I received the best birthday present a while back and you could say that I bought it for myself.
It was my first colonoscopy, a disruptive, yet critical examination of the large intestine or colon.
Thankfully, the results were negative. No cancer, no polyps. Clean as a, er . . . whistle.
I’ve felt a strange sense of obligation to talk about the colonoscopy procedure since then. I’ve even worked it into a comedy bit and talked about the experience in front of large crowds
Most of my male friends don’t care to talk about this important topic.
But, Katie Couric had her colonoscopy broadcast live on television.
Taking a cue from Couric, I want to help educate people on how to get tested for one of the most preventable forms of cancer.
As humans, we make sure that our external features get a lot of attention.
We constantly assess our hair and whether we have dark circles under our eyes.
We obsess about the extra flesh at our waistlines, even if not actually concerned enough to do something about it.
Some of us are concerned about our “‘A-List” organs such as the heart, the stomach, and the brain, which is good.
But, if you really want to take care of yourself, keep track of the darkest organ.
Colon cancer usually develops from polyps, so the goal is to discover and deal with the polyps sooner rather than later.
Over 90% of people who get colon cancer are over 50. Many have neglected themselves by developing a sedentary life style and or poor eating habits.
Many people have colon cancer for a long time before they realize it. Eventually, changes in bowel habits, bloody stools, persistent cramping, gas or abdominal pain sends them to a doctor.
It’s ironic that doctors diagnose colon cancer so often, since the disease is quite preventable with early detection.
“How do you feel, Mr. Caruso? A little dehydrated?”
Nurse Angie of the Rochester Medical Clinic was getting me situated for my first colonoscopy exam. The clinic has seven doctors who see 10 to 15 patients a day.
“How could I be dehydrated?” I teased. “You made me drink 64 ounces of Gatorade.”
And yet, I was dehydrated. The “Gatorade” was mixed with 238 grams of Miralax powder and a little Fleet Phospho-soda. This concoction is expressly designed to move more liquid out of me than I was taking in. Let me go on record as saying there’s nothing “lax” about Miralax. It was a small amount of Fleet Phospho-soda, however, that really cleared the pipes.
The idea is to have the colon completely clear of waste material, so the doctor can get a good look with his camera.
“How much do you weigh, Michael?” Nurse Angie asked.
“I weighed 163 before yesterday, but I’ve been through a lot in the last 24 hours.”
The day before the exam I was allowed to eat breakfast, but that’s all. I consumed nothing but water and some chicken broth for 20 hours or so before the exam. I never got hungry thanks to the distracting effects of the laxative.
Nurse Angie seemed very pleased that I was getting a colonoscopy just days before my 50th birthday. “You’re right on schedule!” she beamed. Whatever makes her happy.
Dr. Dennis A Dahlstedt is an M.D. of Gastroenterology, but he could also be a stand-up comedian.
I met him about 30 seconds before we became, intimately acquainted.
Have you seen the funny prostate exam in Fletch where Chevy Chase interrupts himself to sing, Moon River, when the doctor slips him a digit?
Well, Dr. Dahlstedt is apparently more fond of the famous Damon Wayans/(Dr.) Lou Rawls TV skit because Dr. D. actually sang, You’ll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine), while I was in the exam room. I swear to you, it’s the last thing I heard before I was put to sleep.
So, while some folks have trouble talking about the colon, others enjoy singing about it.
Tools of the trade
The anesthesiologist put me out with a terrific drug called Propofol.
This concoction was amazing! I awoke totally refreshed and clear-headed, so later I asked for a six pack of Propofol to go.
Michael Jackson, who died at age 50, lived just long enough to be eligible for a colonoscopy. I don’t know if “The King of Pop” ever had the procedure done, but he hired a doctor to administer the drug to him every night as a sleep aid.
I caught a glimpse of the colonoscope, a lariat made from black plastic that looks a little like miniature PVC tubing. The tube is about as thick as an index finger (sorry for the visual). The hose was approximately four feet long (ooh, another visual).
Talk about an all-in-one tool! The Swiss Army knife has nothing on the colonoscope.
The business end of the tube is a camera. A dial at the other end makes the camera move. The tool has the ability to irrigate the colon. It has a forceps, if you can believe it, and a snare or “noose” to clip and collect polyps. The colonoscope also has a light to illuminate the darkest human organ.
Clean bill of health
After the procedure, Dr. Dahlstedt came to see me in the recovery area.
He was quite pleased with my test results and my compliance as a patient. “Great prep job!” he exhorted. “It’s like artesian well water in there!”
Struggling with the analogy, I asked Dr. Dahlstedt what he thinks of colonic cleanses and the like.
“Ridiculous!” he said. “Totally unnatural! You don’t hear about squirrels giving themselves enemas in the woods, do you?”
He had a good point, but it’s not natural to pay $1,000 to have someone shove a camera up your butt, either.
“One more question, Doctor, what’s the single best thing I can do to take care of my colon?”
“Eat vegetables,” he said. “See you in about ten years, Mr. Caruso.”
Medicos are working on a virtual (non-invasive) colonoscopy, but don’t postpone your exam until then.
Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Well, a colonoscopy is an examination that helps ensure a person goes on living.
If you’re over 50, get tested for colon cancer right away. Share this article with men of a certain age. I know it’s hard, but talk about it.
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Let’s get the word out on preventing colon cancer!
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