By Tom Cardella
Buckle up. It’s been more than three months since I told you about one of my medical adventures. The wait is over. This past weekend, my aging body once again required a trip to the Jefferson Hospital Emergency Room. Who the hell ever named these “the Golden Years?”
It was the middle of the night on Sunday. Hours earlier, Fran and I had been at a great restaurant enjoying a wonderful meal. I had the bracciole on a bed of soft polenta. What my mother-in-law called a “Depression meal.” Not anymore. The entrée cost close to forty bucks. My mother-in-law used to feed her family for a month on forty bucks. But, as Neil Diamond sings, “Used-to-be’s don’t count anymore.” Anyway, let me assure you that what happened to me can’t be blamed on the bracciole.
I woke up at 4 a.m. Sunday morning thinking I messed myself. I was bleeding like a crime victim in a class B-movie. From a place where the sun don’t shine. My whole world was colored bright red. Fran thought I was a goner. I thought she should make a quick search for my life insurance policy. Instead, she called “9-1-1.” I think the rescue squad has my number on speed dial.
My destination was the ER, where Tasha the nurse and a host of doctors and staff assistants were ready and waiting. I felt no pain. But my life blood continued to gush out of me. Tasha tended to my mess. Slipped me a tuna salad sandwich and an ice cold diet ginger ale that tasted like Dom Perignon in a good vintage year. If this was it, I thought, it wasn’t a bad way to go. A great meal the night before. Not a trace of pain. A cold soda. My devoted wife by my side.
And then the bleeding slowed and seemed to stop. Tasha covered me with a heated blanket, and I was transferred to a small private room where Holly, Maggie and a male nurse whose name I never got waited on me like angels. It was beginning to feel like I might not die after all.
I’d lost enough blood that my hemoglobin levels were a betting choice on FanDuel. For the first time in my life, I had two blood transfusions. Those of you who donate blood. Bless you. Keep donating. You’re the reason I’m still writing this column. But don’t hold that against me.
It was decided to schedule me for a colonoscopy the next morning. My last one had been performed three years ago after a similar bleeding episode. I was also a colon cancer survivor. Seven years out.
The prep hasn’t changed. The drink is the same. The same creepy off-lemon flavor. All 3.8 liters of it — one gallon, if you please. No way to get it down without a ton of ice. Especially not in the relatively short amount of time required to finish it.
I swear there was a hidden conspiracy to keep me from getting anywhere near the bottom of that toxic-tasting fluid. I swore that the liquid kept growing in the pitcher. Maybe the melting ice in the pitcher was the culprit? Nurse Jackie insisted that there was NO ice in the pitcher. The only ice she added was in the 8-ounce Styrofoam cup, she said sternly.
I love the nurses. They are underappreciated and underpaid. But I failed Nurse Jackie. I couldn’t finish the prep liquid. She warned me that without finishing the prep, the doctors told her they might not be able to do the colonoscopy the next morning. She denied that she was threatening me. I felt an eensy-teensy threat. It is my opinion that if we could develop a telescope to see the surface of Mars, we ought to be able to develop a better tasting prep. You mean to tell me that if we give the contract to COCA-COLA, they can’t come up with something that tastes better? How many more folks would get regular colonoscopies if all they had to do was drink a gallon of Coke to prep for the exam? How many lives would be saved? I rest my case.
Nurse Jackie notwithstanding, I qualified for my colonoscopy the next day. At this point, I must digress to add a note about Michelle. Michelle is my own personal Guardian Angel. She is real and totally beautiful. She is our friend who works in the colonoscopy side of the house. Three years ago, right before I got wheeled into the operating room, Michelle appeared out of nowhere to hold my hand and wish me luck. And now, three years later, under similar circumstances, Michelle appeared again. I think she waits on-call to show up as my need arises. I love my wife. I also love Michelle.
Just as it happened last time, Michelle was there when I awoke to give me the good news. NO cancer evident. Just a couple of benign-looking polyps had been removed. I’ll get confirmation in a couple of weeks.
The diagnosis is diverticulitis. My colon is like a worn-out old city street. A city street with potholes. My colon used to be cared for by Dr. Scott Goldstein. A surgeon with magic hands. But he retired. He’s likely out on a golf course when I need him around to keep my colon from shredding. Not that he doesn’t deserve retirement. He deserves a hole-in-one.
Am I being selfish? My colon needs you, Dr. Goldstein.