Wednesday, March 1, 2023

A Visit to the Clinic

Wearing a purple hospital gown and covered with two thin blankets as I lay on the gurney, I contemplated the ceiling. It was a standard drop ceiling with the rectangular, whitish, pock-marked panels held in place by thin aluminum framing, interrupted by fluorescent light panels every fourth or fifth spots. One of these was directly above me, radiating its cold hue of artificial light, slowly fossilizing several scattered fly corpses trapped within.

I was thinking about my feet. After checking in at the clinic’s front desk and waiting area, with its pale green walls, outdated Covid signs, and stackable chairs, the administrator had invited me through the secured door leading to a hallway with many rooms, then led me to the end of the hall which opened into a large space with eight gurneys, sectioned off into individual privacy spaces with slidable green curtains. She handed me off to Treena - the Registered Nurse Practitioner, according to her name tag - and she showed me what was behind curtain number 3. It was a simple setup – just a sheeted gurney with a folded purple gown and blanket sitting atop, and a rollable steel multi-level wire rack topped with a machine, but with space to stack up my clothes, which she asked me to remove and replace with the gown. As I peeled off my socks I noticed my left foot was very blue, while my right remained pasty winter white. I made a mental note then called out to Treena after I was gowned and downed on the gurney. She returned with a little plastic basket of packaged hospital treats – gauze, pads, tape, needles. She asked for my right hand, which I offered, and she held it tenderly in her left while beating on the back of it with her right, trying to plump the dehydrated vein.

“You haven’t eaten for nearly two days, right?” she asked as she slapped.

“That’s right.”

“You’re dehydrated sweetie, that’s why the vein is hard to get at.”

I looked away as she dug into the back of my hand with a needle. It took her a couple of tries. I peeked over for a moment and saw the needle under my skin sliding way into the vein, exploring. I shuddered a bit then resumed my blank stare at the curtains, noticing the elaborate pattern of squares sewn into the fabric. When I next looked back over, there was a plastic device taped securely to my hand with a little screw valve on the end of it. Treena said she had to flush the IV then pulled out a loaded syringe, plugged it in, and plunged incredibly fast, releasing a healthy does of saline solution into my bloodstream. She told me to lie back, relax, and give her a shout if I needed anything.

My attention turned back to my feet. I wiggled them both until the blanket flipped back and was happy to see the left one was back to its regular colour. Now, I could relax. There are rarely moments in my life when I have nothing to do. No matter how relaxed I get at home, or on the boat, or even on vacation, there is always something on my mental “to do” list, even just getting back to reading a book. Not now. I had absolutely nothing to do. So I just laid there and listened. And I heard farting noises. At first I thought it was my imagination as they were coming from the lady I saw wheeled into the curtain room across from me. But a second volley ensued and that’s when I knew for sure. They weren’t grandstanding, showman farts, like the kind you’d do with your buddies on a fishing trip, or maybe a group of girls at a rowdy wine tasting, but more of the sleepy, careless, unspectacular variety with relatively low volume and no octave changes.

“Louise, did you pass gas?” I could hear a voice say excitedly.

“Yes,” came the groggy reply.

“Good! Good!”

It appeared this was an expected after-result of the procedure. But I wasn’t sure how that was even possible. After consuming three Dulcolax tablets and 4 litres of Peglyte laxative drink, my system was empty. There was just nothing ruminating in there to produce any gas whatsoever.

There was a lot of other activity going on. I could hear every word being said in the room as it was quiet, except for the loud beeping noises coming from the blood pressure machines in every bedspace. I think the machines had become sentient and were communicating with each other, planning their revolutionary coup on the medical facility. There was intelligence in those beeps; I just hoped to be out of there before the attack ensued.

Treena was having trouble finding a vein in the hand of my next-door neighbour Alfie. She must have tried six or seven times, each producing a little “Ow!”, but she gave up and called in the senior nurse, who was named Gayle. I heard her strike gold on the first try. Alfie seemed relieved. 

Two curtain rooms down, a 27-year-old construction worker named Terry had arrived and was met by a doctor who asked him a whole series of personal questions including frequency of bowel movements, hemorrhoidal activity, lifestyle choices, and so. Pants were asked to be slipped down, then there was a moment of awkward silence where one of the two seemed to be holding his breath, then a loud exhale, a zipping noise, and then the two of them walked back out to the lobby, discussing options.

Treena and Gayle had a break in the action so were chatting. Treena said that she wasn’t going to be able to make it to the gym today. She also gave Gayle (and all of us) an update on the progress of her house construction project, and a conversation on the overheated housing market ensued. A patient in the furthest corner jumped into the chat and said the house he and his partner had bought for 1.2 million in Toronto several years back had just sold for 3.2. So I guess he was celebrating his winnings with a colonoscopy.

