My Disposable Rocket

“Inhabiting a male body is like having a bank account; as long as it’s healthy, you don’t think much about it.”  It’s my favorite John Updike essay, and I re-read it from time to time to keep track of where I stand in the story’s chronology.  This whole Cap2K ( exercise is sort of part of that, particularly the effort to raise funds for prostate cancer research (which also plays a minor role in Updike’s tale).  I had promised earlier to tell about my most recent prostate adventure, and although the story is familiar to many in my workplace already, here goes:

One of the first things I did after moving back to the U.S. and getting a job with health insurance was to get a “physical”.  My employer provides pretty good insurance, and everyone always says you need a check-up yearly, especially as you age.  So, I made the appointment, showed up at the appointed hour, waited the federally mandated hour-and-a-half in the waiting room, and saw a doctor in non-emergency circumstances for the first time in about twenty years.  “Why are you here?” were his first words.  Admittedly, I am robustly healthy.  But he had already scheduled a solid ten minutes for my 30-minute physical, so we both said “why the heck not?” and did the check-up anyway.  Well, you don’t have to beat me over the head to tell me I’m not wanted, so that was the last physical I got for several years.

This last year, my employer and our insurance began strongly promoting preventive care, and offered incentives to undergo a check-up that included a biometric screening.  My initial reaction was to assume that this was a ploy to eventually weed out employees with a pre-existing disposition to various expensive ailments that might develop in the years to come, but on second thought I realized that I am not one of those people.  In fact, they might even consider lowering my premiums after a screening, so I signed up.  Amazingly, given the rapid advances in the U.S. medical field, that federal hour-and-a-half wait was still in effect when I showed up for my appointment, but everything else had changed.  First, I was met by an attractive young medical assistant who led me to the examination room.  One of the perks of being an old guy is that you’re allowed a limited amount of low impact flirtation with young women because you are obviously not a threat, so I took advantage of the opportunity during our short walk.  I find it relaxes me.  Anyway, she left and the doctor arrived, a very professional, very tiny Chinese woman.  I immediately liked her better than the last guy I had, because she seemed genuinely interested in giving me a physical.  So she did her thing, top to bottom, and then explained that it was recommended that a man my age get a prostate exam annually, and would I like to proceed with that?  I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before (I would have worn nicer underwear, perhaps), but I found myself again saying “why the heck not” in a doctor’s office and instructed her to proceed.  Again, a perk of being an older guy in this situation is that you are now theoretically mature enough to understand that the examining doctor is a doctor first, and being a woman doesn’t matter in the least, particularly when you think about the years of college and the enormous student loans she has to pay off.  So I began to drop my drawers when she says “wait one moment, I need to get an assistant”.  An assistant?  What did she have in mind?  I didn’t think my prostate exam would require even an entire hand, much less four of them.  Then I realized that perhaps her gender did matter, because she maybe needed a witness that nothing unprofessional happened.  We live in bizarre times.  And guess who the witness was?  Of course, the earlier victim of my suave flirtation.  I grew a great deal in maturity during that short examination.  I am a better man for it.  The doctor even felt things were going so well that she had me rotate forward to check for hernias at the same time (I really would have preferred a warning on that one for grooming purposes).  So there you have it, clean bill of health, plus an end to my uncalled for flirtation with women trying to do a difficult job.

Now my only remaining problem is timing.  I wasn’t planning on getting another exam this year, because I really am in a low risk group.  But strictly for the sake of my involvement with the Cap2K and this blog, I am leaning toward scheduling an exam so that I can share the adventure with everyone before I end this blog after the race.  Have to think about that one, because “a man and his body are like a boy and the buddy who has a driver’s license and the use of his father’s car for the evening; one goes along, gratefully, for the ride.”

Don’t take your colonoscopy personally.

