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Posted by on Jun 2, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 13 comments

My Colonoscopy

 

I know.

Yuck.

A colonoscopy.

Who wants to read about that?

Well, since you’re already into the fourth paragraph of today’s feature, I’ll take this as an indication you’re either innately curious, or sick enough to wallow in the joy of my misery.

Fair enough.

At age 55, I’m told that puts me at higher risk for colon cancer.  Gee, that would really suck to be diagnosed with any form of cancer.  But if I do get such a scary diagnosis, I sure as shit don’t want it in my ass.  Excuse the pun.

Most of us put off unpleasant procedures like this until — sometimes it’s too late.  Especially men, like me who often feel invulnerable.  Since I don’t feel any pain down there, why worry about it?  That’s the all too-familiar tune.  Sure, I get annual medical check ups.  I visit my dentist regularly.  I go through a vision test and get new glasses whenever I can.  So, why would I voluntarily subject myself to such an intimate intrusion by undergoing a colonoscopy?

In other words, if it’s not broken, why fix it?

My ass works just fine.

I won’t gross you out with too many gritty details, but the downside of putting off a colonoscopy is a slow death in the most miserable way.  Unfortunately, I happen to know this firsthand.  Marieta’s father died from colon cancer about 20 years ago.  Losing him was painful enough.  But to see such a strong and kind man like Marieta’s father, who was once worked as a Bucharest policeman, bed-ridden during the final six-months of his life was a terrible ordeal to bear, especially since colon cancer was entirely treatable, if it had been caught in time — in other words, if he’d had a colonoscopy.

Marieta lost her father that way, and she certainly didn’t want to lose me, especially in the same manner.  So, prodded on by her insistence — what most of us husbands would call “nagging” — I finally agreed to undergo my first colonoscopy, earlier this week.  In fact, we agreed to go in together as a couple.  She decided to have one too, on the same day.  No, we didn’t get a 2 for 1 discount.  We didn’t even get frequent flier points.  Cheap ass insurance company.  Like having Spirit Airlines insurance with a $5,000 deductible.

The procedure is relatively quick and simple, which I’ll get to in a moment.  It was also completely painless.  However, the prep was a bit annoying, especially for a foodie, like me.  I was instructed forgo all food and drink for a 24-hour period prior to the procedure.  No, not even a glass of wine.

The horror.

Being a Type-A personality, I took these medical instructions to the extreme.  I didn’t eat or drink anything (except for water) for 40 hours straight.  I’m not sure that qualifies me for any Guinness Book of World Records, but I think I deserve some kind of Evel Kneivel award for my immense sacrifice.  I don’t believe I’ve ever gone so long without eating or drinking anything in my entire life, except once when my car broke down in West Virginia and I deduced starvation was preferable to eating anything in that state.

To my surprise, fasting was much easier than I expected.  Perhaps being a Muslim and doing the Ramadan thing — which means not eating for 30 days — isn’t such a big deal, after all.  Besides, it’s a pretty effective way to lose weight.  Maybe I’ll convert, at least to the fasting part (not!).

On the same morning when the 2017 World Series of Poker officially began, an annual event in Las Vegas which I’d worked steadily for more than two decades, while players from all over the globe — including hundreds of friends of mine — were congregating together in gambling’s biggest and most prestigious event, I was having a rubber tube inserted into my ass.

How far the mighty have fallen.

The prep was critical.  They make you drink this clear liquid, which tastes like artificially flavored citrus soda.  I was told there are some yucky-tasting prep kits.  But I was prescribed one of the really good ones.  I must admit, it sure was tempting to spike the prep drink with a little vodka (my new creation — the colonoscopy screwdriver).  But I was a good boy.

Anyway, I drank two full dosages of the prescribed citrus drink and for the next 24 hours I felt like I was riding a motorcycle through central Mexico.  Fortunately, there were no major disasters.  There were, however, a couple of really close calls.  Football is called “a game of inches.”  Well, the prep game of having a colonoscopy is kinda’ like that, too.  Then and there I realized there are advantages to having house cats.  One just gets used to poop and vomit on the floors.  What’s one more little “accident?”

Our procedure was done at an outpatient facility here in Las Vegas.  From the moment we entered, I was impressed with how professionally things were run.  I was taken to an admission section, asked several questions about my medical history, and then was asked to disrobe.  No lap dance.

