There are few medical procedures more unpleasant than a colonoscopy or, more precisely, the physical preparation for a colonoscopy. But I am challenging myself to “find God in all things,” as Jesuit spirituality proposes, and so the colonoscopy, a side effect of turning 60, seemed a good test.
My family history dictates a close watch on my colon, so I made the appointment. As instructed, I picked up my prescribed gallon jug of the bowel-prep powdered substance, which goes by the grimly amusing name GoLytely, 10 days before the date.
Where was God in this? For starters, the fact that I have reliable health insurance is no small thing for which to be grateful.
For a week prior to the procedure, I was supposed to stay away from foods like nuts and whole grains and seeds and berries, and to choose smoother, less fibrous foods. Eating this kind of diet seemed like a return to my childhood of bland foods, but in doing so, I saw a glimmer of God in the memory of my mother’s cooking.
I sensed God in the heightened awareness of my own mortality.
The actual misery began on the day before the appointment, when I had to restrict myself to a clear liquid diet (vegetable broth, apple juice, light-colored popsicles), take a laxative, drink four glasses of water and then start drinking the gallon of reconstituted GoLytely. Every 15 minutes, a goblet of the sickening, slightly lemon-flavored fluid had to go down the hatch.
Then the pooping began. I believe I sensed God in the heightened awareness of my own mortality as my digestive system turned itself inside out and enslaved me to the commode. God’s comfort was surely found in the tub of ultra-soft, sensitive cleansing wipes.
The preparation ritual for the colonoscopy made me think of Professor Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. To get to an all-important horcrux (sorry, you muggles, it’s a Potter thing), Harry must make the professor drink the entire contents of an enchanted bowl. Dumbledore instructs Harry that, no matter how much he begs him to stop, Harry must force his beloved mentor to finish the bowl of liquid. And beg he does. “No, no, no, no, I can’t, I can’t, don’t make me, I don’t want to,” Dumbledore pleads. It’s an excruciating scene.
In her I saw the God of suffering, the God of dealing with one’s problems with grace and acceptance.
I knew the feeling. My own begging took the form of a Psalm that I tend to sing silently, over and over, whenever I need God’s help: “Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble; be with me, Lord, I pray....” God is easily found in the Psalms, after all, and I was in trouble.
I saw and tasted God in the blessing of the lemon wedge that the prescription literature had suggested I suck on before downing each dose of GoLytely. The extreme sourness of the lemon indeed helped the wretched medicine go down.
The going, however, was not light. The night was long and sleep was punctured by 100 trips to the bathroom. In the morning, wrung out and hungry, I found God’s tender care in my husband taking a day off from work and bringing me to the medical facility for my appointment.
“Thank you for coming in,” the nurse said. “A lot of people cancel on us at the last minute.”
“I was only afraid that you would say we had to reschedule,“ I managed in reply.
After that, I remember nothing. I might have found God in the anesthesia, but my memory of that lost hour is blank. I woke up laughing. I couldn’t explain what was so funny, but man, it was hilarious. I couldn’t stop the gales of laughter. And if God isn’t in a good belly laugh, I don’t know where God is. The apparition of the doctor gave me good news—no polyps, no cancer—and God was in my deep relief. Thank you, God. The doctor became more concrete as he said a bunch of other stuff I don’t remember, but he was thoughtful enough to send me on my way with a sheaf of his findings. He also gave me a printout of a series of graphic photos of my innards. Those were gross, although my intestines were impressively clean, and I could see God in the wonder of the medical technology that makes a colonoscopy possible.
My husband took me out for breakfast, where God was heartily present in the coffee and eggs and toast, and even in the little tub of marvelously delicious blackberry jam. After the past week of careful eating and insane purging, I tell you that I found God in that jam.
With the rest of the day free, we ran some errands. On impulse, I stopped in a salon to get my hair trimmed. The young cosmetologist mentioned that she had sprained her wrist in a fall, and was grateful that she hadn’t broken it, because she didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford a trip to the emergency room. In her I saw the God of suffering, the God of dealing with one’s problems with grace and acceptance and the God who is surely in favor of universal health care. All I could do in my pampered state was give her a big tip. And pray for her healing. And silently promise to write my senators.
The doctor gave me 10 years before I have to do this all over again. Just imagine all the days, all the joys and miracles and heartaches, and yes, procedures, in which to find God before then.