Intrusive thoughts

February 15, 2017 § Leave a comment

The problem with prescience is that you rarely believe it will apply personally. It was the confluence of two apparently unrelated streams that wiped the wry predictive grin from my face. The source of the first stream was Cologne Christmas market. Browsing the stalls we spotted amongst all the toys the carved wooden figurine of a stern Germanic nurse. My daughter had just qualified as a nurse so we bought her the figure to celebrate her graduation. It was only when we gave it to her a few weeks later that a closer look suggested that the purpose of the enormous syringe the nurse was brandishing was more likely to be for enemas that measles inoculations. How we laughed. And so it was, a little later, as I tried to process the result of the US election while watching the Presidential inauguration. Independent of either his character or his politics, watching Trump’s performance it was hard not to be astounded by the severity of his incompetence. Or, as I thought to myself as I watched his speech: “Strewth mate, that joker wouldn’t know how to pull a greasy stick out of a dead dingo’s arse!”

Seeing the enormity of Trump’s ineptness inevitably raises the question of whether he will take us to hell in a handcart before he either implodes with frustration and the unfairness of it all, or is impeached. I remember Nixon’s impeachment fight which he escaped by resigning and how it highlighted the difficulty of ridding yourself of a president who is either corrupt or inept or, as in Trumps case, both. But then of course there is the obscure amendment 25 of the US constitution which allows a president who is incapable of carrying out his duties to voluntarily (maybe with encouragement) hand over power to the vice president. It turns out this device has only been used twice, once with Reagan, although (and how like Reagan) he had trouble recalling whether or not he had, and once with Bush Jnr who had briefly handed over power to Cheney. How difficult it is not to smile when you discover that in both instances power was transferred when Reagan and Bush were sedated as they underwent colonoscopies.

Anyhow, I was still being amused by the thought that the safest time in the next four years may be if Donald Trump has his bottom probed when the results of my own screening came back. Where I live there is a standardised screening of the older population for colon cancer. In exchange for popping your poo in the post every couple of years, they write back and say you are good to go and should last another few years. Not this time. No this time I’d tempted fate with the Germanic nurse doll and my amusement at presidential colonoscopies. This time I was called in.

First an induction interview at the hospital. The nurse’s English was better than my Dutch but I think there was something lost in translation when she explained that the purpose of the pre-examination laxatives was to make my colon look “pretty”. It was all very amiable and reassuring and by the termination of the interview I was able to half convince myself (well, maybe quarter convince) that I wasn’t about to die of cancer of the bowel. Then a week’s wait until the colonoscopy proper, the last two days of which were spent hovering over a toilet bowl prettying up my innards. Well, at least they had given me a choice of either the orange or lemon flavoured laxative.

The big day arrived and at 2:30 I presented myself at the colonoscopy clinic and was escorted to a small side ward. There was the usual round of handshakes and pleasantries with the ward nurse and the four other patients. I barely had time to take my shoes off and fire up my kindle before I was being wheeled along the corridor to the theatre. (Like in the movies, the lights in the corridors really do seem to flash as you are wheeled under them) Again, the whole procedure was an exercise in amiableness. The Dutch put great emphasis on gezelligheid, a uniquely low countries’ concept that combines cosiness, security and cloying pleasantness and so it was with the colonoscopy. The three nurses and the doctor all shook hands with me and smiled a lot before turning me on my side and getting stuck in. It took me a while to realise that the orangey/ pink thing displayed on the screen in front of me was my own colon.I can’t say it was pretty but it was certainly perfectly presentable.

It’s hardly surprising that when you lay there looking at an enormous orange-hued arsehole on a flat screen monitor you inevitably think of Donald Trump. It proved surprisingly distracting and paradoxically reassuring. After all, with Donald Trump as US president surely it was unreasonable for any of us to expect to be alive in four years time. And it’s probably  too much to ask for but one can only hope that on the day Trump’s finger begins itching to press the red button, it is compensated for by an equally compelling itchy anus and he ends up triggering the 25th amendment rather than the nuclear holocaust. Laying there in a cocoon of gezelligheid listening to the doctor and nurses natter away, I wanted to reassure Trump that if he ever found himself in my position there was nothing to be frightened of. But then I realised that Trump is a self-confessed germophobe who is frightened of germs, and shaking hands,  and stairs, and women, and people of colour, and Mexicans, and Muslims, and the disabled, and newspapers… and, and, and… Indeed, Trump seems to find pretty much everything frightening, strewth, he even seems terrified of Australia…okay, the wildlife is pretty scary (and I’m not just talking about Barnaby Joyce) but, for God’s sake, Australia!

I guess some people, like Trump, look at the world only in terms of the threats it poses so I’m sure that he when faced with the compulsive need of Dutch medics to shake hands would be terrified of that alone and make sure that his special presidential counsel for carrying the hand disinfectant was close by. For my part I cannot imagine where in the world I would have received better care than I did that afternoon, although even if he is a self-professed man of the people (right!) it’s unlikely that Trump will present himself to a small provincial Dutch hospital. Instead, if the polyps look like proliferating, President Trump will be admitted to the Bethesda Naval Hospital where his medical care, no doubt, will be overseen by a Rear Admiral.

It’s said that a good way to deal with fear is to imagine something even more frightening, so thank you Donald Trump for helping me through what could have been a pretty trying half an hour or so of being poked and prodded. Almost before I knew where I was, I was being wheeled back to the small side ward where the ward nurse reassured me that although they had excised some polyps, they hadn’t discovered anything nasty. She then helped me get my trousers on, escorted me to a side room which was laid out like the breakfast buffet at a Travelodge and invited me to help myself to a cup of tea and something to eat. Ten minutes later she came back with my wife and although it wasn’t exactly me transferring the nuclear codes, the nurse did make me hand over my car keys. Just as we were leaving there was a cheer from the end of the ward as a 92 year old woman was being presented with a second slice of vlaai. She had such a wonderful smile on her face that you could see just what she would have looked like on Liberation day seventy-two years earlier. Turns out that she had won the sweepstake for the patient who had the most polyps removed that day.

So, all in all it was not a bad afternoon which turned out well. A week later the doctor telephoned to confirm that although they had removed some polyps, the biopsy was back and she was pleased to announce that I had a totally benign bum, which was nice. However, as a further precaution they will call me back in three years for another colonoscopy. Good timing really as that will fall at the height of the frenzied US presidential primaries, so I’ll have plenty of material to get me through the afternoon. A final benefit of the day is that I’m confident that I now have sufficient grounds to convince my daughter to take up a less intrusive specialism, maybe dermatology!

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