Saturday, April 24, 2010

A memory I had tried to repress

The other night I actually went to bed kind of early, with a book.

My husband came into the room, kissed my mouth and said, "You smell really good, and you look smart." This, people, is romance in your mid-forties.

I smelled really good because I had doused myself with essential oils as I always do in my bedtime routine. I do this because my peri-menopausal skin responds only to my own homemade concoction: grapeseed oil with lavender, sweet orange, calendula, and a drop of clove. Anything else either gives me a rash or makes me break out. That particular night, I think I had also massaged all around my hairline with pure lavender essential oil, because I had a headache coming on and lavender sometimes stops it.

I looked smart because I was wearing my reading glasses, the ones with black rims that I bought at Kinney Drug. Also my hair was in something that vaguely resembled a bun because I had wrenched it back with a scrunchy in order to get it out of the way when I was washing my face. But I really think it was the glasses and not the hair that gave me the scholarly appearance.

The reading glasses were there to help me read The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. My tenth grade English teacher, Oscar Johnson, had told me that I really needed to read that particular book. I have a very old copy of it; I'm not sure when or where I got it, but I think it was during college, and I do know that I got it because Mr. Johnson had told me to read it, and I was curious.

I've had the book for years and years, and never finished it. I guess it just isn't very good. It's by an American, after all. Now that I am old, I have read quite a bit of Dickens: David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Bleak House (Bleak House was not my favorite, but I did finish it). I am actually old enought to appreciate Dickens. The Portrait of a Lady on the other hand, is not all that good, and also I have a terrible sense of foreboding as I read it, that it will have a Great Gatsby-ish ending, and I am not in the mood for that, ever.

I was trying to read it that night, though. I had picked it up a while back and made a fair bit of progress in it, but that "while back" was when I had my colonoscopy. I know this, because the instructions for preparing for the procedure were still in the book, my bookmark, in fact. Ugh!

I never wrote about the colonoscopy because (1) it was a fate worse than death and (2) I was incredibly embarrassed to mention it, which is exactly why it took me so long to get to the subject just now. Romance in your mid-forties. Yeah right.

My sister, and I love her anyway but I will never again take anything she says seriously, my sister told me, "I had a colonoscopy and it was fun!" She loved drinking the solution, it wasn't bad at all, she said. She loved feeling all clean on the inside and out. She said the anesthesia was gentle and effective, and she was completely unaware of the procedure itself. "It was fun!" she repeated, with a glowing smile.

That recommendation alone would not have induced me to go through with it, but I have been wanting my husband to have a colonoscopy for quite some time. "Those types" of cancer run in his family, and he has always been plagued with a tricky bowel. So I thought, "If I have a colonoscopy and show him how easy and pleasant it is, then he will have one, and we will be able to rest at ease about his intestines." Also, our insurance deductible had been met, so I thought I might as well get as much free stuff as I could before the turn of the year.

So, at the beginning of last December, I found myself in the kitchen with a huge jug of solution (four liters, I believe) that I had to drink. The ladies at my church were having a Christmas fellowship that evening. I was not, although I certainly did think of them on more than one occasion. Probably with covetousness in my heart.

My first indication that my sister is either out-of-her-mind insane (is that redundant?) or a pathological liar was when I poured myself the first glass of solution. The nurse had told me, "What do you like to drink? Do you like iced tea? Mix it with iced tea, or something like that." I thought, "My sister says it is delicious, and no problem at all." That was what I thought. Naively trusting my sister, I did not buy any iced tea, or lemonade or anything else. I poured up my first glass, approximately 8 of the 135.26 ounces that I had to drink before bed that day. I lifted it to my mouth and went to chug it down. Imagine my surprise when my body simply refused to take it in. It was the slimiest, vilest stuff you can imagine, and my gag reflex went into overdrive.

I felt panicked. What was I going to do with all this solution? How was I going to get it down? I poured it into a larger glass and cut it half and half with cranberry juice cocktail which enabled me to get it down, but I realized that there was no way I could double the amount of liquid for the whole amount and do it all that way. I would explode (oh wait, I was going to be exploding anyway...).

The worst of it was, you were supposed to drink a glass every ten minutes until it was gone.

I sent David to the store with my credit card to get a can of lemonade mix.

