Monday, September 17, 2007

Butt ugly

One of my many inspirations that has never come to fruition is the Museum of Bad Art. I got the idea for this -- it was to be an actual brick and mortar place done up with all the solemnity and seriousness of a major art museum, from the careful lighting to the little descriptive cards next to the paintings -- after having gone to too many thrift stores in too short a period.

This was about 15 years ago, and the crowning glory
of the collection, the canvas that would have been kept behind glass with a security guard at the ready to ward off demented knife-wielding slashers or sorely misguided art thieves, was Devil on the Toilet.

Devil, as aficionados would have called it for short, was discovered at the Goodwill store in New Paltz, NY.
I marvel to this day that the same species that built the pyramids, created the fugue, and learned to fly could also have conjured up this image and set it to velvet: Satan, with horned ears and pointy tail, outlined in red, sitting upon a silver toilet, cigarette in hand, his demonic visage twisted into a grimace.

The artist, who left the work unsigned, provided these stark brush strokes against a completely black background, making the Devil’s distress all the more, um, jarring. For here we see the Prince of Darkness trapped in his own existential Hell -- ah, the irony! -- his powers sapped by the need to perform a simple bodily function. Unable to complete the task at hand, Satan himself is reduced to a pitiful state, a figure as powerless as the mortals he is so wont to lord over. Who is the tormented one now? (A facsimile of the original appears above -- apparently there is a guy in Tijuana churning these out and you can buy them on eBay for $35. The original Devil, it should be noted, did not bear the words “help” and "ouch." Unlike the work of this poseur, it spoke with an admirable degree of subtlety.)

Alas, I did not purchase Devil, even though it was severely discounted, for it had the piercing capacity, like bad paintings of clowns, to provide fodder for freakish nightmares. But it came to mind recently as I embarked on what is for me a new medical procedure: the colonoscopy.

Yes, friends, it has finally happened. I am reduced to writing about poop, the old Number Two. Passing waste through the body is the work of our friend the colon, and being 50 years of age, I have been bombarded with advice that it is time to have it checked out. Girls have their sweet 16, when you turn 21 you can legally drink, when you’re 35 you can run for president, and at 50 you had better get a tube stuck into your nether regions. Ah, the joys of life’s little milestones.

Colon cancer and CLL

Now, lest you think this has nothing to do with chronic lymphocytic
leukemia, there is some evidence that CLL patients may be at greater risk for colon cancer. Some of the genes that are overexpressed in B-CLL cells are also involved in colon cancer, as well as other cancers.

To quote one mind-bogglingly complex paper from the Mayo Clinic (the sort of read that has you saying to yourself, “Am I really this stupid?”) “ . . . 31 genes were overexpressed in B-CLL cells. Of these 31 genes, 16 were previously identified as related in one way or another with an oncogenic transformation. For example, LEF-1, a transcription factor involved in development, has been shown to be involved in many cancers, most notably in colon cancer.”

Translation: CLL may open a Pandora’s Box of dysfunction that could predispose you to other cancers.

According to Dr. John Byrd of the James Cancer Center at Ohio
State University, “We recommend routine cancer screening, such as colonoscopies
every three to ten years, depending upon the risk category that you fall into.” (Gastroenterologists
recommend colonoscopies every five years after the age of 50.)

It is interesting, in a morbid sort of way, to note that B-CLL cells, which are known to travel far and wide, can also be found in the colon. I know of one patient who was diagnosed with atypical CLL after aberrant results from a colonoscopy. According to Dr. Terry Ha
mblin, “In CLL it would not be unexpected to find small lymphocytes anywhere in the body, so finding them in the colon may not be significant.”

Hamblin says the jury is still out on whether CLL patients are more predisposed to colon cancer:

“CLL and colon cancer are both fairly common
diseases of the late middle-aged and elderly. It is very hard to demonstrate that it is truly commoner than one would expect. The problem is that everybody with colon cancer gets a blood test (which would diagnose CLL) and not everybody among the 'control' population does. Similarly, colon cancer is best diagnosed by those who take an interest in their health, which describes most people with CLL. There is good evidence that skin cancers are commoner in CLL and also probably lung cancer, but the statistics for colon cancer vary from study to study.”

Let the anal probing begin!

I think we can all at least agree that, whether CLL is a factor or not, age is. The good news is that colon cancer is largely preventable and successfully treatable if it is detected early enough.

All this means that there is no good reason not to have a colonoscopy
. But like people who put off dental work until they lose their teeth, there are those who put off colonoscopies until they lose their lives. Common excuses include loathing the stuff you have to drink before the procedure and not wanting strangers to probe where the sun don’t shine.

There are those, of course, for whom the
whole subject of Number Two is fraught with drama. I have a relative, who shall remain nameless, whose family is obsessed with shit. Her mother usually could not poop in any toilet but her own, making cruises and vacations rather uncomfortable. A successful evacuation of the bowels was a big deal in that family, a cause for much strutting and praising. My relative, well into her middle years, would emerge from the bathroom at times in triumph, announcing to all who cared to hear: “I made a good doodee!” If only our poor Devil could say the same, trapped forever in a vicious circle of anticipation and disappointment.

