Stop the medical paparazzi

Once upon a time, it was your appendix.  You went in pain to the hospital and came out of the operating room with a scar on your belly.  As you lay there in that sterile room, weak, with an IV in your arm, the doctor showed you the bottle.  “Here you are, this is your appendix!”  Now, why you had to see it, I do not know.  You just went to a lot of trouble to get rid of it.

Mostly surgeons do not parade their anatomic mementos anymore.  Pathologists have first dibs on the tissue and there is all that nasty risk of infection.  I feel better about that.  Some things belong in bottles of formaldehyde behind locked cabinet doors.  However, the digital age is trying to get back at me.  Doctors no longer need to bring back taxidermy specimens.  Now, in real time, they go one better.  They collect pictures and video.

It started with my dentist.  I had this deep electric pain in my upper jaw. After filling my mouth with about a dozen metal stretching and sucking devices and injecting so much Novocain that my right foot was asleep, he shoves a camera down my throat and turns on the TV.

“See that…. right there????  The BIG hole?! That’s one of the largest cavities I have EVER seen!”


“See that…. right there???? Deep inside that cavity?  I think that’s your brain!!!”

“Uhhhhh….wa dos da min???”

“You are in luck!  All will be fine. We can do a root canal!”

Editors note: (the words “fine” and “root canal” should never be used in the same sentence)

Now, I did not really need to see that giant cavern in my head.  I would have lived in happy innocence with the body-numbing anesthesia and whining drill.  Nevertheless, he was so happy to show me, he gave me the video.

Then it was the ENT.   Despite blurred vision and the horrible throb of sinusitis, he needed to project remarkably gross pictures of mucus, blood and inflamed Eustachian tube.  These are available wallet size for Christmas.

The pulmonologist gives out multicolor movies of half chewed brown eel sushi lodged in the bronchus of the left lung.  If I was not short of breath before, I am now.  She is kind enough to provide before and after shots, on a disk, which to be displayed as a screen saver.

The dermatologist takes pictures, sans makeup, of your ENTIRE body.  That is not a pretty site!  They claim they are using these images to search for skin disease.  I am suspicious of laughter in the next room.

However, the worse, by far, is the gastroenterologist.  First, you cannot eat solid food for two days.  Then there is the prep.  You have to deal with the prep twice…going in and coming out.  Then finally, the anesthetist says, “you are going to feel sleepy” and, 1.2 seconds later, you are done!  There is peace with the world.  Time to go home.

Out comes the doc. “ All went well. You are looking great.  No problems.”  But, no, that is not enough.  It is time for sharing.  Out come the pictures.

Now I do not know why I need to see these pictures.  They are disgusting. Somehow, I got through 57 years without intimate pictorial knowledge of the inside of my bowels.

What is the goal?  To show that the prep worked?  I know the prep worked, I was there.  To prove to me that I actually have a colon?  I will take his word.   Is it to prevent insurance fraud and document he actually did the scope? I will pay cash.

No, I think the pictures are like the heads on the Lodge Wall.  Trophies of the kill.  Moreover, the need to show them to me is like the ancient hunter bringing home the spleen to his mate.

“I good, I strong…. I slay beast.” 

“Good job dear, now go wash your hands.”

Well, I am not man enough to say I do not want to see his prize images and he waits until I open my eyes.  Therefore, for the future, I have come up with a solution.  With the hope that I will not have to view further proof of my own internal anatomy, I am having a procedure.  Experimental perhaps, but it will save my soul from being seared by sordid apparition.  I am having the last corner of the inside of my colon tattooed.  A simple message to seen through the scope by my doctor.  A reward for his care:

Good job,  Allan.  You made it.  Much thanks.  No flash photography allowed.”


  • Lee Walling
    Dr.Salwitz, I thoroughly enjoy reading your blogs. I’m thinking that all those pictures and digital images could be used in a televised quiz show. It could be something like “Whose colon is it?” or “Celebrity livers.” I guess it’s the paparazzi term that reminds me of media celebrities. It might also encourage more people to get scans.
  • You surely were also reading the same passage as I, <<Men are like steel. When they lose their temper they lose their worth..».
  • D Someya Reed
    I haven't had very many medical procedures of my own but have had a few root canals. At the last one, our dentist (and family friend) presented me with a fully operational hinged mold of my upper and lower teeth as a parting gift. It was interesting for perhaps the first 10 or 15 seconds. I can only imagine what other BART (rapid transit) riders were thinking as I sat there numb and drooling, holding my teeth in my lap. It now sits on the shelf in our home office between our wedding picture and a picture of us trying to "look cool" while going down Splash Mountain at Disneyland. I don't know what to do with it but it feels wrong to just throw it out. With the exception of my brother-in-law, It's not something I've ever felt the urge to bring out when company comes. I'm thinking it may be a useful prop on Halloween.

Leave a Reply