8.29.2008

CHAPTER 24

What happened next was sort of a whirlwind.

The bone marrow test was unceremoniously called to a halt. The oncologist disappeared into the hallway. Hirschberg and Acosta showed up. Nurses came in and out of the room. A salt-and-pepper-haired cardiologist named Dr. Horwitz came in to examine me. He listened to my chest, took my blood pressure and my pulse. He examined my ankles. Then he ordered a test called an echocardiogram, to be done immediately.

"It's an ultrasound of the heart," he explained. "It will show us exactly what's going on inside."

"Why does he need that?" my mother asked. "What are you looking for?"

"There appears to be some sort of problem with one or more of the heart valves," the cardiologist said. "That could be indicative of a number of things, but we won't know any more until we do the echo."

A few minutes later, I was lying on an examining table in a small, cold, darkened room a few floors below mine. A young male technician in a white lab coat was sitting on a chair beside me. Next to him was a rolling cart with what looked like a souped-up computer keyboard, with buttons and keys and toggle switches and a small red joystick. Above the keyboard were two small monitors and above those were one large white monitor. All of the screens were black.

"This stuff might be a little cold," the technician said, as he rubbed some clear gel on my chest.

The tech picked up what looked like white salt shaker, which was connected by a thick wire to the keyboard. He placed the salt shaker on the center of my chest and pushed down hard with his left hand, hard enough that it hurt a bit. He began to move the salt shaker around with his left hand, while he used his right hand to fiddle with the buttons and the toggle switches.

I heard a sound coming from the monitor, like the audio effect they used to use in war movies that took place on submarines. The sound was muffled, as if it was coming from under water.

"That's your heart beat," the technician said, reading my mind.

I had a general sense of how heart beats were supposed to sound, and this wasn't anything like it. It wasn't the syncopated ka-thunk, ka-thunk that I had always heard on TV shows or in the movies. The beats were choppy, disjointed, without rhythm. It would go ka-thunk, then pause for what seemed like a very long time, then go ka-thunk-THUNK, or even ka-thunk-THUNK-THUNK.

It didn't sound like a heart beat. It sounded like a disco remix of a heart beat. And I finally began to understand that fluttery feeling I had been feeling in my chest.

"Is that the sound it's supposed to be making?" I asked.

My comment was met with silence from the technician, who was focused on switching the pictures on the monitor and pressing buttons on the keyboard. He seemed busy and I didn't want to distract him from his work.

"You see this?" he said to me, as I turned to look. "No, don't move your body. Just look up."

I looked up at the fuzzy, black and white image on the monitor. It looked like the pictures I had seen of Jesus's face on the Shroud of Turin. It was hard to make out, but I could see something was happening on the screen. I could see movement, pulsating.

"That's your heart beating," the techcian said.

"Well, is it beating properly?" I asked. "Because it sure doesn't sound like it is."

"That's for your doctor to say," he replied.

The test ended and the technician used a scratchy paper towel to wipe the gel off my chest. It left my chest hair sticky and half-matted/half-spiky.

"Dr. Horwitz will take a look and let you know what he sees," the tech said. "Best of luck to you."

What did that mean - best of luck to you? You don't say best of luck to you to someone who doesn't really need luck. You say it to someone who does. Why did I need luck? Why did I need the best of luck?

As I sat there in my wheelchair waiting for the orderly to bring me back to my room, I wondered what was coming next. After almost a week in the hospital there was all of a sudden this sense of urgency. Everything was happening quickly, everyone was talking quickly. But nobody was saying anything. It was all very vague. And frustrating.

And how the fuck did all of this start with a stethoscope?

I had been treated like an experimental lab monkey for six days, and it never occurred to someone to listen to my heart beat? What the fuck? What's the first thing that every little kid does when he plays doctor? I don't mean plays doctor like in a sexy way, I mean plays doctor like, when you get the Playskool My First Doctor play set for Christmas.

What's the first thing you do when you open that play set? You pull out the stethoscope and you pretend to listen to your brother or sister's heart. You don't need to go to med school to know that. That's Doctoring 101.

I thought back to all the doctors, specialists, technicians, nurses, phlebotomists -- every medical professional who had a hand on me over the last month and a half. I tried to remember if any of them had bothered to listen to my heart.

Dr. Acosta did. I remember that, because I loved the way he said "breeze in, breeze out" in his Filipino accent whenever he wore the stethoscope. But since then? I couldn't say. Maybe if they had spent less time inside my dick and my asshole and more time listening to a fucking stethoscope I wouldn't be sitting here, in a wheelchair, wrapped in a blanket, in the basement of South Nassau Hospital.

But there was no time for second guessing, at least not now. My parents had all sorts of questions when I got back to the room.

"What's happening? " my mother asked.

"I don't know," I said. "They did the echocardiogram, which is sort of like a sonogram, but with sound. I heard my heart beating and it sounds weird. It sounds almost like..."

I was interrupted by the cardiologist, who walked in with Hirschberg

"Well we took a look at the echocardiogram," Dr. Horwitz said. "There is substantial damage to the aortic and mitral valves of Bill's heart. Is there a family history of mitral valve pro-lapse?"

"I don't know my family history," I said. "I'm adopted."

"Have you had any oral surgery recently?" he asked.

"The wisdom teeth," my mother blurted out. "He had his wisdom teeth taken out a few months ago? Is that how this all happened?"

"Do you remember when the surgery was?" he asked.

"It was early June. June 4th, I think," my father answered. "I know because I just paid the credit card bill."

"Did you take antibiotics after the surgery?" Horwitz asked me.

"I did, but not all of them," I confessed. "I stopped taking them before I ran out of pills."

"I understand that blood cultures are due back for Bill later this afternoon," he said. "I'd like to take a look at those. In the meantime, I'd like to send Bill back downstairs for a Doppler ultrasound. That will give us a color image, and allow us to look specifically at the blood flow in and out of the heart."

"Bill?" I thought to myself. "Who is this Bill he keeps referring to?"

I went back downstairs for the test, which seemed exactly the same as the last one, only this time the technician wasn't a technician, he was a doctor -- Dr. Kremer. I peeked at the pictures on the screen while Dr. Kremer moved the salt shaker across my chest.

The screen looked like something you would see on the Weather Channel, when they're tracking a tropical storm. Patches of blue and orange and red moved across the screen like storm clouds. I asked the doctor what he was seeing, but he wouldn't spill the beans. Not only do loose lips sink ships, they also, apparently, cause malpractice suits.

Back in my room, my parents seemed antsy -- my mother, in particular.

"I really hope Horwitz comes back today," she said.

"You missed it," my father said to me. "But when the oncologist finished examining you, he said to me, 'That boy doesn't have cancer. He has heart trouble.' And then he asked me where your doctors were. I told him I didn't know. Then he paged Hirschberg and Acosta and they showed up and the oncologist starting ripping into them."

