A month is a very short time in US healthcare. Within a matter of weeks, I had a mammogram, cervical smear and a colonoscopy, all included in my insurance under the banner of Preventative Care (or preventive as they call it here).
In the UK, even at the age of 60, I would have been offered the first two once every three years and the latter probably never; any medical word containing five syllables equals expensive. It reminds me of a cartoon I once saw in the New Yorker: a man lying on the analyst’s couch and the shrink saying, “Manic depression? Manic depression? Oh no, that’s way out of your price range.”
The mammogram involved machinery that made me think I had gone on vacation in Thunderbird 2. The paddles I remember from the UK transformed my breasts into muffins, but thankfully they were no more; instead, the 3D technology involved a gentle process that nevertheless produced hundreds of shots from every imaginable angle.
The smear was likewise painless. The last one I had in the UK made me feel as if I’d been attacked by a bear – from the inside out. For some bizarre reason, they always started with the metal tube that threatened to split me in half like a water melon; the one they ended up with, to fit my petite size, was barely wider than a nostril. Then there was the scraping, like a soon to be unemployed miner, desperate to get a memento of the last coal mine on Earth.
In the US, they were in and out so quickly, I didn’t even notice (a bit like some of my exes). I have no idea why in Britain everything was so painful, and across the Atlantic almost a pleasure to be put under the spatula/tube.
I was dreading the colonoscopy, however. Only once had any outside party ventured up there (I’ll ignore references to exes at this juncture; no means no, okay?) and that was when I was doing a show called So You Think You Want a Heathy Lifestyle? It required me to live mega healthily for two weeks and have colonic irrigation.
The procedure was to be performed by a male doctor, accompanied by his sidekick wife, the show’s director (female), and the camera and sound men. There was a poster of Princess Diana on the wall and the doctor explained how she was a big fan of colonics (not that it helped rid her of the toxins of her marriage, but that’s another story). I pondered that if I could look like her at the end of it, the trauma would have been worthwhile.
The problem was that I was supposed to go out on a bender with alcohol and a Vindaloo one night and, the next day, have the colonic to get rid of all the evil debris. Owing to the tight schedule, we had to shoot the scenes in reverse, so in the morning I had the colonic and in the evening went out for my monstrous meal. Alas, by that time, there was precious little to hold the food in and I recall running across the restaurant floor to the restroom, desperately trying to hold everything together. And failing.
The doctor had earlier said I had “stubborn stools” as I lay patiently on my back, awaiting the great swirling movie of my bowels he encouraged me to watch in the overhead mirror. By the time the Vindaloo had done its stuff later on, they weren’t so much stubborn as eagerly trying to sell themselves on the Black Market.
The American doctors were stunned I had never had a colonoscopy, which they perform as a matter of course here after the age of 50. Three days before, you are required to eat a low-fibre diet, so I had fish, potato without skin, eggs and herbal teas.
The day before, the great purge began. No solids, just clear fluids, four tablets and a whole 8oz bottle of powder to be dissolved in 64ozs liquid – 32ozs of which has to be drunk six to eight hours before the procedure, which in my case meant setting the alarm for 4am.
Niagara Falls doesn’t begin to describe what happened to my bowels (stop reading now if you are squeamish); but by the time morning came round, I was peeing in stereo, with only my vagina a safe dry crevice separating the geysers either side.
Fussed over by no fewer than nine medics in all, I wafted around in a gown that could have housed three Texans and still had room for a multi-story. I was told I would have a twilight anaesthetic, which is like sedated sleep (although I was given the option to stay awake throughout if I wanted to. No thanks: give me The Twilight Zone every time).
As with general anaesthetic, I had no memory of falling unconscious; I just recall being woken, when I started to tell them about a dream I’d just had; I think there were hamburgers in it which, not having eaten for 48 hours, was understandable.
The doctor arrived with photos of my super clean colon (I tell you, Donald Trump’s penthouse does not look more polished; there was not a molecule of waste in evidence. “It’s very clean, isn’t it?” I boasted. “Yes, you did really well,” she replied. I felt strangely proud; I may use one of the pics as my Christmas card).
There was one polyp, which I had given them permission to remove, and now that goes away for examination. Even if it comes back showing potential risk, it still means five years until my next colonoscopy, although most polyps are benign anyway.
I read more about colons, bowels and intestines in a week than I ever thought I would have to do in a lifetime. I lost just two pounds in weight, my stomach is still flabby, my tongue is sore as I bit on it throughout (clearly why no means no in the colonic vicinity) and I’m right out of toilet paper.
But somewhere in West Hollywood, I’ve doubtless made some plumber’s day.