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Monday, December 6, 2010

A Meet 'n Greet With My Colon

[Warning:  the following is a description of unspeakable bodily functions that could really turn you off, so all of you males out there who have crushes on me...close your eyes...IJ]

SATURDAY A.M. - A couple of years ago my doctor suggested that since I was over 50, I should have a colonoscopy.  I didn't think much of it at the time and said "Sure," so she booked the appointment.  Or rather, she had my name put on the list, because in BC and most of the rest of Canada it takes a long time to get one of those, as well as many other procedures.  Not that I was in a hurry to have it!  The whole conversation pretty much slipped my mind after that, and I didn't think anything more of it.  But here it is, a full two years after the initial booking and I'm finally scheduled to go into the hospital tomorrow morning.  A Sunday morning 9am appointment, including everything that has to be done beforehand (ahem...the evacuation process, so to speak), is not my idea of a pleasant weekend, but there's no turning back now.

I should mention that between the time we booked the colonoscopy and now, there was a decision to change all colonoscopies to CT colonographies, a much less intrusive procedure.  If you don't know what a colonoscopy is, essentially it involves the insertion of a fiber optic camera into the anus, which then winds its way through your bowels on the hunt for polyps, which can be an early sign of colon cancer.  A friend of mine passed away several years ago from colon cancer at the age of 46, but the disease itself is curable if caught early.  A CT colonography is less invasive in that it is basically a CT scan of your colon, and only involves the insertion of carbon dioxide through a small tube inserted into the anus, to expand the colon, which makes it easier to view on the scan.  Either way, the patient has to spend a day and a half "cleansing".

I received a letter in the mail just over a month ago, describing the procedure, what to do ahead of time and where to go to have it done.  Last week, I went to a pharmacy to pick up a whole array of weird-sounding concoctions that were on my list.  Well, I looked around the aisles for awhile and couldn't for the life of me find any of them.  There happened to be three pharmacists working, one male and two females...I approached the desk and was REALLY hoping that I could catch the attention of one of the females, but sure enough, it was the male pharmacist who noticed me first.  As I started to stutter the names of the medications on my list, he quickly smiled and gave me a knowing look...in a flash he was under the desk rifling for a kit which contained some of what I needed.  Then he flew around an aisle or two and retrieved the remaining ingredients for me.  I'm sure, like a doctor or nurse, a pharmacist becomes immune to the barrage of embarrassing bodily procedures and functions that come to his attention on a daily basis.  But this was all new to me.

I've been lucky in my life to have never been in hospital for anything other than the birth of my two daughters.  To some degree, giving birth tends to be quite enough to get a person over any self-consciousness.  I mean, with everybody poking around down there, the whole thing is pretty much out of your hands, isn't it?   And you're in so much pain, you don't give a rat's ass what they think anymore.  Just get that thing outta there!!

When I was a kid, I was afraid of doctors...I think it had to do with my mother becoming ill and eventually dying of Hodgkin's disease. I think I somehow unconsciously associated her death with doctors and hospitals as if they were to blame, and I didn't really start seeing a doctor until I got pregnant with my first daughter.  After my two daughters were born, I pretty much went back to ignoring the whole doctor thing again, but then I really didn't need to go anyway.  And though I've been lucky when it comes to my health, I realize that as I get older, parts are going to break down, problems are going to surface, and a person just can't expect to be perfectly healthy forever.  If there is something I can do to prevent or detect a serious illness early, I'm up for it.  So in a few moments I begin the process of prepping for my Sunday morning CT colonography.  Wish me good luck!

MONDAY P.M.

I have had a CT colonography and have lived to tell the tale.  I really didn't feel like sitting here and blogging during the process about my every move, so to speak, but now that it's over I'll fill you in.

Saturday was not too bad at first.  I had to mix a concoction including the first cleanser and drink it along with some juice and about 4 or 5 glasses of water.  The instructions said that things would start "happening" within an hour, but it didn't hit me hard at all at first.  I figured, okay, this is not so bad.  However, as the day progressed and I had to swallow more muck, it got worse.  By the time I was to have my lovely dinner of hot broth, I was pretty much exhausted from running back and forth to the washroom.  That didn't change much during the night either, so by the next morning at 7am when I had to get up to take the last of my mucky mixtures...I was pretty much ready to get it done with.

I arrived at the hospital a little early which was lucky because they were able to take me in almost immediately.  So began the ritual of changing into the hospital gown, signing a form and having the procedure explained to me.  I was given an IV so that they could give me a medication that would relax the colon, which makes it easier to view.  This medication also raises your heart rate, blurs the vision and dries out your mouth, so it's serious stuff.  Then I was then taken into the room with the CT scanner, which looks like a giant donut on its side with a table going through it.  I was told to lie down on my side, and up the yin yang went the small tube that delivers the carbon dioxide.  As they were setting things up, the nurse told me that people actually experience quite a bit of  "discomfort" when they are filled up with the carbon dioxide.  Okay, what?  The red flag goes up when they use the word "discomfort".  Who are they kidding...it's going to hurt, right??

Well yeah!  It felt like a pretty serious case of gas...my stomach started to gurgle as the carbon dioxide went in, then I felt bloated as if I had just eaten a huge meal...and next came the pain.  I was told to roll over on my back and to raise my arms above my head to prepare for the first scan, which intensified the pain.  A weird, female computer voice said "Breathe in, breathe out.  Now hold it..."   I waited in agony as the scanner started spinning and moving slowly over me.  "Breathe normally."  Phew!

Once the first scan was done, they had me roll over on my stomach with my hands above my head again.  This position actually felt more comfortable, and they were moving quickly so my "discomfort" wouldn't go on any longer than necessary.  Finally, the scans were finished and out came the little tube and the carbon dioxide along with it.  What a relief that was.  In so many ways.

The final process was a quick check of my heart rate, which was still a little high.  Well, I wonder why!

The staff were very kind and explained everything they were doing, so I never once felt nervous (except maybe for that "discomfort" part!) and it was all over within about 20 minutes.  I did have to wait an extra ten minutes or so for my heart rate to be normal, but then it was back to the change area for me, out of the hospital gowns and back into my good ol' clothes.  Ah. 

All in all, the worst part was the day before as I was going through the cleansing part.  But to tell you the truth, the whole process really wasn't that bad at all, and I feel better having done it.  I hope any of you out there over the age of 50 might consider asking your doctor to book a CT colonography for you.  On the whole, it's a very small period of unpleasantness that could actually save your life.  As I mentioned earlier I had a friend pass away from colon cancer, and even though she was younger, by the time she knew she had it, it was pretty much over for her.  It doesn't have to be that way.

Okay, boys, you can open your eyes now :-)

IJ
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