When I told my mother-in-law that I intended to remain mindful throughout the process of my first colonoscopy, she said, “Take notes.” I think there was a wink in her voice, but in truth, engaging in careful observation and taking notes seems entirely appropriate to things like this: interruptions of somatic routine so potently dramatic they leave you, in Brechtian fashion, estranged and resensitized to the basic conditions of existence. You know: the existence where “you” are just a language virus with delusions of self that grew inside the complex brain of a hyperselected primate body that is itself a feat of natural evolutionary engineering—a body that will always remain, though you inhabit it every day like a complacent monarch riding in the cushioned control dome of some steampunk mecha, profoundly beyond your limited ken.
Of course, the ken I speak of is my own. In medical matters I am the ignorant beneficiary of knowledges, sciences, and skills practiced by my intellectual betters. I’m OK with that. One facet of any “procedure” is the way it enlists you in a sequence you have not authored and in most cases do not fully grasp (assuming you are in the hands of experts whose value is precisely the rarity of their depth of training). Everything was made simple for me, the poor shlub with the colon in need of scrutiny. The doctor gave a referral, CVS provided prescription medicine (a white paper sack the intimidating size of a Wendy’s bag), the endoscopy clinic called a week beforehand with instructions, a website took my medical history. By the time my wife dropped me off at the clinic and the automated doors opened for me and I handed over my ID and insurance cards, I was as locked into my path as a pinball in its spring-loaded launch bay, ready to be plungered into the careening, strobing field of play.
Given the nature of colonoscopies, I guess I shouldn’t be talking about getting “plungered.” My point is that I see phenomena like this as straddling the worlds of perfect order and mad chaos. It is a test, and if I pass, I get to go back to life as usual—life lived in happy ignorance of the body’s magical self-maintaining machinery and its constant potential for catastrophic breakdown. If I don’t pass, if they find something, I get the prize of a new and different future, one of which I am destined to remain acutely, painfully, fearfully conscious. Again, formalism.