The Anal Truth

These are the lies they tell you.

First, that the flavor is vanilla.  It’s not. It smells like vanilla when you rip open the pouch — makes you think hmmm, like Nestle’s Instant Breakfast, this won’t be so bad — but the moment you mix it with water all sweet pretence disappears.  You’re chugging something that tastes like vinyl mixed with machine oil— and you’re chugging four litres of the stuff, in 250ml aliquots every ten minutes.

When you find out about the next lie, you’re pleasantly surprised: because they tell you you’ll be erupting like Vesuvius for six straight painful hours as the liquid from Lie #1 scours you out like Drano through a pipe. I went so far as to set up an office in the bathroom last night, brought in my laptop and a little table on wheels and a couple of old Economists (for reading, not for wiping).  I made sure the cats were looked after and my affairs put in order. But it was okay, especially after that vile reservoir of laxative I’d had to force down. I just sat and let gouts of brown liquid slip from my anus like the water in one of those faux-Zen inspirational rock fountains you can buy at Canadian Tire.  Not bad at all.

But they’re only lulling you into a false sense of security, so they can hit you in the stomach with the biggest lie of all: that It Doesn’t Hurt.

Oh, it’s plenty uncomfortable, they say.  It feels weird and icky, but there’s no actual pain as such.  In and out.  Caitlin’s dad found it mildly unpleasant, at most.  Caitlin’s boss had it done right at work during a conference call, never missed a beat. They’ll try to put you under sedation but you can refuse that you know, and you really should because if you don’t you’ll be comatose for the rest of the day.

That much was true; the intern wanted to hook me up to an IV for “light-to-mild” sedation; his bossed chipped in with “Actually, it’s more moderate-to-heavy.”  I asked if it was  necessary at all (truth to tell, the fact that they’d just recorded my heart rate at 44 bpm was making me wonder if sedation would even be safe). “You don’t have to be sedated,” Dr. Friedlander told me, “but it’ll hurt.”

I knew he was just being overcautious. After all, why would all those other people lie to me? And last February, in this very hospital, I’d been told I had a very high pain tolerance.  So I threw back the sheet and pointed to my vagina-boy nec-fas scar: “I dug this out with a spork,” I said. “Let’s lose the sedation.”  Although I did agree to let them hook up the IV purely as a contingency, in case I changed my mind.

Besides, staying awake, I’d be able to watch the show on their big flat-screen TV!

My Anus.

My colon looks kind of like this.

That was also true. You can see your own insides up close and personal, and it does look pretty cool (the initial entry maneuvers are a bit reminiscent of the light trip at the end of 2001, and most of my GI tract looks kinda like a beigeier version of the Derelict’s passageways from Alien).  Here’s the catch, though: the reason you can see all that stuff is because they’ve just jammed the whole 2nd-Unit film crew from Lord of the Rings up your ass, and while that ship may sail smoothly on the straightaway, it’s a real pig on corners.

Wouldn’t you know it, my colon has a lot of corners.

Wasn’t too bad at first. I commented on the local topography, wondered if those bumps were polyps or yesterday’s peanuts (the latter, as it turned out), felt these strange urges to shit out the things that were crawling up my insides but it was all more eww than argh.  Then they rounded the first corner.  The 2nd Unit does not have a steering wheel, per sé:  rather, they bump into the traffic barriers and kind of grind around the curve, sparks spewing from the collision of vehicle and substrate. It is at this point that Substrate starts to wonder if (to paraphrase Arthur Dent) this might be some new and unexpected definition of doesn’t hurt with which he had not been previously acquainted.

By now I'm looking like this.

Then there are the lies of omission, the things that people just “forget” to tell you: things like “They’ve got this sandblasting nozzle built into the head to sluice out the chunky bits”, or “they’ve got this gas-injection system to pump your gut up like an old inner tube, blow it up to about three times the safety spec”. And all the while that bloody python is head-butting its way around each new corner, while I graduate from groans to clench-toothed questions about how much further to actual roars of pain. By this time someone was actually grabbing me around the stomach and pulling back on it, presumably to keep the Hindenburg from crowning too early.

