“You should do it. It’s so cleansing. Wow! It’s amazing,” my friend said to me five years ago.
“Well, ahh, yah I probably should,” was my reply to his exhortations.
The experts say we should get one after a certain age every five years. And that conversation with my friend stayed in the deep recesses of my mind, but didn’t go any further. That changed when I paid a visit to my doctor a couple of months ago for something routine.
“I’ve haven’t seen you in five years,” she said, giving me a direct, steely stare. “I want you to get a colonoscopy,” still giving me that steely stare. I didn’t respond right away.
Really, I thought. Yeah, yeah, I know I should get one, but really. She persisted in her stare and a silence ensued between us. I continued to process her request but knew she was right.
What propelled me in that direction was a friend of mine who’s family had a history of colon cancer. Numerous members of his family died from it. He himself had gone for a physical and didn’t pursue a colonoscopy given the cost … he was trying to save a buck. But in the end that’s what got him. Colon cancer. By the time they found it he was in the terminal phase, and passed away from it. On more than one occasion he made firm mention of his efforts to save money, and had he gone for a colonoscopy and they found the cancer early they could defeat it with ease. I was with him for his final breath.
And that’s the thing about colon cancer. Find it early and the cure rate is something like 80-90%. Prevention is simple and easy. But none of that is doable without the colonoscopy, the gold standard when it comes to detecting and preventing colon cancer. Colon cancer does not discriminate between rich or poor, black or white, tall or short, heavy or skinny, inner city or suburban.
“I’m not disagreeing with you,” I said to my doctor after I had finished mental processing, “I’m agreeing with you.”
“They’ll call you in a few days to set up the appointment,” she said, ending the discussion about it.
I avoided their calls given I was leaving on a two week trip in a few days. I didn’t have the heart to tell her about this. I got back from my trip to their voicemails, and further phone calls. They’re very persistent. I knew I couldn’t avoid them any longer. And my doctor would be waiting.
The biggest hangup, emotionally, is the mental image of something being shoved up our behind. It is not an enduring image of comfort, and most of us view this process with shame and pride and ego. The word humiliation comes to mind. Perhaps it puts a dent in our he-man (or she-man?) image. We have to submit to something of which we are not in control. What will people think? Our anxieties rise. There is such a stigma attached to getting a colonoscopy. I know, I fell prey to it. And for sure we turn a predetermined blind eye if they should find something. No, not me, not me, ain’t noth’n gonna be wrong with me.
Those were all part of my thought process, but I plodded along for I knew it needed to be done. I could not in any way argue with the doctor on this one. I wanted to, but I couldn’t.
My experience with getting a colonoscopy is that the anxiety of doing it is far greater than the actual act of having it done. Oh, I must confess, I don’t like taking pills and I don’t like being knocked out, it’s a control thing. But from the first conversation over the phone the facility where I was to have this done was nothing but first rate and professional. The longest part was perhaps answering all the questions about medical history.
From that they set me up on a medical portal via the internet where they could upload documents and I could read them. When I first pulled up the document outlining what I was to do for the week before the colonoscopy I felt intimidated by it’s sheer size. But as I poured through it I found it to be straight forward.
Starting 7 days before the procedure I was to stop taking any iron supplements and multivitamins. I didn’t have to worry about this for I never took them to begin with. Starting 3 days before I was to go on a low fiber diet. In essence, I was to eat like crap instead of any of the healthy stuff they always preach for us to eat. Ice cream? Yes. Candy? Yes. McDonald’s? Yes. Oatmeal? No. Fruit? No. Salads? No. But I could have yogurt and bananas and watermelon!
I remember on this day I ate at White Castle for breakfast. And for lunch I ate a Healthy Choice microwave dinner. It was General Tso’s Chicken. All of which was allowed by their food guidelines, except I had to pick out the peas, those are a no no. I finished with a hamburger and mac and cheese with a banana and watermelon to boot!
2 days before I was to continue my low fiber, high crap diet, and drink 8 glasses of water as well. I pondered how they defined “glass of water.” What size cup did that constitute? How many ounces? If my definition of glass was bigger than their definition of glass, would I be drinking too much water? I decided one glass of water constituted one and three-quarters of a Starbucks mug. I can safely tell you, that is a lot of water.
1 day before the procedure proved to be the most challenging day of all, including the day of the procedure. I couldn’t eat, liquids only, and only certain liquids. 8 glasses of water plus I had to take two pills of DulcoLAX at noon. So far so good. But the tough stuff began at 4 pm.
“Will it be done by 4?” I asked the mechanic. I was having front end work done to my car.
“No. probably not by 4.”
“Oh, well then, I’m going to have to schedule another day. I, ahem, am having a colonoscopy and I have to drink all this goop starting at 4. So it will have to be another day.”
“That’s no problem, no problem at all. A colonoscopy is no big deal. I’ve had like five of them. It’s just a day in your life, that’s all.” I felt empowered conversing with him about this. Wow, I discovered, it really helps to talk about this, even with strangers. I don’t need to hang my head about it.
Well, back to 1 day before the procedure. The toughest two hours occur between 4-6 pm. I had to guzzle 8 ounces of a mixture of Gatorade and MiraLAX powder every 15 minutes until I slugged down the entire 64 ounce bottle of Gatorade. What’s with all this stuff ending in LAX? And I will get diarrhea! Be near a toilet! So the instructions from the facility said. In this they were correct! In fact, I’m lucky my bedroom was right across from the toilet because I needed it through out the nighttime. Sad to say, but I didn’t get a lot of sleep. And yes a certain amount of anxieties crept in as the day got near.
On the day of the procedure, D-Day, I slugged down a 10 ounce bottle of Magnesium Citrate, and had to stop drinking all liquids 3 hours before the procedure. Still had to go to the bathroom a lot though.
