Colonoscopy Blues and a Special In-Depth Playlist

To prep for a colonoscopy you'll need this medicine and a good diversion, like music
To prep for a colonoscopy you'll need this medicine and a good diversion, like music Photos by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

After about a 10-minute pre-op discussion with my gastroenterologist, in which I bared my deepest concerns about undergoing surgical procedures, I was wheeled into the operation room. Because I write about music and have always turned to it for solace in stressful moments, we also talked music during our pre-op chat. My doctor said he too loved music, had thousands of songs in his iTunes collection and that he regularly listened while performing procedures. So, a broad, pre-anesthesia smile broke across my face when I was carted into surgery with Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life" filling the room. Good one, doc.

This is the story of how I underwent my first-ever colonoscopy and how music was a part of that moment. That's the surface story, anyhow. And, it's an important one. According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both women and men in the United States. The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy says there's a 90 percent chance of beating colon cancer if it is detected early. Since there are few and only subtle signs, screening is critical. It's also working. The statistics suggest deaths by colon cancer are down 5 percent, more than other leading cancer killers like lung, breast and prostate cancer.

Beneath this main story line, there's the other tale, the one that's so commonplace we often ignore it. There's music around us always, punctuating everything we do, and certain moments allow us to really listen to the soundtrack to our daily lives. When we actually recognize it and share it with others, it connects us to one another and yields nice, human moments.

I'm 52 now, so I knew my primary care physician was going to order this examination at my annual check-up. I'll just call her Dr. Yana — how we refer to her in my house — and say she's maybe the coolest doctor around. She's kind and attentive, but also no-nonsense. She speaks Russian, just in case Donald Trump ever needs a check-up while he's in town. And, the legend is when she was still pre-med and living on the west coast, Green Day played a house show where she lived. Still waiting to hear from Billie Joe Armstrong for confirmation on that one.

Anyhow, Dr. Yana made the referral and sent me to Dr. Keith Fiman. The particulars played out but the bottom line (pun fully intended) was I was going to have a colonoscopy and needed to prep for the procedure. This meant a liquid diet the day before and then consuming medication prescribed to fully flush out my colon that evening. The medicine came in a box with the daunting words BOWEL PREP KIT in big purple letters for all the world to see. There was a 32-page insert about the medicine inside, but the instructions boiled down to this: mix with 12 ounces of water, drink quickly, chase with 32 more ounces of water within an hour and stay near a toilet. The whole process had to be repeated 10 hours later.

I was in and out of the restroom all night, but I endured it by creating a Spotify "colonoscoplaylist" during visits. I found there are actually a few songs titled "Colonoscopy," or that are subject-related. I liked Tim Hawkins' "Colonoscopy" best. He's a Christian comedy singer and does this humorous tune-slash-PSA with a Celtic flair. There are several songs which reference feces in their titles but, really, quite few actually about feces (this probably should be seen as a positive thing). For instance, Nelly's "Country Grammar (Hot Shit)" isn't a literal take on high-temperature poo, just as Houston Press "favorite" Wheeler Walker Jr.'s "Redneck Shit" isn't really about backwoods excrement. I found there are many more songs about buttocks which are actually about their subject matter: Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom" for instance and, of course, "Baby Got Back."

My playlist was at least 30 songs deep by the time my wife drove me to Physicians Endoscopy Center. Once there, I met Scott, an anesthesiologist. He came to do my pre-op anesthesia consult and I told him I was particularly nervous about the meds. Scott said I'd be given Propofol. He said the medicine has a bad rap because it's associated with Michael Jackson's death, but he reminded me that it was being administered improperly to the King of Pop. He told me the medicine doesn't stay in the system very long. He's been administering Propofol for 15 years and says it's safe. In fact, he said, the morbidity rate associated with general anesthesia today is incredibly low, so low they really don't even track it. A recent study says deaths associated with general anesthesia are something like less than one out of every 100,000.

Dr. Fiman arrived next and told me it's amazing that sometimes even some medical professionals fail to be screened even though they understand the procedure can be life-saving. He and I talked music, too. He said there are studies which show how playing music in the O.R. helps surgeons perform more successfully (but, he notes, it has to be music the surgeon likes to get optimal results - so, he doesn't play much country music when he's working).

A few minutes later the O.R. nurse, Angie, was wheeling me into the procedure area and "Lust For Life" came into earshot, so apropos for someone taking an exam to identify and eliminate any possible health concerns. I actually dug the fact that my doctor had a little bit of a punk edge to him. Angie said there's music playing nearly all day in the O.R. no matter which doctor is working. She says it never gets in the way of their work,either. That reminded me that these medical professionals are doing a job and music is helpful for them getting through the workday, same as it is for teachers, construction workers, baristas and others. As we we were discussing these music matters, Angie was also instructing me to roll onto my side so that my bare bottom was now viewable and in place for the procedure. As it sometimes does, music created a nice diversion for what might have otherwise been an uncomfortable scenario.

click to enlarge Just hours after the exam, the author was able to attend a concert - SCREENSHOT
Just hours after the exam, the author was able to attend a concert

Gloria was going to be my procedure's anesthesiologist and she said she enjoys music in the O.R. and while she's running. I gave her my mandatory track for any running playlist - Mark Ronson's and Amy Winehouse's "Valerie." If that doesn't get you moving, nothing will. I tried to chat nervously through the mask she fitted over my nose and mouth and she said I'd be asleep in 30 seconds and I was welcomed to either count or sing myself to sleep. And this is 100 percent true: the song "I Want You Back" scrolled onto the speakers as she said this. I couldn't see if Dr. Fiman had mixed that one in just for me, but I hoped so. Going to a Michael Jackson track just as the Propofol was taking effect - this guy totally gets me, I thought.

The next thing I knew, a recovery area nurse named Erin was patting my arm and bringing me out of a restful, albeit brief slumber. She said the medicine was going to wear off quickly and I told her that was good to know since the wife and I had tickets for Bruno Mars that evening. She said she'd seen Bruno at the rodeo and he was amazing and that she was involved with one of the rodeo committees and she loves the concerts and attends many. She said I couldn't drive to the show and shouldn't drink that night; but otherwise I was free to attend and shake my buns, which I did, of course because Bruno was incredible.

And why not celebrate? Dr. Fiman had returned to tell me that my tests were clear, that the camera revealed no polyps or concerns and that I was now on "the 10-year plan," good to go until my next screening in my 60s. I promised him that whatever I'd write wouldn't just focus on music but would strongly urge readers to get screened. It can't be stressed enough, he agreed. If you're of a certain age, the exam is a no-brainer. Then, my wife and I rested. I ate a good meal - my first in nearly two days- and we were able to enjoy the show since the day's events had provided us both some extra peace of mind.

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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.