Jun 4, 2006

The Family Jewels...Hardboiled

Yesterday, I listened to episode 312 of Ira Glass' This American Life that included many folks reading letters they've received, sent or found. This got me thinking about my Great Uncle Frank.
People came for two nights, and read their letters onstage. They were old letters. Embarrassing letters. Some were funny. Some were poignant. They told a wide range of stories: a heartfelt letter from prison, a hilariously pretentious job letter sent to the New Yorker magazine, a wringingly sincere teenage "should we be more than friends" letter.
Uncle Frank wrote letters and if he were still with us he'd be a good blogger. I never knew him, but when my grandfather passed away, I remember gathering up his belongings and finding the following one, written many years ago by the esteemed Uncle Frank. It is his hilariously detailed account of hemorrhoid removal. I'm sure the process is more simple today and I can't help but feel sad that he lived in a time before Preparation H.

Here we go:
Well, I'm out of the hospital at last and feeling pretty fair except that the tail light is still flickering. But I'm ready to tell you all about my operation.

First, I want to pay homage to the most abused and misinterpreted part of the human body and place the lowly rectum well up on the list of essential organs. Just because of its topographical location, out of sight and out of mind, don't let anybody kid you about its importance. Just because it is the usual receptacle and place appointed to receive all items directed to it conversationally, and because it is often the target of a well-placed shoe, let's be philosophical about this unworthy treatment of a delicate rosette, and view the subject with a fair and open mind, even if it is below the belt.

Have you ever had hemorrhoids? Well, brother, if you have them, keep them. Don't let anybody get their hands on 'em. I offered mine to science and that was my first mistake.

More after the jump.

The night before the surgery, several deceptive practices take place. First, as a touch of indoctrination and toughening up, the rear end and surrounding terrain are shaved - dry, not wet. Try it on a day's growth of beard. I had been growing hair south of the border for over forty years, and was very proud of it. As a little detail, new blades don't count - the older they are, the better.

As soon as the orderly has finished sandpapering your bottom, he looks at you with great anticipation and says, "I'll be back for you in a few minutes to give you your first enema." You hardly have time to consider what the effects of this treatment will be before he returns to usher you down the hall to the men's "john." He asks you to bend over and very quickly inserts a little greased red rubber tube about six inches up that sensitive organ, which is very sore, otherwise you wouldn't be here for the operation. Then he releases a clamp on a container of water which you think will never empty. When the orderly says that you have taken about half of it, you warn him that he had better get out of the way, because if you have to take that much more there is liable to be an explosion that will make the atomic bomb at Hiroshima seem like just a pop-gun. Well, after what seems like just hours he removes the tube and you let go with a blast that you are sure removed any hemorrhoids you might have had.

About this time, one's peace of mind is slightly disturbed. The ordeal of preparation over, anticipation now weakens the body beautiful, which has become so ragged from the past hour's treatment. After all, you have only had those piles for six or seven years - they really don't hurt so much - maybe we had better skip the whole thing. Brother, it's too late!

That night, after a big dinner consisting of tea and boullion, a nice little sleeping capsule is administered, which robs you of your will to go home and forget the whole thing. First thing in the morning, when you open your mouth to ask the nurse to call your doctor and tell him that you have decided against having the operation, another capsule is popped into it. To make doubly sure you can't get away, a shot of morphine is then administered. MORPHINE - that deceiver of deceivers - that seducer of will power - that false, hypocritical inducer of hollow friendships. Rolling into the surgery, even the gleam in the surgeon's eye is mistaken for a tender beam of sympathy. Your heavy eyes vaguely take in the assorted knives, hooks, bandages and hungry looking assistants. Things are bright indeed - all's right with the world, and at this moment you're glad you came. Even the four-foot needle used for the anesthetic holds no terror for you. As a matter of fact, you don't even feel the needle going in - you don't care - your toes tingle - in a few minutes you can't even move your legs, much less your toes - then you become a complete blank. That, brother, is a big moment - they've got you where they want you.

At this point I'd like to tell you about the new anesthetic, Pentothal Sodium. From the insertion of the needle until two hours later when I was back in my own little bed, I knew nothing. On awakening, I found a couple of nurses in my room, and being a pretty tough and brave guy anyway, I greeted them, and bragging a bit, kept repeating, "There's nothing to it, it was just a breeze." I realize now the nurse was trying to prepare me for what was going to happen when she said, "You're still on a jag."

A little while later the jag starts to wear off - you can wiggle your toes again but you don't care if you don't and wish you hadn't. Then it hits you so hard you can't breathe and again you don't care if you don't. Hot, searing pains in solid waves permeate your rear end and hit every nerve in your body. My God, they left a red-hot iron in your rear end or at least a pint of molten lead.

You can't move away from that or escape it. Every odd second, one of those muscles you trusted all your life pulls your sphincter into a spasmodic contracting grasp. Every breath comes through that seething furnace that never gave you any real trouble before - you also exhale through it. Even a couple of morphine shots only dull it enough to make you realize you'll never eat again, even if you live.

Following surgery, you spend a part of your time soaking your rear end in a contraption called a Stiz Bath (a large tile bowl containing water). If the water isn't hot enough for the attendant to jerk his hand out boiled, it doesn't count; even if the family jewels come out hardboiled, you sit there twice a day for half an hour. This, undoubtedly, is a toughening up course for things to follow.

We'll skip the forty times you try to void water and finally exhausted, have to be catheterized. (Did you ever try to pass your water against gravity?) We'll skip the next few days of trying to get the knack of blowing gas around the ten inch wick they plugged you with. We'll skip all the sleepless nights and dry days and go on to the moment you've dreaded. Now the fun begins.

Despite holding back for five days and despite the so-called "soft" diet (tea, boullion and jello), in which you have no confidence at all, you finally must heed Mother Nature's call. I must tell you, however, that the morning of this particular day, one of the best-looking nurses on the floor came in with what looked like a nice gin drink, but turned out to be a great big glass of mineral oil. Never having had any experience with mineral oil, I had no idea of what was likely to happen. At about 4:30 that afternoon, after company left, I thought I could urinate, so I gingerly stepped out of bed, picked up the urinal and started to release the muscles which control the bladder. When I did this, I suddenly discovered that the mineral oil had reached its goal, and there I stood in the middle of the floor and the men's "john" two miles down the hall.

The worst part of this episode so far was humiliation and embarrassment, but when I finally reached the "john" I sat gingerly on the seat, and hanging on to all available support, let go with more solid stuff. The last part of this first movement and the next ten or twelve more were a constant passing of broken bottles, old razor blades, molten lead and sulphuric acid, nicely garnished with bits of barbed wire, porcupine quills and jagged pieces of tin cans. To insure complete passage of those ingredients, each movement is followed by an enema, normally administered by a small, rubber tube, but to wash out the assorted debris and rusty cans still left, a short section of fire hose is used instead.

Next day you're served the best looking tray you have seen. You take one look, and then remember what goes in must come out and, I'll tell you the truth - you can't swallow a mouth full. The nurse assures me that the worst part is over so you can start taking a little nourishment at the next meal.

In my next letter, I'll describe my experience with a bed pan. Bed pan - that's an odd shaped gleaming porcelain vessel used as a throne that makes you happy you are only "King for a Day."

Don't say I didn't warn you,



Anonymous said...

Uncle Frank with internet access is a scary thought!

wharman said...