Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified demeanor assumed by a proctologist immediately before he examines you. — Unknown
“Are you sure you don’t mind if I eat in front of you?” I asked, as I moved up in line between a man in a white coat and a woman wearing camouflage fatigues. Dad had been instructed not to eat solids for 20 hours before the invasive butt-check he was about to undergo, so I knew he had to be hungry.
“Really, honey, go ahead,” he said. “I just wish I had cash. I should be buying your breakfast.” It was the third time he’d expressed his remorse for being cashless, despite having already informed me that the doctors told him to leave everything but his ID at home. “Because they can’t be responsible for what happens to your stuff while you’re out of commission,” he’d explained.
“There’s no reason you should have to feed me,” I said. “I should have eaten before coming to get you. Anyway, it’s less than two bucks. That’s pocket change. Don’t worry about it.” As I’d hoped, Dad’s sudden awareness of a bargain in his midst superseded his distress over not being able to provide for his daughter. Like a shiny piece of foil to a raccoon, a good deal to my father is an object of infatuation, a glowing gem that mesmerizes.
I collected my breakfast — egg and cheese on a wheat English muffin — and joined Dad on the other side of the rope. “We’ve got plenty of time for me to sit and eat this here, right?” It was a rhetorical question; we had 45 minutes to make our way up the elevator to the fourth floor.
“The girl I spoke with on the phone asked me to not be there before a certain time,” Dad said. “I can understand why she’d say that because military guys — especially older military guys — would be here at six o’clock in the morning for an eight o’clock appointment, just waiting.”
“No one wants to be a bell-tapper,” he explained. “I’m pathologically punctual. The military teaches you to be prepared, so when you’re told to be somewhere at eight, that means all checked in and ready to go at eight.”
We were checked in with half an hour to spare. I set up my satellite office (laptop, headphones, iPhone, chargers) in the corner of the room, away from the giant TV that was blaring national headlines. Dad sat beside me and handed me his keys, glasses, and cap for safekeeping.
“I was practicing jokes last night,” I said. “I was going to bust ’em on you this morning, but you never set me up. I was expecting you to be all uptight about me wanting to drive my car instead of yours, so I was going to say, ‘What, you got a stick up your ass?’ and then I’d wait a beat and add, ‘Oh, no, that comes later.’” I chuckled at my quip. The look on my father’s face confirmed my suspicion that it was a lot funnier in my head.
“You’re lucky you didn’t make me laugh,” Dad said. Then, emphasizing his native Brooklyn accent, he added, “You wouldn’t want that your nice new car should meet with some kind of ‘accident.’”
“Ew, Dad, gross!” I guffawed and then put a hand over my mouth as others cast irritated glances in my direction. It was nice to be in a lighthearted mood in that place. The last time I’d accompanied my father to the hospital, we’d learned he needed radiation to treat a spot of cancer on his forehead.
Just before Dad’s name was called, he leaned over and said, “I can’t wait for people to ask me how the colonoscopy went so I can say, ‘It was great, they found my head.’” At my bemused expression, Dad elaborated, “Because it was up my ass…get it?” My face was blank. “You need a Plexiotomy, a little Plexiglas window in your belly button because your head’s so far up your ass you need to see where you’re going, then you’d know,” Dad joked. I still didn’t entirely get it, but I laughed anyway. The nurse who came to collect him told me it should only be an hour and a half, unless my father had a “mean colon.” I retorted that his colon was the least “mean” part of the man’s body.
Once Dad had been led away, I put on my headphones, cranked up the volume, and bounced in my seat as I toggled between tweeting on my phone and typing on my laptop. During a Sasha & Digweed track, my mind drifted back to five years ago, when Dad had undergone a sigmoidoscopy, during which the little camera on a wire only rounds one corner of the colon. It was quite the event, as I recalled; Dad had been proud of what he claimed the doctor had called his “beautiful canal.” He had been conscious throughout, and the doctor had even allowed him to gaze upon the video screen depicting his “healthy, pink, and beautiful” innards.
After what seemed like only moments, the nurse reappeared to collect me. She
waited patiently for me to pack up three chairs’ worth of my things and then led me through the labyrinth to my father’s curtain.
I was surprised to see Dad in his hospital gown, lying flat against the small metal bed with an IV in his arm. I knew they were sedating him, but until that moment, I hadn’t realized how incapacitating the checkup really was. His eyes were wide open, but they had a glassy quality, and his smile was a bit looser than usual. A young man in uniform with a clipboard in hand explained the follow-up procedure and asked me (the sober one) to sign on the dotted line. But just because Dad wasn’t technically able at the moment didn’t mean he wasn’t with it.
“Hey, you know what they call a Jamaican proctologist?”
“No, what’s that,” said the uniform, his voice kind in a way that made me suspect my father might have already told this one a few times while under the influence.
In his best Jamaican accent, Dad delivered the punch line: “Pokémon!” Then he turned to me and said, “My feelings are hurt. When I first got in here, a young woman told me to turn around and show her my ‘better side.’” He was on a roll.
“They told me you could eat right away,” I said. “I’ll wait outside while you get dressed and then take you anywhere you want to go, patient’s choice.” Asking was a formality. I knew Dad would want to go to Denny’s, where the food was familiar and the senior discount kicks in at 55. I knew with equal certainty that on the way there, he would apologize a few more times for having left his wallet at home and that he would tell me the Jamaican-proctologist joke at least once more before our breakfast was served.