Apparently I wasn't the only one who noticed that some people had fucked up.

Later on Dr. Horwitz returned, along with two other doctors. One, Dr. Covay, was his much younger partner. The other, Dr. Turner, was introduced as an "infectious disease specialist."

"We've been reviewing Bill's echo and the results of the blood cultures that were taken yesterday," Horwitz said. "And we think he has something called endocarditis. It's a bacterial infection in the blood stream that attacks the heart valves."

"What do we do to treat it?" my mother asked.

"The first thing we do is move Bill to the Cardiac Care Unit, where we can monitor his heart activity on a constant basis," Horowitz said. "And then we will put him on an intensive course of I.V. antibiotics. That's why Dr. Turner is here."

"The organism of the infection is very persistent," Turner said. "And it lodges itself on the valves of the heart, particularly if there is any sort of imperfection in the valves. Our goal is to eradicate both the bacteria in the blood stream and the vegetation that is destroying his valves."

"And how long does that take?" I asked.

"Typically we recommend 3-5 weeks of I.V. antibiotics before surgery," Turner said.

"Surgery?" my mother asked. "What type of surgery."

"Bill's aortic and mitral valves are highly compromised," Horwitz said. "There is a very good chance that they will need to be replaced, but we don't want to do anything until all of the bacteria is eradicated."

"How do you replace heart valves?" I asked.

"With open heart surgery," Horwitz answered. "We'll continue to monitor the condition of the valves but, once we have killed the infection, it's very likely that you will need to have open heart surgery."

What's better? Open heart surgery or cancer? What's better? Not knowing what's killing you, or knowing what's killing you? I will consider those to be rhetorical questions.

My father packed up my clothes and my mother collected the flowers my Aunt Margaret had brought, along with the one or two Get Well cards that I had on display in my room, in preparation for the move to the heart floor. And then my two-wheeled carriage arrived.

"Kurt, it's been nice having you for a roommate," I said, as I pushed aside the Walls of Jericho. "I hope you bust outta here soon."

"And you, as well," he said. "Je dunkler die Nacht, je schöner der Tag. It means the darker the night, the brighter the day. I will think good thoughts for you."

"Thanks," I said. "I think I'm going to need them."

Then I got into my wheelchair and rolled off into the sunset.

8.28.2008

CHAPTER 23 (slightly revised)

"Whatever happens, we'll make the best of it," my mother said, as the two of us sat alone in my hospital room.

The blue ribbon panel of specialists she had convened had finally disbursed: the internist, the urologist, the gastroenterologist, the hematologist and the oncologist, all gone back to their appointed rounds. But one of them had left me with a present, a virtual gift to contemplate for the next 24 hours or so.

Leukemia.

According to the oncologist, the symptoms I had been experiencing were consistent with those of leukemia: high fever, chills, night sweats, weight loss, dizziness, headaches, nausea. My mother wondered out loud why we were hearing this theory for the first time, six days into my hospital stay and almost six weeks after my initial diagnosis.

Or, shall we say, my
mis-diagnosis.

The oncologist responded with a clarification: he had not said I had leukemia. There was no way he could have diagnosed me on sight. What he said was that I had many of the symptoms of leukemia. And, since his presence had been requested to solve an as-yet-Unsolved medical Mystery, it was his job to explore every option. Like Robert Stack.

But the only way to know for sure, one way or the other, was to take a sample of my bone marrow and biopsy it. And so, the test was scheduled for the next afternoon.

A diagnosis of cancer is that singular moment that everyone hopes they will never experience. And yet, I was surprisingly whatever about the whole thing. I was no more disturbed about a theoretical diagnosis of leukemia than I was about the actual diagnosis of an ulcer in my duodenum. I think I was more bummed about the ulcer, because it meant I was going to have to take a pill every day. And I really hated taking pills.

I don't think I realized what leukemia actually was, how life-threatening a firm diagnosis would have been. I didn't even perceive it as cancer, really. I thought of cancer as something you would get in a particular part of your body, which you would then cut off, and Poof! you're cured.

I was completely misinformed, of course. But, as someone once said to me, ignorance is bliss.

The only reference point I had for cancer was my father. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1994 at the age of 65. His urologist -- my beloved Dr. Hirschberg -- had suggested a radical prostatectomy, which involved the complete removal of the prostate gland and some of the surrounding tissue. My father agreed to this and the surgery was done at South Nassau which, apparently, was my family's favorite hospital.

And then he was fine. He went through a round of painless radiation treatments at Mercy Hospital over the two-month period that followed his surgery, just to be safe. But the cancer was gone. And it had stayed gone ever since. He even went back to work at Green Bus Lines for awhile afterwards, before he finally retired a year or so later.

And, other than an occasional need for a Depends, his cancer seemed to me to have had no lasting negative impact on his life.

My mother was a bit more shaken than I was with the oncologist's hypothesis, and she had good reason to be. Her father had died of cancer 55 years earlier, in the summer between my mom's junior and senior years of high school. And the type of cancer that had stricken him in the prime of his life?

Leukemia.

My mother rarely talked about her father, not even with her two sisters or with my grandmother -- at least not when I was around. I don't even recall Nanny mentioning him during my childhood, although there was always a picture of him in her various apartments. Other than that one faded portrait of a thin, young man in a white shirt and tie, I knew nothing about my grandfather. The only thing I knew was that he had died young.

I also knew his name: William, just like mine. People called him Bill, which is also what people called my father. Was it a coincidence that my mom and dad met less than a year after her father had died? Was it a coincidence that my father's first name was the same as her father's?

I think not. But, then again, I don't believe in coincidences.


One thing that was not a coincidence was my hypothetical case of leukemia. If you're adopted, it doesn't matter how many people in your family have cancer. You can't inherit a genetic predisposition from your relatives if you're not related to your relatives. Thank God.

Some adoptees claim that being adopted is no big deal, that they feel the same as any other kids. I don't buy it. I never could see how that was possible. The fact that I wasn't related to anyone I knew, to anyone in my own family -- that was, without question, the defining aspect of my life. It colored everything I did, and didn't do. It informed every decision I ever made, or didn't make.

That sense of being different, of not belonging, of being "other" hovered everything like the cloud of dust that follows Charlie Brown's dirty friend. To change that aspect of my life would be to change who I was, who I had become. My identity was, to some degree, a work of fiction. It was a a piece of revisionist history, a story, created by my new owners, in a effort to make everyone forget who I had been.

Christian Beaton was dead. Long live Billy McKinley.

When I was little, I would tell other kids I was adopted and they would laugh, like I was kidding. They didn't believe me. But why would I lie about something like that? Was it that unusual to be adopted? Was I that different from everyone else? At a certain point, I must have decided that the answer was yes, because I began lying about my origins. I no longer told people I was adopted and, if they asked, I would deny it.

