I have sinned. It had been 15 years since my last Colonoscopy –
I do not wish to make light of this topic because it is such a very serious one, but I was raised in the teachings of the Catholic Church and I just cannot help feeling a sense of confession for letting my fear of a colonoscopy put my very life in harm’s way.
So I’ll just say it.
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It had been 15 years since my last colonoscopy.
I was filled with fear and trepidation because I had had such an unnerving colonoscopy experience that decade and a half ago. I will not go into tiny details, but the details do involve my body’s reaction to both the “prep” and the anesthesia, nausea and a migraine headache that landed me in bed for three full days. Those three days of my life were lost. All I remember is the leaden pain in my head, pain in my body, Barry checking in on me, and my two beautiful and faithful dogs, Cracker & Carmel, keeping watchful eyes and ears on me every minute of those 4,320 minutes.
The colonoscopy results did come back that all was well with my colon.
I swore I would never have a colonoscopy again.
And I didn’t.
Yes, I knew all the statistics of life-saving colon cancer intervention with early detection. I went with Barry to his colonoscopies, of serious importance to him and me because he has Crohn’s disease. We have researched and he has had alternative and/or modified colonoscopy procedures (including virtual and infant scope use).
When my four children are of age to begin routine colonoscopies, I will strongly encourage them to be smart.
I was afraid.
And stubborn, too, I guess.
Maybe stubborn outdid afraid as the calendar years rolled along, because I am not afraid of too many things. But I was afraid of a repetition of those 4,320 minutes.
Enter our family physician (since 2007). We have discussed the purpose and need for a 10-year colonoscopy re-check. I have nodded politely. But at my annual physical this past November, his urging turned more toward insistence.
My husband had been insisting. My kids had been insisting. Now our family physician was insisting.
He wrote the referral. I went home. I picked up the phone. I made an appointment for Tuesday, January 10, 2017 — 7:15 arrival, 8:00 procedure. It seemed comfortably far from November 15, 2016.
I didn’t think much about the appointment with the busy of the holidays and all. It was just a thing in the future.
It was a thing I could cancel.
Then the New Year’s minutes and days rolled along to January 8th. I pulled out my safely stored away envelop filled with the stuff of colonoscopies. What to eat. What not to eat. What medications and vitamins to take. Which to not.
Oh, no. The Prep. All the anxiety came flooding back.
It was Sunday afternoon. The colonoscopy was scheduled for Tuesday morning at 8:00 am.
I could cancel this thing tomorrow.
Then tomorrow, Monday, arrived. I had lots of things to do on that day, including very necessary care of my Mom. I was happy to have things to do because I couldn’t eat all day but for things like Jello, sherbet, broth — or drink anything but apple juice, gatorade, water. Clear things. No red-dyed things. This wasn’t easy for me because I do not eat or drink sugary/salty/artificially flavored things. I existed that Monday on apple juice, water and broth. I craved bread, which I never do.
The minutes of Monday clicked away and I found myself at a local pharmacy at 2:00 pm to purchase the Prep Shit. That’s what I call it. Because it’s true. The prep was to begin at 3:00.
I still, in reality, had time to cancel the colonoscopy and don’t think it didn’t cross my mind. Then the thoughts of explaining the cancellation to my husband, my kids and my physician were just too strong.
I had my little list in hand — 2 dulcolax, 238 ounces of miralax powder and a 64-ounce bottle of Gatorade.
AND I couldn’t find any of them.
I popped over to the pharmacy consultation counter to show someone my little list. A very friendly woman looked at my list, nodded to me with (I’m sure of it) sympathy, and showed me exactly where everything was.
Oh, great. The pharmacy had it all.
I paid for the Prep Shit and went home.
3:00 – dulcolax. Done.
5:00 – miralax, gatorade combo, drinking 8-ounces every 15 minutes.
First 8-ounces had me queasy.
It was too late to cancel.
So I sucked up all the fear, looked forward with an intellect of shit-for-brains (and by now, a husband home, who would be my great champion), and let the shit begin.
I didn’t sleep well. I was up at 4:30 am, standing on our snowy back deck, staring at the moon. It was wondrously low and big in the chilly air, looking like it was nestling in the branches of bare, winter trees. I love the moon. I love its power. I felt better, calmer, in that way that Mother Nature makes us feel if we stop and look and listen…
I knew it was too late to cancel this thing.
Barry drove. I most probably babbled on about not wanting to do this thing and about feeling sick to my stomach with the Prep Shit and all about what happens if all the Prep Shit didn’t work and what do they do then. Holy shitballs. And on and on and all that, as Barry, my rock, answered each question with the calm of a saint.
I also did what I do, which is to snap photos of lovely things…
Then we were there, at the appointment, in Providence.
The waiting room was quickly filling with people, even at the early hour of 7:15 am. I thought to myself (and maybe aloud to Barry, too), Wow, there must be alotta money in peeking into people’s asses.
Soon, I was getting a message from one of my biggest cheerleaders, my daughter Jane, especially when I’m near meltdown mode (Jane is the one who talked me down from the ledge when I was about to back off my first Half Ironman after months of training, just before the 1.2 mile ocean swim. And I did it! The entire 70.3 miles!).
