Junk in the Trunk

I recently came into an unexpected bit of unearned money, and it was such a fortuitous event that I thought: I’m going to spend this money on my colon.

It has always been my belief that if you take care of your colon, your colon will take care of you. (Ask anyone; I say this at least twice a day.) It’s important to keep that area clear of toxins and build-up, which is why nutritionists recommend having plenty of fiber in your diet. Fiber can be found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, wicker and cardboard. When you eat these items, the fiber moves through your colon and grabs at the walls of it with tiny little fiber hands, scraping off whatever might be leftover like sucker fish in an aquarium.

But sometimes a high-fiber diet just isn’t enough to keep your colon completely free of debris. Stuff accumulates up there, like the junk drawer next to the drawer where you keep the silverware. And in both cases, one good way to clean it out is to flush it with a constant stream of water for 45 minutes in what’s known as colon hydrotherapy, or a colonic. (It has a different name when you’re using it to clean out the junk drawer next to the silverware drawer, but I don’t remember what it is.)

I read an article about colonics a while back, and I was intrigued. I like to clean things. I like when the bathtub has gotten filthy and I can get in there with a scouring pad and some cleanser and just scrub the dickens out of it, making it white and fresh and new again. And from what I’d read, doing that to your colon can make you feel rejuvenated and refreshed, which is even better, because scrubbing the bathtub always makes me tired.

So in an area of Southeast Portland that teems with quirky, shabby, New Agey businesses like health-food stores for dogs and places that will silk-screen anti-war sentiments onto your underpants, I located a seemingly reputable establishment that handles colonics. It’s called A Vital Life, and it’s located upstairs from a chiropractor and down the hall from a realty office. A Vital Life does reflexology and miscellaneous other alternative-health procedures, but irrigating people’s bowels is their bread and butter, if you will. It’s a two-person operation, owned by Liesa (whom I never saw) and run by an aging hippie gentleman whose name I failed to learn. You’d think being on a first-name basis would be a prerequisite for someone who’s going to put a hose in your bottom, but maybe anonymity is better.

When I called to set up the appointment, the man said the only preparation I needed to do was to drink lots of fluids that day and not eat anything for a few hours beforehand. Nevertheless, being self-conscious and a little nervous about irrigating the ol’ back forty, I did what I could at home to clear things out — akin to tidying your house before the cleaning lady comes over because you don’t want her to see how messy it is, I suppose.

Upon my arrival at A Vital Life, the man led me into the colon hydrotherapy room, where he explained how it would work. It goes down like this: He gives you some privacy, and you strip from the waist down and recline on a padded table. At the end of the table is a little spigot onto which a sterile, single-use tube is already placed. You insert the free end of this tube (which the advertising says is “the width of a pencil” even though it is actually wider than that) into you-know-where, then, once everything is positioned, cover up with a sheet and call the man back in to start the procedure.

(Note: In the previous paragraph, “you-know-where” refers to your bum.)

I managed all of this and summoned the guy back into the room. I’m lying on my back with my knees bent, sort of like having a gynecological exam (I assume), with my lower half covered by a sheet and a tube in my southern hemisphere, awaiting instructions. The man explained that the flow of water would be gentle, forced only by gravity and not through any artificial means of propulsion. It wasn’t going to be a sandblasting, in other words. He also assured me the water was filtered and purified first, which seemed like an odd measure to take, considering where it was going. I mean, what, my colon deals with excrement all day, but a little exposure to tap water will shut it down? What a princess my colon is!

He started the flow of water, which was indeed gentle and warm. It came out of the spigot through the tube and into my rectum and colon. He said that after a few minutes, the urge to send everything back out would become quite intense (duh), and that I should then release it. It wouldn’t go back through the tube, as water would be coming the other direction continuously. It would go out AROUND the tube, into a recessed area of the padded table over which I had positioned myself. That hole in the table — a more sanitary and pleasant version of a toilet, basically — goes to a clear pipe that runs alongside the table and into (I presume) the sewer system. The pipe is clear so that you can see what’s coming out of you, if you’re curious, which you totally are.

The man left me to my work then, promising to check on me every now and then to make sure everything was OK. At his suggestion, in the interest of breaking up whatever wreckage and flotsam was congregating in my colon, I massaged my gut with my hands. As expected, I soon had a most dreadful and insistent urge to “release” (that’s the term the man had used). And so I did. This was no orderly evacuation, either, with single-file lines and calm evacuees. No, this was more of an every-man-for-himself prison riot, with shouting and trampling and terror. I exerted my full strength and sent every drop of water out the escape hatch, and everything it was clinging to along with it.

And then I slowly filled up and repeated the process. Fill up, and release. Fill up, and release. All the while massaging my gut and keeping an eye on the flow tube next to the table to see what manner of offal had been residing in me.

And my, what a parade that was! Let me just say to all the people who have ever told me I was full of crap, you have no idea how right you were. It was a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes and nodules, reminding me of when they cut open a shark and find license plates and tires. What did I ever eat that was THAT color? How did something lodged in my lower intestine come to be shaped like THAT? That bit is shaped like a piano! That part looks like Abraham Lincoln! Can we somehow use these shapes to divine the future?

I thought afterward that it would have been hilarious to put a roll of nickels up there beforehand, just to watch the coins come flowing out during the procedure. And I’d keep count so that I’d know when I was finished. (“Can’t stop yet — I’ve still got 20 cents up there!”)

So what does a colonic feel like? Basically, when you fill up with water, the sensation is exactly like when you suddenly and urgently have to poo. But the nice part is, you CAN. You don’t have to go hunting for a restroom and hold it in while you look. You can just GO, right there, the instant the urge strikes you. It’s really a dream come true.

When the process was finished, I felt exhausted. It really takes a lot out of you (as it were). Toxins are stirred up and eliminated, and your whole system is given a workout. The next day, though, I did feel somewhat refreshed and healthier, although it’s possible those sensations were psychosomatic. The important thing was, I now had a colon so clean you could see your reflection in it, and that’s got to count for something.

I almost used this story for column #500. You'd remember THAT milestone, wouldn't you?

Colon hydrotherapy is one of those quasi-medical practices, like chiropractic and acupuncture, that some people swear by while others denounce them as quackery. I read of a case where someone died from a colonic due to a perforated intestine (ouch!), but I figure one death out of who knows how many colonics is pretty good as far as mortality rates go.

I knew the experience would make for an interesting and perhaps amusing story, but I wasn't sure I could tell it discreetly and genteelly enough for general readership. The situation is so inherently distasteful, after all. So I employed a lot of metaphors, which hopefully made the column enjoyable to read without being too gross. I'm pretty proud that the word "crap" is only used once, and "butt" not at all. I mean, seriously, you have to give me props for that.