I think I made it to the last corner: someone said That’s it, but I don’t know if that was before or after I yelled Uncle and let them start the drip. I’m pretty sure there was no loss of consciousness, but there was at least a momentary loss of episodic memory; next thing I know the sewer snake is pulling out of me like Santorum fleeing a bath-house, and I’m being wheeled through a doorway over which someone has affixed the sign:


Your Treatment is Over

I’m telling you, decompression was almost as painful as the colonoscopy itself. I couldn’t even roll over.  All I could do was lie clenching on my side, pushing as hard as I could and venting occasional hurricanes of high-pressure gas (fortunately the gurneys have these little brakes to lock down the wheels, so the whole thing won’t start rolling down the hall under jet-assisted takeoff).  Eventually my gut de-distended enough for me to see my own toes again; by then the gas pain had subsided from abdomen-wide tsunami down to waves of peristaltic cramping, each of which urged another Martian atmosphere through the exits.

It’s a few hours later now, and I am home.  Many is the time I’ve had to interrupt this soliloquy to vent down the hall; indeed, I find myself compelled to do that yet again, even as I type.  I am not going to do any more work this day:  I am going to go to Skyrim and get married.  (Nobody mocks you for farting, in Skyrim.)   But I consider it my personal responsibility to warn all and sundry: don’t believe what they tell you. It isn’t vanilla, it isn’t painless, it isn’t even — except in the crudest possible sense — sex.

And what really pisses me off is, after all that, they didn’t even find anything wrong with me.

I mean, last time I went through something like this, I at least had a case of flesh-eating disease to show for it


This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Thursday February 02 2012at 12:02 pm , filed under misc, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

43 Responses to “The Anal Truth”

  1. Dude. Better living through chemistry. Always take the sedation option. I’ve been scoped both ways twice, at one point during the second scoping, in a haze of very floaty chemicals, I’m sure the intern shouted excitedly, “Look! It’s a fire demon at Level 8!” or words to that effect. A 10-foot sewer snake winding its way through your guts to look at your appendix requires major drugs.

    Enough with the tough guy stuff, you don’t need to prove it to anybody.

  2. Please, please don’t decide you don’t need painkillers for dental work now. Your dentist will thank you.

  3. I had to switch from fiblet reading mode to after action report mode somewhere in the post. It is said suffering brings out the best in artists, and perhaps it shows here.

    I wish you a fast recovery, with clearer results in any future medical adventures.

  4. Now, at last, we see how you maintain your scared shitless state, Mr Watts.

  5. I tell people the procedure’s no problem ’cause I’m not awake for it. I think that I shall continue to do it that way. HATE the prep.

  6. I made that same “no medication” mistake. Never again. I was going to say “I feel for you,” but it’s between that and “I feel with you.”

    Generalizing from this and my wife’s experience in childbirth, I’d say “if they offer sedation, take it” is the general principle.

  7. Best post in a long time, my friend. You don’t wanna laugh, you’re cringing, but the description makes you laugh anyway.

  8. Not that I wish you a second take of this, by any means, but I’d be curious to see how the battle report writeup would have turned, had you replaced the gut-me-like-a-fish focus with the combo of pain detachment and drug-induced high…
    You say they didn’t find anything after all, but what *did* they expect to find, going in (besides peanuts, that is) ?

  9. Very funny. I second the “take the drugs they offer” alternative. Or you could comfort yourself with the knowledge that some day every TSA and border patrol agent will also go through this same procedure.

  10. Well you’re the guy who is always asking what good is consciousness for so you shouldn’t hang on to it when it’s a burden.

    Riveting. Something to look forward as I approach my forties, I suppose. 🙂

  11. Have you had a cytoscopy yet? Now *that’s* fun. I also just had a gastroscopy (never say “indigestion” in front of a doctor) and will never be able to watch “Alien” again. There’s also something called a “flexible sigmoidoscopy” which terrifies me as it implies the existence of a rigid onr.

  12. Is this the sequel to Things?

    I think you have an excellent chance of winning another Hugo.

  13. Glad to hear you’re OK.

    Oh well, if you didn’t have a rare and terrifying malady, you can at least mine the experience for fiction. “Fantastic Voyage” Watts-style?

  14. Hehehehehehehehehe
    Oh. You’ve an unexpected gift Peter – that was funny.
    Let’s see, I’ve got about 8 years, 9 months or so before I get my first experience. After reading this, I think I’ll take the sedative.
    PS: I’m sorry you had to suffer, but glad you’re OK and that I was laughing like a loon.

  15. So, did you manage to catch up on The Economist? I stay about 2 issues behind.

    (Yes, that really is what stuck in my mind about this whole post. I mean, I really like The Economist but man, who has the time to read through all of that in a week with everything else that’s always going on?)

