Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Colonoscopy: Looking After Myself

I try not to use Useful Spaces to discuss personal matters.  Occasionally I'll write a restaurant review, or give you a peak inside a vacation I've taken.  But I'm not here to discuss things that don't relate somehow to the kitchen or kitchen design.

My Mom - Rev. Marj (d. 2005)
Today I'm breaking that rule because I feel the subject is important enough.  Last week I went into the hospital for a colonoscopy.  There's nothing to worry about.  I'm fit as a fiddle, but there is a history of colon cancer in my family.  I lost my mother and my maternal grandmother to it.  It's affected close friends as well.  So rather than hide from it I decided to be proactive and get checked out.

I'd been trying for 3 years to get in for the test.  I suppose because the medical system in Canada is socialized my doctor weighed the risk factors and thought the procedure wasn't called for initially.  I was more than 20 years younger than when my mother was diagnosed (a common benchmark is 15 years) and in good health (non-smoker, fit, little red-meat in my diet, etc.).  Even the specialist I saw this year was reluctant to perform the procedure on me, but once he found out my younger brother had his colonoscopy a few months previous (same specialist) he agreed it was a good idea.

The day before the colonoscopy I had to prep my bowels.  Translation: they needed to be flushed out.  (The more squeamish of you can skip this part).  I ate nothing for 30 hours beforehand, and was only able to drink clear liquids.  No milkshakes, no smoothies and worst of all no coffee.  I endured two suppositories and an enema and countless trips to the washroom.

Then there was the Peg-Lyte.  4 litres of a "fruit flavoured" beverage that helped further clean my bowels and replenish some of the nutrients I was missing from not eating.  My brother had warned me about this stuff.  His words were "the procedure isn't bad at all.  It's the preparation that sucks."  At first the Peg-Lyte was tolerable.  Kinda like Tang but with a slightly medicinal aftertaste.  2 litres in and I was really understanding what my brother was talking about.  3 litres in and I was ready to toss the rest of it down the drain.  It's not that it tasted horrible, but after 4 litres of anything you're going to get tired of it.

I woke the next morning feeling cranky, but otherwise fine.  It was like a day with a stomach flu, but without the nausea.  I felt a little light-headed from the hunger but could easily have gone to work if I had to.  My wife drove me to the hospital for my 11:30 appointment and after saying "good luck" she left.  She hates hospitals, and I don't blame her.  As welcoming and efficient as the staff are (and they really were excellent for me) the hospital is a place that reminds us of the frailty of life.  But the alternative is much worse, and I kept telling myself that as I was taken to my bed for the day.

I undressed, put on a hospital gown and waited in my bed for the nurse to come and take my blood pressure, pulse and start an IV.  The IV was the worst part of the procedure, which is to say it wasn't bad at all ... insofar as needles go.  After about a ninety minute wait my time came up and I was wheeled into the procedure room.  The doctor I had met with earlier greeted me, we exchanged pleasantries about Le Tour de France (he's French) and then he explained the procedure.

I would be sedated, then a thin tube would be inserted through my anus, through the rectum and into the colon.  The tube had a tiny video camera that allowed to doctor to look for any polyps inside.  As a side benefit, I was also able to watch the procedure on the monitor (totally optional). If anything was found another tool could be sent up inside the tube and used to remove the polyp for later examination.  The idea here is to find polyps before they become cancerous.

I was rolled over on to my side, sedated (via the IV tube, so no more injections) and watched the proceedings on the monitor.  Yeah, I was curious. I felt some slight pressure inside me ... and then awoke back in the ward, rested and not the least bit uncomfortable.  In fact, I felt like I had just had a really excellent nap.

As per hospital policy I had to wait an hour after waking up before I was allowed to go home.  The only restrictions I faced was I was not allowed to drive myself home, was not permitted alcohol for 24 hours, and I should ease into eating.  Otherwise it was business as usual.  So my wife retrieved me from the ward and we went and grabbed a milk shake.  I spent the rest of the evening watching television, catching up on lost meals and getting ready for work the next day.

We all have reasons to stay healthy.  My youngest son just graduated high school and his older brother is going to graphic design school and really starting to find his way in life.  I have a father who influences me more than he knows, and a wife who loves me more than I deserve.  Initially I was afraid of the colonoscopy.  But I owe it to the people in my life to do whatever I can to stay around as long as I can.  And so do you.

In the end (HA!) the colonoscopy was no big deal.  If by reading this post I influence you to go have yourself checked out then my sharing some mildly embarrassing moments in my life will have been worth it.

For more information on colorectal cancer and what you can do to look after yourself, please visit the Colorectal Cancer Association website.  

1 comment:

  1. Good for you, Arne.  So many people don't look after themselves ... and then end up wishing they had when something goes wrong.  I hate to say it, but men in particular are horrible about stuff like checkups, tests, etc ...

    So seriously, it's fantastic that you look afteryourself. And I'm glad to hear that it wasn't all that bad!  :)  

    Stay healthy.  :)


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