It’s late at night, the kids are in bed, so it seems like a good time to continue talking about my colonoscopy!  Pop some popcorn if you’d like.  So, I’d left the family doctor with a more intimate relationship established following my prostate exam, and he hooked me up for a second date with a urologist to arrange for a colonoscopy.  As much as I think any normal man would want to avoid a colonoscopy, once you’re in a position where you can’t really avoid one (bad choice of words, perhaps), you might as well have a good time with it.  First, you might not want to become too aware of everything that could go wrong, such as perforating your colon while they’re in there looking at it, rupturing a bowel, etc.  I mean, once you’ve decided that you really need one, what’s the point in worrying about it?  Step one, the doctor writes you a prescription for a big gallon bottle of some truly disgusting stuff you have to drink a glass of every hour or so to clean out your guts so they can get a good look/see inside.  You begin around 5 p.m. the night before, and the first glass or two don’t have that much effect, other than making you gag.  But, boy howdie, around that third hour, the product begins to do its job, and I must say it is cleansing.  The doc said I only needed to drink about 2/3 of the bottle, but by the time I got to that point it was already past midnight, so I figured “in for a dime, in for a dollar,” and stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it off.  I was pretty proud of my accomplishment the next morning when I showed up for the procedure, but I guess it takes more than that to impress nurses nowadays.

Step two, once the doctor finished his early morning golf round and finally showed up, was to put me to sleep.  This was a revelation to me, solved all the problems I think most men have with submitting to a colonoscopy.  If I was going to be asleep and totally unaware of what was going on and who was watching it, it was sort of like it never really happened.  Voila, problem solved, nothing to be foolishly embarrassed about!  In fact, once I did come to, I could find no evidence that anything at all had been done to me medically to explain the large amount of cash that had just disappeared from my checking account.  From what I was told, I am absolutely hilarious when I am coming out of general anesthesia, and I am positive I was charming the nurses because I distinctly remember them laughing and shaking their heads, despite the fact that I wore a robe that had no backside.  My doctor, not so charmed:  I couldn’t get much info out of him (perhaps I said something untoward while still under the influence, and he took offense?  Sounds like me).  All I remembered was he said I was a-ok, you don’t have blood shooting out your ass anymore, so go home now.

And that is all there is to a colonoscopy.  I wasn’t exactly dancing the next day, but then I’ve never been much of a dancer anyway.  The whole process, from prostate exam through colonoscopy, was simple, relatively quick, painless, and not particularly embarrassing.  It’s not actually something I would recommend doing just because you’ve got some time to kill on a Tuesday, but on the other hand it is also not the kind of thing you need to avoid when needed out of embarrassment or fear.

My prostate gets wet

Day 1 of Swims With My Prostate.  I’m already in pretty good shape, and swim 1000-1200 yards pretty hard several times a week.  But the main goal in my preparations to not totally humiliate myself in the Cap2K is to build up a lot more distance during my pool sessions.  I hate swimming uninterrupted lap after lap in the pool, so I’ve taken a page out of my run training book and broken it down into shorter intervals swum at a faster pace than normal.  Up until today, after warming up with 3 X 250 of kick and stroke work, I’ve just been swimming 8-10 50’s on a minute split, which has become pretty easy now.  But the thought of swimming more is intimidating, especially after I saw the local Masters group’s workout up on the whiteboard at the Y:  32 X 25, 16 X 50, 8 X 100, 4 X 200, 2 X 400, and 1 X 800, for a total of 4,800 yards.  Ok, so, maybe I have some work to do.  But I like the structure of halving the reps and doubling the distances, so that’s where I’ll start.  Did my 8 X 50’s, then added on 4 X 100’s, and it was pretty mild.  Went to the outdoor pool at the Oakhill YMCA, which is pretty cool because this is the end of February and the weather was great, combined with having the pool exclusively to myself.

A pool of one's own

What is wrong with people?  My major complaint with swimming is the whole dynamic of fighting for a lane, which is so unlike running.  Most people are pretty nice, but a week doesn’t go by that I don’t run into some old guy (or woman) who feels they need the entire lane to themselves, or a couple that swims a 100 and then stands there talking in the pool for five minutes.  But that wasn’t the issue today, and the lifeguard was so bored that he took the time to coach me a little, and encouraged me to shorten my rests between splits.  I felt great after my 100’s, but I’m in this for the long haul, and am going to build up slowly and methodically.

