 0700 o’clock, I was tired and drained. No, really.
Some time before 0800 (you get the idea, I’m going to stop saying “o’clock” now, as though I might mean something else…), they came for me. I glanced one last time at my wife, who had driven me in my weakened state and who would have to wait patiently while “the procedure” was performed. “I love you,” I remember thinking, though I don’t recall if I had the strength to actually say it. Eva, a lovely African American nurse, met me at the door of the clinic and led me to a curtained room where I was allowed to change into “real pajamas like you wear at home” and told to lie down on the hospital bed. It was there that I first realized that the all the preparation had little to do with making the actual “procedure” more efficient for the endoscopic camera and everything to do with gaining my total and complete submission to “the procedure.” Real pajamas? I didn’t have to wear one of those silly hospital gowns? This wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
I lay there on the bed in my subdued and now somewhat pacified state while Eva hammered me with questions for the computer. Did I smoke, did I drink, did I have any allergies? “I already filled out the three page form that answered all of the questions,” I said. “Oh you do have a form don’t you?” she asked. She continued to ask me questions anyway. Perhaps they want to compare your wirtten answers with your verbal answers to ensure that you aren’t an impostor. I dutifully answered her questions.
The doctor came in and introduced himself and asked if I had any questions. “Where is Doctor Young?” I asked. This doctor had a friendly face and looked competent in his green hospital scrubs and white lab coat, but he had the build of a football player and the hands to match, so I was somewhat concerned. “He will be in the room supervising, but I’ll be performing the procedure. Is this your first?” I nodded. “Can’t you tell?” I asked. “Don’t worry he said, I’ve already done this several hundred times and Doctor Young has done it several thousand. ” Doctor Young had been the doctor that wanted me to have “the procedure,” but Doctor Younger would apparently be doing the dirty work. What? Me worry? Hah! No way.
“I just need you to sign these forms before we can begin,” Doctor Younger. I read the forms. Blah, blah, blah, possibility of death… blah blah…stopped heart, blah, blah, blah…stopped breathing, blah, blah,blah…chance of perforated internal organs. Perforated? But not totally destroyed I guessed, so blah, blah…won’t hold responsible. Yeah sure, I’ll sign. Why not? I mean, I have real pajamas. What could go wrong?
Eva got the IV ready and asked if there was anything she needed to know before she started. “Yeah I said, I have rubbery, roly-poly veins that are hard to stick.” “Really?” she asked. She looked at me as though I was a challenge. “Yeah, I’ve been stuck as many as seven times before someone got a vein. She smiled as she put a rubber strap around my arm and asked me to make a fist. She began to stare at my arm while she opened the needle package, ripped pieces of tape to hold it on with and prepped the surface of my skin. She knelt next to the bed then and, I’m not making this up, she began to sing to my veins. I tell you this because I had not had any sedative at this point. I was wide awake and though weak and subdued, was not delirious. She slapped each vein several times and hummed and sang and coaxed until she found the one she wanted. She began to tell the vein in a sweet little made up song that she was coming for it and that it shouldn’t give her any trouble. She slapped it around several more times while I sat there in awe, and then she slid the needle in. There was barely even a prick of pain until she pressed down on the needle with one thumb to hold it while she put the tape on. “There,” was all she said. Wow. I mean, wow. It was like magic.
“Uhm, there is an air bubble in the line,” I said. “Oh, it’s okay sweetie,” she said. “It would take a whole syringe of air to kill you. Don’t worry.” So I didn’t.
“Good morning sir,” Ray said as he drew back the curtains to move my bed into the actual procedure room. “I’m Ray. I’ll be taking you to the docs now. Is this your first time?” Did they all have to ask that? “Yes,” I said. “It’s a pretty simple procedure,” Ray said. “Okay,” I said. Yeah right, I thought.
As the door to the room opened I heard a woman’s voice come over the hospital loudspeaker with some urgency. “Attention on-call Stat team, code blue in room C7, I say again, code blue in room C7, I mean C14. Yeah C-14, code blue is what I meant.” I tried to look up at Ray to see his reaction. “That can’t be good whatever it is,” I said. “They’ll take care of it.” he said. I still don’t know what it was.
