With the news from the CT scan behind me, the logistics of confirmation and testing and the minutia involved in all of that began. I remained in ICU as they really had no idea whether I was still bleeding internally. They wanted to keep an eye on me and continue to monitor periodic lab results like hemoglobin.
Also, a colonoscopy needed to be done. If you know anything about colonoscopies, you know there is prep work involved in this. That means cleaning you out. There can be nothing in your colon when they shove that camera up your butt. The gastroenterologist that was to perform the colonoscopy came to visit.
I like to describe people in terms of their placement in the autism spectrum, but perhaps it is lazy. Perhaps Autism Spectrum Disorder has become a way for us to refer to socially awkward, introverted, quiet, reflective, or shy people. Those that knew me when I was young definitely could have used some of these words to describe me, perhaps they still could. I don’t describe someone as autistic as an insult. I don’t think we use it culturally as an insult. I’m not even sure if ‘autistic’ should stop being used to describe people with these traits. I was just about to use ‘autistic’ to describe this gastroenterologist, and it struck me as lazy.
The gastroenterologist was Indian and looked to be in his late 50’s or early 60’s. He walked into the room very quietly with his hands in his lab coat while looking at his feet. He appeared to have something difficult going on inside his head like he was calculating a bunch of numbers. He stopped a couple of feet away from me. I don’t remember there being anyone else in the room, but I remember discussing this interaction right after he left with my mother. She might have been there the whole time, or she might have been off on an errand of some kind. The gastroenterologist rubbed his chin and made eye contact with me briefly, “Mr. Lines.”
There was a strange inflection in his tone. It wasn’t the Indian accent, which was present but unobtrusive. It wasn’t a question, as in: Are you Mr. Lines? It was more like: Mr. Lines at last we meet.
I nodded, “Yes.” I felt like I should be petting a long haired white cat.
“I am [insert doctor’s name]. I am the… gastroenterologist that will be performing… the colonoscopy tomorrow morning,” his eyes darted around the room, mostly the floor, as he talked. He talked slowly and deliberately with a strangled halting rhythm like he was out of breath. “At least I hope it will… be tomorrow morning. I… have other patients scheduled tomorrow. I’m sure… you can… understand… I cannot bump them. But… as soon as I am able… we will get to you. It should be morning, but it could be early afternoon.”
“Okay. I’m not going anywhere.”
He looked me in the eye, “I have seen the CT scan. There is… a growth by the… cecum.”
“I have seen it too.”
“We aren’t sure what this is, but we… will find out.”
“Okay. I understand. It could be anything. You just have to go look around to see what the growth is. Where are you from?”
This is a social game I like to play. I often notice that I dismiss people with accents. I don’t do it on purpose. It’s just easy as a natural born citizen of the United States to experience a lot of immigrants in servant’s roles. Often immigrants expect to be dismissed or at least not engaged to the extent that a natural born citizen might engage another natural born citizen by default. There is a connection missed because of expected roles. I don’t even know if what I’m saying is entirely accurate. I just know that if I ask this simple question, the interaction becomes a lot more enjoyable. The acknowledgement that recognize that the person might be an immigrant and that I am interested in their origin seems to shorten the bridge to connection.
“Where in India?”
“Oh. I have only been to Gujarat.”
“Oh you have been?”
“Yes. I went in 2016 for work. It was very hot.”
“I have never been to Gujarat.”
“Well it is a very big country.”
The rhythm of his words had smoothed and he was looking at me until he finished with, “I have not been back in a very long time.”
He went back to looking around the room with his hands in his pockets, “I have been in the United States since 1980. I have been doing colonoscopies at St. Joseph’s my entire career.”
“Really?” he looked at me again like he thought I didn’t believe him. “I’m just always amazed when someone has been doing something so long. You really know what you’re doing. Do you do any other procedures? Or anything else?”
“I consult with other doctors, and I meet with patients like this before and after procedures and discuss results,” he was engaged again. “But no. I have been doing mainly colonoscopies my entire career.”
“It was a new procedure back then. So you’ve been doing colonoscopies since they were invented? That’s amazing.”
I was going to get him to smile or laugh or something, “Well my first was a decades after they were invented, so I didn’t invent or participate in the first procedures.”
