I received the best birthday present ever this week and you could say I bought it for myself. It was my first colonoscopy, the disruptive, yet critical examination of the large intestine or colon. The results were negative. No cancer, no polyps. Clean as a, er . . . whistle. Sorry, it’s hard to write about this. As you can imagine, I’ve only talked about this topic with a few close friends.
Now that the ordeal is over, however, I feel a sense of obligation to talk about it. I imagine it’s the same type of obligation Katie Couric felt when she lost her husband to colon cancer a few years back. Couric wanted to help educate the public by having her next colonoscopy done on live television.
The least I can do is post a blog about my experience.
Communicating about my colon is not exactly easy, but dying of colon cancer is much less easy. The colon and rectal area is a difficult topic of conversation even under the best circumstances. The large intestine is the darkest organ in that it doesn’t receive the copious amounts of attention we give other body parts such as the heart or stomach.
We worry about what our hair looks like and whether we have circles under our eyes. We’re concerned about the extra flesh at our waistlines, if not concerned enough to do something about it. Few of us think about the colon, however, let alone talk about it. But, if you really want to take care of yourself, keep track of the darkest organ.
Colon cancer usually develops from polyps, so the goal is to discover and deal with the polyps earlier than later. Over 90% of people who get colon cancer are over 50. Many have neglected themselves by developing a sedentary lifestyle or bad eating habits.
In general, cancer occurs when healthy cells become altered, but that’s not what causes most people to finally talk about their colon. In fact, many people have colon cancer for a long time before they even know it. Eventually, changes in bowel habits, bloody stool, persistent cramping, gas or abdominal pain sends them to a doctor, who usually has to bite his tongue, knowing that colon cancer is quite preventable with early detection.
“How do you feel? A little dehydrated?” Nurse Angie of the Rochester Medical Clinic was getting me situated for the exam. The clinic has seven doctors who see ten to fifteen patients a day.
“How could I be dehydrated?” I teased. “You made me drink 64 ounces of Gatorade.” The Gatorade was mixed with 238 grams of Miralax powder. Let me go on record as saying there’s nothing “lax” about Miralax. It was a small amount of Fleet Phospho-soda, however, that really cleared the pipes. The idea is to have the colon clear completely clear of solid waste material, so the doc can get a good look.
“How much do you weigh, Michael?”
“I weighed 163 before yesterday, but I’ve been through a lot in the last 24 hours.”
The day before the exam I was allowed to eat breakfast, but that’s all. I had nothing to eat or drink, but water and some chicken broth for 20 hours or so before the exam. I never got hungry thanks to the distracting effects of the laxative.
Nurse Betsy seemed very pleased that I was getting a colonoscopy only days before my 50th birthday. “You’re right on schedule!” she beamed. Whatever makes her happy.
Dr. Dennis A Dahlstedt’s business card shows that he’s an M.D. of Gastroenterology, but he could also be a stand-up comedian. I met him about 30 seconds before we became, er . . . intimately acquainted. Sorry, this is hard to talk about.
Have you seen the funny prostate exam in Fletch where Chevy Chase interrupts himself to sing, Moon River, when the doctor slips him a digit? Well, Dr. D. is apparently fond of the Damon Wayans/(Dr.) Lou Rawls TV skit because Dr. D. actually sang, You’ll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine), while I was going under. I swear to you, it’s the last thing I heard before I was put to sleep.
So, while some folks have trouble talking about the colon, some people enjoy singing about it.
The anesthesiologist put me out with a terrific drug called “Propofol.” I was unconscious very quickly and recovered faster than I do from Dramamine, so later, I asked for a six pack of Propofol to go.
I caught a glimpse of the colonoscope, a lariat made from black plastic that looks a little like PVC tubing. The tube is about as thick as an index finger, if you’ll pardon the comparison. The hose was approximately four feet long.
Talk about an all-in-one tool! The Swiss Army knife has nothing on the colonoscope. The business end of the tube is a camera. A dial at the other end makes the camera move. The tool has the ability to irrigate the colon. It has a forceps, if you can believe it, and a snare or “noose” to clip and collect polyps. The colonoscope also has a light to illuminate what might be the darkest human organ.
I’m told the colonoscope is sterilized for about an hour after every use.
After the procedure, Dr. Dahlstedt came to see me in the recovery area. He was quite pleased with my test results and my compliance as a patient. “Great prep job!” he exhorted. “Like Artesian well water in there!”
Struggling with the analogy, I asked Dr. Dahlstedt what he thinks of colonic cleanses and the like. “Ridiculous!” he said. “Totally unnatural! You don’t hear about squirrels in the woods giving themselves enemas, do you?”
He had a good point, but I’ve also never heard of a squirrel paying $1,000 to have someone shove a camera up his butt. That’s not exactly natural, either.
“One more question, Doctor, what’s the single best thing I can do to take care of my colon?”
“Eat vegetables,” he said. “See you in about ten years.”
In ten years, researchers may perfect the new “virtual (non-invasive) colonoscopy,” but don’t postpone your exam. If you’re over 50, schedule your exam right away. Share this article with someone over 50. I know it’s hard, but talk about it.
Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Well, a colonoscopy is an examination that helps ensure a person goes on living.