Monday, October 31, 2005

A first date

Here's a tale originally posted way back in March of 2002 to a Yahoo Group frequented by some friends. For a while, I've been contemplating pulling this one out of the archives and posting it. Not on your life, I've always decided. That said, a recent post by Bad News Hughes led me to share my own story of indignity, because when shit happens or, more specifically, when shit happens with alarming symptoms, it's good to know you're not alone. Here now, for your reading displeasure, is the story of my first digital rectal exam.

P.S. As it turned out, we wouldn't be seeing each other around.

* * *

Are you sure you want to read this?


Okay, moving right along...

Today, I had my first appointment with my new family doctor. I haven't been to the doctor for a really long time, and my old family physician lives back east, is about a hundred years old, and won't let anybody in my family wear a hat. So, I figured it was time to get a doctor right here in Toronto, especially since my dad tells me that it's time to start getting checked for colorectal cancer, as does the blood in my stool.

Colorectal cancer is the third most deadly kind of cancer, mostly because it's the first most embarrassing kind of cancer, and manly men like me usually won't go to the doctor about it until blood starts shooting out of their bottoms like a firehose. Determined not to become either a statistic or an ersatz firefighter, I went down to the Family Practice Unit at Mount Sinai to get myself a doctor, and was given an appointment with Dr. C. K——, a resident due to start her own practice in July.

When I arrived for my appointment today, my worst fears were realized: Dr. Caroline K—— is not only young, but also female and attractive. This is not such a bad thing if you're just there to get a plantar's wart looked at (which I was also there to do), but is a little discomfitting if you're there to get your nether regions not only looked at, but poked and prodded. I'd have preferred somebody with a greater resemblance to Ernest Borgnine, only with the long, tapered fingers of a hand model.

But Marty was nowhere to be found, and I was left with Dr. K——. The appointment was oddly similar to an awkward first date; looking back on it, it was so even from the time I showered and got dressed in the morning. I didn't think I'd necessarily wind up getting naked at any point — it being just a first encounter — but I made sure to put on a nice new pair of boxers just in case.

I sat down across from Dr. K—— — Caroline — and we started with an interview, which had all the usual dating-type conversation. "So, what do you do?" she asked. "Tell me about your family history," she said. "Do you smoke? Drink? Exercise? Are you single?" I was comfortable. It seemed to be going well. I was being witty. We were hitting it off.

"How much blood was in your stool?" she asked.

"Um . . . well, any seems like a lot to me," I replied, thrown by the turn in subject matter.

"A dash? A teaspoonful?" she suggested.

What is this — cooking? I wondered. Nonetheless, I gave my best estimate — clarifying that it was all gone now — and we pressed on. She showed me a small card.

"Because you're young, it sounds like it's more likely to be hemmorhoids than cancer. But I can give you a couple of these cards which will show any microscopic traces of blood. You can do this at home. The best way is to put some Saran Wrap over your toilet, and —"

"Wait, wait. Isn't that just a practical joke?"

Dr. K—— made a little grimace. "I know. It's a little gross. But if you can think of a better way, I'd like to hear it."

She then left the room for a little while. When she came back, she said, "I just talked to my supervisor and it's not necessary for you to do the Saran Wrap thing."

"Whew," I said.

"Because," she continued, "we're just going to have to eventually bring you in for a colonoscopy anyway."

"Jesus fuck!" I said.

There had to be a better way. And in fact, Dr. K—— soon thought of one. I have a hunch she knew all along, but she just had to sweet-talk me into it. She suggested that we could do a physical right now, if I was comfortable. "I usually like to give people the option to come back another time, rather than do it at the first appointment," she said, "but. . . ."

"No, no," I replied. "I'm already here. It makes sense." But inside I was thinking, don't I at least get dinner first? What kind of first date is this?

She handed me a gown, as if to say, "Here's something you can wear. Why not lie down? Get comfortable." By the time she came back into the room, I'd stripped down and changed, but still hadn't managed to tie up the strings in the back. I gave up. "What's the point?" I said. "It's not like I'm going to be able to keep you from seeing my butt."

So I laid down, and she began pressing on my stomach. "How does that feel?" she asked. "Any discomfort?" No, I suppose it felt all right to have an attractive young woman massaging my thorax.

"Now, I'm going to ask you to turn on your side and put your knees up to your chest."

"So we're really going to do this?" I asked.

"If it's all right," she said. I complied, turning toward the wall as I heard the snap of latex gloves being donned. It was reassuring to know she played safe. I soon felt some poking and prodding. "How does that feel?" she asked.

What to say? "It doesn't hurt," I said.

"Okay, she said. "Now I'm just going to put on some lubrication. Take a deep breath." I gulped. "It's just going to feel a little bit like you have to go to the bathroom," she reassured me. How many times had I used the same line?

A little in and out, and it was all over. "Was that it? You're done already?" I asked. I turned to face her.

To look in the eyes of someone you've just met who has just stuck her finger into your rectum is a little awkward, to say the least. As Dr. K—— and I locked eyes, I think we both knew our relationship was forever altered. There wasn't much left to say.

Medically speaking, there was good news and bad news. The good: no apparent sign of cancer. The bad: no apparent signs of hemmorhoids. It was all good news really, it just didn't explain what had brought me there in the first place. Dr. K—— explained that she would recommend me to a specialist, as she moved toward the door.

"Will you call me?" I asked.

"One of the secretaries from out front will call you, " she said. "I'll just let you get dressed, and we'll be seeing you around." She left the room and I knew she wouldn't be coming back. I felt like I'd at least deserved a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

I took the walk of shame through the waiting room, enduring the eyes of the receptionists and the other patients, took the elevator down, and emerged blinking into the morning sunlight.

It had been like a one-night stand; a little light conversation, then the seduction and the act itself, followed by the awkwardness. Would I be seeing Caroline again? I didn't know.

In the meantime, I felt a little cheapened, a little used. I needed to shake off the experience and go shopping for compact discs. And so I did.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you're blotting out her name on purpose you might want to get that little rascal in the 4th paragraph.

11/01/2005 01:00:00 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

So I have to ask... what was with the bleeding turd in the end?

11/01/2005 01:18:00 AM  
Blogger Peter Lynn said...

Good eyes, Anonymous. That's what I get for not using Find and Replace.

Jim: It turned out I'd been simply drinking too much blood. It was passing right through me.

I actually have absolutely no idea. I'm probably still dying right now, although the symptom hasn't reoccurred lately.

11/01/2005 01:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, that sounds a lot like a test a guy could do himself.

11/01/2005 03:36:00 AM  

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