The perspective, if one can call it that, has much to do with What Fierce Bodily Manipulation comes next, the larger picture ever elusive, although its presence can also be felt…or else why bother? I am referring to Rolfing, of course. Life, if you think about it, moves through a series of -ings. Much of infancy is dominated by spitting, not to mention crying and far from infrequent farting. Over time, this progresses to running. Somewhat later, petting. Followed by heavy petting. Then golfing. Then Rolfing. One could argue that breathing constitutes something of a leitmotif. Fine, have it your way. As for me, I am currently getting Rolfed. From what little I know this massage technique has evolved, softening its sharp edges, no longer digging deep into the body with all the subtlety of an earth mover. I do recall a friend who emerged from a Rolfing session in the late 1970s looking like a poster child for Stop Domestic Violence, such were her bruises. Suffice it to say, this is not my experience, although there is much, let us say, borderline excavation, not to mention probing, of every bodily limb and surface.
On this occasion Tony – let us call him that because everyone else does – is doing something marginal with the most marginal of limbs, my right arm. I am lying face up on his massage table in my living room, very aware of the pinching of mysterious components within my shoulder. And for once, I actually tell him that things are hurting. More than hurting, alarming me. My right shoulder has fewer working muscles than a Kentucky fried chicken wing, and what keeps it in the socket has much to do with force of habit. Okay, Tony says. He backs off, slipping his fingers under what might be a tendon or a ligament but I would refer to as a cable. Some long hard thingy in the shoulder area which is now pressing and relaxing. There is a reason why a human being puts up with all of this and it has to do with the aftermath. Looser, more flexible, less tense in every meaning of the word. With the muscles on the the left side of my neck continuously pulling my head in one direction, some of that distorting force actually lessens. A good thing, Rolfing.
There is doubtless a spiritual or woo woo component to such bodywork, but it must be said for Tony that he does not burden me with this knowledge. In fact, he does not speak much at all. He even urges me to put on some music, Late Night from BBC Radio 4 being my fave. Chit chat is so minimal that it tends to grab my attention. As it is now. Tony has been digging around my abdomen for buried musculoskeletal treasure. There are large bands of muscle underneath there, he once explained. For now he is explaining something else. The human embryo. How from one cell, to two cells, and so on, things progress to a ring. Yes, the little embryonic cells join hands, ring around the rosie style, and this circle elongates into the earliest manifestation of the human digestive system. Gross, I am thinking. We begin ingesting and excreting from square one? In other words, human development mirrors the American consumer economy. Well, Tony says, to grow, the body needs to process food. So the digestive tract comes first. Not the heart, I ask? Or the brain? Yep, he assures me. I tell him to ease up on the latest shoulder pinching. He pulls another hardened band of muscle up and out of my underarm. Then he runs a knuckle, or perhaps a steel chisel, just under the edge of my shoulder blade. As I say, it’s all worth it in the end.
Of course, the end is always in sight for me. Particularly these days. And this account of the alimentary canal, its centrality, its originality, turns out to be downright disquieting. For it has dominated my worries, King of the Worries, for several weeks. I am scheduled for a routine, once-a-decade colonoscopy.
Colon cancer having taken my wife’s life, I can exactly pretend to be impartial or even rational on the topic of things colonic. This is the very preventive-diagnostic step that Marlou omitted, so by rights one should feel very good about doing this. If anything turns up, ‘anything’ such as cancer, there should be time. If nothing turns up, there should be time to worry about something else from now on. No, it’s a convoluted mishmash of feelings. Survivor guilt might define one of these, although the term is summarily glib. ‘I should die because she did’ being a closer description. And there is the other thing, the matter of getting deep into the human guts, where things turn sour, sicken and kill. Not to mention the quadriplegic angle.
What is euphemistically called the ‘prep’ for a colonoscopy amounts to a major nuisance for the average able-bodied person. For the average mobility-compromised person, numerous trips to and from one’s toilet seem particularly daunting. Okay, once I’m into it the afternoon will progress as it will. Perhaps one can read. Afterwards watch a film. I can envision a not overly taxing version of the prep afternoon. But I can also imagine the opposite. On the upside, I can envision a day when I can actually get my wheelchair into the bathroom. This is not possible now, that is the thing. The afternoon promises lots of parking the wheelchair just outside, standing up, walking, sitting down. What can go wrong? A certain amount.
What promises to be very different, and most salutary, is the presence of Jane. She is over the worst of her workload now. Things are settling down toward what might be considered normal. And why don’t I read the fine print on the Advice to Those Being Colonoscopied? If a polyp is removed, I read only this morning, one should not travel internationally for the next two weeks. Since Jane and I head for Northumberland exactly two weeks from my colonoscopy date, well, I am just barely not under the wire, over the wire as it were. And what is a polyp? Oy. It’s one of those ocean things, like a seahorse, only uglier. They grow on coral, I think.
And the reason you can’t travel overseas post-polyp? It’s because they swim after you, these things. If your plane ditches in the North Atlantic, the polyp pursues you. It finds you. They always do, these things.
‘Pollywog’ may have been what I was actually thinking. So what? Don’t act all superior. The distinction between a polyp and a pollywog is a subtle one, hardly worth bothering with. The essential question: does the polyp turn into a prince? Or a frog? You know the answer.
The question is more important. It amounts to this. Why would a guy voluntarily do colonoscopies for a living? Actually, their bios are remarkably similar. They all go something like this:
‘Well, I signed up for submarine school. And every time someone would shout “up periscope” I would think “up your arse with a periscope.” And Eureka! I thought, why not do this as a career?’
It’s reassuring to remember that at the end of the fiber optic thingy snaking through the tube system of your interior, changing at Oxford Circus, heading up the Bakerloo, snaking down the platform at one of the suburban stations, and so on…that there is an actual guy watching all this on a screen. Doubtless in color. No subtitles…I supply those myself.