BMJ 23 September 2000 Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:773
We doctors are human and frail, so we understand human frailty. In the same way we can truly comprehend illness only when we have been ill ourselves; intellectual knowledge is no substitute for bitter experience.
A few years ago I had a colonoscopy. The procedure itself was no problem and even the mandatory anal catharsis was passable, almost a pleasant diversion, like a walk in the country (albeit the country of the very weird). Thomas More, in his Utopia, described defaecation as being one of the primary physical pleasures, though I reckon such an extreme expression of this activity was not quite what he had in mind. However, despite these pleasant memories, drinking three litres of laxative the night before was an ordeal every doctor should himself endure before inflicting it on others. The advice leaflet recommended that the solution be chilled, but trust me, ice cold glop tastes just as bad as lukewarm glop.
And a further Bright Side; the gastroenterologist generously sent me some lovely pictures of my colon. Call me Narcissus, but the portfolio is as soft focused as a South Sea sunset; romantic, roseate, like a Martian cavern with disco lights, a hint of mystery behind every nook and crevice, the kind of place you could come round a corner and suddenly encounter Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre engaged in furtive conversation.
Not that there are any crevices, for the mucosal surface is as slick and smooth and admirable as a New Labour spin doctor; the walls not too mucousy, not too dry, just pleasantly moist. If my colon were a footballer, Barcelona and Juventus would be begging for my signature. I’d be a superstar, perhaps release an autobiography, write a best selling novel (if Jeffrey Archer can do it, why not my colon?), then the tabloids would be on my trail, perhaps exposing an illicit lavage, some compromising pictures of my colon in bed with Liz Hurley, then I’d be ruined; perhaps I’m taking this analogy too far.
So attractive though the pictures were, I don’t boast about them, nor show them off to my friends; there are some things a man just has to keep to himself, parts of the body too private and personal for public display, parts of the body even the most enthusiastic and uninhibited nudist would feel uncomfortable about advertising.
My colon and I must remain undiscovered.