By Van Smith
Published in City Paper, Nov. 14, 2007
My father seemed every bit the academic surgeon he was. His patient, professorial airs, strikingly polite and unpretentious, draped over him like the well-tailored suits he usually wore for work and family occasions. One Thanksgiving in the mid-1990s, just after my mother called out that dinner was about ready, Dad announced that he had something he wanted to show us.
“Before we sit down to eat, I’d like everyone to come into the TV room and see a VCR from my very successful doctor’s visit,” Dad said. “It’s very short, but it’s very important, and it’s a very good sign that Grandpa’s in good shape inside,” he explained as his grandchildren, all of them old enough to understand (and very much like) the words “VCR” and “TV,” expectantly gathered around the screen.
I don’t know about the rest of the adults present, but I thought what was to come would be something quite clinical and inscrutable, like blood cells moving around with running commentary by Dad, partly in Latin. That’s the type of thing that usually happened when he waxed about medical topics.
When I heard the word “colonoscopy,” my jaw dropped. It was too late to stop what was already happening. Nearly a dozen brains tried to process the hazy pink, gray, and brown images a tiny lens and light had recorded earlier that week, while traveling up Dad’s bum. “See how pink it is?” he cooed. “Now that’s a healthy-looking colon.”
Everyone watched, paralyzed and silent, as Dad explained that the camera was now bumping up against an interior sphincter muscle, now passing through it, and now, after traveling as far up as it could go, backtracking. Thwoop, back through a muscle ring, back, back, more pinkish tissue until . . . thwoop, back through another muscle ring . . . and there it was. A picture of my father’s anus, flashed up on the TV screen. It was up there for a second or two, a still image at the end of the tape.
As soon as it was over, I told Dad in no uncertain terms that he’d just done something that I was going to tell people about over and over again for years, and he just chuckled. “I’m proud of it,” he explained, “and I wanted to share it.”
Somehow, Thanksgiving dinner went on as normal. As far as I can tell, all the grandchildren have grown up to be quite normal, too. Perhaps it is I–the one who’s committing this story to print in a newspaper–who still has issues to work out over what happened. I think not. I think, just like Dad, I simply like to share.