You’d rather die than take a stab at living. Nothing would kill you, so you do it for yourself.
— Drive-By Truckers
Mention that you’re scheduled for a colonoscopy, and you get one of two reactions: An involuntary wince accompanied by that “fwooo” sound that comes with a sudden intake of breath, or a look of sheer horror at the thought of the procedure.
Some — usually those fortunate enough to never have needed a colonoscopy — will chuckle and make a snide remark or two, and others will offer words of sympathy that is either a) sincere or b) their kind way of saying “better you than me.”
Most anyone who’s ever experienced the joy of the colonoscopy will tell you that the procedure itself is actually not that bad. After all, they’ll note, you’re either off in la-la land and have no idea what’s happening to you, or you’re so loopy from the good drugs they give you that even the thought of being, shall we delicately say “probed,” is not enough to harsh your mellow.
Another bit of wisdom that’s been passed down from the informed is that the worst thing about a colonoscopy is the “prep” you must endure the night before. For the uninformed, prep for a colonoscopy involves drinking a couple of liters of some of the most foul-tasting stuff you’ve ever put in your mouth and then sitting around very close to the bathroom for the next several hours as you prepare to expel everything you’ve eaten for the last two months and anything else that might be rambling around inside you.
I’m not exactly sure — trust me, by the time I’d endured the first five hours or so of preparation for my own colonoscopy last week, I’d lost all sense of time, space and whether the people on the late-night TBS reruns of “The Office” were talking to me or each other — but I think I may have gotten rid of a few unnecessary organs during the ensuing purge.
Here’s the part about the colonoscopy that you rarely hear, though. Yes, it’s unpleasant ... it’s embarrassing for some ... it’s uncomfortable ... and it’s just not exactly a fun way to while away a few hours. But it can save your life.
For the uninformed, the emphasis of the procedure is on how it’s done. For those who are still alive and kicking today because of vital health information obtained during a colonoscopy, the emphasis is on the results. Certainly there aren’t many among us who’d forego a brief period of discomfort if we knew that the results could be the discovery of some life-threatening danger, a discovery that most often leads to necessary treatment.
That’s why I’ve taken it upon myself to start a one-man campaign to change the image of the colonoscopy. And while I don’t expect to go so far as to create a cute cartoon character to promote the procedure — “Collie” the friendly probe? “Good Ole Dr. Pete” the neighborhood proctologist? — I will gladly encourage everyone who’s approaching 50 years of age or who has experienced gastrointestinal issues to man up — or woman up — and get themselves checked out.
A side benefit: Once you’re among the colonoscopically initiated, you’ll have some funny stories to tell your good friends. Even if the experience was pretty routine — as most are — you can make stuff up. This is a golden opportunity to be as crude and as gross as you dare to be; no one’s going to question you because of the nature of the procedure. Just know that when you tell those stories, there will invariably be someone in your circle who’s going to tell one to top it. It’s the nature of the beast.
But that’s OK. Because the stories are only a side benefit. The true benefit is that you may be among the growing number whose life is saved by the procedure. Trust me, they may not talk a whole lot about it, but they’re out there. That’s coming from one who knows.
Email Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.