A family gene pool is like lingering floodwater. The longer it's around the more likely the bad stuff will float to the top. I inherited a river of traits from my father. Thick, wavy hair. The ability to tell a joke. Dangerously high cholesterol.
My mother stares back when you look into my green eyes. She was a master mimic and could slide into accents and impersonations like magic. I have a good ear for that, too. Another part of me, my colon, has polyps, just like mom.
Polyp is one of those words that sound just like what they are. If you've ever seen one, then you know a polyp looks exactly like a Pac-Man game character. That's fitting because your colon is like a maze, and a physician who performs a colonoscopy on you is playing a round of Pac-Man while making a butt-load of money.
Of course, it's a high-stakes game, at least for the owner of the maze.
Virtual colonoscopies are all the rage, but my primary doc, who I trust and who looks like a tired George Clooney, says the original way is best. After all, if they virtually find something, they have to go in old school to get it anyway.
The night before, I delay mixing the gallon of gritty electrolyte prep potion until the last second. You can't eat for 24 hours before a colonoscopy. That makes drinking a gallon - of anything - all the less satisfying.
The lemon-flavored solution gathers all the moisture in your body, including the cool pools that float your eyeballs, and diverts it down into your belly onto a water slide that cascades through the twisty chute of your colon.
You're supposed to take a minimum of three hours to drink the gallon. I was too impatient the first time and chugged it like a frat boy on a beer bong. Big mistake.
I crawled to the phone to call the emergency gastrointestinal operator listed on the gallon jug. "How long did you take to drink the electrolyte?" she asked. "About a half hour," I groaned.
"That's not good," she said.
This time I play by the rules. I flirt for a moment with the idea of stirring in four fingers of tequila. But I behave and take a little over three hours to quaff it clean. The intended effect happens all at once as I watch a little dog on Jay Leno chase around and burst 100 balloons with his teeth in 30 seconds.
At first the relief is indescribably wonderful. Otherworldly. As though you've lived your entire life for this moment. But then, like the street jackhammer outside your window that won't shut up, the flow bellows, belches, burps and then streams hard into the innocent porcelain below.
Right when you think it's over, another monsoon gathers itself and crashes through. You say to yourself, "I guess I could sit here the rest of my life. I can do that if I have to."
The good news is when the storm is over it's over for keeps. The rainfall clears in color, slows to a drizzle, and stops altogether. No more. None.
You'd think all this would be the second worse thing about an ordeal that includes threading a three-foot long, semi-rigid tube into your bottom all the way to the end of your personal Lincoln Tunnel. But it's not, thanks to our medicinal friends, pharmaceutical Thing 1 and Thing 2, Versad and Fentanyl.
The morning of my colonoscopy, I'm shown to a hospital room, where the ceremonial donning of the ass-less gown commences. Katy the nurse appears, ties off my forearm, and gently slips an IV needle into a pulsing purple line on my wrist top. Just saline for now.
My wife, Peggy, is escorted into my private IV suite. We don't have cable TV at home, and so, like giddy teenagers, we dive for the remote like it's a live grenade. In the days leading up to the procedure, the clinic calls to emphasize the importance of the patient bringing along a driver. But Peggy will also play a bigger role: the person who will be there to hear the results when the doctor is finished. I'll be there, too, but the drugs will cause me to be much more interested in the fancy patterns on the linoleum.
These are good drugs, the kind that would lead you to drink the electrolyte every night for as long as they kept the dispensary open. When my turn comes, I say good-bye to Peggy and walk down the hall pushing my saline stick-on-wheels, looking like Father Time-Is-Up.
The next hour will remain a dark, warm, noiseless room in my life. For all I know, they dressed me in a push-up bra and heels and paraded me through Vilas Zoo. "You'll feel dizzy in a moment," the anesthesiologist says. "I feel dizzy right now," I say and lie down on the plush, gold-embroidered recliner waiting for me inside the dark room in my head.
When I open my eyes I see a custodian restocking towels on a tall metal rack. He changes into a goat, and I close my eyes again. I open my eyes and Peggy is sitting there with a grin. People begin to show up with important personal comments, like the farmhands appearing at the bedroom window at the end of The Wizard of Oz.
Out in front of Meriter, Peggy helps me climb into our old Volkswagen Beetle. From the corner of my eye I see her hand busy on the stick shift. The rear engine sounds as though it's two blocks behind us. We have good results today - it'll be another five years until the next scope. But that barely registers. I'm overcome by an urgent need to get out of the car and provide several hard twists to the giant turnkey on the roof of the Bug.