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Life’s Funny

Just Doo It

The long way around a colonoscopy

By Maria Johnson

One of the pleasures of writing for O.Henry is hearing from readers who say, “That’s such a classy publication.”

Well, nothing lasts forever.

To be fair, the magazine remains a classy book. But this space, this month, might soil that reputation a tad.

So if you’re one of those people who likes to pretend you never doo, and even if you do doo, it doesn’t stink, please skip this column. But if you’re like the rest of us, and you’d try anything to avoid a colonoscopy, read on.

I’ll start with gratitude: I’m one of the lucky ones, intestinally speaking.

I have no family history of colon cancer, and therefore it was an option for my physician’s assistant to prescribe a noninvasive screening kit called Cologuard.

I had used earlier versions, and lemme just say that poo technology has come a long way since those first at-home tests, which were basically a few sheets of gift-wrapping tissue and some popsicle sticks.

Other advances — in cellular communication, point-to-point shipping and pharmaceutical-based musical theater — have made the process a true reflection of our times.

Recently, for example, I saw a television commercial that featured an animated box bearing the stylized letters “CG,” a sort of modern-day Kool-Aid Man, skipping through scenes where random adults, who all seem to know each other, converge in a park and sing the Cologuard song joyfully.

The chorus: “I did it my way.”

Somehow, I don’t think this is what Frank Sinatra had in mind.

But back to my tale.

My PA tells me she will have a test sent to my home.

About a week later, I get a text announcing that my kit is being shipped. Save the date!

Another text informs me when it’s delivered to my doorstep. For once, I’m not worried about porch pirates.

The next text reminds me to do what needs to be done.

Yet another text leans on me even harder. It says my provider is awaiting my test. I envision my bright and busy PA wondering — maybe over lunch— “Where is Maria’s poop sample?”

I am not moved.

The CG people know it. A brochure titled “Let’s Get Going” arrives in the mail, complete with diagrams and step-by-step instructions.

I flip through the brochure, which, I must say, editorially and graphically, is very well done.

I even open the Cologuard box, which rests on my bathroom counter, and unpack the contents.

First, I encounter a heavy-duty plastic bracket that I mistake for packing material. It’s so sturdy — and seemingly multipurpose, with a large hole in the middle — that I make a mental note to save it and hang it on the pegboard above my husband’s workbench. Never mind the stamped instruction to “Place Under Seat.”

Next layer: a sheaf of paper with 30-plus pages of instructions and inserts with the latest updates.

I start reading and get so nervous I have to go immediately. The test will have to wait for another day.

In the meantime, coincidentally, I see my OB-GYN for an annual exam.

She asks if I’ve done a Cologuard test recently.

“Funny you should ask,” I say. “It’s in progress.”

“In progress?” she probes.

“On my bathroom counter.”

“Oh yes, that’s where I put mine,” she says. “For about a year.”

My kinda doctor.

“The instructions stopped me,” I confess. “So much to read.”

She waves her hand.

“Just follow the diagrams. Like putting together a piece of furniture.”

“There are a lot of pieces in the kit,” I continue. “And when you’re done, you have to drop off the box at UPS.”

“And you know that they know what’s in there,” she said, barely suppressing a smile.

“And you know there have been mishaps!” I add.

So now, we’re laughing, my doc and I, about the potentially leaky life of Cologuard returns. And suddenly, there and then, I resolve to do it. The test, I mean. At home.

A couple of days — and a couple of cups of coffee — later, the time seems right. I go straight to the diagrams, referring to them as I quickly assemble a small plastic chamberpot over the toilet bowl.

I feel increasing pressure about hitting the target. I read on and hit another stressor: The volume of my contribution can be no greater than the liquid preservative that I’m supposed to pour over it.

Great. A mathematical word problem.

Dancing in place, I pick up the bottle of preservative, which says it contains 290 milliliters.

This really helps.

The instructions also warn against drinking from the bottle, which tells me that some poor souls have done this, hoping, I suppose, to shortcut the preservation process.

Obviously, Cologuard has heeded the advice of lawyers rather than, say, Charles Darwin, in writing these instructions.

I have dallied long enough. I dive in, hitting the brakes at an estimated 290 milliliters of relief, and add the liquid preservative.

At this point, I wonder why the kit doesn’t include a test for stomach cancer, because I nearly hurl at what I’m shipping to some poor unfortunate soul at Exact Sciences Laboratories on Badger Road in Madison, Wisconsin.

I apologize silently and seal the container tightly.

Not one hour later, I receive another text:

“Urgent reminder: Complete and ship your Cologuard kit ASAP.

Was there a camera in the box, too?

I hustle to the UPS store, chuck the box onto the scale, snatch a shipping receipt with eyes averted, and drive off in search of my tribe who, I’ve been led to believe, have done it their way, and are joyfully singing in a park somewhere.  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine. Email her at