Dan and His Colonoscopy

Writing about one’s own colon is a sensitive subject.  It’s not the scoping of the colon since the anesthesia makes it a dreamy experience.  It’s TMI. Too much information.  If the subject of the inner sanctum of my large intestine makes you a little queasy consider reading on for these two reasons: (1) I want to be reassuring about the preparation and procedure for a colonoscopy and (2) shake any complacency that colon cancer won’t happen if one just ignores it.  Colonoscopies are used to screen for colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US and the fourth most common cancer in men and women.  

But let’s begin with what, until lately, has been the worst part of the colonoscopy.   Think back, what is the worst thing you’ve ever drunk?  If you are over 50, I bet it is Go LightlyGo Lightly is that nasty, seawatery, nausea-inducing, foul-tasting drink that has been used for generations to clean out your system the day before a colonoscopy.

Fortunately since my last colonoscopy five years, alternatives have emerged.  You can take 32 pills or a Gatorade mixture.  The Gatorade cocktail it will be and I’m hoping for the best.

My family has a history of polyps (abnormal growths in the colon) so, rather than this procedure every ten years, I must have a colonoscopy every five years.  Before the scoping begins, I sign the pre-consent form that begins This exam, while generally considered quite safe, does have the potential for some unanticipated or adverse outcomes.   Bleeding…perforation (a puncture of the colon).  Further, it states that the operation is 95% successful.  I’ll take those odds.

On Sunday before my Wednesday colonoscopy, let the cleansing begin.  The first two of my three days of prep are easy.  I can have no corn, popcorn, foods with seeds or nuts, salads, or any raw veggies.  By Monday night, I have had my last meal, spaghetti with a glass of wine; I’ll not eat solid food again for 36 hours.

Tuesday gets serious as my clear liquid diet begins.  For breakfast I have a cup of black decaf coffee, and that’s it.  My choices for the day are limited to broth, Jell-O, green or yellow Popsicles, water, black coffee or tea with no milk or cream, hard candy, or more Gatorade.  There’s a reason it’s called a clear liquid diet.

At 10A I begin drinking a large glass of liquid every hour on the hour.  By noon I tire of the water so I opt for white grape juice.  Lunch is lime Jell-O chased by two Dulcolax tablets.  (If the lax in Dulcolax clued you in that this is a laxative, go to the head of the class.)  Let the carnival of the colon begin.

Did you know laxatives don’t work immediately?  In fact, it’s hours before the first subterranean rumbling occurs.  TMI?

Keeping busy and passing the time is my challenge for this day before.  I distract myself by grocery shopping at Hannaford’s.  No one knows my little secret.  I hope it doesn’t slip out (That’s gross I know).  I stop at the library for the DVD of The Sun Also Rises, the Ernest Hemingway classic.  That’s worth a good two to three hours of distraction.  Throughout the afternoon it’s just a lot of liquid and regular unhurried trips to the bathroom.

Then at five, it’s the Gatorade cocktail.  Eureka.  It doesn’t make me wretch and want to die like the Go Lightly did.  Over the next hour I drink 8 to 10 ounces every 10 to 15 minutes til the 32 ounces of liquid is gone.  Waterlogged, I endure this hydration extravaganza.  And I am happy to report, I’ve not yet sprinted to the bathroom; the laxatives still have not done their dirty work.

Throughout the evening I force down more glasses of white grape juice.  Wisely Hannah opts for the upstairs guest bedroom since there is no reason that she doesn’t get some sleep tonight.  I hope to catch 30 minutes here, 60 minutes there.  The laxatives will not be denied, but at 9P I still have no rumbles and down two more Dulcolax tablets.  Mount Vesuvius of the posterior will erupt soon enough.  Indelicate phrasing?

At 2A I awake to my phone alarm knowing that my next hour is forcing down 32 more ounces of Gatorade with Miralax.  The Gatorade taste is tolerable, I’m just so waterlogged.  I get on the computer, play some Scrabble and fill most of my time on the Huffington Post comedy link watching Jimmy Fallon and Jon Stewart.  And all of sudden it’s 3A and I head back to bed.   The gastrointestinal action has begun.  I zip purposefully to the bathroom every twenty to thirty minutes or less.  It’s the running of the bowels.

Surprised when I awake at 540A just before my 6A alarm, I’m ready to go.  (Puns come easy under the circumstances.)  It’s a warm and cleansing shower that has me clean as a whistle, ready for surgery at York Hospital.

