Friday, September 26, 2008

My Colonoscopy: The Procedure

Well, since I definitely do not want to belabor (at too great a length) a topic like "My Colonoscopy," this will be -- I promise! -- my last post on the topic. Hopefully forever.

When last we left our hapless colonoscopy patient, he had completed his tedious ... but survivable ... colonoscopy preparation regimen, and was headed to the clinic (an hour earlier than originally scheduled!) for the "Big C."

Waiting rooms at colonoscopy clinics are interesting places. I took comfort in the fact that most of the people there looked (more than I felt I looked, anyway) like they SHOULD be there. Grumpy looking old farts who could have been members of the IBS Club, every one of them.

Well, we cling to whatever comfort we can at a time like that.

I was pleased to discover that my health insurance covered (completely!) the cost of this procedure, considered preventative. I was expecting to at least pay a copay. Sweet! Primera, you rock!

After 15 minutes or so, a cheerfully pleasant (for such an early hour on a Monday morning) sounding female nurse called me into an examination room. She instructed me to dress in appropriate garb (two of those open-backed hospital gowns, one for the front and one for the back, assured a certain amount of decorum.) She took my vitals, explained the necessary details, answered questions, and proceeded to look for a good vein to hook into.

I used to get pretty nervous around needles, but thankfully that condition has been cured by the fact that I have forced myself to try and become a county champion blood donor (am headed toward my 2-gallon mark right now), and also my numerous bike accidents. (My first accident, I think they stuck me 7 or 8 times trying to find a good vein. Fortunately, my face hurt so bad at the time from striking the pavement that I barely even noticed.)

So, I could practically sleep while the IV was being hooked up. Which was good, because even with my excellent veins, this time they had a hard time and had to poke me three times (apologetically) before getting what they needed. I think the issue was the fact that I was fairly dehydrated by the prep. I had drunk water for breakfast but only up until a certain point, and I was pretty thirsty by the time the procedure rolled around.

My wife (the RN) has always said I had great veins, which this nurse agreed was the case, she just couldn't get the needle into them quickly.

Anyway, once that was done she took me into the procedure room, which was bustling full of people and equipment. I met several nurses, all very cheerful, and then my physician, relaxed and professional. All very reassuring. They had me lay on my left side and a nurse explained that she was pushing into my IV a cocktail of two drugs, one a painkiller and one a sedative designed to send me into "twilight sleep" -- a state of "conscious sedation" where I would probably remember very little but they could still ask me necessary questions or get my help moving, etc.

At this point I have about 10 or 15 seconds worth of discrete memories left ... I remember (after about 5 seconds), feeling remarkably warm and cozy and exclaiming, "Wow, that feels like one beer."

Another 5 seconds, I felt twice as warm and cozy. I said, "Wow, and that feels like two beers."

I fully remember I intended to say, at one point, "Wow, that feels like three beers ..." but whether I ever actually did or not, only the nurses know for sure.

I don't have any memory of the doctor doing anything behind me, of any cold instruments, or of any other instructions. My only very, very fuzzy memory is that, apparently at some point in the procedure, I felt vaguely uncomfortable (maybe crampy?) in my abdomen. I remember thinking, "I should tell them that feels uncomfortable." I don't know whether I did or not.

They warn you that you can experience cramping, due to the air that is blown into your colon by the instrument in order to open up the various folds so they can see and navigate. Therefore they give you permission and encouragement to expel this air so you can feel more comfortable. (Like, what guy needs permission to do that, anyway?)

My next memory is of my wife standing at my side in the recovery room. I have no idea how I got there. I think the doctor may have been there at first, explaining the results of the procedure. He seemed encouraging. They found two "sessile polyps," he felt they were nothing to be concerned about, but they had removed them for biopsy just to be sure and would have results back within 10 days.

Polyps are fleshy little growths (similar to skin tags, I think) that come out of the sides of your colon. Usually they are benign. Some people (with certain generic predispositions) actually have thousands of them. Most people my age probably have a few. My two were about 6 millimeters in diameter (less than a quarter inch). They remove them with "electrocautery," a little wire loop that is part of the submarine assembly which they tighten around the polyp, then send a current through to burn it off.

I wondered whether this might have been the source of my brief discomfort, but supposedly you can't really feel that happening, so I doubt it.

It was probably the air. I remember feeling slightly balloonish. But I am proud of the fact that I was more discrete than some of the others behind various curtains in the recovery room. I don't remember this, but Darlene said it sounded like some kind of macabre musical symphony in there.

I got a cool souvenir color printout of a couple of photos they took from the inside. How many of you have ever seen what the opening to your appendix looks like? (From the inside?) Been there, done that. Technology is amazing.

Anyway, a little while longer for me to recover my wits and I was able to walk out of there under my own power to resume my day. They said not to drive or return to work, so Darlene drove us both to a nice cafe where we had a lovely breakfast, then I enjoyed the rest of the day off. I went back to work the next morning. I felt like I had a little trouble focusing my eyes on my computer screen, but I suppose that was just a residual effect of the medication.

About a week later my results came in the mail. The polyps were completely harmless, the lab said, and I didn't have to return for another 10 years. Hallelujah!

So, that's it. Nothing to fear. A couple of days thinking about your large colon, and 10 years of freedom. Nice.

So, to the moral of the story: If you are 50+ like I am ... or, if for some reason (such as other members of your family who have experienced colon problems) you are at a higher than normal risk for colon cancer ... you should DEFINITELY get a colonoscopy. Take advantage of this great technology. It will put your mind at ease and safeguard your health. Ask your doctor for a referral. Do it today!

Feel free to comment and to share your own story or ask questions. I'm interested how my experience compares to others.

1 comment:

KB said...

oh mylanta, you posted it. ;-)