I don’t have these issues. I have always been, how shall I put it, a regular guy. And after sitting in the infusion room hooked to an IV pole and surrounded by fellow cancer patients in various states of health or the lack of it, having a tube stuck up my butt doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

By consensus, the worst part of the colonoscopy is the prep. In my case, this involved drinking four liters of something called Go-Lightly, my nominee for the most misnamed product on Earth. While the “go” part is accurate, there is nothing “light” about it. For those who have not had the pleasure, imagine drinking an eight ounce glass of salt water every ten minutes for two hours. I managed this by taking a lemon-line soda chaser after each glass to eliminate the taste from my mouth. Over the course of time, two things happen: One, you start to feel incredibly bloated. Two, you start to spend the evening on the toilet as the product works its magic. A more accurate name for the product at this point would be The Ass Blaster.

The colonoscopy itself is anticlimactic. (Note to CLL patients with swollen spleens: let the nurses know so that they can take extra care when turning you on your left side.) Anyone who has ever had chemo is familiar by now with being stuck with needles and put on an IV drip. I was given 50 mg of Benadryl, followed by an anesthetic called Versed and a painkiller I didn’t catch the name of because I was asleep by then. I awoke some time later to see the doctor and two nurses congregating about my posterior, removing the endoscope and chatting about the weather. On a video monitor next to them I saw some images of my innards flash rapidly by.

The end result (oh glorious pun!): My colon
is picture perfect.

“Come back and s
ee me in 5 years,” the doctor said.

Back to the art world

Due to lack of my winning Powerball, my museum was
never built, although another great mind with the same thought eventually started one and put it online a few years ago. (Despite the presence of some delightful works -- a few of which I have presented here -- believe me, they have barely scratched the surface.)

Not all thrift store
art is bad. One can view some of the better samples at Goodwill’s online auction site. Indeed, thrift store art is sometimes surprisingly good. Antiques Roadshow regularly showcases examples where people bought paintings for ten bucks, only to find out that they’re by so-and-so and are really worth $10,000.

Marilyn and I ha
ve had no such luck, although we did stumble across some nice works at a Savers in Phoenix by a regional artist, Susanne Nyberg, who is alive and working. It was as if she was clearing her studio of things that she didn’t like all that much, but it still looked good to us.

And then there are the James Swinnertons. The
se are two large desert landscapes we bought at a Goodwill. I say they’re reproductions, Marilyn insists they’re probably real. One of these days we’ll have them checked out. If you ever see Marilyn doing her unique triumphal dance on Antiques Roadshow, you’ll know why.

Detail, above, from Frolicking Raccoons, acrylic on canvas board, and the only bad thrift store art we actually ever purchased. (At 69 cents, it was irresistible.) Below is the full work. How many critters do you see? The artist, simply known as Gil, has cleverly painted over at least one, using his masterful skills to blend errors into the landscape.


This gem was discovered at the Goodwill store in Prescott, AZ. It appears that Spot is about to join the Union army during the Civil War. He can probably expect some "ruff" times ahead.


Jenny Lou said...

What a find in the artist "Gil". I am so envious! Glad your ass is in great shape. Rock on.

Vance Esler said...

I love Versed. Makes one understand why people enjoy taking drugs.

I have been on both ends -- user and giver. It is an interesting drug because even though the user feels as if he is asleep, he isn't.

I had been a user before I was a giver, so when I first gave it to an anxious patient before a bone marrow exam, I expected him to go to sleep like I thought I had done.

It's a great drug. You don't feel a thing (or, at least, you don't remember any discomfort), and you feel really relaxed for awhile afterwards.

But is it worth the prep? Like you, I'm not so sure...

Glad everything came out all right. Pun intended.

Anonymous said...

A colonoscopy is does not find all colon cancers. Techniques vary, and it has recently been reported that withdrawal should be slow and deliberate. Many practitioners just yank the thing out.

Also, there is no law that cancer must start in a polyp in the intestinal cavity. It can start in cells outside of the colon, and never be picked up on the colonoscopy until the disease is well advanced. So you cannot blame the patient for ignoring routine testing for all colorectal cancers.

As far as the art goes, I like the
'grandma in the forest fire' picture the best. Although the raccoon painting is also good in a bad way. Your paintings are good examples of folk art, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...


This was a great read. Especially your anonymous relative and her bathroom issues. Also, thumbs up to Versed.


Anonymous said...

.......not that I've ever visited, but in Portland OR, you can find the Velveteria Museum of Velvet Paintings!One link described velvet painting as the Rodney Dangerfield of art...!

The Stem Cell Geek said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Stem Cell Geek said...

Hello, I just wanted to say hi!

I've just discovered your blog and as soon as i finish this exam session I will take some time to read it from the beginning!

I'm surprised you also have Dr. Terry Hamblin's blog there on top: I had the pleasure to attend a lecture he gave here at my university. A brilliant physician and researcher indeed.

Keep up the blogging!

I hope and wish to leave more usefull comments in the near future!