“I know, but they only became standard or widespread in the 80’s. Anyway, you are the St. Joseph’s expert on colonoscopy. Unless there’s someone else they have around here that’s been here longer. You’re it.”
Something happened on his face that looked like a smile, “Yes I suppose… you could say… something like that. Sometime tomorrow…”
I wasn’t going to torture him any longer, “That sounds good. Whenever you get to it. Like I said, I’m not going anywhere.”
When he left, the nurse came in. I don’t remember her name, but I remember that I liked her very much. “That was the colonoscopy guy.”
“Yeah. He’s been here forever.”
“He does colonoscopies. That’s his thing.”
She laughed, “Yes. He’s done a lot of them.”
This theme of dedicating your life to something is always so impressive to me. The gastroenterologist at St. Joseph’s that does most/all of the colonoscopies at St. Joseph’s has been doing the procedure for more than 30 years. That’s the guy I want behind the camera going up my butt. I don’t want some cut rate hack that I found through a Groupon doing the procedure. Not that I think there is a Groupon for discount colonoscopies, but I’m willing to entertain the concept. Get a group of your friends together and go get a colonoscopy together. I bet that would be a bonding experience no one would ever forget. I’ll certainly never forget this colonoscopy.
I don’t remember the circumstances of how my mother left that night. I do know that she seemed comfortable with my stability in ICU and wanted to be present for the colonoscopy the next morning. She left to get back to the Woodlands (25 miles away) so she could rest and return for the next day’s odyssey.
I want to say there was someone else around during this period of time. Troy might have been there. I don’t think Rebecca showed up until the next day. Justine came with the kids briefly so they could see that I was all right, at least relatively all right. I know I told her about the biohazard bag full of clothes.
“The clothes are covered in blood. I don’t know what you…”
“I will handle it.”
“Are you sure? You could just throw them away.”
“No I’ve got it.”
“I also need some clothes.”
“You got it.”
I know that I called and texted Justine and Troy from the ambulance or the emergency room or both. I have no idea how those conversations went. I do know that if I were to have an emergency right now, I would call my mother, Justine, and Troy, in that order. Once they were informed, they were in and out of communication with me and in and out of whatever room I was in.
At some point, I was alone with myself and the hospital staff. The head of the ICU, the loud doctor with the Greek accent, came in and repeated a lot of the stuff that the gastroenterologist had just told me. He said that he would be around. He also told me about the preparation.
“You need to drink the stuff that will clear you out.”
“Yes I know about this. It’s a gallon of something, and it cleans you out.”
“Yes you will be clean straight through!”
“Outstanding,” I liked his enthusiasm. I also liked the idea of a thorough solution. It sounded like power washing the walkway leading up to a front door. If I got nothing else out of this, at least my colon would be completely scrubbed clean.
“Also. The gastroenterologist wants you to have an enema after you are done with the juice.”
The gastroenterologist hadn’t told me that part, “Oh really?”
“He wants to make sure you are completely free of debris, and since you were bleeding…”
“No I completely understand. He doesn’t want to have to do this twice.”
“That’s right. And you don’t want him to have to do this twice.”
“That’s for sure.”
The nurses changed shift. A very pleasant and efficient young woman took over for the night shift.
“Is this a 12 hour shift for you?”
“It’s going to be a long night.”
She went through some logistics. Vital signs. Schedule for the night.
“You have to drink the juice that’s going to clear your colon.”
“Yes I’ve heard.”
“I’m just waiting for it to be delivered from the pharmacy. As soon as it gets here, you’re going to have to get started. You need to be done by about 1am.”
“All right. I’ll get it done.”
“Then sometime in the morning around 4am, I have to give you an enema.”
“Yes I’ve also heard that. We are going to get to know each other very well.”
Sometime later in the evening, probably around 9pm, Troy called me, “Hey I’ve got a couple things to do. Then I’ll be by there with Ashley.”
“Okay. But you may not want to hang out here with me. I’m about to drink that stuff that clears your colon out for the colonoscopy.”
“Roger that,” then he hung up on me. I kind of expected a response like that from Troy. He wasn’t asking me whether I wanted company while I jettisoned a gallon of liquid out of my ass. It just wasn’t an option to him for him not to be there. I knew it would be good to have him there, but I cannot explain exactly why.
I do know that I was terrified of the process of cleaning out my colon with that juice. I had not slept since that morning. It was still day one. Only 12 hours had passed since I had covered the emergency room stall with blood. I was imagining a hole in my colon that had clotted. Now I was about to drink a liquid that would pass straight through my bowels very quickly and under a lot of pressure. What if the hole was disturbed and I started bleeding again?
The gallon of GoLytely arrived from the pharmacy. I imagined the team at the pharmaceutical company that came up with that name. How amusing for them. There’s nothing light about how you go with that stuff. I have heard a lot about this beverage as my friends pass their 50th birthdays. Some people really hate it. They have a hard time getting it down because it makes them nauseous. I did not have this problem. I will describe the taste as unpleasant. It’s like soapy salt water. Troy showed up with Ashley sometime after I began drinking it.
Troy and Ashley did their routine of nearly constant off-color jokes and teasing me and each other. It’s very distracting. Often I am very focused on the things I am focused on. Sometimes, it’s good to have that focus broken. This was one of those times.
I was beyond decorum. I had been up too long with too many things happening. I shuffled with my IV pole between the bed and the toilet clothed only in a hospital gown. The toilet was around a corner in the ICU room and had no door. As expected, nothing but blood for over an hour. I was really worried that it was fresh. I tried to talk about it, but they just kept changing the subject. It’s amazing how easy it is to get to almost any humorous subject from blood coming out of your ass. Maybe Drew Carey should use it as a prompt on Whose Line Is It Anyway, “Things you say when blood is coming out of your ass.”
Around midnight, the liquid started running clear. It was a huge relief. I must have relayed that relief to Troy and Ashley. Their work was done, and they left me to my bursts which started to slow down around 4am. I was exhausted but knew I wouldn’t really sleep. Any time I got close to sleep, it was time for another trip to the toilet.
The nurse came in to give me the enema. We had a conversation about family and friends. The one thing that stood out was her saying, “My mother always said you have to have at least one friend that will go through anything with you.”
Yeah I’ve got that one friend, but do I feel obligated to remind the reader that she was shoving a tube up my ass as we were having this conversation. As I reminded her later, I knew we were going to get to know each other very well.
I know that I hadn’t slept when they came to get me for the colonoscopy. I think my mother was already there when they wheeled me out.
The room seemed a little small for the stacks of equipment and the four people prepping me for the procedure. It was a Friday, so they all sounded like people ready for a weekend. I know I was probably the last one. They had been at it for a long time already that morning. There was a lot of joking.
I had been up for 24 hours. 24 hours that had completely changed my life. 24 hours leading up to this procedure. A procedure that was not routine like the procedures already completed in their morning. Those procedures had been scheduled. This one was ‘squeezed in’. An emergency colonoscopy. If I hadn’t been so completely overwhelmed, rung out, and exhausted, I might have reserved some time for some anxiety, but I’m sure I was completely out of adrenalyn, and I certainly had had enough joking during the GoLytely experience.
They put me under around noon. This was the first time I had slept in 30 hours.
When I awoke, they were wheeling me back to the ICU. I might have been awake before that, but I was not really with it until the ride back. The Greek accent doctor met me as I was being wheeled into the ICU. There were more people in my room that weren’t there when I left. The doctor asked everyone, my mother, Justine and the kids, and Rebecca to wait in the hallway.
Once again, he was direct and clear, “They found many polyps in the lower half of your colon that the doctor removed. They also found a complete blockage near your cecum. There were many polyps in that half of your colon. Too many to remove. It doesn’t look like any of these growths have grown out of your colon. Polyps grow inside and when they run out of room, then the growth can start to get outside of the colon. It doesn’t look like the polyps grew back out of your colon into your abdomen or into your small intestine. I am fairly certain it will be recommended that we remove that upper half of your colon. Of course, there is the question of cancer, but we won’t know anything until we get the results from the polyps that were removed. Those polyps appear to be cancer free, but we won’t know anything about the upper half until after the surgery. We are going to keep you until you have the surgery, and since it’s Friday, that means you stay here until at least Monday. I don’t know when they will get you onto the schedule, but it may be as late as midweek.”