Jiffy Lube. That’s all I can say. My bed was wheeled into the center of the room. On the left side of the room were three monitors, a wide-screen that I can only assume was hooked to the camera, and lots of wires and tubes. Too many tubes, I thought. On the right, Doctors Young and Younger were setting controls on a large machine that had even more wires and tubes, several hinged arms like one sees in a dentist’s office, and more tubes. They didn’t look up or speak as I entered the room and I assumed they were deciding which tubes would be suitable for “the procedure.” The lighting in the room was subdued, but the radio station blaring in the background added to the crew-drill efficient $29.95 feel that guarantees your car in and out in thirty minutes or your money back. I was amused at my own sense of humor. Isn’t that usually a danger sign of something?
“Good morning sir,” a pleasant female voice said. I looked up into the pretty asian face of my nurse and chuckled to myself (those that have read Airport Skiing will understand my laugh). “I am Agnes and I will be in the room with you today,” she said. Okay, I thought, if you say so. She busied herself with settings on the monitors. This really can’t be that bad, I thought. Won’t take but a few minutes, and it will all be over with.
“Please lower your pajamas down below your knees,” Ray said. The room stood still. I couldn’t hear the radio, and I didn’t notice Agnes or the two docs any longer. It was just Ray and me. He wants me to lower my pants? He gave me that impatient look, you know, the quick glance that says “you are lying in a bed with an IV in your arm and haven’t eaten in over a day while I had a hearty breakfast and am standing above you and want your pants down now so you can do it nicely or I can do it for you and you won’t like it if I do it for you.” You know that look? So I did as the nice man asked. I also complied when he told me to turn on my side and face Agnes. See what I mean about compliance? Weakened by lack of food and sleep and lulled into submission by real pajamas I was completely at the mercy of “the procedure.”
“Do you have any allergies?” Agnes asked. I thought, I put this on the form and it’s in my records and Eva already asked me the question so it’s in the computer, but I said, “yes. To pain.” She looked at me somewhat sternly, but smiled slightly. One of the doctors Young asked “you’re allergic to pain?” as if he had never heard that one before. Over my shoulder I thought I saw him waving some black tube around in the air and they all chuckled. Was he making a joke too? I couldn’t tell. When you are lying in the fetal position under a thin hospital sheet at the medical equivalent of Jiffy Lube and three men and a woman make inside jokes (no pun intended) about your predicament, I guess some of the humor is lost.
I lay there trying to calm myself and if must have worked because Agnes asked “Is your heart rate usually low?” “Yes,” I replied, “it hovers between 45 and 50 usually. If it gets up to 70 while I’m lying still, something is wrong.” “Good to know,” she said as she put a syringe on the inlet valve of my IV. The syringe looked empty and for a moment I was thinking about what Eva had said about an empty syringe killing me. What silly things one thinks about in such moments. My arm began to burn. “Is it supposed to sting?” I asked as rubbed my arm with my other hand. “Yes, it does sting a little,” Agnes said. You could have told me that before you did it, I thought, but couldn’t seem to get the words out. Another syringe? I braced myself for more pain as Agnes pushed the plunger on the second syringe. I don’t recall her finishing the plunge.
“Let me just get this IV out of your arm and get your clothes for you sir, and then I’ll go get your wife,” Eva said, smiling. My head was swimming. How did Eva get here in the…oh…how did I get here in the recovery room? It’s over? That was it? What time is it? My glasses were sitting on the table next to me and I was able to read computer chart on the monitor at my side. I was under sedation for nearly forty minutes, and had been in the hospital for less than three hours altogether. “The procedure” was complete, I had no pain or discomfort, and would be out of the hospital in just a few more minutes.
I thanked Ray and Agnes when I saw them scurry by to begin their next “procedure” and they smiled you’re welcome as they passed. Doctor Younger came to see me, I thanked him, and he showed me some intimate family photographs and told me that depending on the results of a few tests I wouldn’t have to revisit them for five to ten more years. Hallelujah! A procedcure-less decade!!! I hope that in the next five to ten years they invent some potion that really does have a pleasant lemon-ginger taste, or any taste commonly known to man for that matter. That foul liquid was the absolute worst part of this whole ordeal. My family was supportive, the hospital was efficient, the docs and medical team first rate and the pajamas were real. What more could I have asked for?