The first thing the nurse said to me after the procedure was over and I was in the recovery room with my wife Pam, was that I had been pumped up with air and I had to let it all out.
No problem. Finally something I was used to doing.
But I’m getting ahead of my story. I should begin a few days earlier when I started to study up on the pre-procedure day prep.
No. I really need to jump back about two weeks when my regular doctor was finishing up a routine examine.
“You should have a colonoscopy. I’ve lost two patients to colon cancer who refused to get it done. I’ll send you to Dr. Price. He’s all business.”
Exactly what he was implying about some of the other doctors with that “He’s all business” remark, I don’t care to think about. A few years earlier another physician in a different state said I might want to have a colonoscopy performed but he spent more time stressing all the things that could go wrong and really didn’t seem all that sold on the idea himself so I took a pass.
This doctor had just given me good news about my prostrate, so I was ready to dig a little deeper and check the condition of my colon, hoping that my string of good luck would continue.
I walked out of my doctor’s office with a little piece of paper that had the specialist’s name and phone number scrawled on it. I propped it up in front of my computer monitor where I work every morning. A couple of days passed before I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I made the call.
“I’m sorry. You can’t directly schedule with us. Your physician needs to call us.”
Phew. Off the hook, at least for a while. I let the issue slide until my doctor’s office called with the results of my blood tests from my physical exam. They were all “normal,” whatever that means. I told the woman that they needed to call the colonoscopy office. She agreed to make the call and within a day or two I had my appointment scheduled.
I also had instructions that included a liquid diet, fasting and at least two different kinds of laxatives. Wonderful.
The day before my colonoscopy, it was all liquids except for three Dulcolax tablets. Two tablets is the normal dosage for an adult, so it looked like this cleansing would start out with a bang. Later in the afternoon I was treated to 64 ounces of Gatorade spiked with 238 grams of Miralax. This cocktail was split into two servings of 32 ounces each. How come I’ve never seen this application of the sports drink featured on any of their television commercials?
Everything was fine until it was time to down my first quart of Gatorade. The instructions said to drink one tall glass every 10 minutes until the batch was down the hatch. Then, about an hour later, I had to drink the second quart.
By the end of the first quart, I knew I was in trouble. I went back to the printed instructions looking for a loop hole. I found one:
“If you are having difficulty it may be necessary to slow down your consumption.”
I started to take my time. I did pretty well, but between me and you, I just couldn’t handle about the last half glass of the mixture so I poured it down the drain. I always figure that people “over engineer” these kinds of things knowing full well there are people like me who occasionally tend to cut corners.
If I was wrong, I figured I’d find out the following afternoon.
Although I was mentally prepared and strategically located to deal with impromptu and panicked trips to the toilet, those never occurred. All my “urges” were well within my ability to control, so I was starting to think this wasn’t going to be too bad at all.
I made it through the evening and got a pretty good night’s sleep.
My appointment was at noon and I couldn’t take eat or drink anything after 6 a.m. I remember waking up once, probably around 4 a.m. and taking a few sips of water. It seemed like the prudent thing to do.
My wife and I drove to the office the next morning. Because they are sedated, colonoscopy patients aren’t allowed to drive after the procedure. Paperwork and the requisite photocopy of my insurance card followed. We sat in the reception area and waited. The door opened. My name was called. Was I being summoned into the game? Was it my turn to bat?
The woman ushered me to a smaller waiting room. When I made the appointment, they told me it would take between two and two and a half hours. I wondered if they accounted for the two-tiered waiting room factor. I snatched a copy of Reader’s Digest and started to read about the 50 things airline pilots won’t tell you.
I don’t want to fly into LAX anymore.
Finally it was my turn to wait in a room that actually had an examination table. Eventually my blood pressure and temperature were taken. It turned out that I had a slight fever. The nurse asked if I had been sick.
Well, I had been experiencing diarrhea…
She started an IV on my hand and explained the sedatives. Many people sleep. Others stay awake and talk a little. They would administer a drug that would give me amnesia so I wouldn’t remember the procedure. That was probably something their lawyers required, I thought
Could I get some of that stuff to cover a few other events in my life? I wondered.
They finally rolled me into the room where the dirty work would be done. Another woman hooked me up to blood pressure and heart monitors. The electrodes for the heart monitor were less than ideal. They worked only intermittently. I was flat lining about every two minutes.
