Not a Come From Away Story

Sigmoidoscopy in the old days

‘Come From Away’ stories and even a Broadway play are all the rage these days. This short post is not a ‘Come From Away’ story, rather it’s a single page ‘Come Apart’ adventure. A sigmoidoscopy gone wrong, let me explain.

Picture this: A smirking gastroenterologist looks at five medical students and commands, “Take a deep breath, through your nose. Smell that? That’s how bloody stool smells. Remember the odour!” We looked at one another and I’ll bet we were all thinking the same thing, “Please don’t make us taste it.” The day before we had all reluctantly tasted diabetic urine.

Era: Early 1970s Location: Ottawa Civic Hospital

We were in an endoscopy suite. The toilet was full of red blood and faeces. We could hear a distressed female voice coming from a room at the end of the hallway. When we entered the room a lady in her forties was lying face down on an examining table. The gastroenterologist dropped the part of the table her legs were resting on and lowered her head presenting her bottom. He sat on a metal stool, facing her behind. He then asked the nurse for a sigmoidoscope. He lubricated the tip of the scope, then with a grand flourish, plunged the scope into her bottom. Her response made it clear she was not sedated. She moaned, almost musically, a non-stop stream of Italian words I didn’t understand. The gastroenterologist then barked, “Suction.” The nurse handed him a long suction tube attached to a glass bottle on the wall. I noticed there were no sucking sounds and the suction bottle remained empty. Our esteemed professor appeared flustered. After glancing at the wall, he said, loudly, “It’s all come apart back here.” The unrelenting, Italian voice suddenly fell silent. The patient fainted, but her vital signs were normal.

It was now time for my clinical group to move on to another patient. I briefly abandoned my fellow students. I was hoping to reassure the patient, when she regained consciousness. Ends up, no pun intended, she was a lovely mother of three who lived in the Preston Street area. She was delighted to learn that her bum had not exploded. That same day her bleeding stopped after removing a benign polyp.

Background: In the 70s sigmoidoscopes were were rigid, not flexible. Having a sigmoidoscopy was sometimes jokingly called “riding the silver bullet.” The scopes were shiny chrome and looked a little like a looonnnggg bullet.

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