Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Funny Things About Medical Tests

As an adolescent, years back, I recall being awed as my cousin told of pre-op preparations when he required an appendectomy.  It wasn’t enough to suffer the acute pain of appendicitis and the apprehension of surgery.  He was also forced to sacrifice all of his adolescent dignity as the nurse exposed his naked man parts to shave him for surgery.

Further enhancing his loss of dignity, the soldier betrayed my cousin by coming to rigid attention in naked awareness of the opposite gender in near presence.  To Ricky’s amazement a simple flick of the nurse’s finger across the rigid nose sent the soldier to parade rest.  This was in early nineteen-sixty-something when professional roles were more gender specific.

Reminiscing about Ricky’s story many years later I wondered how that scene could have played out a generation or two later as both genders became more common in the nursing profession.  Picture an adolescent boy having the sheet thrown back by a male nurse to expose the soldier at rigid attention.  Would that be an out of closet experience?

My own youth and young adult life was medically uneventful with the exception of a broken collar bone at age twelve.  Treating that didn’t require a southern exposure.  It wasn’t until my early fifties that I learned to leave my dignity in that plastic hospital bag with my clothing while I donned the all immodest hospital gown.

Sometime in my late thirties to early forties I had received complete physical exams by the opposite gender but that did not seem a big deal.  If anything, the doctor is on the worst end of a male physical examination.  As much as I would prefer not have a finger poked into my rectum for a prostate check I have to believe that is a situation where it is better to be the pokee than the poker.

Just think about it for a moment from the doctor’s position.  You have to make a forced entry of your finger into an orifice that is designed to push things out rather than let them in.  Not only that, but that orifice, with its contents, is aimed directly at you.  The potential for the doctor ending up in a world of doo-doo seems highly probable to me.

In this situation as a patient, I think that, as embarrassing as it might be to have involuntarily forced such a reaction, I’d much rather be in the position of needing a few tissues as opposed to needing to go home for a shower and fresh change of clothes.  I wonder if doctors keep a couple of those disposable plastic seat covers in their car like mechanics use to keep from soiling a customer’s interior upholstery.

As a man gets older the soldier still comes to rigid readiness for a genuine call for duty.  However, the uncontrolled testosterone induced flaunts of adolescent manhood are far less likely.  I’ve had numerous hernia exams by female doctors without embarrassment.  It’s like going shopping for women’s clothing with your wife.  Nothing is going to happen worth getting excited about.  You just need to hang out quietly and then there might be a call to duty when you get home.

After stacking up a little over fifty birthdays my doctor began to encourage me to get a colonoscopy.  So far, I’ve not met anyone that hurried to be at the head of that line.  I was not any different.  I could see the necessity but resisted the urgency.  There is just something about having a one-eyed butt snoop going through the back door and into the unknown depths that is just too similar to a roto-rooter into a sewer line.

My doctor suggested a sigmoidoscopy and a barium enema in lieu of a complete colonoscopy in order to get me over the apprehension.  Unlike a full colonoscopy the sigmoidoscopy puts the one-eyed butt snoop into the colon only as far as the first bend in the colon.  My doctor could do this procedure herself and it did not require anesthesia.  The barium enema, however, had to be done at a radiology lab in the hospital.

Prior to having either of these procedures you have to fast and use laxatives to void your digestive system.  Aside from the obvious fact that there is little dignity afforded in this procedure it went well.  Except for a hospital gown you lay naked on your side on an exam table with your knees to your stomach.  Next, the doctor pokes a tube into your butt that is equipped with a flashlight, camera and compressed air to inflate your innards for better viewing.  What can be hard about that?

No, that part wasn’t so difficult but I have to suggest that if you ever have the choice between a full colonoscopy and a barium enema, go for the colonoscopy.  I had one of those a few years later.  A family member drives you in for the exam.  They put you under anesthesia during the procedure.  You wake up.  Your family takes you home and you can eat.  It’s over.

Now let me tell you about a barium enema.  It’s back into a hospital gown and on your side on an exam table.  The difference is that this table is set up with x-ray equipment.  Barium sulfate is injected into the colon as a medium for x-rays to detect problems within the colon.

On the enema tube is an inflatable plug to block the exit just in case you can’t resist the urge for an involuntary blow during this procedure.  X-rays are taken in various angles much like might done for a skeletal x-ray.  It doesn't take long.

I’m not sure what the capacity is for the human colon to receive foreign liquid through the back door.  However, I’m pretty sure that these people were pressing my limits.  So certain of this was I that, if I had felt the urge to burp, I would have resisted for fear of finding out what barium sulfate tasted like.

With the procedure completed, the technician who had prepped me proved to be a magician.  Somehow that young woman got the plug deflated and the enema tube removed without my anticipated consequence of a violent rectal eruption.  She immediately assisted me off of the exam table and into an adjacent restroom.

The woman was in the process of explaining that, even though there were three entrances to this restroom, I was ensured of privacy.  Before she could finish talking I had the gown hiked and my butt planted just in time for the flood of milky looking liquid from my colon into the toilet.  She ducked out and closed the door.

As I sat sensing that a second wave was building inside it struck me funny that the technician was concerned for my privacy in such a situation.  My butt had been hanging out to the view of half of a dozen different people on this day and now I was finally afforded privacy in order to use the restroom.  At this point I wasn’t certain what it would matter if all three doors popped open and the people in the waiting area down the hall put down their magazines to observe.  I began to laugh and then laughed louder until the technician knocked on the door to inquire if I was alright.

The second wave built up and was passed.  However, there are times when you wipe because you think that you’re done but only to have another build up force you to blow and wipe again.  This was one of those times.

Finally, the young woman, who had told me to take all of the time that I needed, was questioning again if I was alright.  I got dressed, thanked her for her part in making this experience as pleasant as could be possible and headed down the hall.  There is something about walking that can often bring on bowel activity.

This time it was especially urgent, though.  It was like there was a little line boss inside of me shouting, “I told you that we have to get all of this crap out of here!”  Luckily there was another restroom a short walk down the hall.  I stayed there through several repetitions of blow, wipe and flush before I got up the courage to leave.

Onto the elevator and off to the next floor and I came upon another restroom near the main lobby and the exit.  I did not pass without making use of this facility.  After more repetitions of blow, wipe and flush I was satisfied that it was safe to go to my car.

I’ve always parked in the farthest reaches of a parking lot for two reasons.  One is for the exercise. The second reason is to make less it likely to suffer door dings to my car.  Remember what I said earlier about walking inducing bowel movement?

Less than halfway across the parking lot on this day I was rethinking that practice.  In fact, a good argument for one-day-only handicapped parking permits was forming in my mind.

Continuing toward my car I finally realized that I was in a losing situation no matter what I did.  I couldn’t make it back to the restroom in time.  Even if I could make it to my car what was going to be the point as I didn’t have any of those disposable plastic seat covers that mechanics use to avoid soiling the upholstery.

I won’t go into the details of what actually happened next.  It suffices to say that, whatever scraps of dignity that I had left, after the day’s events, were left in that hospital parking lot.  If your doctor ever sends you for a barium enema, also known as a lower gastrointestinal series, argue for a full colonoscopy instead.

You might also enjoy Funny Things About Surgery.


  1. ah, the things we have encountered in this life! :) i have crohn's-been there! many times!

    1. That's the truth! Thanks for the read and comment, Sue.