I’m about halfway through dinner at my sister-in-law’s when I realize that dinner hasn’t made it to my stomach. There’s a thick pressure halfway down my chest, where the chicken fajitas evidently took a detour on the way to Tummy Town. I’ve never had an alien burst forth from my body, but this is what I imagine it would feel like just before the slimy fanged creature tears open its cocoon and ruins the dinner party. As it is, my ensuing half hour of vurping does a pretty good job of ruining the dinner party.
This incident, the Case of the Halfway Fajitas, puts me on course for an endoscopy, where they run a camera down your gullet and have a little look-see. I’m unhappy about this on a number of levels—it’s expensive and inconvenient, and the best possible outcome is that there’s nothing really wrong and the whole exercise was pointless. Worst case, they find an alien parasite in my esophagus.
I deal with my impending medical appointment as I do with most unpleasantness, which is to say I completely ignore it. Thus it’s to my great surprise and displeasure when I finally read the paperwork—the night before the appointment—and discover that I won’t be able to take so much as a sip of water the day of the procedure. A little endoscopy advice from me to you: Schedule those for the morning, not 3 pm. By noon, I’m repeatedly approaching the faucet to fill a glass before remembering that I can’t. I would be the shipwreck survivor who’s drinking his own pee on day one.
At least the appointment is at a clinic rather than a hospital. Hospitals are gross and depressing and smell weird, but this clinic is just like checking into a Holiday Inn Express. There’s a front desk, then you go to your room, and then you change into an assless gown. So that last part is more like a Courtyard Marriott.
Medical professionals, please tell me: Why the gown? If I’m getting a camera run down my throat, why must I wear a rumpled housedress that’s distinctly drafty around the buttock region? I feel like it’s just to take you down a notch, to remind you that, for the next couple of hours, you’re a science experiment. Here’s your numbered bracelet; here’s your morgue couture. Now get on the table, you ol’ meat bucket.
Maybe I’m being dramatic, but this is all new to me. I’ve never had an IV, never had anesthesia, never had oxygen tubes jammed in my nostrils. Those streaks are all about to end.
It’s a TV cliche, but once I’m hooked to the IV and the oxygen, I can think of nothing but tearing them out and heading for the nearest door, the nurses pursuing me saying, “Sir! SIR!” But I am an obedient patient, so instead I wait to be wheeled into a different room, passing fellow decrepits in the hallway heading to and fro on our mobile beds. An old lady and I nod at each other, as if to say, “What are you in for?” while my bed-pusher waits for her bed-pusher to clear the intersection. I really wish I’d taken more time chewing that chicken fajita.
In the next room I meet the doctors. The anesthesiologist introduces himself as Rocky, and I make a joke about how he’ll sedate me by just punching me in the face. Or maybe that comment never escapes my internal monologue—I’m feeling kind of woozy. The GI doc comes in and explains what she’ll be up to, which makes me really glad that Rocky’s going first. He’s going to inject me with propofol, after which I won’t care if there’s a camera down my insides. Hopefully he’s better at judging the dosage than Dr. Conrad Murray was with Michael Jackson. I’m 90 percent sure I keep that comment to myself.
At the appointed moment, Rocky informs me I’m about to feel the anesthesia hitting, and boy is he right. Ironically, anesthesia is quite painful in the moments before it knocks you out. It’s a searing pressure going into my hand, like the vein is stretching beyond capacity, and it’s all I can do to maintain my remaining shred of dignity by not screaming “Ouchieouchouch!” as I go under. Instead, I keep it to a manly “Hrrrggghhh” before darkness descends. People who say that anesthesia is like taking a nap must take some pretty brutal naps.
When I wake up, the news is good. Which is to say, I likely have a mysterious allergy that impedes swallowing, and the best solution is to eat somewhat slower than a starving hyena. As my buddy Millman says, it’s when you reach your 30s that you start to have things wrong with you that they don’t bother fixing. So then, time to enjoy the simple pleasure of a drink of water. And a pair of pants.