Gayle flipped open my curtain and came into my space to ask if I was cold. I said no, except for my hands. She smiled and disappeared for a moment then returned with another blanket, which she spread out over my hands and body lovingly. I felt like a baby in a crib. It was quite nice. Just as she told me there were only two people ahead of me, two gentlemen wearing green hospital clothes wheeled in an unconscious patient, who was leaking farts during the entire ride, but nobody was laughing, so it definitely was routine. They rolled the gurney into a curtain room then came and got my neighbour Alfie and wheeled him down the hallway. I waved goodbye but I don’t think he noticed.

One of the patients had completed their rest period, gotten dressed, and was getting the epilogue briefing from Gayle as she reviewed the report on a clipboard. “Two polyps,” she said. “Just over a centimeter each, they snipped them off for a biopsy.”

“Well, that’s good news,” the patient said. “Last time the polyps were 3 centimetres.”

“The results will be sent to your family doctor. Once your ride arrives, you are free to go.”

I wondered what my report would say. I had turned 50 last year and my doctor said that because of my family history of bowel issues, I should get a scope once I reached this milestone. Was the big “C” knocking on my door? Was there an inclandestine polyp party raging in my colon? Was I about to pay the price for my years of red meat and alcohol consumption? I laid there thinking about these things for quite a long time. I felt a slight pang of worry when I considered I would be receiving a general anesthetic for the first time. I remembered a movie where the main character was put under for a surgery, and though he seemed unconscious, he was actually awake but unable to move and felt every slice of the scalpel and tug of the organs but could only scream on the inside. As I considered the possibility of me having this affliction, Gayle appeared at my bed. It was my turn.

I’ve never been wheeled in a hospital bed before and I’ll admit it was sort of fun, having all these people doting on me, giving me a ride, smiling at me. I was maneuvered into the surgery and put into place at the center of all the action. I had expected to hit a wall of smells – poo, antiseptic, death – but the room smelled of nothing. I looked to the left and saw a giant video monitor, lights, cupboards, and a few smaller machines. When I looked to my right I saw the star of the show. The Rotorooter 3000. The biggest machine in there. Besides a hospital pad with some brownish stuff on it that had landed at the foot of the machine, it was spotless. A real beauty. Ready for drilling.

My fascination was broken by one of the men who had wheeled me in, a real young guy, and super excited. He asked me a bunch of everyday questions, where do you work, where do you live, what’s your favourite colour, and even showed me the coil of colon tube which was to invade my lower passage shortly, which sort of threw off the earlier questions meant to relax me. As we spoke, the other two doctors worked silently tapping info into a computer, connecting tubes, initiating machines, prepping the gear. The anesthesiologist repositioned my arm and connected something into my hand IV. The other doctor, who I assumed was the pilot despite not wearing any flying goggles, said, “So Mr. Olson why are you here? Rectal bleeding? Hemorrhoids? Prolapsed anus? Thrill seeker?”

“I’m 50.”

“Oh, that’s bad. Real bad,” he said shaking his head. “Well, let’s see what’s up there.”

After he had a quick feel of my stomach, he directed me to lay on my side and put my knees up to my chest. As the anesthesiologist hit the switch he told me my arm would get very hot. But my arm got very cold instead. Then it got very hot. And I was out.

Some time later my eyes snapped open. I was still on the gurney lying on my side. I felt the tube being pulled out and on the monitor I saw a scene from a horror film when the screaming girl is being dragged backwards into a haunted basement by an unseen presence. It was a backwards tunnel shot of the inside of my colon, rapidly retreating. It was happening to me! The sedation wasn’t working! Despite feeling no pain I screamed, “I’m awake!” It must have scared the crap out of the anesthesiologist, but he quickly did something and I was knocked unconscious again.

When my eyes slowly opened, Treena was there in front of me, smiling. She looked beautiful, like an angel. She patted my hand, then in a dreamy voice said, “Could you pass gas for me?”

Was I in heaven? Had I gone to a better place? I’d never in my life heard such words from a woman’s lips. I replied, “For you…anything.” And let fly. She seemed pleased. I would learn later that the colonoscopy instrument includes an air blower that inflates your colon like a balloon for better visibility. Nifty party trick.

I wondered if I was too doped up to make a joke. I took a chance. “Treena,” I said. “Do you guys automatically upload the colon videos to the clinic’s YouTube channel?”

“No, but you can buy your own video in the gift shop on the way out,” she replied quickly as she snapped her fingers and pointed at me.

After a short recovery period and a small glass of water, I got dressed and walked with Gayle to the exit. She had a clipboard in her hand and read my report.

“Mr. Olson you got a TC,” she said happily.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

 “Totally Clear. Nothing to worry about. You are 100% good to go. Come back in five years.”

“Are you saying my regular routine of massive red meat consumption, copious amounts of alcohol, and minimal exercise is working?”

“Sure looks like it. Keep it up,” she said, then added, “Oh, but don’t eat any chili tonight. You won’t like the effects of that.”

Gayle walked me down to the building entrance and watched me as I walked out to the parking lot and got into the passenger’s side of my father-in-law’s vehicle. I waved at her and she waved back. Once we were on the highway and headed home I pulled up the clinic’s Google review page and left a message.

Best place to get doped, groped, and scoped. Five stars.