And then my little sister blew my cover.

On Halloween day in 1973 my parents drove me to the international arrivals terminal at JFK. There we picked up a tiny, scared, two-year-old from the coastal city of Pusan, South Korea. Her name had been Han Hyun-Sil but, as was the practice in the McKinley home, it was changed. Han Hyun-Sil became Melissa McKinley, or Missy, for short. My mother had named her after the character of Missy Matthews on Another World.

Missy McKinley was pretty much the only Asian kid in Woodmere, Long Island back in the charmingly homogeneus 1970's. And, being an Oriental (as we called them back in those less politically correct days) with the last name of McKinley, she inspired a fair amount of questioning.

"And are you adopted, too?" the questioners would often ask me, after they had solved the mystery of the Korean girl with the Irish last name.

"Nope. Just her," I would lie. Not every time, but sometimes.

My mother always joked about how, even though she and I weren't related, I had turned out exactly like her.

"You're my son," she would say. "Just as much as if I had given birth to you."

My grandmother enjoyed that too, since my mother had given her plenty of trouble in her teen years -- enough trouble, it seemed, to prevent them from being as close later in life as my grandmother was with her two younger daughters.
That always struck me when I was little. It seemed like there was unfinished business between the two of them -- a grudge that hadn't fully been forgiven, by either one.

At first, the similarities between my mother and me were a subject of humor; later, they became a source of conflict. When two immovable forces collide, some collateral damage is to be expected. And there was plenty of damage.

History had repeated itself with my mother and me. Her youthful battles with my grandmother had resulted in a life-long tension between them, and her battles with me had done the same. But now, my grandmother was gone, and it looked to my mother like I might be joining her.

I think something changed the day that the oncologist threw leukemia into the haphazard scrum that had become my life.

That day, it stopped being a battle for control between the two of us, my mother and me. I was too tired to fight any more. It was now time for us to unite, to pool our efforts behind a common cause, just like (SPOILER ALERT!) Luke Skywalker and his father Darth Vader had joined forces to defeat the evil Emperor at the end of
Return of the Jedi.

"We'll make the best of it," she repeated, perhaps to convince herself.

The next morning -- the day in which I would learn if I had leukemia or not -- my mother returned, with her version of The Force. She handed me a 3x5 lined index card, upon which she had transcribed a prayer.

"We have to say this 15 times every day," she said. "I'll start."

And then, with my father, my Aunt Margaret and my Aunt Pat gathered around my bed in a sort of circle -- a prayer circle, if you like -- my mother held up the index card and began reading.

Hail and blessed be the the hour and the moment
in which the Son of God was born of the most
pure Virgin Mary, at midnight in Bethlehem,
in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my
God! To hear my prayer and grant my desires,
through the merits of our Saviour, Jesus Christ,
and of his blessed Mother. Amen.


Next to Amen she had written "15x." And when she finished reading, she passed the card to me, and I (awkwardly) read the prayer aloud. Then I passed it to father, and he passed it to each of my aunts.

"Okay, that's five," she said, when we all had read. "We'll do five more later, and then five more before we leave."

At any other time in my adult life, I would have laughed at my mother's suggestion that I say a prayer with her, or at all. But this wasn't any other time. My feeling was this: if saying the word vouchsafe with a straight face had even a 1% chance of helping me get better, I was on board.

They may be no atheists in fox holes, but there are certainly agnostics in hospital rooms. At least there was one in mine. However, when those agnostics have spent five years as an altar boy, and twelve years in Catholic school being taught that your destint lies in the hands of a higher power, those agnostics may be willing to take a leap of faith.

After all, reading some funny words off a 3x5 index card wasn't going to make me any worse, was it? And if it didn't work, what's the worst that could happen? I would end up spending some of my final hours on earth doing something that brought joy to the one-time strangers who had taken me in to their home 27 years previously.

I was up for that.

Later that morning, the oncologist returned, along with a pathologist and an assistant. He explained to my parents and me what he was going to be doing.

"First I'm going to ask William to lie on his side," he said. "And then I'm going to insert a biopsy needle through his skin and into the bone."

"Do I get any drugs first?" I asked.

"We spray the area with a bit of local anesthetic," he said reassuringly.

He asked my parents to leave the room and began a preliminary exam. He pulled out a stethoscope, placed it to my chest, listened for a moment, pulled it away and then placed it back in the same spot. I looked at his face. He seemed perplexed.

"How long have you had that heart murmur?" he asked.

"What heart murmur?" I replied.

"Your irregular heartbeat?" he said, more insistently. "It's very pronounced."

"I don't have an irregular heartbeat," I said "At least, not that I know of."

The oncologist pulled the stethoscope from his ears and placed it back around his neck.

"I think we have the answer," he said. "It's not leukemia. It's your heart."

8.27.2008

CHAPTER 22

Here's the thing about private hospital rooms: they're not particularly private.

Each bed has a wrap-around curtain on a ceiling-mounted pulley system that, at full extension, obscures the patient and the health care provider treating him or her. But it's a curtain. That's it.

Initially, the doctors and nurses would pull the curtain around me when they were doing just about anything: taking a blood sample, conducting an examination, even just to give me medication. But, by Night Five, modesty had pretty much gone down the drain, along with my regurgitated GoLYTEly bowel cleanser.

And so, as I lie there in bed, spent from lack of food and repeated vomiting, I was reminded that I was not alone. Beneath the chintzy, white curtain I watched the bare feet of my roommate Kurt hit the tile floor, slide into his disposable hospital slippers and slowly shuffle across the room.

"I'm going to head on over to the TV lounge," he said. "Good luck with everything."

"Thanks," I replied.

He didn't need to tell me he was leaving the room for my benefit. Nor did he need to clarify the hoped-for result of his wish for luck. He knew what was coming next, and so did I.

Say it with me. An enema. Just saying it makes your face do unpleasant things.


A few minutes later the nurse returned with her instruments of torture: what looked like a red hot water bottle, some rubber tubing and a white plastic nozzle.

"Okay, William," she said. "The way this works is, I'm going to introduce the solution in this bag into your rectum. I need you to hold it in as long as you possibly can and then to relieve yourself in the bathroom."

The nurse instructed me to remove my sweat pants, pull up my gown and get on the bed on my all fours. Under other circumstances, a request of that nature would have been met with great enthusiasm on my part. But sadly, tonight was not one of those circumstances.

"Okay, William," she said again. "I'm now going to insert the nozzle into your anus."

I was struck by how she began every sentence with the words, "Okay, William."

She must have learned these techniques in Enema Class at Nursing School: always address the patient by name, speak slowly and clearly and explain what you are doing at all times, just so there are no surprises.


It all made perfect sense, but it felt a little bit like bad porn.