  16. and now you know what being raped by dolphins will feel like. Minus the drowning and Cetacean bukkake of course.

  17. Reading this i wonder if you had another procedure than me. My colonoscopy without drugs was virtually painless. I was watching the whole time on a monitor wile the doc was narrating what he was doing.

    I remember someone pressing on my Stomach at the end and a few time when they told me to expect some pain because they had to inflate my intestines.

    Before we started i was told, that the level of discomfort varied from person to person. Perhaps i was just lucky. But reading this i like to believe i have armor plated innards 🙂

  18. Been there, done that – without sedation – which was not an option. Too bad as I could hear the guy who was in ahead of me screaming like a little …. baby. Good luck “starting” the procedure after you’ve heard that! Anywho, it’s pretty obvious why you’re a writer ….. cause THAT was funny!

  19. Based on Thomas’s comment, sounds like the equipment used for these things varies widely. and/or the skills of the people using it, and or prepping it vary widely.

    maybe there should be a youch dot com for offices where people can rate them. a++ would scope again.

    Ps to Curtis. the other day I watched a beached whale dissection on youtube and the organ looked slibbery and the person said it was prehensile so maybe whales have better equipment. (I don’t know about dolphins though.)

  20. Ps to our host. a post about your colonoscopy but no post a new picture of your leg to show us how it has healed up?

  21. I’ve had the c-scope *and* the flex-sig, and made sure my doc knew very clearly that I was *not* to be coherent for any of either procedure. Yeah, I’m squeamish. Sue me.

  22. This is why we come here. You like cats and entertain us with gory pictures and thoughts.

    Heres to life sucking less.

  23. And what really pisses me off is, after all that, they didn’t even find anything wrong with me.

    Well, dunno Peter. I for one am glad you aren’t sharing your colon with a bunch of cellular separatists 🙂

  24. “Rectum? Fuckin’ nearly killed him!”

  25. I had to undergo the procedure last spring, and I had chosen sedation. The preparation had been annoying enough, and even more than possible pain I feared helplessness.
    There are alternatives, but neither virtual colonoscopy (needing Computed Tomography with remarkable radiation exposure — according to Wikipedia approximately 2.8 years of normal background radiation) [1], nor the new “Camera Pills” [2] offer the option of cure (at least for polyps) in the same session.
    By the way: endoscopes have to get cleaned correctly, otherwise they may serve as incubator for superbugs [3].


  26. I am amazed you let them anywhere near you after your last experience with medical stuff! Doin’ it with no medication, are you fscking insane? I had it done some years ago and I was so glad I remembered nothing and felt nothing (and that they found nothing, that was good too).

    I’m overdue for another currently, it’s that horrible Drano you have to drink, until you want to vomit it up but have to keep drinking it, that I can’t bear the thought of again. That and the constant fear you’re not going to make it to the porcelain in time, over and over again…

  27. Best colonoscopy description ever! I wonder if there are awards given for such things: Best invasive procedure, short form. As long as Connie Willis is in good health you’re sure to win!

  28. I thought that this was great prose. Irony, pathos, tragedy, flatulence, and all of the other great literary techniques. I read this and laughed my ass off. I made the mistake of thinking that my wife would enjoy this too. Ooops. Maybe it is because I can pee my name in the snow and she can’t, although with an eleven letter last name (including an i) it is getting harder every year (damn you, prostate gland). Or maybe it is because a woman’s brain is wired differently than a man’s. But she didn’t appreciate it.

    Are men and women different? Duh! But they are different in a way that neither sex can ever understand. Maybe that is what makes life interesting. Well, that and the ability to appreciate a good microbrewed beer. Again, something that few women can truly understand.

  29. I think some people are just really really uncomfortable about rectums, irrespective of gender ^_^

  30. 01, shouldn’t your comment have ended with (*)?

  31. Carl says, “that’s retarded. wha tha? that’s retarded. I think you should just say, ‘stop trolling'” 🙂

    it was the beer comment. every time we go out he makes me select the beer from the menu because awesome. I mean, because I always pick the good beers. also, if you are not in the usa, you might not realize that we have a strong microbrew culture here. I notice sometimes that people from other countries have a chauvinistic attitude towards our beerosity due to advertisements of week beer. I mean, holy crap, no shit, there we were, visiting Germany, and the beer selection in the restaurants sucked. (ok I think maybe we were bad at finding restaurants)

    wait, I am feeding the troll and serving beer 🙂 🙂

    also because butts!