My life was being consumed by schedules as he spoke. I saw a web of days and procedures and office visits and hospital stays.
“Did they find the place where I was bleeding?”
“No, but it seems obvious that something broke loose since you were almost completely blocked. The people that are here are your family?”
“Yes. My mother is here. You met her last night.”
“Could you please explain it to her as well? She will have questions that I won’t have the answers to right now.”
“Absolutely. I will go talk to her right now. Do you want me to let everyone come back in or do you want a few minutes to yourself?
“No everyone can come back in. Who will be doing the surgery? Do you know?”
“Probably Dr. Garza. She is very good.”
Justine, the kids, and Rebecca came back into the room. I explained the findings – that I would be there until they could get me on the schedule to remove half my colon. There was very little to be said. I know Rebecca probably thought they were visiting me as I was convalescing not just as I was receiving life changing news. My mother came back as I was explaining. The conversation shifted. Rebecca bowed out knowing that we were shifting toward a family discussion.
My mother looked a little stunned, “I was talking to Kathy as you were in there. I was saying, something is definitely wrong. He has been in there too long. A colonoscopy takes 15 minutes. 30 minutes tops.”
“How long was I in there.”
“Well they took you out of here at about 11:30.”
“What time is it now.”
“It’s almost 3.”
The Greek Accent doctor came back in with a packet paper stapled together.
“I took some screenshots and made a report so you could see what they saw.”
Too much information for the kids, Justine bowed out as well. I hugged the kids. Justine pointed to the bag of clothes she had brought to me. I nodded and thanked her.
The doctor flipped through the report as my mother watched from across the bed. There were color pictures of the inside of my colon.
“This is the lower half of the colon. The healthy part. I circled the polyps they removed. Here it is before and after. You can see the staples they used to hold it together after the removal. And here is the upper half of the colon. You can see that there is very little of the tissues that look like colon in this half of your colon. And here is where the cecum should be but we can’t see it at all because it is just completely blocked by polyps.”
“Wow,” that’s all I had.
“We have to keep you here, because that is a dangerous blockage. We don’t want to send you home and you have another bleeding event.”
“Oh believe me. I don’t want to go home and have another bleeding event. If you say I stay, I stay.”
“We will be moving you out of the ICU. The order is already in. You will go to one of the normal units for the weekend until the surgery.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
My mother looked exhausted. The nurses arrived minutes later to move me up to the eighth floor. My mother followed with bags of stuff again. We arrived to a private room that was certainly very private. I got myself situated in the bed.
“Larry. I’m not going to sit down. Here are the clothes that Justine brought you. I have to go home. I’m exhausted and it’s a long way. And I…”
“Mom. I know. I’m going to need you later. Take care of yourself please.”
She hugged me. Then she left.
This was the first time I had been alone, really alone, the entire time I had been in the hospital. The door closed and a reality that I was not ready to be alone with swallowed me. I jumped out of bed, put my jeans on, and walked out of the room. I walked to the nurse’s station with my IV pole.
“Hi. Um. Is it all right if I walk around the hospital. I need to walk. I know that I’m going to be here until next week when I have surgery. I just know that I’m going to need the exercise.”
“Yes. Of course.”
I walked around the hallways for a while. Rebecca called me while I was walking.
“How’s it going?”
“They brought me to this room, and everyone left. I’m just sitting here alone. So I started walking around.”
“Do you want me to come back?”
“Jeremy will be with me.”
“Yes of course.”
I don’t remember how I passed the time before Rebecca came back with Jeremy. I was definitely working on something that I couldn’t articulate to myself. I needed to think out loud, and I didn’t know what that was going to sound like. I was standing when they came in.
Rebecca hugged me, “How’s it going?”
“I don’t know. You want to see some pictures of my colon?”
I showed them the blockage and the healthy portion of my colon for comparison.
“There were so many people in the ICU. Lots of activity. So I came back from the colonoscopy and I got all of this news very quickly.”
“Yes that’s why I left. There were a lot of people.”
“Then they brought me up here and closed the door.”
The three of us were still standing.
