March 25, 2016

Let It Go, aka Fun With Colonoscopy Screening

When I was a kid, anyone over 50 seemed positively ancient.  That was still pretty much true during my 20s.  By the time I hit 30 I began to adjust my expectations, particularly when my first white hair made an unwelcome appearance at age 39 about the same time my eye doctor began bandying about the "B" word--bifocals.  I kept so busy in my 40s with commencements and two interstate moves that I didn't have much time to think about my encroaching age beyond a certain smugness that I was still under 50 when the girlie graduated from college. Still, 50 began sounding a lot less ancient than it once had.  Then, last spring, it happened.  I turned 50.  Within minutes of the year turning over my mailbox became inundated with missives from the AARP proclaiming my sudden eligibility for retirement programs and benefits, because now I was officially old.  I ignored them all and took myself off to Great Britain for an outstanding adventure instead, comforted by the knowledge that I never would have been able to afford such a trip in my callow 20s (or 30s...or most of my 40s, for that matter).

This year for my birthday, instead of a kick-ass trip overseas, I got to have a colonoscopy.  Apparently what you're supposed to do when you turn 50 and suddenly become magically at risk for colon cancer because obviously your best days are now behind you and it's only a matter of time before body parts start breaking down.  Needless to say, I was less than thrilled by the prospect.  Call me old-fashioned, but I don't consider having someone Roto-Rootering my rear to be an appropriate birthday gift--at least not without buying me dinner first.  But I sucked it up and put on my big-girl panties like the old-lady-who's-supposed-to-know-better I have theoretically become (everyone who knows me can stop laughing now) and set about to prepare for a long day of unpleasant purging.

Mission Control...you're doing it right.

First I went shopping to make sure I had all the requisite clear liquid diet items allowed, including two bottles of Citrate of Magnesium (clear cherry-flavored, thank you very much), which I assumed to be much the same as digestive WD-40 when it came to greasing things that need to move more freely.  Next I mixed up some yellow Jell-O for when I eventually became hungry and put it in the fridge to set.  Beside it stood some white grape juice, lemonade, and chicken broth.  Turns out my future diet was not so much clear as ironically urine-colored.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Lastly, I deployed my cell phone, laptop (complete with charging cable), and a blanket in the bathroom and put on some comfortable stretchy pants.  Then I forced myself to chug the first bottle of bowel basher and hunkered down to wait.

I'll spare you all the gory details that followed; in the end it really wasn't all that bad (aside from the mag citrate sitting in my stomach like a lead balloon and forcing up vile cherry-flavored industrial solvent belches) and I had an easy go of things (puns intended).

All we who are about to die salute you.

Then next morning I got up at the ass-crack of dawn and dressed to go to the Endo Center.  As instructed, I didn't put on any makeup.  I don't know why that was a specific requirement because it sounded as though they were expecting me to put makeup on my backside so it looked nice for the occasion or something.  After completing my paperwork, I sat in the waiting room thinking it absolutely criminal that the room was not ringed with bathrooms for the intestinally-compromised patients filling it.  Next to me sat an older woman whose son, a bald dude in a Fu Manchu mustache, was complaining about there not being a spread of food in the waiting room because the poor guy was hungry.  Seriously, dude? Having a room full of food next to people who haven't eaten in 30 hours would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.  I wanted Bald Dude to shut up because he wouldn't stop talking about breakfast, therefore inciting me to want to smack him for making me hungry. Where's a Snickers bar when you need one?

Eventually a nurse took me in back and loaded me up with special socks and two hospital gowns, one to leave open in the back and one to wear as a robe opening in the front, instructing me how to wear them--twice.  I assured her sardonically that I did indeed comprehend the rocket science that is dressing for surgical procedures and she left me to it.  While I was waiting for a changing room to become available, an elderly man waddled out of one wearing both gowns open to the back and displaying his tighty-whities for all to see as he looked around for a nearby bathroom.  So much for disparaging rocket science jokes...apparently surgical dressing is difficult after all.

Once changed I was taken to a bed, asked a bunch of repetitive personal questions, and given an IV.  An anesthesiologist's assistant came in to ask yet more questions while a nurse plied me with further instructions for the procedure, including that if I had to pass gas afterwards I should rest assured that it was "clean" and just "let it go."  Personally, one of the last things I needed the morning of my colonoscopy was Idina Menzel belting out "Let It Go" on a continuous loop inside my head.  The nurses and I joked around a bit, during which I happened to mention that I'd intended to write "Bottoms Up" across my tush but had forgotten.  The anesthesiologist promptly responded, "Oh, I haven't seen that one in a while!"  My eyebrows shot up and I replied, "Wait--that's a thing??"  The assistant and two nurses all nodded vigorously so I asked what was the best one they'd ever seen.  They all considered seriously before throwing out phrases like "Exit Only" and "No Admittance" and "Be Gentle."  I offered "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter" and was quickly informed that they'd never seen that one.  Note to future self...

