On the Starship Colonoscopy

colonoscopy fearsSit with any group of 50-somethings long enough and sooner or later the talk will turn to the various strategies for getting through the  colonoscopy prep.This regimen, in case there are small pockets of the population who have not heard, involves the drinking of eight 8-ounce glasses of a thick chalky cocktail, at 15-minute intervals, until the entire 64-ounce pitcher has been drained.

That’s a gallon of gritty sludge, downed within the space of just two hours.

As one who was recently contemplating her own date with destiny, I consulted my 900 stranger-friends on Facebook for advice on how best to approach the ordeal.

“Make the drink as cold as you can!” many said. “Use a straw!” advised a second faction. “Skip the straw and just fire it down!” counseled a third group.

I had used all three techniques by the time I was finished, and let me just say I wasn’t exactly yodeling out a Julia-Child-like “Bon Appetit!” with each glass.

But as unpleasant as the prep is, everything turns rosy when, in your hospital gown and booties, you are escorted into the hospital’s ‘scope suite, where you all at once feel like a guest on board the Starship Enterprise, with the many uniformed crew members circling and circling as they tend and monitor.

You are ushered to a gurney where, alongside 15 or 20 other pre- and post-procedure folk, you stretch out like so many limp strips of bacon.

Someone comes and covers you with a warm blanket.

Then a cheerful medical professional in a pirate-like headscarf comes along to take your vital signs. His hands make a sort of Sign of the Cross as they move from your left arm to your forehead to your chest and then over to your right hand. This is where the needle goes to deliver the I-love-everything drug that cancels all fears. You will then discover another cheery young crew member sitting inches away and peering into a monitor that offers a minute-by-minute account of what’s happening inside you. You feel like the coolest guest at the dinner party. Everyone finds you so interesting!

At last you are wheeled into the operatory for the “periscope up” procedure that has brought you here. A neat slice of time is cut from your life, and the next thing you know you’re back in Mission Control with your fellow strips of bacon.

After a woozy interval, the doctor materializes and, with a somber clergyperson’s air, tells you how things looked. He dematerializes again and you yawn.

Somebody brings you a snack of juice and crackers.

You yawn again and have a little snooze. It’s like being in pre-school again, but without the singing.

In short, it is Heaven and you  have come through. you have been seen, and accepted for who you are. And when you depart, you depart smiling, with a strange but unmistakable sense of blessing, and bits of graham cracker crumb still clinging to your lips.

 

 

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Here’s a Fun Thing to Try

 

Colonoscopy2imgTestI was closing in on 50 when, at my yearly checkup, my doctor asked that question we all understand to be key these days, about the medical history and cause of death of my two parents.

“My mom: heart attack,” I said “but my dad left before I was born, so I have no clue how he died.”

“Find out,” the doc said. “Do some digging if you have to.”

So, I dug. It took months, but by the time I came back I had my answer. “’Intestinal cancer’ it says on his death certificate.”

“OK, then. You’re overdue for  a colonoscopy.”

“ Hey come on,” I said, going for the joke. “I didn’t even know the guy!”

 He didn’t laugh. “A colonoscopy is indicated for anyone past a certain age either of whose parents had cancer ‘below the bellybutton’. Here are the names of some people who do this procedure. Pick one and get it done.”

So… I picked one, and in a month’s time found myself seated across from a white-haired GI doc for a little facetime. Did I have any questions? he wanted to know.

I did indeed. “My sister has had this procedure and she says it’s super uncomfortable and I should ask for medication, so I wondered: what do you give people?”

“A muscle relaxant of course, as well as a drug called Versed  which acts an amnesiac.”

“An amnesiac?! You want us to forget then, which means it MUST hurt!

“But does it, really?” I asked, hoping against hope.

“Oh, I won’t say I haven’t heard a few good groans over the years,” he answered cheerily. “I mean think about it: You’ve got a five-foot probe and…three right angles.”  

I thought about it; pictured that flexible wand and its seeing-eye fiber-optics. Then I pictured the colon itself, an inverted letter “U” that you explore by ‘driving up’ a squiggly on-ramp.

I went head anyway and booked the procedure.

When the day came the two drugs, administered in painless I-V fashion made me feel fine. Wonderful, in fact.

“Let’s see that five-foot probe!” I gamely sang.

“Here it is!,” the genial doc sang back.

I turned then to look at the monitor – and then somehow a 90 minutes swath was cut from my life. I was lying on my side and it was 8:41; then suddenly I was sitting up and it was 10:11.

I do have a vague memory of turning in protest once, but it seems more dream than memory and, as the saying goes, if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a noise? If a highly ‘personal’ but beneficial experience is visited on you and you don’t remember it, can you call it uncomfortable? Maybe not.

So line up and get it done if you’re at the magical age. The dread snacks you get in the Recovery Room alone are make it all worth while.

colonoscopy fears

 

Open Your Mouth and Say Ahhh!

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“I got this PAIN doc.” Bet that’s what our man Obama heard  from 20 different places the second he walked into the Oval Office today and boy don’t we ALL have pain.

I have a steady pain in my neck that requires me to see a specialist in ghost-buster gear at the world-renowned Mass. General Hospital. He puts me on my side like a horse, covers my face with a cloth like I’m dead, then takes a lethal-injection needle left over from the Dead Man Walkin’ wing at Alcatraz and slides it THREE TIMES into the wee facet joints of my neck, the teeniest places imaginable where the delicate shell-like bones of the cervical vertebrae touch together – tap! – like the baby teeth of the littlest children.

 

The needle has in it this super-steroid called astroglide, no analog, no no wait I know, kenalog that’s what it is and the first time he gave it to me in the fall I nearly threw up on his shoes. Two weeks later when he asked how it felt I had to give it to him straight. “How did it FEEL? It felt like gray death entering my body! Tell me, Doctor, has anyway ever done this to YOU!?”and he blinked a second, not really getting it, the joke of it, a doctor having a taste of his own medicine, but then burst out laughing: “NO no one has ever done this me! I’m about the only guy who knows how to do it!”

 

So off I went today to have this second injection because I was desperate. My man was desperate. Even my cats were desperate because no one wants to be around a person with neck pain.

 

The Doctor finally admitted today he could give me a couple of little pills ahead of time to take the edge off, like what people take before that big Roto-Rooter Exam everyone over 50 has to have and as I swallowed them I thought of our shiny new friend walking into the Oval Office for the first time today to see 300 million patients just like me lined up at the door.

 

“I have this PAIN Doc, I lost my house, my kid is both fat AND anemic and I’m out of work…”

 

If we had a cloth over our eyes for a while during the last eight years it is sure enough gone today, and we can finally SEE how bad things are….. So now here comes your medicine; just open your mouth and say Ahhh!

 

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