We interrupt this look back to last fall’s Oregon trip (between parts 2 and 3) for a colonoscopy. Yep, time to reminisce fondly on that dreaded mid-life procedure, which while quite necessary and intelligent to undergo; is generally not quite viewed upon with enthusiasm.
My turn came in late February 2012 as I had successfully turned the half-century mark in September of the previous year. I called and asked my long-time primary doctor if he felt it was time. He did. I made the appointment the next day. My original scheduled time in late January was postponed one-month when I decided that dealing with a bulging disk in my neck which affected my right arm and fingers, and a bad cold (of which the continual coughing inflamed my disk issue) were two more things that I didn’t need to deal with connected with the procedure; so I rescheduled it. As the day drew nearer, and the paperwork from the beautiful North Shore Surgical Center arrived with complete instructions; I felt ready. A few days ahead of the test, I purchased the four Dulcolax laxative tablets and picked up the NuLytely powder in a plastic gallon jug from the clinic. That was “free” however I’m certain my insurance picked up that tab at great cost. I chose from one of four offered flavors to mix with the powder to make the taste well, less disagreeable. Pineapple was my pick and I would stand by it today as a strong recommendation. For some reason, the more lemon-limey the flavor, the harder it is to drink icky stuff for me. It’s like putting the virtual lipstick on swine…it would still taste like a hog with fruit-breath - if you get where I’m coming from. Plus, a pineapple is the universal sign of hospitality and warm welcome isn't it?
At 11:00 AM the day before the colonoscopy, I took the 4 tablets. I had not eaten anything since a small bowl of cereal at 6:30 AM. I got through the rest of my work day fasting and feeling hungry, sleepy and cold. In the afternoon when home, I began drinking the prep liquid. The liquid was mostly sodium-based, so its viscosity was thicker than pure water. It reminded me of drinking pineapple-flavored Atlantic Ocean, but was not altogether disgusting. The directions said to drink at least one-half of the gallon in a brief time and wait for the fun to start. Within 30 minutes, the stuff began it’s magic bowel evacuation process much like a high-speed train roaring through an abandoned station at midnight. All I needed to complete the mood was the urgent warning horn as accompaniment. Watching television was a good distraction to offset the frequent swallowing and emitting that took place until I was too pooped to stay awake any longer. I was fortunate to not need to get up once during the night (and no, I wasn’t wearing a diaper), so I received a good rest for whatever came next.
Barbara and I drove to the nicely wooded, suburban surgical center around 10:15 and arrived in plenty of time to feel relaxed for the 11:00 procedure. Intake went smoothly and I only needed to sign five different patient consent forms to make it official. Many questions were asked of me as I sat waiting in a small 8’ X 8’ room in a comfy leather reclining chair. Soft classical piano music was playing on the single overhead intercom speaker and the window blinds were open to a snowless landscape pointed towards a quiet, affluent, residential neighborhood. Two men were operating a wood chipper as they fed in recently trimmed boulevard tree limbs. The noise of the powerful machine was distant and a reminder of the outside world keeping its own schedule. I changed into the traditional strait-jacketed hospital gown and attempted to tie a bow behind my neck with the cords attached to the garment. They might as well have been live Garter snakes for the success I was having with the damn things. I also was gifted with a cotton hospital robe, so I gave up all thoughts of modesty and just put that on. There were a pair of green fuzzy slippers festooned with anti-skid rubber stripes (no doubt standard equipment after some unfortunate slip and fall lawsuit) and an enormously poofy, light blue, gauzy hair restraint which I also adorned myself with. I settled back into my recliner to wait for the IV nurse while reading a November 2011 Popular Science magazine. Hey, I used to love Popular Science and even had a subscription at one point in my life.
It wasn’t too long before a nurse with a cart wheeled in to insert a needle into my left arm around the bend of my elbow. Once that was done, I sat back and read about the new spy camera the size and exact coloring of a hummingbird that can fly in a stationary position for 11 minutes on a single charge while sending back intel to law enforcement. Being a birdwatcher; I was completely intrigued with all sorts of possibilities. Pete the “nurse” came in to greet me and make sure I didn’t have any questions; assuring me he’d be with me the whole time in the procedure room. I waited about another 15 minutes; enough time to see that Google had offered a 20 million dollar prize for the next individual or team to successfully land a craft on the moon, and I was called to pad down the shiny (treacherously slippery) hall. Pete took my IV bag and led me to a brightly lit room to a waiting bed. A woman dressed in appropriate hospital-wear was bustling around some equipment while another presented me with a blessedly warmed cotton blanket. Pete told me to lie on my left side on the bed and I scooted to comply. I was very thankful that I was not told to lie the other way as my pinched nerve bundle would have been complaining non-stop. Pete told me that he was now giving me a cocktail to relax me as he injected something into my IV line. I didn’t pass out completely because I remember bits and pieces of a TV monitor that was aimed in my direction, showing me the details of the internal expedition. I would see the nose of the probe on the screen surrounded by glistening colon, water jetting and movement back and forth; then I would skip forward and see some other section of intestine. I sensed nothing from my backside and was happy for that. Before I knew it I was gently awakened being told that I could continue to lie in some other room (which I had apparently been moved to) for a bit or be wheeled to the final recovery room where Barbara could sit with me as I came fully awake. I sleepily responded that I could get up and walk to that final room.
I sat in a similar leather recliner sipping cranberry juice cocktail when Barbara came in and joined me; her knitting in hand. She asked me how I was and I told her that I felt fine: rested actually. We waited while my head cleared and the doctor who did the scope came in to explain what they had found. Apparently two polyps were removed in the course of the test and they had been (routinely) sent to for testing to see if they were cancerous. Barbara told me later that the doctor had remarked that he’s seen removed a lot of polyps in his practice that were cancerous, and that mine didn’t appear that way. I say it this way because I didn’t exactly remember what was said. I guess that’s why they prefer a lucid person to accompany the patient post-op. He did say that If I had children that (because polyps had been found in my colon) that they should consider being tested 10 years earlier than the usual age 50. After a few more minutes of sitting, drinking and eating some of the trail-mix that Barbara had packed, I dressed in the nearby bathroom and threw my hospital gowns into the hamper. I kept the green fuzzy (non-skid) slipper-socks…who wouldn’t? As I left the facility I commented to the receptionist that I had had an “enjoyable” time at their center – they laughed.
PS: In all seriousness, I truly did have an easy time of the entire process. There was nothing scary or upsetting about the whole thing for a 50-year old man to worry about. I do feel for the kids who have had to endure this at an early age in the diagnosis of so many (IB) Irritable Bowel diseases that seem to be a plague on our youth of today. Who knows why this is happening at such an alarming rate? Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis are being rampantly diagnosed in children by GI professionals. It’s wonderful that we have these amazing comprehensive test procedures to rely upon, but equally sad regarding what is discovered and what it means to the life of a young person. However in terms of the test itself and what it can portend; it is much better to know than not to know when it comes to the Big C – so don’t put it off if you have been…schedule it today! Remember - The pineapple flavor for the NuLytely has my two thumbs up for the purge cycle of this process.