They gave me a gown to wear, which was this weird thing that was very poorly designed.  It opened in the rear, which meant my entire backside was exposed to the world.  Worse, the strings in back were inaccessible.  Much as I tried, I couldn’t reach around and tie it.  So, I finally just gave up.  I figured these medical people have seen just about everything by now, so I walked down the hallway like some doddering old mental patient with my ass hanging out until someone ran over from the nurses’ station and tied my bow up like a pretty Christmas present.

Next, they laid me down on a stretcher with wheels and then some people with masks on came over and started wheeling me into an operating room.  I didn’t like the looks of those people with the masks.  They looked scary.  I thought this was just a colonoscopy.  It was supposed to be 20 minutes, in and out.  They looked way too serious.  Maybe they saw something on my chart.

By then, it was too late.  I was placed in a small room with all kinds of electronic equipment.  Next, a woman stuck a needle in my arm and told me I’d be getting something called “saline solution.”  I asked, “why.”  She replied this was to keep me fully hydrated.  I insisted that I wasn’t thirsty, but if some Chateauneuf du Pape could be pumped into the bag I sure would appreciate it.  No one thought that was funny. Medical people have no sense of humor, or maybe they just don’t know French wines.

Anyway — next, an even more serious-looking man who resembled one of those silver-haired doctors you see on TV came into the room.  He introduced himself Dr. Something-Or-Other, “the anesthesiologist.”  I wasn’t there to take notes, nor remember names.  All I knew was, he was expensive.  Marieta had done some advance research on the anesthesia they typically use.  She disovered it’s the same stuff Michael Jackson was addicted to.  I did not find this news comforting.

Next, Dr. Anesthesiologist punched the “play” button on a stereo system, and all of the sudden Supertramp’s “The Logical Song” came on with the volume cranked up to “7,” blasting out of Bose speakers.  I know they were Bose, because I saw them with my own eyes.  I know this firsthand because I was there.

My colonoscopy was about to begin….

[You have to click the music for the full effect……do it, and then read on]

At about the second stanza, a soft rubber mask was placed directly over my mouth.  I was instructed by someone with a calm voice to inhale deeply.  Then, I was told to roll over on my side and tuck myself  into “the fetal position.”  I looked at a clock on the wall.  It read 8:16 am.  As for the doctor, I still hadn’t seen him yet.  My only worry was that he’d clipped his nails sometime this week.

My deep breathing continued.  The music played.  I’m not sure how long I stayed conscious, certainly not until the first chorus when the saxophone solo came in.  I went totally blank within about 30 seconds.

The next thing I remember was opening my eyes.  A nurse was standing at my side.  I was still laying in the fetal position.  I wondered — when are they going to start my colonoscopy?

Oddly enough, I had a short dream.  I also noticed drool coming out the side of my mouth and dripping onto the pillow (hey, you knew this story wouldn’t be pretty).  I recalled the clock time flashed 8:16.  I wondered what time it was now and when they would start the procedure.

I rolled over onto my back trying to find the clock hanging on the wall.  It wasn’t there.  The music was off, too.  In fact, I wasn’t even in the same room.  What the hell happened?

That’s when the nurse spoke up.  She said everything went smoothly.  No complications.  She told me they’d removed something called a polyp, which would later be tested at a lab.  Most polyps turn out to be benign, I was told.  I couldn’t believe the procedure was already done, so quick.  I didn’t feel a thing.  I didn’t even remember a thing.  I slept better than a baby with a hangover.

Within 30 minutes, Marieta had joined me waiting in the recovery unit.  We were wheeled out together and by 9:30 we were out the door on our way home.  The two-hour start-to-finish procedure basically gives us ten years peace of mind, that we don’t have to worry about colon cancer.

While the prep period certainly wasn’t fun with the mandatory “cleansing” stage, and missing meals was annoying, the actual procedure of undergoing a standard colonoscopy (including polyp removal) is relatively simple and worry free.  I’ve had haircuts that were more painful.

So, why share all this?

During the course of my writing, I’m never quite sure which topics will resonate with readers.  I seriously doubt this column will become a reader favorite.  Surely, there will be some wisecracks, most intended in good fun.

Aside from the laughter, please do take a moment to think about this seriously.  In the U.S. 50,000 people die from colon cancer every year.  Chances are, you know someone who has been diagnosed with the cancer.  Most of these deaths would not have happened if the cancer was caught in time.  It’s highly preventable.

