November 15, 2013 § 7 Comments
The husband of a nurse with whom my wife works experienced some symptoms, so he visited with a physician not long ago. He learned that he had advanced colon cancer, and the doctor estimated that he had six months to live. He died last week, only a month after the diagnosis.
That may be an extreme case, but it highlights something of which we all need to be aware — that undetected cancers can, and will, kill you, most likely at a point in your life when you feel that you should still have some more living to do.
You can chalk up this unfortunate experience to stubborness on the man’s part, if you like. I prefer to think he was dissuaded from having a colonoscopy by all the lurid tales that folks swap around the office and the courthouse about the procedure and its unpleasantness. In my own experience, the urban legends I heard had a dissuasive effect on me. When I finally did undergo it, however, I found how wildly exagerrated and inaccurate those reports really were.
So as a public service, I am going to tell you in some detail my experience with it, stripped of the drama (there wasn’t any), and in hopes that you will be reassured that this is something you can and should do. Fair warning: bodily functions will be mentioned here, but I will try to be matter-of-fact.
When you schedule your colonoscopy, the doctor will give you a detailed instruction sheet. The instructions are straightforward and easy to follow. Here is what happens, step by step:
- Before you can undergo a colonoscopy, your bowel will need to be empty and cleansed. You will get a prescription for a mixture that you will drink the day before the procedure that will do that function. Fill the prescription and pick up any laxative prescribed by the doctor.
- The day before the procedure, you will stop eating food at a time directed by the doctor. From that point on, you will drink only “clear” liquids, which includes water, cola, stocks, and the like. Prepare the prescribed mixture according to the directions, put it in the refrigerator, and go to work or wherever you’re headed for the day.
- Around 5 pm on the evening before, you will take a dose of laxative, which will begin the process. Soon after, you will consume one-third of the refrigerated mixture. The alleged taste and consistency of this emulsion is the epic source of many a dramatic tale of woe about the process. The truth is somewhat more mundane. The mixture has a slightly salty-citrusy taste and, if it is properly mixed, is smooth and fairly clear and not, as the legend has it, nuclear green, gritty, foul-tasting, or resembling eye of newt. It is admittedly not intended to be savored like a cocktail, but it’s not indigestible or repulsive, either.
- Soon after consuming your first course of the mixture, the bowel movements will begin, and will continue for the next few hours. You will keep consuming “clear” liquids along the way to keep your electrolyte balance straight, and to keep from getting dehydrated.
- After a couple of hours, you will drink another one-third of the mixture, and continue with the “clear” liquids. The colon-cleansing will continue.
- Finally, after another couple of hours, you will drink down the last one-third, and continue as before until the urge to go ends, at which point you will retire to bed, happy to be through with this phase.
On the morning of the procedure, you report to the hospital or facility, accompanied by someone who will be able to transport you home when it is over. Still nothing other than those “clear” liquids this morning. You are ushered into a room where you doff your clothes and don one of those ridiculous hospital gowns. An IV live is installed.
You are then wheeled to the procedure room. The doctor enters and explains the procedure. In a few minutes, Versid is injected into the IV line, and you are immediately in a sound sleep.
After an hour or so, you wake up to find the doctor sitting there with a report that either (a) everything is fine, or (b) something has to be sent to the lab to be checked out, or (c) there is a problem, and here’s what needs to be done about it. And then you are free to go, to be transported home by your driver so you can sleep off the Versid.
That’s it. You never feel a thing. No side-effects or after-effects, no hilarious episodes, no humiliating embarrassment, no drama, nothing other than what could be for you a life-saving experience. The doctors and nurses are professional and reassuring. They do this every day. It’s not funny or tittilating to them.
An upper GI scope is even simpler, since it does not involve all of the bowel-cleansing preparations.
Lawyers (and judges, for that matter) can be notoriously resistant to what they see as outside interference with their own self-determination. We pride ourselves on our independence, so we bridle when someone tells us that we should do this or that for our own good. But, I am telling you, this is something you really should do for your own good. If you don’t care anything about your own good, then do it for the good of your spouse or significant other, or your children, or your grandchildren.
As a person who absolutely detests putting myself in the control of doctors, I can testify that this procedure is not as bad as rumored around the water cooler.
Don’t wait until you have symptoms. Get a scope. Now.