“Would you like a chaperone?” asked the nice lady doctor as I lay on my side with my knickers round my ankles. “No thank you” I answered, imagining a staunch Victorian lady poised to yank them up again in order to protect what was left of my virtue. I shared this image with the doctor who chuckled indulgently even though she had far more important things to do – like stick her finger up my bottom.
“Right!” she said, in the sort of galvanising tone one uses to cajole a toddler into the bath “Lets get on with it shall we?” And I proffered myself to her, like the obliging mammal I am, accustomed to all manner of insertions – speculums, pessaries, amniotic hooks – and now, oh best beloved, a digit up the nether portions.
“Blood in the bowl you say. Was it fresh?” she quizzed, rummaging around with the nonchalance that all doctors display until they discover (oh dread words) something sinister.
“Fresh? Oh yes, most certainly!” I affirmed with pride, having been informed by Dr. Google that dark red blood means book the undertaker. “And do you drink?” she asked breezily. “A bit” I lied, remembering the vat of Zombies, Long Island Iced Teas and Koko Koladas I was forced by my daughter and her uni friends to “chug! chug! chug!” the weekend before.
And lo and behold the next morning there it was. The heart stopping crimson streak that launched a mental montage to the soundtrack of Verdi’s Requiem: The tests, the results, the colorectal consultant slowly turning his wedding ring, the CAT scan, the metastasis proof, the fruitless chemo, the optimistic wig, the clinical trials, the hospice, the bedside vigil…
“How about a colonoscopy?” the doctor asked, as breezily as if she were offering me a Hob Nob.
“Hmm. It’s tempting” I quipped “But is it really necessary?”
“Well, we must rule everything out” she said and I wondered, when she said everything, whether she meant wind farms, Wordle, Q-Anon, the Higgs Boson particle, noodle salad and French cullotes.
Or did she just mean cancer.
On the day of my colonoscopy I pitched up at my local hospital with a fully evacuated bowel thanks to an alarmingly effective laxative called Moviprep. I handed my paperwork to the receptionist and was handed in return an A4 laminated sign with the number 5 written on it. My mind was so fizzy with fear that I didn’t listen to the instructions and simply shuffled up the corridor to nowhere in particular clutching the number 5 to my chest as if my life depended on it.
“This way madam!” trilled the receptionist, indicating a line of numbered stalls divided by perspex screens. I sat down at stall number 5 and scrutinised my fellow patients: a chic woman in her 50’s with a chestnut mane who looked far too rich to have bowel issues, and three bald men in their 60’s who looked like expelled members of Millwall football club.
Were these really my people?
An hour later I was taken to a consultation room where I was weighed, measured, and asked to sign a waiver in case the colonoscopist perforated my colon wall with his probe. Horrified by what I’d just agreed to, I wandered blindly into a strip lit ward with softly menacing baby blue walls and a stoic orderly scrubbing down the perspex curtains who looked as if he hadn’t slept since Brexit. As I took off my things and donned one of those Chinese puzzle hospital gowns with a hole too many and ties at the back, I noticed that the chic woman, now sitting opposite me, was reading Decline and Fall. The witty comment pirouetting on the tip of my tongue fizzled to nothing.
This was not the time for bon mots.
Then a trainee nurse came in to administer painkiller but couldn’t find a vein. “It’s my first day” she giggled, almost with pride, as she prodded and poked with all the grace of a heffalump until, devoid of nutrition for 24 hours, I slid off the chair and onto the floor. “I’ve got you darlin’” said a proper nurse who picked me by my elbows and slipped a needle into my hand with a magician’s sleight.
“Ready to rrrock and rrroll?” said a Hispanic orderly with diamond grillz on his teeth, whisking me into the operating theatre as if we were headed for the dance floor. But instead of the Strictly band I was greeted by three medical staff in scrub caps. A kindly Jamaican nurse called Paddy; a restless lady who bobbed about like head of netball and Dr Walker the colonoscopist. In an attempt to steady my nerves I joked “Right! Next Bottom!” and Dr Walker fell about laughing which worried me.
Does one want a jocular colonoscopist?
The Fentanyl kicked in just as a tiny camera was inserted into my back passage, and I was mentally transported, along with two clucking hens and my son as a baby to that fateful lift in Minnesota where a dying Prince treated us to a final rendition of Purple Rain before my ex husband strolled into the operating theatre demanding to know what had happened to his Mont Blanc fountain pen.
“Tell him to go away” I groaned, to which Paddy stroked my hand and told me it was just the drugs and everything was going to be OK.
The next thing I heard was a gaggle of nurses musing on the relationship status of Dr Walker before the matron steamed towards me with the propulsion of the QE2 and I braced myself for the worst. ‘Oh God don’t let me die unpublished’ I whimpered.
“Diverticulae!” she announced, to the entire ward. And then, as if I had failed our entire gender “Pan Colonic Diverticulae” I left off making my peace with the almighty to give her a blank look.
“Little pockets in the lining of your colon” she explained, “from stress, or toilet straining or a low fibre diet, too much white bread, oven chips and such. “Although…” she added “you don’t strike me as a low fibre person.”
I wondered what a low fibre person looked like, and the deranged woman from Coventry who dumped a cat in a wheelie bin sprang to mind. Perhaps that’s what drove her to it.
“But I live on veggies, pulses, and salad” I protested.
“Exactly!” said the nurse. “Too much fibre!”
“But you just said…”
“It VARIES” she snapped and, exasperated with my middle class back chat, thrust a leaflet into my hand and steamed off. The leaflet featured conflicting dietary information, a picture of a colon with bulges coming out of it, and lots of words starting with ‘Diver’ that took me back to my Latin conjugations:
Diverticulae, Diverticula, Diverticulosis, Diverticulitis, Diverticulum.
On my way out I found myself in a lift with the chic Evelyn Waugh reader who, like me, wore the imbecilic grin of a death row prisoner who had just been granted a full pardon.
“Around for a bit longer then?” I joked.
“Yes” she replied. “So long as I stay off the oven chips!”
So there it is again folks, never judge a book by its cover.
Rose Wadham © 2022