Have you ever noticed that, in a lot of cheesy porno movies, the guy will do a play-by-play as he's fucking the girl? Like, "Oh yeah, baby. I'm fucking you now. Yeah. I'm putting my hard cock right into your tight pussy. Yeah. It's going in and out, in and out. And you love it. That's right, you love that hard cock in your tight pussy."

Really, do we need the color commentary? I knew what he was doing. He knew what he was doing. And so, I'm pretty sure, did his female co-star. It's not like people were listening at home on the radio, like with one of those 1940s crime shows, where the actors had to describe everything that was happening:

"What are you doing with that knife in your hand? You're lifting it in the air! I And now you're....lowering it...and...uggh...you're plunging it into my chest! Oh! You...stabbed...me! I'm stabbed! And now I'm bleeding...bleeding...so bad. The pain. Everything's...going dark. I'm dying....Ughh" (THUD)

I appreciated the nurse talking me through all this but honestly I just wanted her to shut up and do it so I could go to sleep. I felt like a suburban housewife after her hubby takes a Levitra. So I got on my hands and knees, pushed my ass in the air and prepared to take it like a man.

"Okay, William," she said, as I began to feel an unfamiliar sensation. "I'm inserting the nozzle into your anus. Let me know if you're finding anything to be uncomfortable."

"Anything?" I wanted to say. "How about everything? Is everything an option?"

But I kept quiet. I was too exhausted to be a smart ass. Sorry, maybe
ass isn't the right word, in this context. I should say smart aleck.

"Okay, William," she continued. "Now we're going to begin the irrigation."

Irrigation?

I closed my eyes and imagined myself to be a pioneer, planting crops on the Oklahoma plains.
You're doin' fine Oklahoma. Oklahoma, OK!

And then I felt a burst of warm water shoot into my ass with great velocity, as if it was fired by one of those t-shirt cannons they use at baseball games. Ka-BOOM!


"Now hold it as long as you can," the nurse said.

I began to feel tightness in my abdomen, like the stitch you get when you run too fat, too fast. I became panicked that I wouldn't be able to hold it in, that my body would give out and my ass would begin spewing like an open fire hydrant on a hot summer day in the city.

It turned out that "as long as you can" was something like a minute, give or take. I was already bleeding from my penis. I had no desire to start broadcasting in stereo. And so I dashed for the bathroom.

"I'll be back in a little while," the nurse said.

And she kept her promise. I think we did it three times that night. Sorry, that came out wrong. I meant to say, I think she gave me three enemas that night. And, by the end, my colon was clean enough to eat off of, or out of. If you're into that kind of thing, you pervert.

After all the ruckus had died down, my roommate shuffled back into the room.

"How'd it go?" Kurt asked.

"Well," I said. "That nurse just did to me what Hitler did to Poland."

The next morning I was awakened bright and early by the nurses. I got out of bed and headed for the bathroom for my daily washcloth bath. Another thing you might not know: many hospital rooms don't have showers. There is often a single shower room serving an entire floor. And you need special permission to use it, like a hall pass in grammar school.

That was one of the hardest things for me to get used to in the hospital. I was obsessive about cleanliness. I had always taken a shower every day, regardless of where I was going or what I was doing. I had my daily rituals: shower, wash hair, apply mousse and/or gel to hair, brush it into a side part, sculpt the cowlick into a hinge, spritz on some hair spray to set it in place and blow until dry and crispy.

It had been that way every day since 8th grade. And now, for the first time in my adult life, I had gone five days without a shower. I felt ripe, like a brown peach. But I wanted to be sparkly clean for my colonoscopy, so I made sure to wash thoroughly in the bathroom sink, with a particular emphasis on a particular part of my body that was soon going to receive partcular attention. Again.

Around 7:45 AM an orderly came into the room with a wheelchair. I got in and he rolled me to the colonoscopy suite. Dr. Kapur was there and he greeted me enthusiastically.

"Good morning William!" he said. "Are ready for your colonoscopy?"

"I think it's safe to say that I'm as ready as I have ever been, or ever will be," I said.

And then I got onto a gurney and the anesthesiologist gave me the same speech that I had gotten on Friday. 5-4-3-2-1, blah blah blah.

And then...Voyage to the Bottom of the Colon. In 3-D.

I woke up feeling, how can I put it? Squishy. I would say very squishy. It must have taken a lot of Astroglide to get that camera all up in my bidness, because I was certainly still feeling it. Surprisingly though, there wasn't any pain, or discomfort. Just squishiness.

"How are you?" my mother asked, as the orderly wheeled me back into my room.

"I feel different," I said. "I feel like...a woman."

"Stop it," she reprimanded.

"Well what do you want me to say?" I asked. "This is crazy. I was throwing up all night, then the nurse and I had an enema party, then I got up at 7 in the morning to give myself a sponge bath and then somebody stuck a camera up my ass for a couple hours. And how, exactly, is all of this making me get better?"

Our conversation was interrupted by Dr. Kapur.

"The examination was very successful," he said. "We found what appeared to be a small ulcer in the lining of the duodenum. We did not take a sample for a biopsy, but we can at a later date. In the meantime I'm going to prescribe a medication called Prilosec."

"I've had ulcers," my mother said. "An ulcer certainly isn't causing all of this health problems.

"Probably not," the doctor said. "But by scoping we are able to rule out more serious causes or conditions."

We thanked Dr. Kapur and he left. Then I fell asleep. In the meantime, my mother went to work. She got Dr. Acosta on the phone and then Dr. Hirschberg. She told them that I was getting worse, not better.

"I don't care who it is," she said. "But somebody better do something about this."

One thing about my mother: when she gets mad, people listen.

Her cage-rattling must have done the trick, because, when I woke up, my room was practically filled with doctors: Hirschberg, Acosta, Kapur and two others, all consulting at my bedside. It was if I had woken up in the middle of a medical symposium -- about me. I don't know what the other sick people at South Nassau were doing that day, because all of the doctors seemed to be in my room.

First up on the Hit Parade was the hematologist, an elderly white-haired man. He quizzed me on my symptoms.

"It sounds viral to me," he said. "I'm going to order a blood culture."

"And what will a blood culture tell us?" my mother asked.

"Well it will determine if William's problems are being caused by a bacterial infection," he said. "High fever and chills and some of his other symptoms seem to suggest a viral cause."

"But Dr. Acosta was treating him for a viral infection," my mother replied. "He was on a full course of antibiotics. And they didn't do anything to make him better."

"Different infections require different antibiotics," the hematologist said. "We'll only know when we get the results of the cultures what the proper course of action should be."

"And when will we see the results?" she asked.

"Tomorrow," he said.

Next up was the oncologist, who had a theory of his own.

"I think we have to consider a very unpleasant possibility," he said.

"What's that?" my mother and I asked, practically in unison.

"Leukemia," he said. "This looks like it could be leukemia."

