It’s no fun, but the life you save may well be your own

Greg Bean

Here’s what I learned on my summer vacation: If you’re 50 years old and haven’t had your first colonoscopy, talk to your doctor, make an appointment and get ’er done. If you’re 60, and due for your 10- year checkup colonoscopy, don’t put it off. I did for almost a year, and the result was major surgery, eight days in the hospital, and a scar that makes me look like the human zipper.

On the plus side, they say they got it all, and I won’t have to undergo chemo or radiation. As the surgeon said, “We caught it in the nick of time.”

One good thing you can say about major surgery is that they aren’t stingy with pain medication. Over the course of those eight days, the line between what was real and what was happening only in my imagination got a tad blurry. I was mightily disappointed, for example, when I thought I heard the nice lady on the loudspeaker say that Leon Russell and his band would be playing in the lobby during the cocktail hour. The nurse on duty was not particularly amused when I insisted they wheel me downstairs for the performance.

At one point, I decided that there was probably a good book to be written about hospital roommates. The first guy sharing my room reminded me of that old lecher who used to hang out in the park wearing his raincoat on “Laugh-In.” I think it was Arte Johnson. At any rate, this geezer struck up a long-winded conversation with every nurse, nursing assistant and doctor who came in the room, and if they were female — as most of them were — he asked them the most inappropriate and offensive personal questions imaginable. I kept expecting one of them to slap him upside the head with an IV bag, but they showed remarkable restraint, and some of them even gave him an answer.

One of my roommates spoke only Russian and yelled at everybody who came in the room. And when he wasn’t yelling or glaring, he was snoring. As an added bonus, he tuned his television to the hospital’s instructional videos about caring for newborns and let it play from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. the next morning, when a nurse finally turned it off. Helpful hint if you’re going to the hospital: Silicone earplugs are a lifesaver. In the glass-half-full department, I learned some truly disgusting curse words in Russian, which may come in handy the next time I’m in Minsk.

And speaking of nurses, I can’t praise enough the nursing and support staff on the surgical floor of Saint Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick. It’s tough being stuck in the hospital after major surgery, but these ladies, and some gentlemen, were absolute rays of professional sunshine. I hope this hospital knows what a gold mine it has in its awesome nursing and support staff. I say give ’em all raises. They deserve it.

But back to my original point — you thought I’d forgotten it, didn’t you? — I figure getting that colonoscopy saved my life, even if it came about a year late. Are you due for one of your own? If you are, talk to your doc and make the appointment. It might save your life as well.

   Thanks to all the colleagues and readers who sent me get-well messages and cards. Even got a few cards from folks whose names I didn’t recognize, but who said they were regular readers of the column and missed it.

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And speaking of loyal readers, it is with a measure of sadness when I say this will be my last regular column for Greater Media Newspapers. I’ve been writing a weekly newspaper column for more than 30 years now, and if you stretched them end to end, they’d go for miles without ever reaching a conclusion.

It’s been a lot of fun, and I hope some of you have enjoyed something that appeared on these pages. I know you haven’t been shy about letting me know when something I wrote resonated with you, or set your teeth on edge.

I was looking through my old emails this afternoon, and saw that I’d saved more than 1,200 responses from readers just in the last few years.

And while many of them were of the “Dear Sir, you cur” variety, there were lots from folks who found something I wrote about families or living in this crazy world close enough to the truth that they took the time to drop a note and say thanks.

Like Lynn, who was moved by a column I wrote about my grandmother and her distrust of banks. She said: “What a beautiful column you wrote about your grandmother. She was an amazing woman, and after reading your column I felt I knew her well. All those years distrusting banks and credit, and when forced to open an account at age 90, what happens? She is robbed! She had great intuition.” Or Greg, who’d enjoyed a Father’s Day column I wrote, and said: “I just wanted to say that I enjoyed your article very much. It was very touching. I loved the story about the speeding ticket. I got a good laugh out of that one, and the story about your Dad’s last day brought a tear to my eye because I experienced a similar situation back in 1999 when my mother passed away from her illness. I was only 21 at the time. I just wanted to say thanks for writing that article. People tend to take their time with their parents for granted and don’t respect the fact that it could all be over in a blink of an eye. I hope your article reaches some of those people before it’s too late for them.”

Responses like that made it all worthwhile, but after all these years and unrelenting deadlines, it’s time to move on and try something different. If readers show some interest and management is willing, I might write an occasional column for these papers if something comes up that makes the veins in my neck start bulging. Who knows, I might even start a blog that I can write when the spirit moves me, and where I don’t have to be nice to critics if I don’t want to. Thanks to this company for giving me all that prime space to ramble, and to all you readers who rambled along with me. I’ll see you a little farther down the trail.

You can reach Gregory Bean at [email protected].