So this is what the end sounds like, I thought. I also wondered why a team wasn’t rushing into my room with cardiac paddles at the ready every time my heart monitor put out that long, steady drone of a “no heart beat” signal. How did they know–I mean, really know–that it was a false alarm?
Finally one of the women was able to get the electrodes stuck well enough that they seemed to work properly. The doctor came in. If he didn’t find anything during the procedure, he wanted to see me again in ten years. I told him I’d pencil it in.
If they found polyps, and they were benign, he wanted to see me in five years. We wondered what the country would be like in five years.
“You’ll be working for the government,” I offered.
“Yeah. I’ll probably have a little name tag stitched to my smock,” he said.
“I don’t think people realize how much things are changing right now.”
“I’m in good shape compared to many people,” the doctor said, adding, “but my retirement account just lost 40 percent of its value.”
I decided to reserve my sympathy until I received his bill.
The Time Arrives
Soon the nurse was pumping sedatives into me and before long I saw the doctor walk around my gurney and take up his position at the rear. I remember being able to watch the black-and-white monitor and it’s my sense that I was conscious during the procedure. But otherwise, the tape’s been erased.
The next thing I know, it’s over. They tell me they removed three polyps and will send them to the lab. They roll me back into the room where earlier they took my vital signs and my wife comes in. It’s at this point when they tell me about the air they’ve pumped into my system. I shared that with you at the top.
I’m feeling pretty good and after about 20 minutes, they take my vitals again, give me a sheet of paper that has little pictures of my polyps (much like an expectant mom and her sonograph) and release me to the world. I can eat anything I want.
It’s not over until it’s over
The next day, Friday, I feel normal and I eat well. Saturday rolls around. I have a gig playing ceremony and reception music for a wedding at the city’s nicest hotel. It goes great.
My wife sets up an after-church brunch at Panera with some friends on Sunday. I have a bagel and cream cheese along with a glass or orange juice. But, as we’re sitting there, I start to get little stomach cramps. Not too bad, but I’m definitely feeling them.
When we get home, the pain gets worse. Could the cream cheese have been bad? I wonder. The cramps get a little bit better, then a little bit worse. I manage to put in a couple hours of work. I was trying to get a little ahead in my writing so I could sneak out and do some fishing Monday afternoon.
By the evening, I felt pretty bad. It seemed like I had the flu or food poisoning. We didn’t have a working thermometer and when my wife felt my forehead, she said she didn’t think I had a fever.
Before the night was over the cramps were gone, but I still felt lousy. In bed that night my upper body felt hot, but my feet were cold. I took some iburorofen and NyQuil. They helped.
Monday morning I was still in bad shape. I slept a lot. I dug up the paperwork they gave me when I left the endoscopy clinic. I remembered the precautions about bleeding, but so far there were no signs of blood. I was supposed to go to the emergency room if I experienced:
- Chills and/or fever over 101
- Persistent vomiting
- Chest pain or shortness of breath
- Black, tarry stools
- Any rectal bleeding in excess of one tablespoon
I was safe on all of those except for the first item on the list. I wasn’t having chills any more, so I eliminated that. However, I didn’t know what my temperature was. I called Pam at work and asked her to buy a thermometer and bring it home as soon as she could. Fortunately, it was her lunch hour and she was able to rush around and get it done.
My temperature was right at 101. I was safe, so far.
It’s interesting to note that my stool, while not black and tarry, had turned an interesting shade of green at this point. That can’t be good, can it?
I kept my new thermometer close at hand and took my temperature every time I felt a little worse or a little better. Once it bumped up to 101.1, but I reasoned that was within the margin of error so I didn’t rush out to the emergency room.
Aleve made me feel better and by Tuesday I was starting to sense that the illness was beginning to pass.
The endoscopy clinic called with my biopsy results. The polyps were benign. They would send me an appointment reminder card in five years.
When Wednesday morning rolled around, I felt good, but a little tired. My stool was less green and my temperature was bouncing around what might be considered “normal”–although at one point it read as low as 98.0. Presented with that reading, I think a competent coroner would have said I died about an hour earlier.
The Bottom Line
As I reflect on my experience, I have to say that the exam itself, and even the day of preparation, were not bad at all. It took my body a few days to fully realize how severely it had been assaulted by the laxatives, probes and snippers, and when it did, it decided that this episode would not go unnoticed.
The flu-like symptoms came and went fairly quickly, which is a small price to pay for cancer prevention.
Five years from now, I’ll know exactly what to expect.