8.26.2008

CHAPTER 21

On Sunday morning my father stopped at Costco to pick me up some underwear, and a new pair of gray sweatpants.

These were to replace the ones that now were now stained with my blood.

Handing over the soiled undergarments to dad made me feel like Sissy Spacek, after she got pelted with tampons by her naked shower-mates in Carrie. But truth be told, this was not the first time I associated with Stephen King's socially awkward heroine.

During high school I wore out a VHS tape of the movie, fantasizing about the vengeance I would exact upon my teenaged tormentors at Chaminade High School -- and my crazy, religious fanatic of a mother.

If only I had telekinetic powers. The things I could have done! Oh well.

Sunday was visiting day in the hospital. Family, friends and flowers. And balloons, plenty of helium filled Mylar balloons!

But not for me though. Of course my parents were by my bedside and my two aunts, with whom I had always been close. But I had made a decision not to tell anyone about what was going on -- friends, co-workers and ex-girlfriends, most particularly.

I didn't want anybody to see me in the hospital, to see me like this. I didn't want to deal with that look of pity that they would inevitably have to cover up. That cathartic look that says, "Thank God I'm not you." I was going to get through this and show myself again when I was all fixed up.

Or not.

It wasn't like there were lots of people beating down my door to find me. I had sort of blown things at work, telling everyone off and generally making myself unwelcome. After that my boss had suggested that I "take some time off." And he didn't suggest a return date.

You can't get really fired from a freelance job. But that's about as close as you can come.

My downfall had come at the hands of Elaine the office manager, a dim witted, outer-borough type who, a generation earlier, would have spent her entire "career" in the steno pool, gossiping about her co-workers and angling for a date with her handsome boss who, in turn, would completely ignore her.

To say that Elaine was a useless idiot is an insult to useless idiots. She was worse than useless, she was ignorant. And her ignorance, and her inability to grasp anything more complex than a typewriter, had made her little more than a distraction to me.

Elaine would constantly ask me to do things for her, show her how to check her email, or print a document. Or worse, she would listen to my phone conversations and critique what I had said, or offer unsolicited advice and overall life coaching.

One day, towards the end, I had had my fill of Elaine.

She made some sort of comment, which I have long since forgotten. I should have let it pass, but I didn't.

"Thank God I'm not you," I said to her, with no sense of humor.

"Well, I'd rather be me than you," she replied, in her absurdly stereotypical Noo Yawk accent. .

"Well, I'd rather be dead than you," I shot back.

And now, maybe six weeks later, it seemed that my wish might just be coming true.

It goes without saying, I think, that my charming little conversation with Elaine had not gone over well. Complaints were lodged. Ultimatums were issued. And I was the odd man out. My boss, whom I deeply disliked yet still longed to impress, chose an incompetent office manager who refused to use a computer over a producer who routinely clocked 18 hour days, and had done so for more than five years.

That's quite a reference for moi, isn't it?

But this was all part of a pattern for me. It was as if I was closing up all the branch offices of Will McKinley Inc. before I went out of business forever. First Mary, then friends, then work. The few friends I had at that time had grown tired of me not returning calls, of avoiding them for fear that they would notice that something was wrong with me.

The only exception had been Penny. But, ironically enough, my efforts to reach out to her had achieved the same result. She was gone too. I hadn't heard from her in weeks, and I wasn't about to beg her to see me in polka dot hospital gown. Either she couldn't deal with her feelings for me, or she didn't have feelings for me.

Either way, I had to write her out of the show.

Writing people out is something I had done all my life, when I felt the need to punish someone for a perceived transgression, or reject them before they would reject me, or otherwise remove them from my life temporarily -- or permanently.

I learned how to do it from the soap operas I watched with my mother throughout my entire childhood. When an actor would be fired, or leave a particular show on his or her own accord, the producers would either re-cast, or write the character out.

Of course, the best way to write a character out is to kill them off. This is exciting and dramatic and fun to watch, particularly if it involves a gun or a cliff. Or a gun and a cliff.

But you can't really do it in real life. I mean, you can, but people might start to ask questions about why your friends keep falling off cliffs, with bullet holes in them.

Another way to write someone out is to send them out of town, to find themselves. This usually happens only with female characters. And the character's departure would often be communicated to her leading man in a hand-written note that would be read in voice-over by the departing actress, accompanied by a montage of kissing, hugging and gauzy lovemaking.

These montages usually made me cry, because I loved no one more than I loved the characters on The Edge of Night, Another World, Texas, The Guiding Light and others too numerous to mention. I still remember all of them, the friends I would visit with each day. They will live forever in my heart.

Both Sister Dorothy and Father Fink had chided my mother for letting me watch soap operas every day after school, but she firmly stood her ground. She claimed that they weren't warping my morals, or my perspective on reality. She promised them that it gave her an opportunity to discuss the big issues of life with me, and to guide me.

I appreciated her defense. But she was full of shit. I did see my life as sort of a soap opera. And now, to some extent, I was wrapping up all the loose ends and preparing for the final episode. I had been cancelled.

Or maybe not. Maybe the network would rescind the cancellation order, like NBC did when they first cancelled Texas in 1981. Or maybe another network would pick me up, like ABC did when CBS cancelled The Edge of Night in 1975.

By the way, don't attribute these thoughts to my diseased brain. I had always thought like this. And now, I was lying in the hospital, the most frequently used set on any of the soaps I had ever watched.

But this was all really happening.

I had plenty to look forward to over the next 24 hours. My colonoscopy, for one. I was now on my second day of clear liquids only, in preparation for the procedure. And I gotta tell you, bouillon and diet ginger ale is a combination that gets real old, real quick.

But late in the day, after visiting hours had ended and my family had left, the nurse brought me in a treat.

"It's time for your GoLYTEly," she said, as she placed a a glass and a large, white plastic bottle on the table next to my bed.

"What's that?" I asked.

"It's a laxative," she answered. "It will clear out your system."

"How much of it do I have to drink?" I asked.

"Four liters," she answered.

"I was absent the day we learned the metric system," I replied. "How many glasses is that?"

"About fifteen, give or take?" she said.

"Fifteen?" I said. "Wow. It better be good."

It wasn't good. What it was was inedible. Can you say inedible when it's a drink? Well, it was undrinkable, unconsumeable by a human being. It tasted like carbonated liquid chalk dust. I drank a sip and I practically spit it back at her, like a Danny Thomas spit take.

The nurse was very kind and compassionate. She agreed that it was disgusting, but she also made it clear that I was going to have to get this stuff down, one way or another.

"If the endoscopist can't see what he's doing in there, the colonoscopy is not going to do you any good," she said.

And so I began drinking, and belching, and retching. I got through one glass and I felt like I was going to be sick.

"Only fifteen more to go," the nurse said cheerfully.