Jane and I messaged back & forth, and I had a few LOLs…
Then I was called by a nurse. Oh, good, I thought. Let’s get this done. I kissed Barry and headed into an office where my records were reviewed. I was very specific about the details of my last colonoscopy and about my fears. I asked all my questions (like, what if everything didn’t come out with the prep shit — not using this particular phrase, of course. Even I have decorum standards.) The nurse was very understanding and made all kinds of notations in my chart about anti-nausea meds with the anesthesia, my previous experience, my fears, etc. She asked if I needed to use the bathroom once more. I did. OK. I was ready to get this thing done.
She told me to go back to the waiting room and that I would be called soon.
I headed back to Barry, barely able to get a seat in the waiting room.
Now, I wasn’t even able to talk.
10 minutes. 15 minutes. 30 minutes. 45 minutes.
Can I cancel now?
I was called again. This time it was for reals. Little cubby. Clothes off. Everything except socks — OK. Random.
IV needle. This is it, Sharon. Relax. Pray. I do. I did. A lot.
The nurse told me that I was next on this list. Just a few more minutes.
This really is it.
OK. Maybe more than a few more minutes.
Then I saw one, two people being hauled away on their gurneys. It’s ok, I thought, there are more than my gastroenterologist here today.
Then a woman in a cubby right across from mine, a woman whom had barely undressed, was being hauled away to Dr. ———-.
Wait a second.
That’s MY doctor.
Then, I was being moved, too.
To yet another cubby.
Several minutes later, I heard a nurse say that the wrong patient had been taken to Dr. ———.
So where was the other one?
That would be me. In Cubby #6.
I wanted to cry.
I wanted to leave.
10 minutes. 15 minutes. 30 minutes. 45 minutes.
At that point, I sat straight up on my gurney. I wondered how to remove the IV needle. I wanted to get dressed and leave. My clothing and boots were stored in a bag on a little shelf underneath the gurney.
I would be very easy.
A passing nurse spotted me and hurried over. I calmly told her that I knew there had been a mistake in the order of patients and that I wanted to talk to my husband because I wanted to leave. She quickly ran off to get Barry.
My eyes filled with tears. I just wanted to leave. I felt like such a big freakin’ baby, but the 15 years and the prep shit and the dozens of patients and the couple of hours beyond my appointment and the order of patients mistake had me done.
Barry calmed me down.
They came to get me for the colonoscopy.
I tried not to cry.
I re-explained to the two nurses in the procedure room that I needed anti-nausea meds. They were very calm. They told me that this info was in my chart. They were very busy, very silent, but very capable-seeming.
Then, I was waking up.
Barry was with me in the room. I Loved that.
The doctor came into the room. (I didn’t notice if he was good-looking or not, Jane. I just knew that I was alive!)
He apologized for the mis-order of patients. He said that all looked well, but he removed one small polyp for testing… nothing seemed unusual or amiss, just to be on the safest side of things. He said to rest for the day. Eat, but choose foods responsibly. Be careful. 10 years for a good report. 5 years if the polyp turns up anything.
I wasn’t sick.
I WASN’T SICK.
I didn’t have a headache.
I DIDN’T HAVE A HEADACHE.
I stood up, a bit wobbly, but OK.
And walked right on out to the great outdoors.
Stopped to eat breakfast/lunch kind-of-thing at a favorite diner of ours, right around the corner.
And that was it.
I’m not sayin’ that I’m ready to rinse and repeat, but 10 years with a good review and 5 years if there’s any concern with the polyp?
I’ll worry about that when the time comes.
Yesterday, I rested under the magnificent care of my wonderful husband.
Today, I rest, too.
But hopefully, I will sin no more.
Colonoscopy Info from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute website – July 6, 2016:
Colonoscopy exams get a bad rap.
Even though the exam is brief and painless, many people fear and avoid them. Roughly 40 percent of Americans for whom they are recommended are not getting colonoscopies.
Yet colonoscopy is one of the most effective of all cancer prevention methods. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 142,820 diagnoses of colorectal cancer in 2013 and 50,830 people will die of the disease. As many as 60 percent of colon cancer deaths could be prevented if everyone 50 years old or above underwent colonoscopies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Screening with colonoscopy is a huge opportunity to prevent this disease,” says Charles Fuchs, MD, MPH, director of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Center at Dana-Farber. “Deaths from colorectal cancer have been going down over the past 10 years, and probably 50 percent of that reduction is due to screening.”
Guidelines say that at age 50, everyone should consider having a screening test for colon cancer. (About 90 percent of new cases and 95 percent of colon cancer deaths occur after age 50.) Screening are a test for blood in the stool, repeated annually; an exam with a thin, flexible tube called a sigmoidoscope every five years; or a colonoscopy every 10 years. “If you have a first- degree relative with colon cancer, exams should start between ages 35 and 40,” says Fuchs.
Colonoscopy is the most reliable test, because doctors can visually study the entire colon and rectum, Fuchs says. In addition, a colonoscopy not only can detect cancers in their earliest and most treatable stages; it can also detect pre-cancerous polyps and that can be removed during the exam before they become cancerous.
“People have a misconception of the test – it’s not really that arduous,” says Fuchs. “When you talk to someone who has had precancerous lesions or early cancer because of a colonoscopy, they tell you how glad they are they had the test.”
If the exam is normal, a colonoscopy should be repeated every 10 years up to the age of 75. If the test detects precancerous polyps, the physician will recommend that colonoscopies be repeated more frequently.