YH sign

YH Surgery Center

Once in the treatment room, I am asked to go into the bathroom to remove my clothes and don the fine YH bathrobe.

Dan ready for colonoscopy

The nurse places a warm full length towel over me as she then hooks up the IV drip of Demerol (anesthesia) and wraps the blood pressure cuff.  My doctor will soon insert a lubricated six foot long, flexible, lighted tube with a video camera into my rectum and slowly guide it through my large intestines.  The scope will transmit an image of the inside of the colon (in previous years I have been able to watch the video monitor as the tube explores my colon).  If anything abnormal is seen, like a polyp or inflamed tissue, my doc will remove it using tiny instruments passed through the scope.


colon 2

When the good doctor comes in, he smiles and has me lean on my left side.  He says the anesthesia works very quickly. I turn to watch the nurse push the anesthesia into the IV port.  And that’s the last thing I remember.

I awake to the voice that the procedure is complete.  The doc says he removed one polyp, but he doesn’t seem concerned.  I figure nipping the polyp is a good thing.  I do hear that the polyp will be biopsied (examination of the tissue).  Under sedation, I am in a happy place and won’t borrow trouble by worrying about the biopsy.  (It turns out the polyp was benign, but precancerous.  It’s the kind of polyp that could potentially develop into being cancerous.  Three cheers for my doctor and nurses doing their jobs.  My colonoscopy did just what it was supposed to do.  As I have been in the past, I will have another colonoscopy in five years.)

A little wobbly after the procedure, I have the nurse to guide me to a waiting Hannah for the drive home.  Coffee and homemade bread are my first orders of business.  Later a three hour nap makes all things right with the world.

Colonoscopy Tips

  1. There are alternatives to the nasty Go Lightly laxative of the past.  Pills or Gatorade.
  2. Get your colonoscopy if you are overdue.  Thanks to Obamacare, preventive procedures are incorporated into health plans and have no charge.
  3. Get an early morning appointment.  It gives you 36 hours for cleaning out the plumbing.  You then have the day to relax and snooze.
  4. Do not be alarmed if the floodgates don’t open after taking the laxatives.  It was thirteen hours later for me.  The deluge will come.
  5. Be a nag.  Don’t be afraid to ask the question “Have you had a colonoscopy?” to any man or woman over 50 you know.  Fear immobilizes us all and makes us cowards.
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Dan and Hannah Know You Don’t Have to Make Sense with Good Friends

It’s true.  There’s a trust among good friends that goes beyond the rational, the need to explain.  There’s a faith and a belief that your instincts are worthy of their trust.  No questions, no “have you considered?”  Just faith. But let me back track a little.

Hannah is a letter writer extraordinaire.  A morning for her is not complete without a birthday note, postcard, or some writing to connect with family or friends (and we all know that friends are family you choose).  Over the forty years of our marriage, she keeps friendships alive when distances keep us, well, at a distance.  One such couple is Sue and Rick, whose kids Hannah taught to swim in her hometown of Fairport, New York one hundred years ago.

After a mid-March weekend grandparenting Owen in Arlington, VA, we drive 135 miles southeast to the Northern Neck.

Northern Neck map

I had heard about the Northern Neck from my college roommate, Big Steve; but it was all kind of foggy where the it actually was.  Situated between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers off the Chesapeake Bay in eastern Virginia, the Northern Neck was home to John Smith in the early 17th century.  It’s the birthplace of Presidents George Washington, James Madison, and James Monroe as well Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Lock stock and barrel, Sue and Rick, born-Yankees, have retired to a home on a creek in a wildlife setting in the rural south.  Within fifteen minutes of us all being together, we get the feeling that there is no place else they would rather be than with us.  They’ve no distractions, no need to check their smart phones.

As it turns out, Big Steve’s Mom, who is affectionately known as Gram to one and all, still lives in the area.  Learning that she lives thirty-five minutes away, I decide that I just want to see her place and see if she is in.  Now here’s where the faith and trust of Sue and Rick kick in.  You see, I just don’t want to call ahead to see if she is home; even so, they immediately are on board and volunteer to drive us to Gram’s.

I think, If we call, she may feel she has to “clean up” her place or prepare a snack or worry about our arrival in some way or we would be expected to stay a longer time to make the trip “worthwhile.”  I know it could be an hour plus wild goose chase, but I still just don’t want to call.  Just a gut feeling for me.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson says, Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.  And no one can forget what Kim Basinger believes, I feel there are two people inside of me – me and my intuition.  If I go against her, she’ll screw me every time, and if I follow her, we get along quite nicely.

