Over a decade ago, I turned 50. The age people say it's time for a colonoscopy. I didn't schedule one immediately and my doctor wasn't too pushy about it. Yes, it's a good diagnostic tool, but my doctor agreed that what's most important is good diet, healthy lifestyle and lack of colon cancer in my family history. After those things, one might view the colonoscopy as just "icing on the cake." Both me and my doctor were avid bicyclists. His favorite quote, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away."
13 years later, I did finally go in for the colonoscopy. It wasn't bad and the diagnosis wasn't that bad either. In my case, waiting wasn't a problem. This isn't necessarily an argument for everyone to wait. It's just my situation. When I did finally get the procedure, they found one polyp which was removed. It was non cancerous. They say I'm good to go for at least another 5 years.
Here's the story of what lead me to finally getting that exam and what the experience was like.
What's called the ick factor is the main reason I waited. It's kind of an unpleasant thought. Still, quite a few people, I know, go in for their colonoscopies. One hears the stories. They say, it doesn't hurt, the prep is a bit inconvenient, the worst part is the prep, the whole process can be an interesting experience in a positive way.
The most reassuring stories were from folks that were awake during the procedure. I guess it wasn't that uncomfortable. Still, most people go for being sedated.
There's also the politics of medicine. Another reason I waited. From what I gather, colonoscopies are less common in Canada. Everyone gets healthcare in Canada, but that means they tend to be more sparing on the costs of procedures. In Canada, they often use another, much less expensive test as the first line of defense against colon cancer. The Hemoccult Test. In Canada, they may have a lower cancer rate than USA partially because they can afford healthcare for everyone.
The Hemoccult Test is where one places stool on a card and sends it into the lab. If blood is not found, one is probably good to go. Some circles say this is almost as good as getting the colonoscopy. Maybe that's why Canada can afford to offer healthcare to all. It's less of a Cadillac treatment, but good enough. From what I hear, hemoccult is coming back into style, at least in some circles, down here in USA.
For several years, I took the hemoccult test each year. It's better than nothing. I eat lots of apples, salads and have an active lifestyle.
Around the time I turned 63 the hemoccult found some blood. At first I thought I had made a mistake on the test and my doctor even allowed me to take it a second time. That hemoccult required a prescription. The second test also showed blood so I decided I'd try the colonoscopy. That's the hemoccult doing it's job.
I quickly went to the clinic for colonoscopy and set up an appointment. Due to my good health and no other symptoms, it took quite a while to get scheduled. A busy appointment book. The appointment was scheduled around 6 months in advance.
The various stories I heard, from other folks who had the procedure were reassuring as far as the ick factor is concerned. Also it was covered by my insurance. Maybe it would be interesting. Might as well think of it in that way. Lots of technology. Sort of an adventure.
After the procedure, I wanted to eat my first meal at the nearby Saint Joe's Hospital here in Bellingham. It has a large cafeteria that one can just go to without having to be "in the hospital." One reason I wanted to go there was that a cafeteria provides a wide variety of foods. The prep cleans out your colon so I though it might set back one's internal microbiome. My theory is that a good way for the first meal to rebuild the biome is this. Just sample a little bit of what one normally has as their diet throughout the day. The cafeteria provides lots of choices. Rather than just having one type of food, like for instance what you always have for breakfast, sample some of what you eat all throughout the day. In my case, a bit of chocolate milk, salad, apple, main course, snack food and so forth.
It seemed to work okay and it was fun to check out that cafeteria; a place most people wouldn't think to go for local restaurant fare.
To do that test, one needs to fast for at least a day prior. There's instructions one follows. Then there's the drinking of the prep fluid. That's to clean out the colon so they can see what' there.
I was a bit apprehensive. Would it upset my stomach. I'm a sissy about my stomach as I never get stomach aces. Everyone assured me that it doesn't upset the stomach, normally. They did say, kind of jokingly, have fun you'll be living in the bathroom, its diarrhea.
I gradually drank the first bout of the fluid and waited. Even that wasn't too bad. Eventually I had a few liquid bowel movements. No stomach problem. After a few trips to the bathroom, it was just a matter of waiting. Watching videos or whatever. I wasn't necessarily living in the bathroom. Just close to the bathroom, but after while the fluid had passed through.
Then there was the second bout of drinking the prep, around 8 hours later. A few more trips to the bathroom.
Time for the appointment a kind friend took me to the clinic and agreed to pick me up afterwards. The clinic I went to requires that.
Then there's more waiting. One goes into an area with many sections divided by curtains. It's a busy clinic and people are being processed through. It's interesting, in a way, how it's all choreographed.
They put a needle in my arm for later inserting an IV. It's not painful, or at least it's kind of like getting a blood test. Nurse were friendly. Talking to the nurses helped me deal with being nervous. I was less nervous than I had feared.
One nurse stuck around for a while and we got into a conversation about the Mars Rovers. She was asking me questions about it. That helped to pass the time.
Part of the time, the nurses were busy at other stations, but I survived.
In a bit over an hour, I think, it was time to be rolled in to procedure. The whole thing is, basically almost over at this point.
I remember being rolled in and then I remember being back in the room where they were I started. Two nurses standing by the bed saying, "we're done."
Pretty impressive. It was like they had flipped a master switch and turned me off, then back on again. When I came to, I wasn't even groggy. They said I was good to go, but should take it easy the rest of the day.
Other folks might have a different experience, but I was impressed how alert I was as soon as I came too. It was like, "we're all done." Time to check out that cafeteria. The friend who brought me to the procedure treated me to lunch where I wanted to go. The St. Joseph's Cafeteria.