"What do you mean fifteen to go?" I yelled. "You said fifteen total!"

"I said, four liters," she replied. "That's 15 glasses., give or take."

Glass #2 didn't go down any easier than the first one had. I tried chugging. That didn't work. I tried sipping. Neither did that. Then I asked if I could mix it with something. The nurse said yes, and brought me some room temperature diet ginger ale.

You see, the thing about adding something that tastes terrible to something that tastes good is, the terrible taste will usually overwhelm the good taste. And the result is, you now have even more of the terrible thing to drink. It was good in theory, but poor in execution.

And so I went back to drinking it straight. Or trying to drink it straight. I say trying, because I began vomiting. Not vomiting so much as spitting up, like a baby. I had nothing in my stomach to vomit, so it was a lot of retching.

What was it about this hospital and retching? The sounds of my grandmother's final retches echoed through the halls, from her room to mine, as I drank that poison and spit it back into a plastic tub that my nurse held for me. Drink. Retch. Drink. retch. Drink. Retch.

It was like the hottest new dance since the Mashed Potato hit Baltimore.

Hey everybody! Do the RETCH! (It's got a beat and you can dance to it. I give it a ten Dick.)

All my anger, all my sarcasm, all my attitude hurled out of me like bad milk. The nurse held me, tightly, like a mother. I remember the soft feeling of her scrubs. They had Garfield or some cartoon character on them. She felt warm, and I was so cold. She was encouraging me to keep going, telling me that this was the only way I would get better. And I kept drinking that undrinkable shit, and throwing it back up.

For once, I was trying. But my body was having no part of this. It was protesting this illegal incursion, and fighting the GoLYTEly back to the border, as the Soviets had done to my roommate back in 1945.

"Okay, this is not working," the nurse finally said.

You think?

"There is one other thing we can try," she said.

"What's that," I whimpered, from the fetal position.

"An enema," she said.

MUSIC STING and FADE TO BLACK

ANNOUNCER: Tune in tomorrow for another exciting episode of Will Gets Things Shoved Up Every Hole in His Body.

ROLL CREDITS

8.25.2008

CHAPTER TWENTY

I grew up watching old movies on television.

You see children, way back in the 1970's, we didn't have DVDs, DVRs, VCRs or any of the new-fangled contraptions that you have today. We didn't even have cable, at least not in the McKinley household.

What we did have were seven channels of good, old, over-the-air, television (eight, if you count the snowy UHF station) and I made good use of all of them. But my favorites were the channels that would run classic movies.

Back then, many of the local New York TV stations would run great, black & white movies at all hours of the day and night. They were a staple of the daily lineup -- cheap, abundant programming of which there was a seemingly endless supply. Channel 9 had The Million Dollar Movie in prime time every night. Channel 11 would run the Abbott & Costello and Blondie films from the 1940s on weekend mornings. And the classics would unspool all night long on Channel 2 (The Late Show and The Late Late Show), Channel 9 (9 All Night) and Channel 5 (no title, but plenty of great movies).

I know this because I watched them all.

I can't tell you when I fell for old movies, but I certainly got hooked early. Some of my first childhood memories are of watching black & white comedies on TV with my father. One thing you should know about Bill McKinley is, he has a very distinctive laugh. It's not so much of a laugh, actually. It's more of a volcanic eruption, or a roar -- the kind of response you might expect a mountain lion to make when he LOLs.

It is a deep and resonant laugh, completely genuine and utterly infectious.

And so, as a somewhat guarded little kid, I would sit there and watch my father contort himself with laughter at the comedies he had grown up watching: The Marx Bros., The Three Stooges, Our Gang, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott & Costello, etc. And soon I was doing the same.

As I got older, I would join him in watching classic dramas like Casablanca, The African Queen and King Kong. And so, even though I had grown up in the 1970s and '80s, my sensibility was very much forged by the 1930s and '40s.

I loved all of the old stuff, but there was something about the early '40s that just fascinated me: the peppy music, the smart suits, the stacked hair, the sharp hats, the constant smoking, anywhere and everywhere. It was like a parallel plane of existence, with people who looked like the people around me, but who dressed, acted and spoke entirely differently.

And, at the center of it all, informing everything, was The War.

I never thought of it as World War II. I always called it The War, like I had been there myself. It seemed to me to be the most perfect story of pure good vs. unadulterated evil in all of history. From Bogart to Bugs Bunny, all of my movie heroes had taught me one thing: the Germans were The Bad Guys. Period. The End.

And now, half a century later, I had a German lying in the bed next to me in my room at South Nassau Hospital. And not just a German, a soldier who had served in the German army during The War.

Didn't that make him a Nazi?

"Not necessarily," Kurt told me, as we sat on our beds chatting on a Saturday afternoon.

Of course I never said the words, "So Kurt. We're you a Nazi?" That would have been uncouth. Instead I said, "So, Kurt, does that make you an...a....um....I mean...since you were uh...fighting....on the...um...you know?"

Or something pithy like that. I'm sure it wasn't the first time this stout old Bavarian gent had watched an American polka around his past.

Kurt told me that he had been drafted in 1944, which would have put his age in 1997 at somewhere around 70 or so. When he was 18 he had been sent to Latvia, on the Baltic Sea, where the German army was fighting the Soviet army. He had been stationed in the region of Courland along with about 200,000 other German soldiers.

"But you have to understand one thing," he told me. "There were plenty of men in the so-called German army who were not even German. There were about 100,000 Latvians fighting in that area. Either they fought or they went to the camps. So they fought."

Kurt went on to tell me that, by that point in the war, even many of the German soldiers had refused to accept the doctrine of the Reich.

"I was a German," he said. "But I never considered myself a Nazi."

Part of me was disappointed to hear all of this. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited and just a bit nervous to be rooming with one of the SS. I had secretly hoped that he would make a deathbed confession to me, and that I would singlehandedly bring one of the last remaining war criminals to justice.

Or that maybe Kurt would pull a knife, which had been concealed in the lining of his polka-dotted hospital gown, on one of the cute little nursing students from Molloy College.
And then I would battle the Nazi and save the girl, like Bogart pulling a gun on Conrad Veidt in the hangar at the end of Casablanca.

But such was not the case. What Kurt was telling me was forcing me to reassess what I learned from every movie I had ever loved. And frankly, it was a bit of a let-down.

"So what happened after you guys lost?" I asked, as if we were talking about a bad golf game.

"Many of the German soldiers were captured by the Soviets," he said. "But I escaped to Sweden. And from there I came to the United States, to work on my aunt and uncle's farm in upstate New York. Then I met my wife, who was also German. She worked in the kitchen at one of the hotels in Manhattan."

Kurt was a man of a certain age, in the Urology Ward, so I had guessed that he might be receiving treatment for prostate cancer. But I never asked him. Although it might have been fun to say, "So what are you in for, Bub?" like I was doing time in the joint, in some Warner Bros gangster picture from the early '30s.