I didn’t finish my story about my formal introduction to my prostate.  So we returned home from the vacation, and I let my wife in on my little secret.  I needed no encouragement to get a doctor’s appointment, and quickly began researching the issue on the internet while I awaited my visit.  The most encouraging news was that all the bad stuff that can happen down there is going to result in really dark blood, and mine was very bright red.  Plus, I have no family history of prostate problems, so in the few days leading up to my appointment I began to worry much less.  But every morning, there was still a lot of blood.  I went to my family doctor, who I honestly don’t see very often.  When I first moved to Austin and initially went in for a general checkup about ten years ago, he looked at me and said “why the heck are you here?”  I’m pretty healthy looking.  But he didn’t say anything like that once I told him about the blood shooting out my butt, and being aware that I am over fifty, we both understood that it was time to whip out the rubber gloves and drop my drawers.  I have to give the guy credit:  his skills were amazing.  The procedure was done and over in the blink of an eye, almost a magician’s trick leaving me in doubt that he had really done what he appeared to be doing.  He said that he didn’t find anything unusual, and we both had that shy hesitancy to look each other in the eye afterward that reminded me of teenagers at the end of a first date.  But the blood was of enough concern to bring out the big guns and schedule me for a colonoscopy, which is a whole other kettle of fish.  More on this in my next posts.

Swimming with my prostate

I will be swimming the Cap2K open water swim race on May 5 this year.  I put that out there now, because between now and then I will have multiple opportunities to back out:  I don’t have time to train, I haven’t put in enough yardage, I’m not that great a swimmer, I don’t want to die, blah, blah, blah.  But even right now, I know I could at least complete the race without further training (there is a one hour time limit), so all those excuses are irrelevant.  If I say publicly I’m going to do it often enough, the chances are pretty good that I will carry through.  I am a silly, proud man.

The Cap2K is a pledge swim in support of prostate cancer research, as well as being an open water swim down Town Lake.  I know a little about swimming, and a little about prostates, so this blog will be a celebration of both.

I learned to swim very young in Dallas, Texas, but was never particularly gifted.  In college, my enjoyment of running eventually morphed into the sickness of triathlons, and that was my first exposure to competitive open water races.  Happily, triathlons being composed of three events, my poor showing in the swim was always more than compensated for by my cycling and running performances.  It was the event I had to get through so that I could begin to really race once I got out of the water.

By a strange series of events, I spent 16 years working as a scuba instructor, making over 5000 ocean dives and spending most of my day in the water.  Scuba diving is not swimming, but you do acquire a very intimate relationship with water.  Being a fairly skinny dude, I sink like a rock, but I am very comfortable in the water.

On the other hand, I never had much reason to develop a relationship with my prostate.  I was aware that as I approached 50, it was recommended that I receive an annual prostate exam.  But like most men, I’m sure, I had some kind of ridiculous reluctance to have a total stranger stick his finger up my butt, medical degree or no.  That reluctance immediately disappeared the morning after arriving with my family at a vacation cabin on the Guadalupe River.  It was a several hours long drive, but the next morning I felt fine.  I like to start my free days slowly, so I was happy to quietly get up before everyone else, tip-toe into the bathroom, and take a seat.  I was immediately surprised to hear and feel an enormous rush of liquid shooting out my backside.  I felt fine, so diarrhea was unexpected.  But the real surprise was standing up to take a look, and finding the toilet full of my beautiful, bright red blood, and nothing else.  It doesn’t take much knowledge to understand that there is never a good reason to have blood shooting out your ass.

Not wanting to ruin the vacation by informing my wife, who foolishly loves me without limits and would immediately send me to the emergency room, I kept the blood as my little secret for the five days we were on the river.  But the day we returned, I had ample opportunity to learn all about my prostate.