And finally the time had come. Off to the facility. I was proud of myself for I had followed their instructions to a tee, to the best of my ability. I didn’t want to be sent home because my colon wasn’t clear. And by-the-way, my friends exclamation of such an amazing feeling to clear the colon went far beyond reality. I didn’t enjoy heading to the toilet every so many minutes, and when I checked the label on the Gatorade I determined they were trying to do me in in their own small way. That singular 64 ounce bottle of Gatorade is the equivalent of 12 servings. Each serving contains something like 26 grams of sugar. 12 x 26 = 312 grams of sugar I’m plowing into my body in just two hours.
Okay, when I arrived at the facility they were nothing but friendly. I had to plow through some paperwork, then met with the nurse, who explained the details of the procedure and explained in detail who does what and recorded my medical history, finishing with inserting the catheter where the anesthesia flows.
During this time she asked me a series of questions about what I’m feeling, my anxieties, what I experienced, etc. In fact, we had a cool discussion about anxieties and emotions and the physiology of the human brain. In a nut shell, I had learned from seminars at work that my amygdala is right next to my hippo-campus. The former is the brain’s anxiety and stress center, and it sits right next to the latter, which is our memory center. In short, we are physiology wired towards the negative. Our brain is lazy, and does whatever it is told. Whatever we feed the brain, good or bad, our brain acts on it. We’re wired this way. Because of our physiology we focus on the negative, and let anxieties have a field day. As they say in the mental health field, negatives stick to us like Velcro, but positives slide off like Teflon.
Upon the nurse’s question about how I was feeling I told her while I did have some anxieties, they weren’t too bad now. I was pretty relaxed. I thought I would be ratcheted up on anxieties, but no. In part I felt this way, I think, by the staff’s professional, reassuring demeanor and because I had talked to others who’d had this done.
In the room came the anesthesiologist, an Indian woman, who carefully explained that what they were giving me wasn’t a general anesthetic that would totally knock me out, but instead was more like a short nap. “You probably won’t even remember a thing,” she said.
Everyone vacated the room, I got into my gown. Soon came in the doctor who was to do the procedure. Very friendly, very professional, like everyone there. He went though the risks, I signed some documents, he checked my heart and lungs. Good to go.
Once in the procedure room I laid down on my left side, slightly in the fetal position. The anesthesia was plugged into the catheter, with the staff administering the anesthesia saying, “At first you will feel a little cold.”
“Oh, I feel where the needle is going in is getting cold!” I exclaimed.
“Then you feel it getting a little warm.”
“Yep, it’s getting warm!”
“Soon, you start to feel drowsy.”
“I’m starting to feel a little drowsy now …” and then poof, the next thing I know I’m waking up.
While in the recovery room the doctor came in and said, “Everything went good. I did find one polyp. It was 5 mm. I removed it. We will have to do a biopsy to see if it the harmless one or a precursor to cancer. I’ll give you this report and it will also go to your doctor. A nurse will come in and give you some instructions and paperwork to give you some information on preventing polyps in the future. If the polyp isn’t the precursor kind we’ll have you come back for another colonoscopy in 10 years, otherwise we’ll have you come back in 5.”
When reading the report, what gave me the greatest amount of pride was where it said, “The quality of the prep was good (Miralax/Gatorade/2 tablets Bisacodyl/Magnesium Citrate).” YES! I followed their instructions to a tee.
After that a nice, friendly nurse came in with the paperwork, and said, “There’s some information on this sheet that will help you prevent polyps in the future.”
I said to her, “Wow, that really was like a short little nap. I actually feel like I just got a really good nap!” I found myself chatty and almost ecstatic.
I told the same thing to the anesthesiologist who exclaimed, “See, it’s just like a nap!”
With that my day was done.
I received the biopsy report the next day and indeed the polyp was of the precursor type, known as an Adenomatous polyp. 70% of the time this is the type of polyp found during a colonoscopy. It isn’t cancerous, it’s benign, but has the potential to become cancerous over a long period of time if left in the colon. Sooo, as a preventive measure, I have to come back in 5 years for another colonoscopy. But I know it will be a walk in the park. The staff will be friendly and smiley and put me at ease. And best of all, I won’t remember a thing.
Upon reflection. The worst part of the whole thing was 1 day before the procedure, where it’s clear liquids only and where I had to drink all that goop, including a boatload of sugar from the Gatorade, and then the pooping began … all night long. But if that is the only price I have to pay for a pee-screening that’s simple and quick and prevents anything bad from happening, isn’t it worth it?
I want to end my blog post with a stream of consciousness. I know for me, and most likely you, the thought of a colonoscopy puts a rise in your anxieties. The what ifs have a field day, the stigma, the humiliation of it all. How do you tell your friends? Very easily, I might add. I found that talking with others brings a wall of support and encouragement, not embarrassment.
More than you think have had one. And in our cancer prone society a colonoscopy is a simple, easy, quick prescreening that nips any potential trouble in the bud right now. And you are done with it! The whole procedure takes maybe 30 minutes give or take, but you are knocked out anyways, so you don’t even see or feel it.
I encourage all of you, based on my own personal experience, pay heed to your doctor; get this done. Lose the pride. Drop the ego. It’s truly an ounce of prevention. The whole point of a colonoscopy is to detect any possible problem before it has a chance to become a problem. And it’s so simple, so easy, so quick. The anxieties about doing it, the emotions, are far greater than the actual act of having it done.
On a final note. The way to prevent polyps to begin with is what Mommy told you since birth. Eat your fruits. Eat your vegetables. Eat whole grains. Exercise. Yes, it’s that simple! Folic acid is your friend. Vitamin D is your buddy. Sunshine, what a wonderful thing! So please, doggonit, listen to your Mommy!