Funnily enough, Kurt was actually the one to ask what was wrong with me.

"So what's wrong with you?" he asked. Right to the point. Gotta love those Germans.

His question jumped me like a mugger. I didn't know what to say, how to answer. I had been sick for almost as long as I could remember. I had been under a doctor's care and on medication for more than a month. And I was about to spend my fourth night in the hospital, which had broken my previous record of NO NIGHTS, ever, in the hospital -- for my entire life.

And not only was I not getting better, I was getting worse. I knew it and so did everyone else. And still, nobody had any idea what was wrong with me. They were guessing, like it was a game of Pin the Tail on the Malady.

How was this possible? It was almost the 21st Century, for the love of Pete! I had been x-rayed and scanned and poked and prodded and absolutely nothing had changed. Actually that's not true, something had changed.

I was now peeing blood.

I imagine that there may be some ladies reading this, so let me share with you an important fact about us men: we don't like blood to be anywhere near our penis. It conjures up all sorts of instinctual responses, and none of them are good.

Remember John Wayne Bobbit? I do.

But the only thing worse than blood around our privates is blood coming from our privates. Again, ladies, please bear with me on this. I know it's not big deal for you, but everyone knows that women are emotionally stronger than we are.

I was excited to finally pee again, on my own accord, after young Dr. Yankenstein had untimely ripped my Foley catheter from my most sensitive of organs. But, as I stood above the toilet bowl in the bathroom for my first self-powered expulsion, that excitement quickly turned to abject horror.

Oh mother! Blood. Blood!

I was urinating a steady stream of red -- not red, crimson, dark crimson. Physically it felt like I was peeing. But mentally, emotionally, spiritually - it felt as if my life was being expelled from my body. A chill ran through my body.

I stopped the flow and looked at the bright red liquid that was slowly overtaking the water in the bowl. Then I looked down, at the drops of blood trickling from the tip of my dick and splattering on the yellow tiled floor. I wanted to shriek. My penis, my beloved penis -- my best friend, my constant companion, my partner in a lifetime of adventure. He was bleeding. Or I was bleeding. Or we both were bleeding. Either way, this wasn't something I was going to ignore.

I pulled up my sweat pants and buzzed the nurse from the emergency call button in the bathroom.

"What's wrong?" she asked as she stood in the doorway a minute later.

"That's wrong, " I said, pushing open the bathroom door and pointing to the toilet. "I'm urinating blood."

I expected her to scream like a coed in a slasher movie when she finds the decapitated head of the guy she was just fucking. But no. Frankly, the nurse seemed a bit disinterested.

"Okay, I'll tell Dr. Hirschberg about it," she said.

Blah blah blah. How's your weekend? Blah blah blah. Going to the movies. Blah blah blah. Peeing blood.

I know I was in a Urology ward, and that every guy there had some sort of penis-related problem. Maybe peeing blood is no big deal in the Urology ward. But it was a big deal to me and I wanted something done about it. My mother, who had returned from the cafeteria, agreed.

"Can you please page Dr. Hirschberg?" she asked the nurse. "I don't think my son has the strength to withstand any blood loss right now."

She agreed and Hirschberg called in from the 18th hole, or whenever doctors spend Saturday afternoons.

"It's not unusual to pass blood for a day or two after a cyscoscopy," he said. "After all, there has been a bit of internal trauma. I know it may be disturbing, but it's not dangerous. I'll be in to see you on Monday."

And that was that. Thank you for calling and goodbye. Silly me for freaking out when I saw blood cascading from my genitalia. Honestly. I am such a baby.

And so, I began peeing with my eyes closed. I couldn't even look in the toilet afterwards. This was too much to deal with.

As a teenager my tastes in movies had expanded to include the color Dracula films of the '60s and '70s, starring British actor Christopher Lee as the Count. Unlike the Lugosi films of a generation earlier, the Hammer Dracula series had ushered in the era of good old red blood in FULL COLOR in horror pictures.

And now, I was no longer a viewer. I was a participant in my own little horror movie, every time I went to the bathroom in that fucking hospital room.

And so, like a scared child at an R-Rated movie, I just covered my eyes and waited for it to be over.

TODAY'S CHAPTER

will be posted at 7 PM (ET) because I have to go to the dentist.

8.22.2008

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Anesthesia is a great drug.

Not only does it knock you out, it also makes you forget what happened when you were out. And, when people are inserting things into your penis, "prevention of memory formation" is a big plus.

I woke up in the recovery room after my cyscoscopy and felt odd. There was something different about me, but I couldn't exactly tell what it was. Then I glanced at the side of the gurney. Clipped on to the hand rail was a thick, plastic IV bag filled with cloudy yellow liquid. Attached to the bag was a clear plastic tube which wove around the handrail and under the light blue cotton blanket that was covering me.

"What is that tube doing?" I asked one of the nurses.

"Oh, that's your Foley Catheter," the nurse said matter-of-factly. "That's draining urine from your bladder."

I was 28 years-old and I was peeing into a bag. This is what my life had become.

"Um, how long does it stay in?" I asked.

"A day or two," the nurse answered. "The nurses will be changing the bag periodically."

Well, isn't that great news? The nurses will be changing it periodically! It's going to be someone's job to change my pee bag. That's just terrific. Because the last thing you want is an overflowing bag of your own urine in bed with you. Phew! That was a load off my mind.

Not to be a dick about this, but nobody had told me about this thing called a Foley catheter. Hirschberg said that they were going to be inserting some little plastic stick into my ureter to straighten it out. That's it. That's what I signed on for. There had been no mention of the establishment of a complex irrigation system designed to carry urine from inside my body to a hanging bag. I guess that was just an extra added surprise.

Did I mention that I hate surprises? And I particularly hate them when they involve urine.

But who cares, right? I was on the mend! This was the first step in my journey toward complete recovery and good health. So what if I had to pee into a bag for a couple days? It was the least I could do to thank everyone for their hard work.

Somebody wheeled me back to my room, where my parents were patiently waiting for me. My dad was reading the newspaper and my mom was sewing something.

"So how did everything go?" my mother asked enthusiastically, like I had just come home from day camp.

"I guess it went fine," I said. "Oh yeah. Did I mention I'm now peeing in a bag?"

"That's just the catheter," my father said. "I had one of those when I had the surgery on my prostrate (sic)."

"Am I the only one who's surprised by this?" I asked. "Maybe it's just me but it would have been nice to get a little heads up."

Dr. Hirschberg came by and told us that the procedure had gone well, that the stent was in place and that everything had gone according to plan.

"How long do I have to pee in the bag?" I asked.

"Well the catheter can probably come out tomorrow," he said. "In the meantime I'm going to refer you to a gastroenterologist. He's going to come by at some point this afternoon."

