Liam Farrell: Entering a brave new world

Do you remember the good old days, when men were men and GI investigations meant something? When you only organised a colonoscopy or barium enema when you were pretty sure that something would show up. When these procedures demanded drinking four litres of slop the night before.

Patients were appreciative of this; anything so unpleasant and disgusting just had to be good for you.

I remember as a student in Dublin being at a demonstration of the first colonoscopy in Ireland. Some social-climbing surgeon had been to America for few weeks and had come back, not only with a Yankee accent, but with a new-fangled way of things.

It was a massive occasion; the patient/victim (how did they get consent for that one?) had been religiously purged, and the gallery was packed with eager yet sceptical faces.

The scepticism grew to epidemic proportions when we saw the size of the implement. There was a gasp of horror when the surgeon pulled out a thing as big as your fist, which wouldn't have been out of place in a slasher movie. Someone fainted at the back, and was enjoyably trampled.

The theatre nurses wheeled the patient in and turned him on his side, his anus blossoming like a dark rose before us, utterly unaware of the honour being bestowed on it.

The surgeon began inserting the scope, all the while explaining how simple and pain-free the procedure was. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that the patient was insufficiently anaesthetised.

'It hurts,' whimpered the victim, writhing and wriggling in a doomed attempt to escape his date with destiny, which in the real world might have been reckoned a criminal assault.

'No, it doesn't, you're fine, you're doing great, you can hardly feel a thing.' The surgeon ignored his pleas, taking the opportunity to shove the scope another few centimetres up the arse. The whimpers turned to agonised screams, an almost musical counterpoint to the sniggers of the medical students.

'Stop! Please stop!' begged the patient. 'You're fine, you're fine,' insisted the surgeon, and the dance continued until someone took pity on the victim and set off the fire alarm.

And as the crowd rushed to the exit, 'That's the face of the future,' the surgeon announced grandly.

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