I’d been off work sick for a year. The big C—surgeries, chemo, inflammation, allergies. The ordeal dragged on for a year and it was time to return to work. I was dry and dusty, scarred, and down two and half organs. The reality of my days—the chemo room, the daybed in my office, and sunny naps with sprawling dogs had supplanted my office, with its files and meetings. There’s a poster about a colon show coming to town. Wait, a colon show?
My office, with its view of the Yukon River and the hospital curving over its opposite bank, everything in full autumnal glory, felt both peculiar and familiar. Things had chugged along without me and my plants were still alive. The last time I’d been away for any length of time was for a maternity leave. Back then, I’d returned to find that the fax machine had been invented, which was disorienting and thrilling. No such excitement this time, except figuring out my computer password, and watching thousands of emails cascade onto the screen. I’d lost any degree of fluency at practically everything. I plunged my hand into the drawer for my casefiles (oddly now organized alphabetically instead of the intuitive way I’d left them) and suffered a brutal papercut. Soon I was off to chair meetings, with important things being discussed, sometimes fervently, and I found myself hovering above the boardroom table, viewing the fractious proceedings from above. Spreadsheets comparing bloodwork results were my normal, not poring over department budget variances.
Losing track of time and priorities, I escaped to the coffee room to wash dishes, scrub out the microwave, and sort through the fridge. I struggled with the complexity of my job.
The poster features jaunty violet lettering proclaiming The Giant Colon Tour, encased by a drawing of an elongated colon. A cartoon bulbous finger summons, à la Uncle Sam. I drive over on my lunch hour to check it out. In a bunting-festooned hall lies a massive, quivering, whirring, purple, plastic colon. Huge. As in, a whole elementary school population could fit in here. A colon, intact, in all its glory. What did I have to compare it with? Only sketches my surgeon drew at our consultations. He always started from the top, his pen curving around, pausing to illustrate tumors or polyps, where the incisions would be, and how the intestines would be organized, clicking his pen and popping it into his pocket with an apology for his lack of artistic talent. In my case, a tumor blossoming from a polyp, necessitated an operation to remove a third of my colon, reattach an intestine, and hope for the best. Afterwards, I had to travel south to meet with an oncologist in Vancouver, the closest cancer center to us. He told me I’d need chemo, and suddenly I was in a different realm; the chemicals setting up a whole raft of problems with my liver, gall bladder, pancreas. More surgeries, bloodwork, exhaustion, my sick leave extending to a whole year.
Here, I’m confronted with a 3D, playground-sized novelty colon. A bouncy castle of a colon. I find what appears to be the appendix, gather the ruched vinyl and push myself in. Smells of mold and plastic. Loud fans to keep the whole structure inflated. Underfoot, a tarp buckles, slippery with dropped public health pamphlets. Noisy soundtracks, out of sync and confusing, pulse in the darkness, punctuated by strobe-like lighting. People are coming towards me, pausing to convene at screens placed at intervals along the colon. The poster’s white, white-coated, white-bearded doctor disseminates facts about colon health. It becomes obvious I’ve entered the wrong end. Confronted by more and more people, I proceed, deke to the right, to the left, elbows jostling, a salmon swimming upstream. I sprint through the ascending colon, and flustered, turn to run along the transverse colon. Rounding past the sigmoid colon, I get bonked in the head by suspended rubber polyps, heavy and pendulous. Panicked, I run the gauntlet, finally shooting through the puckered rectum, past a jumble of displays, out the door, arriving at my car, gasping.
Ramming the key in the ignition, I take a long breath. Sweating and sliding through all that plastic, banking the corners and leaping over clunky fans in the shadows, it’s as if the whole year, the surgeries, the chemo cycles, and all that bloodwork have receded. I’m ready to go back to work.
Laurel Parry (she/her) lives in the Yukon on the traditional territories of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council. She writes about lives and places that are remote and crowded at the same time. Laurel’s stories have been published in Riddle Fence, Circumpolar Duet: Singular Plurality, Northern Review, and Northern Public Affairs Journal. Find her at @auntieolo.