Almost everyone who’s ever had to have a colonoscopy has read Dave Barry’s hysterically graphic but completely true account of how you have to prepare for it, from the ingestion of the nuclear laxative that tastes like a mixture of goat spit and urinal cleanser with just a hint of lemon, to the donning of the surgical gown that makes you feel more naked than when you are actually naked.
Mr Barry did, however, have the great good fortune to be properly sedated for his procedure. Six years ago, when I had my first colonoscopy, I turned out to be one of the very small percentage of people on whom the sedative has no effect whatsoever. I made this excessively clear to the gastroenterologist several times before he stuck the tube 17 000 feet up my butt. I said, ‘I’m completely awake. I’m absolutely conscious. I can hear and feel everything you’re doing. Seriously, the sedative hasn’t worked at allaaaarrrrgghghghggh!’
I’m not a fan of the medical profession, and that experience underlined why. I hate it when you, the patient, become nothing more than some pathetic bag of bones and fluids on which the doctor practices his dark art. At some stage during the procedure, I said very loudly, ‘THAT HURTS! A LOT!!’ and the doctor snapped, ‘Shhhhh!’
It wasn’t, perhaps, the doctor’s fault that my colonoscopy turned into a black comedy of errors. While he and his nurse blithely ignored my squeals and bleatings, except to occasionally tell me to pipe down (if you’ll excuse the ’orrible pun), they had plenty to say about my colon. ‘Bloody hell, it’s spaghetti junction in there; I wouldn’t be surprised to find an articulated lorry stuck around a corner,’ the doc quipped. They giggled evilly at this, and the nurse added, ‘For god’s sake, where does this thing end?’ before feeding what felt like another 17 000 feet of tube up my butt.
At this point there was a loud clicking sound and the doctor cursed. My colon had, it seems, stretched the scope literally to breaking point, and it required replacing to complete the procedure. ‘We’ll leave the tube in,’ the doctor said to the nurse (not to me), ‘and just re-attach it to the other machine. Go and fetch it from downstairs.’
So, while I lay there, naked from nape to heel, the nurse slid open the door in order to wheel out the faulty machine. It was visiting time at the hospital and the corridor was thronged with people, all of whom stopped to have a good old ogle at my bare butt with its protruding piece of pipe. ‘EXCUSE ME! I AM COMPLETELY CONSCIOUS!’ I said loudly and clearly to the doctor, who absent-mindedly slid the door shut again.
The colonoscopy finally over, I went and sat in the reception area to await my results. While I waited, I worked on a sudoku, and when the doctor came through about 20 minutes later, he looked with surprise at the puzzle on my lap and said, ‘Oh dear. You really were conscious throughout, weren’t you?’ I was put in mind of the epitaph on Spike Milligan’s gravestone: ‘I told you I was ill.’
Because pre-cancerous polyps were found in my colon, I was instructed to repeat the process every 5 years. At the time, 5 years seemed so far into the future that I didn’t worry about it; and then, when the 5 years were up, I was so reluctant to go through it all again that I put it off for another year.
Thanks to technological advances, I’ve just had a colonography, which is a very elaborate X-ray that does more or less the same job as a colonoscopy. On the upside, it doesn’t require 17 000 feet of pipe to be put up your butt. But it does have several downsides: it requires the same ghastly prep, it’s breathtakingly expensive, and, because they pump plenty of air into you to inflate your empty colon, for hours afterwards you fart like a horse. By the time the procedure was over, I hadn’t eaten for more than 40 hours and I was starving, so I headed straight for the nearest Nando’s. My apologies to everyone who was standing in the queue with me.