It’s nearly a taboo subject, talking about one’s guts, especially that very private, unmentionable space in the body that deals with outgo. No amount of crude remarks or “bathroom” humor can breakdown the walls that we have built around the topic of the rear end. We seem to associate the function it handles with a sense of isolation, with reading, and with the sewer.
Certainly the colon and rectum are not as friendly as is the stomach, for example, but they are the great equalizers in the body, and they do us a wonderful service with very little prompting. Part of their bad press comes from the fact that advertising doesn’t know what to do with them, and they don’t sell clothing. Press can improve.
In our information age, we are stymied by the body’s inability to report its change in status before symptoms of illness appear. We have no instrument panel wired up to organ functions with which to consult for visits to a doctor’s office. It takes symptoms or discipline to respond to health issues, and we have to train ourselves not to become over reactive or unresponsive. For this we need guidelines about health quality and dysfunction, which medical and social organizations, such as the Colon Cancer Coalition, have been working to provide.
When my sister Susie was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, I met with a gastroenterologist to discuss having a colonoscopy. During the office exam, I tried to suppress the sound of my gurgling stomach. The gurgles were actually in the colon, I learned, which lines up around the abdomen like a picture frame, and it was speaking to the doctor in a language they both understood. I left with an appointment for the colonoscopy and a prescription for clean-out fluid used in preparation for the test.
At the pharmacy, the prescription yielded a large empty container, which looked like it could house radiator fluid, and some powder to hydrate. It was daunting. The night before the colonoscopy, I read through the procedure several times. Once one begins to drink the fluid, there is no lying down, and sitting better be in one room only. I drank, and walked along a route that looped through the house and stopped in the bathroom. I set a timer so I would know when to drink the next portion. This proved helpful: I began to get goofy the more I drank, walked, and sat in the W.C.
As the night wore on, time and the process of emptying the container seemed to be in cahoots. Both slowed down. But, rather than be discouraged, I became creative. I took glasses out of the cupboard—one per remaining dose—set them up on the counter, and filled them. As I drank one, I rearranged the remaining, assigning place by color or size. This gave me a sense of involvement in the process. I stopped caring about the atmospheric changes occurring in the bathroom.
Preparation for the colonoscopy is rigorous, but the test itself is a dream: most results and some treatments occur simultaneously. There is no discomfort, and a physician passionate about colorectal health is a hero. Afteward, eating solid food transcends known experience.
In another year, I will have my third colonoscopy, but I have no cause for dread. The word “colon” now exists comfortably in my vocabulary, and the colonoscopy falls into the order of appointments like an eye exam. Addressing the issue of the unmentionable has given me control over a very critical health issue, and also a lot of hope for how others may benefit from getting their “rears in gear.” Unlike a crude remark, these words actually bring about change.
—Laurie J. Lindquist/March 2009
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