I asked Hirschberg if I could eat something, and he said yes. Then my father asked the nurse on call for a menu, like she was a waitress at Denny's. The nurse suggested we call The Dietary Department, and gave us the extension.

"Hello, this is Bill McKinley," my father said. "My son just had a cyscoscopy with Dr. Stephen Hirschberg. But he wasn't allowed to eat beforehand, you see, so he didn't fill out the food menu. But he just got back to the room and he's hungry now."

Have I ever mentioned that I love listening to my father talk on the phone? Why say in a few words what you can say in way too many? And whatever you say, say it loud. That was always his approach.

"Don't forget to mention the fact that I'm peeing into a bag," I said. "They might be interested in that."

"Don't be fresh," my mother reprimanded.

"Anyway," my father continued. "We were wondering if we could get some food up here to the Urology floor."

The conversation went on for some time after that, but it did result in a tray of food for me. So I guess you can't question my father's charmingly loud verbosity.

Hospital food is an interesting thing. In my experience it's not particularly bad or particularly good. It's just fine. But you eat it like it was the best thing you had ever tasted in your entire life. Or at least I did.

There's wasn't much to look forward to in a typical day at South Nassau Hospital. There were the cute student nurses from Molloy College, looking all sexy and vulnerable with their little notebooks and pens. That was always a nice treat. There was Oprah, of course. And the cafeteria, with a full stock of Linden's Chocolate Chip Cookies.

But other than those few bright spots, the three high points of a day in the hospital are breakfast, lunch and dinner. I imagine it's the same thing in prison, although I cannot speak about that from personal experience. Yet.

Each sumptuous Hospital Meal was heralded by the squeaky rumbling of the cavernous food cart.


The Hospital Food Cart is not unlike one that you would find one a plane, before planes stopped serving hot food. It's a big cart with plenty of room for multiple trays and it somehow manages to keep everything hot, with the help of molded plastic plate covers over the entrees. Each tray has a printed sheet of paper with the person's last name and first name, often followed by dietary restrictions or special instructions.

If the server gives you the wrong entre at Applebee's, no biggie. But if they do it in the hospital, you might die. Which is sort of a biggie.

Hospital food isn't like airplane food. It's the real deal -- full portions of meatloaf, or chicken or spaghetti. And it's the same stuff that they sell in the hospital cafeteria. Only you get it for free, and they throw in some pudding or jello or something for dessert. Honestly, you'd be amazed at what you will eat when you have no other choice. I know I was.


So there I was, eating off my first ever hospital tray, flanked by my dad on one guest chair and my mom on another, when the gastroenterologist walked in.

"I'm Dr. Kapur," said a man with a beard as thick as his South Asian accent. He wore a neat black turban and thick, round glasses that I would have described as Harry Potter-esque if it wasn't 1997.

Dr. Kapur asked me about how I was feeling, about the symptoms I had been experiencing, and about my appetite.

"He doesn't have an appetite," my mother said, answering for me. "He doesn't eat."

At any other time that statement might have been met with concern on the part of a gastrology specialist. But, at that moment, I was shoveling a heaping fork-full of meatloaf with gravy into my mouth. If I didn't have an appetite, I was certainly doing a good imitation of someone who did.

"I have discussed your case with Dr. Hirschberg," Dr. Kapur continued. "And we both agree that it might be wise to perfrom a colonoscopy."

"What is that, exactly?" I asked.

"A colonoscopy is a procedure where we insert a scope with a tiny fiber optic camera attached to it into your large colon and part of the small bowel," he answered. "This allows us to see if there are any polyps or tumors and to remove them if necessary for biopsy."

"And how do you get to the colon," I asked, not liking the direction in which this was going.

"Well we insert a tiny camera on the end of a scope through the anus into the colon," he said.

My butt sort of clenched involuntarily as I put down my fork-full of meat loaf. I had just had something shoved up my dick and now this guy wanted to sodomize me with a camera.

"Let me ask you a question," I said. "Do you take off the lens cap first?"

"William." my mother reprimanded. "Be serious."

"It is a fiber optic video camera," the doctor said, not getting -- or ignoring -- my joke. "It transmits video from within your large colon and bowel and we watch it on a TV."

"Are there commercials?" I asked.

My mother looked like she was going to kill me which, frankly, would have saved everyone a lot of time, trouble and expense. Then I got serious and asked the doctor when this was going to happen.

"Well we need to clear your colon of all solid material before the procedure can be done," he said. "So Monday would be good. That means you would consume only clear fluids over the weekend, like apple juice, or bouillon."

"How about Scotch?" I asked.

"Well that has fiber," the doctor said, again immune to my sarcasm. "Your colon must be cleared of all solid matter through a process of diet and a laxative such as Phospho Soda."

And so the colonoscopy was scheduled for Monday morning. Dr. Kapur shook our hands and headed for the doorway.

"Have a nice weekend," he said, with absolutely no sense of irony.

Then I finished the rest of my meatloaf. Slowly.


The next morning I awakened to a breakfast of clear liquids, which is about as appetizing as it sounds. My aunt showed up with a care package from my favorite bagel shop, which I was forced to turn down. Later in the day a nurse (or a doctor, not sure which) came in to the room and announced that he would be removing my catheter. My parents and my aunt excused themselves.

"Can we get you anything from the cafeteria?" my father asked, as they were leaving the room.

"Bill!" my mother growled. "What are you talking about? The doctor said he can't eat anything! Why don't you listen?"

"Oh right," my father said. "Sorry. Okay. We'll be back in a flash without the cash."

That was always my father's favorite exit line, if he was going to the store, or to pick up takeout or any place where money was going to change hands. Sometims he would add the word Jackson to the end, like a 1940s-era hipster.

"Is this going to hurt?" I asked the catheter removal person, as I adjusted the placement of my gown for easier access.

"Well, it will sting briefly," he said. "But it shouldn't be too bad."

And then he removed the catheter.


"Ow!" I yelled. "Ow! Ow ow ow! Fuck! Ow! Jesus Christ! Ow! Ow! Fuck."

It went on like that for quite a while. I wish I had gotten that guy's name, so I could have found him at some point, jammed something up his dick and then yanked it out like I was trying to start a gas-powered lawnmower.

To say that it "would sting briefly" or that it shouldn't hurt too bad was not only an understatement, it was a complete lie. To say it hurt like a fucking motherfucker would be somewhere in the general hemisphere of the pain I experienced. And no anesthetic. Nothing. How do they rip tubes out of your dick with no anesthetic? Not even a fucking Advil.

"That hurts doesn't it?' my roommate Kurt said from behind the curtain, in a thick accent.

As I was about to find out, Kurt knew a thing or two about pain. After all, he had seen plenty of combat action in World War II, but not on our side.

Kurt, my kindly old white-haired roommate, had been a Nazi.