Friday, June 15, 2012

Love and the Colonoscopy

by Colleen Sutherland

 (This is the sixth of the Love stories.  There's one more to go before I let go of the subject.   CS) 

How do you know someone loves you?

When Sheila was young, love was the intensity of the sex act. Later on, it had to do with children, paying the mortgage, and having someone reliable to take her to parties. Saying “I love you” and presents were part of the deal. Friendship was part of it, too.

With Aaron, she was never sure. They didn't eat out very often. He preferred her cooking to anything in restaurants, he said. He seemed proud to be seen with her, holding her arm to make sure she didn't trip on sidewalks. She was tripping more these days, part of aging, but he never complained. He didn't bring her flowers, but then they had a garden. His idea of a present was a case of printer paper and some ink cartridges. He never said, “I love you.” She would have liked that.

Bill, her ex-husband, said he loved her. He told her so often. He told everyone he knew that he would die for her, that he adored her. He usually said it when he knew the woman he had just slept with would overhear him saying so, so that she could take the hint and he could get on with his life and his next affair.
That wasn't love, though maybe Bill thought so, in his perverted, twisted mind.

After rekindling their romance from the 1960's, Aaron and Sheila were living together in Portland, Oregon, growing old. Not married, of course. They had done that before and didn't want to do it again.

Aaron told their friends they were waiting until the gay and lesbian communities had the benefits of marriage in every state. It looked more and more like he was going to have to think of another excuse. When Sheila's son or grandchildren asked her when they were going to set the date, she told them when she got pregnant.

It made sense to live as they did, but as Sheila once commented to her best friend Elaine, “It's not that I want to be married, but once in a while I should be asked.” Elaine, who never had married, agreed with that. “But put it off until the very end. A hospice wedding would be perfect.”

They each had independent sources of income. Social security funds were deposited in their separate accounts each month. They knew the benefit would be lessened if they were married. Between them, they had enough to live well in the little house they shared. Was it love, or a sensible arrangement?

What's love go to do with it? Tina Turner sang, and Sheila thought that could be the theme of their arrangement.

Sheila felt even older when she got her first Medicare card than she did when she retired from teaching. She ignored her health until her yearly checkups and forgot about it afterward, or tried to. She wondered what Aaron would do if she became seriously ill. “For better or for worse” was part of the marriage ceremony, not shacking up.

Then came Obamacare and one added Medicare benefit. They were now entitled to a yearly colonoscopy.

“Ugh!” Sheila said.

“It's a good idea,” Aaron insisted. “We need to know we're healthy so we can keep going as we are as long as we can.” Was that his way of saying he would stick with her as long as she wasn't an invalid? Sheila didn't know.

Aaron researched the procedure on line. He was fascinated by all things medical. He once planned on being a doctor, but Vietnam, and a side trip to Canada to escape the draft put an end to his plans. He wound up working on a Manitoba ranch until the Carter amnesty was signed. He had his degree in computer technology, but there were always thoughts about what could have been. “Perhaps I should have signed up as a conscientious objector and worked as a medic.”

“You never would have survived,” Sheila said. “You would have been the first to go looking for casualties you could poke at. I know.” He kept track of her blood pressure, watched her diet, and knew more about her body than she did. He had subscriptions to medical journals. Sometimes, he would look up from one and she knew he was wondering if she had some strange disease.

Their physician signed them up for the colonoscopy. Aaron questioned him about the procedure but that was mostly to demonstrate his knowledge, Sheila thought. He liked showing off his knowledge.

“You go first,” he said. “I'll take care of you, then you take care of me.”

Two months before her date, he took her shopping at Walmart, buying laxatives, diet lemonade powder, chicken boullion, and Jello. Everything had to be a light color, no reds. Even greens could louse up the procedure, he noted.

He bought a case of toilet paper. “Be prepared,” he said. He had been an Eagle Scout.

“I don't even want to think about it.”

“I can do the thinking.”

“It's embarrassing.”

“Nothing to it. You open your end and out it goes.” He found the prospect interesting...and amusing. What kind of ghoul was he?

Sheila almost wished she had done this with a girlfriend, but her best friends were in the Midwest. You don't fly your friends to Oregon for a colonoscopy.

Aaron read to her from the brochures which was really not necessary, especially when it came to things that could go wrong.

“There could be bleeding.”

“What! Sounds horrible.”

“Nope, they can go in with a laser probe if that happens.”

“Didn't the Russians use lasers to mess up people's minds in the American embassy?”

“So three decades ago, you ninny. Says here there could be polyps, so you have to give them permission to remove them during the colonoscopy.”

“Then what?”

“They do a biopsy.”

“Cancer? I don't think I even want to do this thing.” Sheila reached for the phone. “I'm canceling.”

“Polyps don't usually mean cancer and besides that, colon cancer is very curable when it's caught early. Besides, you won't know a thing. You'll be drugged.”

“And you figure you'll take advantage of me while I'm out, I suppose."

“After a colonoscopy? With residual crap coming out of you? I think you're safe.”


Sheila spent the day before the colonoscopy fasting. All she could eat was the bouillon and the Jello. She had never liked either. At noon, Aaron mixed her a cocktail made of diet lemonade and Metamucil to wash down the laxative tablet. The lemonade didn't really hide the taste, but Sheila had been a third grade teacher who taught her students to follow directions. She would do the same.

She went to the bedroom to watch daytime television so she would be near the bathroom.

By late afternoon, she felt a slight cramping and went to the toilet and let it all out with a “Whoosh!” God, it smelled. One flush didn't do the job properly.

Aaron helped her back to bed, left and came back with scrub brushes and disinfectant. He cleaned after each episode until her intestines were thoroughly clean and nothing was going through but a clear liquid. He swished toilet bowl cleaner around. 

“You don't have to do that,” Sheila said.

“I want to,” he said, as he sprayed the disinfectant.

He eyed the bathroom. “Maybe it's time we think about adding another bathroom,” he said.

“That's two to clean,” Sheila pointed out.

“I wouldn't mind.”

The perfect man was one holding a scrub brush, she thought. He might not love me, but God help me, I adore him.

t turned out that the worst part of the procedure was the defecation and the anxiety. Five minutes after they arrived at the clinic, Sheila was drugged and didn't remember anything else. She went home and slept. Afterward, she woke to find Aaron scanning a photo of her colon to attach to e-mails he was sending to their friends.

Clean as a whistle, he wrote. We're ready for old age.


Sheila finally read the brochures when it was Aaron's turn. It was just as disgusting as she thought it would be but what could she do? She scrubbed and disinfected and made Jello.

A few days later, she pointed out that a colonoscopy was only good for the colon and large intestine.

“There's still about a mile of small intestines.”

“We'll worry about that when the time comes,” Aaron said. “Eat your salad.”

As she munched on her spinach, Sheila reflected that all the flowers, all the gifts, all the endearments in the world didn't prove love as much as shared colonoscopies.

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