“And I started to panic a little. I’m going to be here until they do the surgery. I made sure I can walk around. I have too much energy to sit around all day.”
“Yeah I can imagine.”
“It’s cancer. I know they aren’t going to say it until biopsies are done, but it is cancer.”
Rebecca was clearly trying not to visibly emote. I don’t know Jeremy very well. He is new to our crowd, but I like him a lot. I was so overwhelmed that it didn’t matter who was in the room. I needed to say this to someone I had known a long time. I’ve known Rebecca a very long time.
“I’m stuck on my kids. It’s been a very tough, very long couple of years. Justine was sick – I mean she was always sick, it’s not like she just got Lupus. It just wasn’t as bad. But Lucy was only 6 years old when it started to get serious. That’s like all of her permanent memory started with Justine being sick. Then getting seriously sick. Then we finally figured out what was wrong with her, and she started to get treated. And Justine thought she was going to die. Hell I thought she might die. It was an incredibly difficult time. It certainly was hard on Iggy and Lucy.
“Then she started to get better and the divorce started. Of course that was very unpleasant. And Justine was getting treated and dealing with other stuff and while she was getting better and figuring out how to take care of herself, the kids were with me. And then we moved a couple times. And I haven’t been in the best shape emotionally. I’ve been fucking depressed. Like seriously depressed. Well you know that.”
We were all still standing. I was getting worked up and my words were just falling out. I don’t think I sobbed, but I could definitely feel the tears.
“And they’ve seen that depression and uncertainty. And we were just getting there – where things are all right. Justine is around all the time. She seems so much better. She’s not in pain all the time. I took a couple of trips this summer with the kids. I introduced them to people that they’ve heard about from me. I finally took them on a road trip. Iggy got to drive in West Texas. I finally felt like things were settling down.
“You know, when anything happens, they both look at me. I can feel it. They just both turn and look at me. And I try to just project it, ya know. It’s me. I’m Larry Fucking Lines. Everything’s going to be okay. I got this. And I really believed that, so it was easy. Everything was going to be okay. I just don’t know how this one’s going to turn out. I really don’t.
“Then I think about them looking at me. And I can see them looking at me again here in the hospital. And I don’t know what to project. Because I know what this is and it could end the other way. And I’m not going to lie to them. I’ve never lied to them before. I’m not going to start now. But I don’t know what I’m going to say.
“Iggy is 16 and Lucy is 10. She’s fucking 10. What the hell. I’ve been a rock through the last couple of years. But I can’t… I can’t leave her at 10. I’ve got to make it at least until she’s…”
And I couldn’t go on anymore after that. Rebecca came over and hugged me. I really needed her to make that gesture, but I didn’t feel it at all. But I knew I needed to not have that particular moment alone. The moment that I accepted that I might die. The moment I dealt with the panic for Iggy and Lucy and my feelings of failure for not being able to protect them from this.
After that, I was able to sit down and be in that room. I certainly don’t remember any of the rest of the time that Rebecca and Jeremy were there. I know Troy must have walked in at some point. The rest of the evening was explaining to people on the phone what was happening. I called some people directly that I didn’t want to hear about it through social media.
After that panic, I rapidly made my way to a fundamentally different kind of acceptance. Hearing myself talk about how I couldn’t leave Iggy and Lucy alone made me understand how absurd that sounded. I can’t base my life around being around as long as I can for them. A white knuckle survival. It’s also kind insulting to them and the people I know them to be.
I want them to go on with their lives whether I’m alive or dead. Anything can happen at any moment. An asteroid could wipe me out right now. Am I prepared for that? Absolutely not. Who is prepared for their death? Who is prepared for the death of a loved one? You can imagine it all you want, but none of us know when it’s coming. And when it comes, we don’t know how we’ll handle it.
Justine and I have raised two amazing and competent human beings. They will be fine if either one of us or both of us die in a year or fifty years. They will be sad either way, but we’ve done a good job. They will make their way through this world just fine.
I will not live out my days in a panic. I could make it a year or fifty years. Either way, I am going to live this life, and I’m not going to live it in fear of death. This world was here before I got here, and it will be here when I’m gone. But while I’m here, there is a whole lot of living to do.