After a chorus of gigles they all disperse, leaving me in the bed to listen to the hustle and bustle of patients and staff all around me.  I had the impression of being part of an extensive assembly line and, sure enough, when the nurse came to wheel me to a procedure room I found I was part of a line of beds whipping through the building like speed racers on Mario Kart.  Once we had all been arrayed at battle stations, you could hear the staff returning empty beds to the holding area for the next wave of patients.  I asked how many procedures they typically performed in a day and was told the average is around 80.  That's a lot of drains to snake.

I met my new anesthetist, while waiting for the doctor to arrive; he was a cute young man possessed of a very snarky sense of humor who had inexplicably switched places for the day with the Exit Only girl.  My kind of people, really. The anesthetist arranged an oxygen tube over my ears and on top of my head like a tiny silicone unicorn horn so it was readily accessible once the procedure started, then began placing electrodes on my forearms to monitor my heart rate.  I was a little surprised that he was limiting them to my arms and said so.  He told me "I don't stick my hand down anyone's shirt without buying them dinner first."  How dare the little weasel steal my line!!

When the doctor finally came in he caught me jamming to the '80s music playing over the PA system and smirked at me.  He asked if I had questions before starting, then sat down to mess about on the computer while the nurse had me roll over on my side.  As I did so, Rod Stewart started blasting "Spread your wings and let me COME INSIDE 'cuz, tonight's the niiiiiiiight...gonna feel alllllllll riiight..."  I snorted and said that had to be the most wildly inappropriate (if accurate) song they could have played under the circumstances.  The anesthesiologist then informed me that he had worked at another such medical center at which the theme from Deliverance invariably started every morning around 10 am, just as he was about to put someone under, and that it had made even him uncomfortable.  I chuckled and told him I was now disappointed that I wouldn't be hearing Dueling Banjos outside the door.  He just smiled as he hit me with the nap juice; one quick head rush later and I was out cold.

Pretty Much

Moments later (or so it seemed to me), I became aware of people discussing a musical and I remember wanting to chime in.  I couldn't tell you now which musical it was or even if it really was a musical and not just wishful thinking.  I awoke in what seemed to be a hallway, where I was given saltines and some water.  I commented that it hadn't seemed to take long at all because I had the distinct sensation of not much time having passed.  The nurse told me the procedure itself had only taken about 15 minutes and that they usually stop the anesthetic just before finishing up...so I really wasn't out very deep or for very long.  After maybe another 15 minutes in recovery, I was escorted to a recliner and offered more juice and crackers while I waited for the doctor to come by with my results.  A few minutes later he showed up and told me that I was completely clear and wouldn't have to do the test again for another 10 years, barring any difficulties in the interim.  Yay, me!  He then asked where I was having breakfast--the 5th or 6th time that morning I'd been asked.  No doubt that's a common topic of conversation when managing people deprived of solid food for a day or two.  (For the record, I went to Panera's where I had a breakfast sandwich of ham, egg, and Vermont white cheddar on toasted ciabatta bread...mmmmmmm.)  The doctor handed me a copy of his report, complete with TMI pictures of the inside of my colon. One picture clearly displayed the only two kernels of corn to survive the previous day's purge, something the doctor made sure to tease me about, as though leaving them behind had somehow been a deliberate choice on my part.  Thanks, Doc.

All things considered, I have to admit that while perhaps not the most enjoyable of activities, getting a colonoscopy was still not even close to the worst medical experience I've ever had.  Those honors probably go to the time a podiatrist did a wedge excision on an ingrowing toenail edge, in the process giving me a rampaging staph infection--twice--which took months to heal.  Really, I've been pretty lucky so far, medically speaking.  Here's hoping that luck holds out a few more years.

And that brings us to your your PSA for the day:  Go and get roto-rootered screened for cancer.  A day or two of mild discomfort is infinitely preferable to the alternative, especially if you get to be surrounded by fellow smartasses into the bargain.  Doesn't hurt that you're in and out of the building in less than three hours.

I still expect to hear "Dueling Banjos" next time, though.

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