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  • Just wait until you turn 50. So many things improve... the bennies start to flow. AARP memberships, senior discounts. You can back off on your aggressive and risky portfolio in favor of safer mutual funds without feeling a coward. You play catch up on your 401K and begin to plan retirement with your camera and laptop on an around-the-world trip. You can say outrageous things in public (mostly) and people take less notice. You can go out on your own without embarrassment to movies, dinner, walks, museums. You start to like your name and accept your shape. You give up the notion of riding a Harley and just appreciate those men in long gray ponytails and black biker tee-shirts stretched over paunches who still can. No one takes notice of you or fears you - female invisibility aside (will get its own story some day...).

    But along with all those perks, at fifty, you get to have your first colonoscopy.

    My friend Laurie, a nurse, had her first last week and needed a ride home from the hospital. I work fairly close by the hospital so I volunteered to taxi her. You have to go upstairs and check out the patient so I wandered around the nursing station while she got dressed, listening to the music of the recovery ward, abdominal gas being released and blood pressure cuffs being inflated, shuffle-swish of slippers and thunks of clogs, phones ringing in the distance and "paging Dr. Fine" overhead.

    Every hospital ward has its laundry cart with stacks of neatly folded and sorted nighties and towels and sheets. No surprise to find one here, but what I found surprising was the tubing. I started to consider how they might use them in the procedure, either the colonoscopy or endoscopy. I thought about how hard the plastic must have been, unyielding, like the tubing from a fish tank. My colon hurt just thinking about it. I couldn't remember any pain from my own several years ago, but I was sure the hospital I had mine in must have used the same equipment. I wanted to go and snip off a piece with the scissors hanging from the hook. I wondered why they weren't kept in sterile packaging.

    I pointed out the tubing on our way out. "That must hurt your colon, and why don't they keep them in sterile packaging?" She looked blankly at me for a moment. I wondered if she were still feeling the effects of the anesthesia.

    "Those are for the oxygen lines at the bedside," she said, finally reacting, but with a smile and a tolerant shake of her head. She pulled me along as I scanned the unit, making sure no one else had heard me.
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