It's the Monday before Thanksgiving, and my wife, her recently
widowed mother, and I get out of the car in the parking lot of the
"This place gives me the fantods," I say as we walk toward the
"Me too," my wife says.
Her mother doesn't say anything. She's become too tough to get
My wife and I have the fantods because we've been in this building
* * *
It was on March 21, eight months ago. We went in for a grotesque
little procedure called a colonoscopy. My wife's.
While she was having it, I sat in the waiting room and waited.
The TV was bombarding the room with squeals, shouts, laughter, and
applause. We who were waiting were trying to block out all the gaiety. I
read a Time article about Katie Couric spreading the word about colon
cancer. I scared hell out of myself.
After an hour or so, the nurse led me to one of the curtained-off
places in a back room where my wife was still dopey from the sedative they
give you so you won't remember just how grotesque a colonoscopy is.
"How'd it go?" I asked her.
"I think something's wrong," she said. "I think they found
On the table were three photos the scope had taken of the inside
of her large intestine. One of the photos had the word "malignancy" on
And that's when the colonoscopy doctor came into the curtained-off
"Looks like a malignant tumor," he told us. "Can't tell for sure
without a biopsy, but that's what it looks like. It's not the end of the
world, but your lives are going to be changed."
"Oh rats," my wife said. I didn't say anything. I felt queasy.
Everybody we'd ever known who'd had colon cancer was dead.
The colonoscopy doctor went on to talk about surgery and oncology
and chemotherapy, terms that had long ago replaced four-letter words in my
lexicon of taboo language.
We drove home from the Endoscopy Shop in silence.
Then people who'd had colon cancer and weren't dead began coming
out of the woodwork. They brought us flowers and food and stories about
* * *
Eight months later and my wife has had surgery to remove ten
inches of her large intestine, 20 treatments of chemotherapy, and lots of
medication for diarrhea and nausea. It hasn't been the end of the world,
but our lives have been changed.
And now on the Monday before Thanksgiving, it's time for another
colonoscopy to see how much good it's all done.
The Truth, Mainly
So the three of usmy wife, her mother, and Iget out of the car
and walk toward the Endoscopy Shop.
"This place gives me the fantods," I say.
"Me too," my wife says.
Inside, the waiting room is exactly as it was last March, the TV
tuned to the same programs, the same squeals and shouts and laughter and
applause. The only difference is that the cover story in Time is about
Florida vote counts instead of colon cancer.
We sit waiting, our eyes not meeting the eyes of the middle-aged
folks who also sit waiting, mostly couples, mostly with strain showing on
their faces. They look as if they too have been here before, as if they
too know what's coming.
After 20 minutes, a nurse calls my wife's name. For the next
hour, my mother-in-law and I try to read. We look up every time the nurse
comes in to fetch a relative of another colonoscopied patient.
"Rita?" the nurse says. Then ten minutes later, "Earl?"
Finally, she says "Leon?" and leads me back to the curtained-off
"How'd it go?" I say to my wife.
"What time is it?" she says, still dopey from the sedative.
On the table are photos of the inside of her large intestine.
They look like pictures taken inside a wet, orange tunnel. I'm looking
for what I saw in March-the word "malignancy."
That's when the colonoscopy doctor comes into the curtained-off
"We got the scope around all the corners this time," he says.
"Might be a little diverticulosis, but no polyps. The colon's nicely
healed. Looks fine."
"Oh good," my wife says. I exhale.
"You might want to have another look at it in a couple of years,"
the doctor says, "but it looks good."
It looks good, he says. He says it looks good.
Not a bad way to start Thanksgiving week.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail