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May 17, 2011

Facing down the dreaded colonoscopy


Cousin Bruce talked me into it. He's a decade younger, and if he was doing it, then coming from the same gene pool, so should I, I reasoned in February and made an appointment.

That was February, so I was comforted that it was three months off, but as the day drew nearer, I began to wonder how much it would cost, what could go wrong, what were the odds this screen was worth it?

Then Bruce's appointment was canceled, so he says, and mine was just a week away when he and Uncle Chet appeared one Friday evening.

"We've come to steal your rototiller," Uncle Chet said.

"I'll help you load it," I put on my sneakers.

"Bruce is going to till my garden in the morning."

"I was just thinking about you, and my upcoming colonoscopy," I said to Bruce.

He grinned sheepishly. "I haven't re-scheduled," he said. "Still got that jug with the chemicals, but after watching Billy Connolly on YouTube, talking about shoving a camera up your rear, I haven't called back."

"Weren't you the one saying what a great idea it was?" I said.

"True, but you're the older one; you really ought to go first," he said.

"It's not that bad," Uncle Chet stepped into the kitchen. "It's the prep that's a killer. Don't you have some instructions?"

"Somewhere," I said.

"Well, if it's next week, you'd better read 'em," he said. "There are things to do and not do, like don't take aspirin, in the last week."

"I don't take aspirin."

"Just read the instructions and follow 'em," he said curtly as we went out to the shed and rolled out the rototiller.

Days passed. I read the instructions, picked up the gallon jug and the Drano. At 6 the night before, I mixed up the brew and took my first glass.


"What is that stuff, Dad?" Buddy, our 10-year-old, asked from the recliner, where he was sipping iced tea.

"Frack water," I sputtered. "Want a little?"

"No," he shook his head, watching me down the first glass.

"Your father's going to show you how to deal with medical issues maturely, aren't you, Dad?"

Hon said.

"I aren't," I said and poured another glass.

I kept drinking until there was a rumble inside, then came the first of several eruptions that would purge me of liver, spleen and whatever else was down there.

Early the next morning, Hon drove what was left of me to the hospital. We went to the clinic, and I tried to relax. I told myself that in a few hours, this would all be behind me. A stack of magazines lay within reach and I took the top one, Readers' Digest.

And what was the top story in the top magazine? "Doctors Confess Their Fatal Mistakes."

"You gotta be kidding!" I showed the cover to Hon. "Now, there's a sign."

She rolled her eyes, removed the offensive material and gave me a periodical on golfing.

I couldn't read it, but soon was called into a waiting room, where I signed a disclaimer and was hooked up to an IV.

"Have you signed a `do not resuscitate order'?" the nurse asked.

"No!" I sat up in bed. "I thought this was a routine screening."

"It is," she said. "But we have to ask."

"By all means, resuscitate," I said.

After several minutes, I was wheeled into the operating room, told to lie on my side and was given some drugs to relax me.

Then, just before we started, the hospital's computer system crashed.

Another sign. HAL didn't want to see my insides. Twenty years earlier, I might have gotten up and left, but the drugs were relaxing and reassured by the nice doctor and nurses that they didn't need a computer system, I said OK.

Next thing I knew, I was back in the waiting room, Hon fading in and out from the foot of the bed.

"How was it?" she asked through the ether.

"Piece of cake," I mumbled, newly self-righteous, for I'd made it through basic training. "And next year, it's your turn."

Cooperstown bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week. For more of his columns, visit

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