I just want to do the Seinfeld “pop in.”  If we call, it becomes a big deal.  If we pop in, it’s spontaneous and brief.

Up for an adventure, Sue and Rick take us on winding back roads of Lancaster County where we see fields of green, southern pine forests, and churches galore, many times Baptist, including the evocatively named Queen Esther Baptist Church.

Pulling down the driveway at Gram’s, we see no car in the driveway.  There is a garage where the car could be, but I’m not sure that Gram drives anyway.  While the others sit in the car, I get out and knock on the front door, and wait.  Nothing.  From the front steps, I then call her on my cell phone in case she’s busy within and doesn’t hear my knock.  I only get the answering machine and leave a message.

Dan and Hannah

Dan and Hannah

It’s a delightful spring day in the Northern Neck, an area that gets very little snow; certainly by Maine standards.  Hoping Gram will just show up in the next few minutes, we walk her property, which includes a dock on this tidal river to the Chesapeake Bay. But no Gram.

Han with Sue and Rick

Han with Sue and Rick

We knock on the doors of neighbors to the right and left, but they, like Gram, are not home.  We check out the azaleas, hollies, and daffodils – hoping our dawdling will give her just enough time to come home.  But still no Gram.

D and H at Johnson's

Sue and Rick join me in having no regrets for having driven out and Gram not being there.  We all took a shot and it didn’t come through as we had hoped.  By definition adventure has uncertainty.  They get that finding Gram really wasn’t the goal; oh, it would have been very nice.  The goal was time together letting our relationship grow a little bit more.

Dear Readers, I wish you all marriages like Sue and Rick’s.  Married some fifty years, they still show their affection and love for each other.  It’s the look you see when the other is talking.  They pay attention and still care what each other has to say.  They can laugh at their own foibles without being defensive (one is a pokey driver, the other likes to come in under what the GPS says is the arrival time).

The pride of Fairport, NY

The pride of Fairport, NY

They have made a community in their new home of fourteen years by focusing on relationships and welcoming people into their lives.  They were not worried about chaos and disrupting their lives when for eight years they welcomed foreign exchange students into their home when their kids were of school age.

Sue and Rick have found a place on the water that is a hurricane hole (i.e., protected from the big storms).  They, like us all, have storms in their lives.  But they weather both the figurative and literal storms by focusing on relationships; being in the now with their family and friends.  In one short day, we feel like family.  Sue is a fabulous cook and Rick has problem solved to make their home most inviting.   We slept wonderfully in a comfortable bed. But it’s their genuine interest in us and sharing of themselves that make ours a relationship that will grow.

How do I know?  I just have a gut instinct.

Dan and Hannah’s Gratitudes

As retired (Dan) and semi-retired (Hannah), we like to travel: Out West and Key West, a few trips to Canada (New Brunswick and PEI), and, of late, as much as we can to Virginia.   Recently our daughter Molly asked us to grandparent Owen during the second weekend in March while she is at a workshop and Tip is working.  Virginia is a mere 80 minutes away on Jet Blue (travelling off hours we get $49 and $59 flights from Boston to Reagan Airport ten minutes from their apartment) or drive 550 miles in nine hours or so by car. 

Escaping the northeast on a Thursday (the day before 20+ inches of March snow fell on that Friday on the roads in Massachusetts and Connecticut, our route from Maine to Virginia), we drive south for a weekend with our nearly eight month old grandson Owen.

Taking a page from my daily morning rituals (stretching and lifting small weights, writing a list of gratitudes, reading my page of affirmations, praying, and meditating), I list my gratitudes from our recent weekend with Owen Daniel Rawding.

He’s healthy.

Owen on his Omi's lap

Owen on his Omi’s lap

His parents love him and each other very much.

Molly and Tip

Molly and Tip

He’s happy and knows how to have fun.

Bedtime

Bedtime

Owen in the tub

He has Aunt Amelia in his life.

Owen and Amelia

Owen and Amelia

He loves peas.

Owen loves peas

Tip feeding Owen

He splashes and wide smiles when bathing.

Owen with rubber ducky

He crawls.

Owen on the floor

We read to Owen each night.

My Grandma is Wonderful

My Grandpa is Amazing

He stands up.

Standing Owen 3.6.13

We can do this all again whenever we want.