I will try to spare you the monotony of what ensued, but I found that stirring lemonade mix into the solution just before taking it, and then drinking it with a straw aimed at the back of my mouth, I could fulfill the instructions.

In the ten minute interludes, I read The Portrait of a Lady. It was a very long afternoon and evening. Nobody tells you how cold you get when you drink over a gallon of that solution. And on top of everything else, it didn't make me go to the bathroom. I just got fuller and fuller and fuller and colder and colder and colder. The family enjoyed a spaghetti dinner while I shivered next to the fireplace and vainly tried to warm myself with a down blanket (and, of course, kept downing the stuff).

I never had an urge to push when I was giving birth, and this solution apparently didn't work in my body, either. Well, it finally started to work a little bit, but not very well. I had heard horror stories about people being up all night with it. I was not up all night. I slept pretty well. Amazingly well. Far better than I would have slept had I any idea what else was in store.

The next morning I continued to empty at a very pokey rate. I hoped it was going to be OK. We went to the hospital, or whatever it was, the building next to the hospital where the butchery was to be performed.

When they took me into the surgical prep area, I was supposed to be clean and empty, but I was still needing to go to the bathroom on and off. So there I was, caught between chapters of Portrait of a Lady and trips to the lav. I had to wait a long time for my procedure, which was not reassuring.

The prep area was the same as the recovery room, a long hallway with many beds in a row, with thin cotton curtains pulled between them. As I sat in my bed, in my hospital gown, reading Portrait of a Lady, I heard strange noises, noises that sounded for all the world like compressing whoopie cushions. This gave me a very unsettled feeling.

At one point, I needed to get up and use the bathroom, but the one across from my bed was occupied, so the nurse told me to walk down to the one at the opposite end of the hall. Feeling odd, but knowing that necessity rules, I walked the length, and as I did, on my right, I passed bed after bed, each filled with an unconscious person slumped beneath a sheet, loudly passing gas.

Fear welled up in my heart. "This is not a good place," I thought. "I do not want to be here. I do not want to see these people and listen to their blasted puttering." It was then that I realized, "I am soon to be one of these people." Talk about abject terror. I finished my business and returned to my bed, averting my eyes, trying not to hear the repugnant sounds that assailed me. I picked up The Portrait of a Lady and tried very hard to concentrate on it. It was then that I overheard the nurse talking playfully with some man who had walked onto the floor, "Yes," she was saying, "This unit is doing very well financially. We got the contract with the prison to do all the prisoners' colonoscopies here, right here. It brings in a nice amount of work."

So it was me and the prisoners? Was this a bad dream? Unfortunately, there was no waking up from this one. I wondered if you could just get up and leave at such a point. I prayed to the Lord, I prayed something like, "Please, please help me. Please get me out of here if they are going to kill me."

At this point, I was still trusting that the actual procedure would be a breeze. I started to feel uncertain even about that when they finally wheeled me in, and there was only a doctor and a nurse. "Where is the anesthesiologist?" I asked. "Oh, we do it ourselves," they told me. I didn't panic, but I should have.

Basically, I experienced extreme pain and unbelievable cramping, but I was unable to speak, because, you know, I was anesthesized. When they eventually noticed that I was moaning and writhing, the doctor shouted something at the nurse that my scrambled brain could not decode, and everything finally went black.

In the end, they must have given me a lot, because when they dressed me to leave, I almost keeled over and they quickly caught me and put me back to bed.

Poor Shawn had a very long day in the waiting room that day.

When we got home, I was not right at all. I had intense pains in my side and my arm and shoulder that evening, really intense. I got on the computer and tried to figure out what was happening. I could hardly breathe. I shuddered at going to bed that night, fearing a most undignified death.

I could not eat for days. My digestive system was broken. It had been fine, and it ended up broken.

Now, the pain and discomfort have passed. But I am never going through that again. Never. And neither is Shawn. My entire plan backfired. If he didn't want a colonoscopy before, he will never, never have one now. And you know what? I don't blame him. I was an idiot.

Also, I still never finished The Portrait of a Lady. The other night when I started to try, it brought back not a few bad memories. The foreboding I used to feel when considering the book has been greatly magnified beyond a mere suspicion that it will hold an unhappy ending for a social ladder climber.

But I'm glad my husband likes the way I smell in my essential oils at night, even if I am not as smart as I might look.

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