New Grounds For White Coat Syndrome
You know you’re getting old when you are out for dinner with your friends and they start talking about their adventures at the doctor’s office. And some of them don’t spare any of the gory details.
A friend had just finished telling us about his colonoscopy and my wife said to me, “Why don’t you tell them about what happened to you in Japan?”
Like many emotional traumas I had managed to block it out, but it all came back. Just as there are eastern and western style toilets, based on what my friend had just said, there are also eastern and western style colonoscopies.
When your turn comes, I encourage you to be in the Western Hemisphere.
I had this little problem. Nothing major. At first I thought I’d eaten some bad sushi or something. But it didn’t respond to my tried and true method of “ignore it and it will go away,” so I figured I should have it checked out.
I asked around and got the name of Dr. Fuji. I went to see him and, to make a long story short, he told me that “a closer look” was desirable.
“How close?” I asked, totally rhetorically.
I called a friend in the US who is also a doctor to get a sort of remote control second opinion. He told me not to worry and explained the drill (no pun intended). He gave me some advice about “bowel prep,” a euphemism for the enema which patients are supposed to do at home.
“They didn’t say anything about that.”
“You better check. It’s kind of important.”
So I did. I called Dr. Fuji’s office and told the nurse, “Uh, I’m coming in for a (ahem) colonoscopy on Thursday.”
“That’s right!” she chirped happily, as if she couldn’t wait.
“Uh. I was wondering. When I made the appointment no one said anything about a, you know, enema.”
“Don’t worry. We do that here.”
Don’t worry? Just when I thought that there was nothing worse than getting a colonoscopy, I found out that there was something worse: Getting the deluxe package that included an enema.
Thursday morning I arrived at Dr. Fuji’s office determined to hold on to as much of my self respect and dignity as possible. With Japanese efficiency I was called in right on time. Not one, but two Japanese nurses, who looked like they were about fourteen years old, escorted me to a little room. Unlike the rest of Dr. Fuji’s staff, their English was very limited. Way too much of what followed was communicated in sign language.
They gave me this tissue paper garment, which was sized for the smallest Japanese adult, and told me to put it on. Usually you are allowed to do that in private. But they watched to make sure I did it right. And they constantly chattered away in Japanese. My Japanese was never very good and I certainly couldn’t follow their rapid fire conversation. I was fervently hoping that they weren’t talking about me, because in addition to looking like fourteen year olds, they giggled away like teenagers as well.
Here I was, scheduled to make a presentation to the board of directors of one of the biggest companies in Japan later that afternoon. What would they think if they knew that I’d spent the morning modelling a tissue paper smock for two nurses?
I was then invited to assume, what I later learned by reading the medical report, was the “lateral decubitis position” on the table. Basically that meant that I was lying on my side. The two young ladies proceeded to administer a professional enema. All the while chattering away in Japanese. I had no idea what they were talking about but I was sure I was hearing interspersed giggles.
After that particular eternity was over, they had me sit up. They pulled out this giant kitchen timer as big as a wall clock and set it for fifteen minutes. One of them, I assume the senior nurse, shook her finger at me and said sternly, “No poo till bell ring.” She then opened the door and showed me a bathroom with a sign saying “In use.” She demonstrated that it was actually empty and I got the impression that the sign was intended to keep it that way for me. Because less than a minute into the allotted time, I was in urgent need of using it.
They left me alone, trusting me to wait for the bell. That surprised me. I thought they would stay in the room to watch me. And enjoy my discomfort.
You know how slowly time goes when you are watching the clock? It’s even worse when you’ve just had an enema. But I was terrified of not making it until the bell. I had a vague idea of what was in store for me. It would be bad enough if they were nice to me. I definitely didn’t want to make them mad.
Fifteen minutes and thirty seconds later I emerged from the bathroom. They were waiting for me, hands on hips. “We do again.” I was informed. Had I done something wrong? Or were they just unable to control their sadistic urges?
The second time it was even worse. And I couldn’t last the full fifteen minutes. I did make it to twelve. I remember that distinctly. This time when I emerged they asked, “How was your poo?”
How do you answer that, I ask you?
Whatever I said satisfied them and I was invited to resume the lateral decubitis position. Dr. Fuji came in. I forgot to mention that he looked like Oddjob from Goldfinger without the hat. After a few pleasantries got down to business, in every sense of the term. It was fairly horrible but having inured myself to pain and humiliation I was fairly numb to what was going on. Suffice it to say that Dr. Fuji was operating a machine which sounded like a vacuum cleaner. I couldn’t see it but from what I could feel, it probably was.
The only good thing was that over the whine of the vacuum cleaner and the (I was convinced) continued giggling were Dr. Fuji’s assurances that all was well.
That afternoon I limped into the boardroom. You know how they tell you to relax when you are giving a speech by visualizing the audience in their underwear? Well even though I couldn’t sit down, I was never so relaxed. I just pictured all those old Japanese gentlemen in tissue paper robes in the lateral decubitis position.
It was truly a special moment.