Owen in circular chair

Owen with his Daddy

Owen with his Daddy

Dan Channels His Own Inner Richard Blanco

After our recent attendance at the Richard Blanco poetry reading at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland, I got thinking about the narrative poetry I wrote some twenty years ago.  During our daughter Robyn’s treatment for leukemia, I kept a daily journal about our family life.  A couple of years later when I decided to write about that time, I found I couldn’t remember what we did each and every day.  What I had in my journal were moments and narrative poetry allowed me to capture those moments.

I have three poems to share with you.  The first one is before we even knew that something big was going on.  Robyn is four years old.

Lately

sometimes between eleven and twelve

Robyn’s fierce sobbing startles me

Mommy, mommy.

By the second Mommy

Hannah usually rolls left

climbs the stairs

lifts a disconsolate Robyn to her lap.

Though tonight

Hannah doesn’t stir,

so I roll right

playing the martyr,

plod up to the girls’ room

thinking

What the hell is going on?

Aren’t kids supposed to be sleeping

through the night

by the time they’re four?

At her bedside

my whisper is loud and exasperated

Robyn, sweetie

What’s wrong?

Sobbing and bobbing her head

I pull her to me

she forms to my body

I kiss her forehead

as her face nestles into my chest,

my eyes close in the night-lighted darkness.

I chant more than sing

Sleep Robyn sleep.

Then with my hand cradling her neck

I settle her head on two pillows

kiss her cheek

Sweet Dreams, Robyn

Is one night’s sleep

too much to ask?

We had no idea how wrong things were for Robyn that fall.  The title of my book, Sweet Dreams, Robyn, came from this poem.

The next poem is from a time when Robyn was in treatment (undergoing chemotherapy, radiation was complete).  Hannah and I would alternate times staying at Maine Medical Center with Robyn when her fever spiked and she needed to be hospitalized.  Molly is six and Will is two.

After two days

of playing mom and dad

to Molly and Will,

heating up the lasagna Hannah left in the freezer

reading the nighttime stories

getting them dressed fed and off

to school and to the sitter

by seven

I’m ready for a break

ready to exchange roles.

As I turn off I-295

to Lisa’s Pizza

where Han and I will share

the three ninety-nine pizza and fries special

I think of Koufie

this morning at school.

 

How do you do it?

I couldn’t do it

if it was me.

 

I just do

 

The strength

was always there,

but until I needed it

I just didn’t know I had it.

Anyway

I had no choice.

Robyn needed me.

The third poem takes us back home and life with two very active kids during the two years of Robyn’s chemotherapy.

Mom Mom Mom

blasts down from the skylight room

through the kitchen to our bedroom

where Hannah wrestles

with Will

on our king-size bed

trying to pull up the pants

on this two and half year old

wild sack of potatoes.

Molly if you need to talk to me

please come down

I’m dressing Will.

 

Once free of Hannah’s grasp

Will tears out

to the living room.

Mom, can you cut me an apple

and while you’re at it

can I have some yogurt with granola?

 

Molly, we are having dinner soon

you can have some carrot sticks

with your apple if you want.

 

Mom

Will has my sweater

And he won’t give it back.

Instantly

Will throws it at Molly

and runs to his room.

Thank goodness

for these two kids.

It’d be too much

if Robyn were an only child.

And I had the time to dwell

on all that is happening to her

And all that could.

Today, at 29, Will works in the athletic department at Merrimack College (MA); at 31, Robyn is a home health care aide and artisan; at 33, Molly is a public school teacher, married to Tip, and mother to preschool Owen Daniel.

Dan and Hannah Spend an Evening with Richard Blanco, President Obama’s Inaugural Poet

When our sister-in-law Becky asked us if we wanted to go to a poetry reading, I thought, Oh no.  Poetry reading?  What could be worse?  How do I back out of this gracefully?  Throughout high school, poetry was a mystery, a code I could never crack.  Much like Shakespeare.  Teachers spoke of symbolism that was as opaque as a stone wall to me.  For example, what do clouds mean in a poem?  What does a ship at sea mean?  I’m told a mirror can denote the sun but when it is broken, it can represent an unhappy union or a separation; violets represent shyness; ravens signify death; fruit is associated with sensuality.  Really?  Good grief.  Where’s the playbook?

At Arizona State I took a course in Writing Poetry.  Mid-semester, the quote teacher of the course quoted for me that my poetry was doggerel (i.e., inane, syrupy crap).  That may be so, but that’s hardly the way to motivate a rookie.  What a surprise; I stopped going to class and ended up with a D for the course.  Thank heavens I reached out to Lynn Nelson, professor and friend, who encouraged me and dismissed such feedback; in time, no thanks to that poetry prof, I wrote a book of poetry.  That never would have happened without Lynn.  That’s why when I teach writing I follow these words, Children have more need of models than critiques. – Joseph Joubert.

In high school, Hannah was asked what a poem meant.  She explained, and then the teacher said, “No, it didn’t.”  What!  Yes, that it is what it meant to me.  Perhaps, the problem was not poetry but the messenger?

You can now see the basis of my hesitancy, reluctance, and despair at dealing with poetry, much less enduring a poetry reading.  Then Becky mentioned it was Richard Blanco.  Whoa.  The poet from Maine who read One Today at Barack Obama’s Second Inauguration.  A real celebrity.

Richard Blanco with President Barack Obama

Richard Blanco with President Barack Obama

There is no bigger stage for a poet than the Inauguration.  What I liked about that poem is that I understood it.  Who knew I could make sense of poetry?  Certainly none of my high school English teachers.  He told his story, our story of being an American that was accessible and real to me.

Within four hours of going on sale, all 1800 tickets for the poetry reading were gone.  This wasn’t going to be just any poetry reading.  We were going to see a rock star.  Now a month since his national splashdown at the Inauguration, Richard Blanco is huge.  Hannah and I were taken with him after seeing a PBS interview (five minutes) days before the inauguration.  Gracious and humble, he seemed approachable and not full of himself as celebrities can be.

Richard Blanco is a gay man of Hispanic origins (from a family of Cuban exiles) who grew up in Miami; he now lives in Bethel, Maine.  Bethel is a country mouse small town Maine of 2600 near the Canadian border.  Among all the possible poets that could have been chosen for this honor, why was he selected?  At the question and answer session after the poetry reading, he said that he had no idea.  He joked that he had hoped that the president and Michelle were reading one of his books of poetry in bed together and said, We should have this guy at the Inauguration.  Certainly, he is one significant demographic of the future (gay and immigrant [Hispanic]) that will have a meaningful role in determining the direction of our country.

Richard Blanco at Merrill Auditorium, Portland, Maine

Richard Blanco at Merrill Auditorium, Portland, Maine

Tonight Blanco tells us that his poems address what it means to be an American.   In his reading, he mixes his excellent English with melodic Spanish words.  Bodega (beau-day-ga). Just say that word.  It flows off my tongue.  His rich voice makes the evening a symphony.  And as I have learned previously, poetry is meant to be read aloud.

Becky and Hannah at Richard Blanco's Poetry Reading

Becky and Hannah at Richard Blanco’s Poetry Reading

His narrative poetry flows and I let my mind make my connections as he speaks.  In one poem, he describes taking his partner Mark to Marco Island (FL) where his family once vacationed at the Gulf Motel.  Sadly, the Gulf Motel no longer exists; high rise condominiums now block the ocean view for the common folk.  What happens to our past when the monuments to it are gone?

In a playful piece about his partner Mark always being late, Blanco says there are two kinds of people: those who worry about others who are late and those who don’t call.  Adeptly, Blanco says twenty minutes after Mark is due, he has him in an ambulance.  Thirty minutes after that, he is thinking of the call he’ll have to make to Mark’s parents.  In time, he is composing Mark’s eulogy.  Then Mark appears and Blanco is so angry.  Blanco ends the poem with I die each time I kill you.

Another poem, Queer Theory, According to My Grandmother, explores his homophobic grandmother.  In the poem he describes how his grandmother warned him as a young boy: For God’s sake, never pee sitting down … /I’ve seen you” and “Don’t stare at The Six-Million-Dollar Man. / I’ve seen you.” and “Never dance alone in your room. During the q and a after, Blanco said there are people in our lives who we push against; that resistance allows us to discover, learn, and grow.

He concludes the night with a reading of his inauguration poem, “One Today.”  It’s a poem about the lives of Americans, how everyone is a vital part of that community, about coming home, and the universal theme of hope. As a teacher, I thought the best thing I could do for my students was give them hope: hope they could learn and succeed.

He concludes in this poem with these lines,

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.

Richard Blanco at Inauguration

It was spectacular evening. Well-spoken, Richard Blanco provides an important backstory for each of his poems as he transitions from one to another.  He is so much more than a celebrity, he’s an inspiration.

PS  Here is the link from Tuesday night’s (February 26, 2013) poetry reading with text and his reading of One Today.