  32. anony mouse – I agree with 01. Not a woman thing.

    Nestor – HAR HAR HAR. That’s a terrrible pun, so terrible I wish I’d thought of it.

  33. what is this I don’t even

    Butts are awesome. trolling is stupid.

    I am with Kevin Smith’s character’s grandmother-dick and fart jokes! (was that in Chasing Amy? whatever)

  34. What a wuss. I took my dad in for his first colonoscopy last year and it was a lot of fun. I got free endless soda and everything! Sounds like you did it wrong.

  35. Pain aside, you’re lucky… here in lovely back-country Alberta the lower level demon-doctor did not let me watch, refused my request for anything stronger than “light” sedation AND completed the procedure in all of about 3 minutes or less – in and out – corners, inflation and all, with nary a word being said, only his incessant gleeful growling and my throat-scraping screams. When it was over, he told me not to call his office, that I was “fine”. I think I passed out then.

  36. Better than Whitley Strieber; of course, he received a million dollar advance for his effort. Work in some aliens and you are golden.

  37. hahahahah is it awful of me to find this hilarious?

    on a serious note, I gave birth a few months ago, in the exact opposite scenario – I was all for drugs, did the tests, agreed everything, got my spine checked and cleared for the epidural drip – only to be told on the day that ‘the doctor on duty doesn’t do epidural’. Ummmm, awesome. I’ll just lie here convulsing then. Kay.

    turned out not as awful as I had feared, but plenty awful really. At least it went quick thanks to the tons of induction drugs they pumped into me. (those enhance the pain manifold, I have been told. But at least you’re in agony for 2 hours, as opposed to in mild discomfort for twelve.) But I have learned this lesson a long time ago in life – when they offer painkillers, say yes please and thank you.

  38. I am still looking forward to my upcoming colonoscopy, but even less than before!

    For some things, you really do want the sedation. The cataract surgery was one of those, mostly because if you decide you just can’t stand it and try to leap off of the table while they’ve got the sharp end of a metric tonne of micromanipulator somewhere inside the capsule of the lens, while most of you might actually go somewhere screaming off down the hallway, what you leave behind will be sorely missed. Better tied down and doped up for that sort of thing, I’d say.

    Then there was the time I forgot that I spill my guts to teh intarwebs on a regular basis and decided that I wasn’t going to be spilling my guts to the anaesthetist or prep nurse at my liver biopsy and requested absolute minimal sedation. The interesting thing about getting doped with enough phenothiazine to be actually indifferent to surgery is this: while you may be fully conscious and yet not give a trifling damn, you can feel every last bit of that truly interesting moment when they penetrate the wall of the diaphragm. I’d rate it right up there with capital electrocution with the difference being that at least if you’re sent to “Old Sparky” you don’t have to spend the next few hours afterwards wondering “WTF was I thinking”.

    Thanks again for a fine exposition on very good reasons to not merely “take the drugs they may offer”, but to take all off the drugs they offer, and ask if they’ve got any more they didn’t offer, as well.

  39. As much as I love the standard science fiction tropes of aliens, sentient computers, robots and spaceships, the thing I’d like to see most in the future is medical technology that has advanced beyond painfully jamming awkward tubes inside various orifices.

    You know that feeling when you read about Civil War battlefield amputations (where a slug of whiskey and a belt substituted for anesthesia) and think ‘you poor miserable bastards of the past’? That’s how the future is going to look at us, getting tubes rammed down our throats and up our ass.

  40. After reading this. i am ridiculously glad I’ve always been sedated for my buttcamera procedures.

  41. Ahhhhh….so, so sorry…I hope this gets sussed out/resolved without further probes!

    If you are taking votes, I say better living through chemistry.

    Does Cronenburg know you have been doing personally re-interpreting so many of his early works? I hate to see such dedication go unacknowledged.

  42. The call for medical science to advance to the point where insertions of this sort become unnecessary brought to mind the obvious sf example of Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage and the prospect of being able to claim you’ve had Donald Pleasence & Raquel Welsh (along with a couple of sailors) up your bum at some point in the future. I think the alimentary canal may be one part of the body not visited during the film expedition. Asimov had his mind on higher things as ever. (Yes, I’ve checked and discovered Isaac only wrote the novelization after the screenplay had already been written. Still, I will always associate him with it).

  43. Only you can transmutate a colonoscopy into a grand day out. Had me in stitches! man, I’ve missed this blog..