Honestly, I would never have agreed to do this procedure unless Marieta absolutely insisted.  Unless she nagged.  I also thought getting a colonoscopy would be both embarrassing and painful.  I was wrong on both counts.  It’s not embarrassing, unless we make it so.  It’s also not painful.  I didn’t feel a thing.

If today’s article motivates just one person to have a colonoscopy, and something gets diagnosed early, this will be well worth it.  So, don’t put it off — especially if you’re someone in a higher-risk category.

Ten years from now, I hope to have another colonoscopy.  And in twenty years, another.  And, thirty years from now, on my 85th birthday, yet another.  Think of it this way.  It sure beats the alternative.

Don’t put it off.  Do it.  It’s easy.

It’s logical.

 

13 Comments

  1. Bullshit. You got a poylp means you go back next year. Sorry. And no polyp only gets you five years, not ten. But the good news is that a little clear liquid vodka during prep is ok.

    • Had my first Colonoscopy at 50, they found and removed several polyps and had to come back and do it again in 3 years, the second time I was completely clear(I guess when they find several they need to make sure the rate at which they are developing) But since I had none my next one I was told could be in 10 years. But I plan to do it again at age 60(7yrs) just to be extra careful and it is easier for me to remember round numbers.

  2. Thanks for the PSA Nolan. I have had two colonoscopies and had zero pain during either. In fact, my experience was identical to yours. Folks, I know people who have been diagnosed with colon cancer early enough to get it “fixed.” Please have a colonoscopy if you are the recommended age or have colon cancer history in your family.

  3. Most colon polyps are non-cancerous; one year follow up is not necessary. There’s a procedure available that’s been getting a lot of play, lately that the gastro docs probably don’t like. It’s called Cologuard. You submit a single stool and they extract DNA. It’s supposed to be 92% reliable in diagnosing cancer. Some restrictions on physical condition which are all outlined in a Google search. Best part is that you don’t have to go through the annoying prep for the test. Also, Medicare covers the test, if it’s still available when you get your next one, Nolan.

  4. Next have your doctor order a PSA test (prostate specific antigen).
    The first time I had this test my number was borderline, after diligently being tested each 6 months when the cancer finally did appear, it was early stage non aggressive. I had a minor procedure (as an out patient) which inserted radioactive seed to kill the cancer. I am now cancer free for 11 years.
    Prostate cancer is a major cause of death but completely curable if caught early.
    The first test is suggested at age 50.

  5. Thank you for taking the time to write for those fans and poker players and their wives.

    You wrote with great humor, and, of course, you are a celebrated and creative writer.

    Honestly the letter should be copied and disbursed at the WSOP. That would be your true best seller

  6. Good stuff, Nolan. I remember my trip to the butt doctor was similar to your experience, except the complete blackout for about an hour was pretty nice while they went about it!

  7. Thanks for this. Since I am older, it’s easy to say “Been there, done that, drank the Gatorade (that’s what they gave us in prep…along with the “go juice”). My wife and I had them done on the same week a day apart. That actually was quite convenient. I’m not suggesting that you do “couples colonoscopies” but it could be a new fad.

  8. Thank you for posting this Nolan. I am a rectal cancer survivor. I had my first colonoscopy at age 50 and they not only found a number of polyps but a malignant tumor. Fortunately for me it was found very early. Radiation and chemo was not required. Let me just add this, if you have been advised to get a colonoscopy and you are avoiding it, you are a dumbass! It could save your life, it saved mine.

  9. Thanks, Nolan. It take this as a good sign and it does buck me up. I have one of these babies scheduled for July 6th. Nice to live it through you first. Love your writing, man…….even if it’s about colonoscopies!

  10. You may have saved more lives than you will ever know, thank you for writing this article.

  11. I have found it useful to have both a colonoscopy and a gastroscopy at the same time – the preparation is the same for both procedures and it is only means that you will be asleep for an additional 20′. In the part of the world I live in (Costa Rica) stomach cancer is quite common so it is a good investment.

  12. I had one before going to Alaska for my normal 3 month salmon slaying in May. Found many polyps and all benign. I’m 67 and don’t have to do another for 5 years. Worst part is missing out on my morning gourmet coffee fix.
    To late now, but Nolan you should repost this article every year during the seniors and super seniors wsop dates.

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