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"Where the sun don't shine"

Bruce Abel

may I see the doctor please?" I said humbly.

"Is it urgent?" the receptionist asked.

"Ah. . . . Well, I've blood in my stools," I mumbled.

"Is that blood in the stools or blood on the toilet paper?" she said.

"Ah. . . . Both. . . . Maybe," I fumbled.

"He'll see you in three weeks," she stated.

That gave me twenty-one days to be imaginative about the doctor's fingers. What does ‘digital rectal examination' really mean? I know where the fingers are going. It is the how that dwelt upon my mind. How many digits? How far up? The entire hand? Arm? Does he remove his rings? Watch? Does he wear a bracelet?

I believe in life-long-learning. Twenty-one days later, I learnt a lesson that will last a lifetime. You cannot drop your drawers and mount the examination table at the same time. Well, you can, if you do a bunny-hop and then a high-jump twirl. On my third attempt, I did manage to climb on. I was, however, the wrong side up. To make it worse, I faced in the wrong direction.

Once correctly positioned, I recalled that I didn't check the doctor for jewelry. Was that his watch I could hear ticking?

After a moment, the doctor said, "Get dressed, and oh, by the way, pull you pants up before you try to get off the table, you'll find it easier."

Following his advice, I successfully navigated from the table.

"See you at the hospital in two days. We'll do a flexible sigmoidoscopy. You must evacuate for this," he said.

I recall my mother telling how, during the London blitz in World War II, we were evacuated to the countryside. She never spoke highly of evacuation. Yet, when the doctor explained that a Sigmoid was named after the S shape of the colon, evacuation seemed to have merits.

This was further confirmed when the doctor indicated that he would light up the whole of my life and show it on a video monitor. "Not to worry," he added, "We only go up to a maximum of three feet."

That gave me two days to imagine how the doctor would stick a light and video camera up where the sun don't shine.

"No food for twenty-four hours, drink eight litres of clear liquid and two bottles of phosphate solution, and you will evacuate," said the pharmacist.

Given my date with Sigmoid, I follow her directions precisely. Bold, bright letters on the phosphate solution box assure me that the contents are naturally flavoured with lemon and ginger. A sip, however, proves different. Lemon-scented dishwasher soap tastes better.

That night, fountains flow, geysers gush and torrents torrent. One thing, never take a sleeping pill while evacuating.

Six hours later, there is nothing left to evacuate. My body, however, remains on evacuation alert. Eyelids enjoin my rectum. Vocal chords attach to the anus. Face muscle merge with sphincteral. A blink. Gush. A word. Gush. A smile. Gush.

"Come down and let's get ready," said the enthusiastic nurse.

Thoughts of standing - gush. Standing - gush. Thoughts of walking - gush. Walking - gush. Thought of gushing - gush. Thoughts - gush. A blessing. I'm gushless.

"Get into this gown. Here's a blanket to keep you warm," says the enthusiastic nurse.

I look around the room. On the wall, hanging like instruments of torture from the Inquisition are rows of ten foot long, four inch diameter, glistening, black rubber hoses. On the end of one hose is a spot light and video camera that Jacques Cousteau might have used in his underwater expeditions. There is also a jar of lubricant. On closer inspection, the contents look cold and hard.

The doctor arrives. You have to admire doctors. Can you imagine starting your day looking up somebody's rear end? I appreciate why governments don't argue too much with Medical Associations. All the doctors have to say is, "Evacuate," and entire cabinets would bend over backwards.

The doctor assures me that my rectum will be enlarged by gentle air pressure that allows the tubing to smoothly proceed upward and onward. At moments of truth, it's funny the possibilities one's mind creates. What if there's a power failure and no air pressure? What if the pump sucks instead of blows? What if I evacuate and equalize the air pressure?

In the end, everything went in and came out smoothly.

"Good and bad news," said the doctor. "You don't have hemorrhoids, but you do have a colon polyp. Not to worry, we'll get it removed in a colonosiopy." He explains that all the tubing goes all the way in, around all the curves, and all the way up, all six feet or more. It must have been the look on my face, for he quickly reassured that for my comfort, I'd get intravenous sedation.

I rushed home to my computer to read about colon polyps. As I started my search, an advertising banner, "ebay - Great Deals on Colon Cancer," flashed on the screen. I click on the first website. Giant, pulsating, bloody polyps engulfed the page. Another article advises that the "test may not be much fun." One page looked like a bookie sheet used by National Football League odds-makers. Given my age, a family history of cancer and my lack of rectal examinations, I quickly exit.

A week later, I meet the surgeon. In his consultation room, Herman cartoons are taped on every wall. One cartoon has my surgeon's name handwritten above a character doing surgery. "Has anybody seen my gum?" the caption reads.

The surgeon outlines the operation by drawing elaborate pictures all over the paper cover on the examination table. This time, not only are a light and camera going where the sun don't but also electrocautery snares. He proudly explains the resolution of the video and shows me pictures of more bloody polyps. He also notes that the odds of bowel perforation are one in 2000 but adds that he has only performed one thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine operations.

"And, of course, you'll have to evacuate" he concludes.

Just before Christmas, I'm at the hospital for day surgery. The cheery nurse says, "Please walk this way."

I recalled the old vaudeville comedy routine and wanted to reply "If I walked that way, I'd evacuate," but I was concentrating so much on not evacuating.

"Here's your bed, put the gown on," the cheery nurse said, pulling the privacy curtains.

As I stood naked, first putting on the operating robe back to front, I realize that the curtains don't go all the way around. I'm flashing an elderly patient in the bed opposite. She did at least smile.

In the operating room, I'm entertained by three cheery nurses. They eagerly tell me of their Christmas cookie exchange - the homemade rum balls, shortbread, and almond drops. My stomach growls and the sound reverberates in the small room. A cheery nurse comforts me saying, "You'll get tea, toast and jam as soon as this is over."

The surgeon came in. My last memory is that he was chewing gum.

The hot, sweet, weak tea, the four slices of buttered, whole wheat toast and the thick strawberry jam were served as promised when I returned to the admitting ward.

I did, in addition, get a delayed Christmas present. Just after Boxing Day, I was visiting a family friend in Kingston, Ontario. The surgeon's receptionist called long distance and excitedly told me that my polyp wasn't cancerous. And, the sun did shine.

Bruce Abel is a Guelph, Ontario writer and e-journal editor.

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