MY COLONOSCOPY EXPERIENCES — PART 4

MY COLONOSCOPY EXPERIENCES

Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States . Every year more than 50,000 people die from colon cancer. The sad part is that colon cancer is easy to cure—but only if it is caught in the early stages. And colon cancer is easy to detect—but only if you are willing to undergo the proper screening. The best screening for colon cancer is a colonoscopy.

This article will begin where “My Colonoscopy Experiences — Part 3” left off. The reason for breaking up this article into parts is because of the length of the article.  If you haven’t yet read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, you may want to read those parts first, and then come back here to Part 4.

MORE CARDIOLOGY ISSUES AND MY SIXTH COLONOSCOPY

 

On March 11, 2013, I had the first of two parts of my annual physical exam. I would get a variety of tests today. Then I would return two weeks later (March 25) to discuss the results with Dr. Niesen, and get the remainder of the physical exam.

To begin the exam, Kim drew some blood from me. Kim didn’t actually work for Dr. Niesen. She worked downstairs at Quest Laboratories.

Then Krista, one of Dr. Niesen’s nurses, took over the day’s exam.  She began by asking me some questions to test the clarity of my mind.  There was one that I really had some fun answering.

Krista asked me what season it was. I said, “I’m not really sure.” Krista said, “Would you like to take a guess?” I said, “Well, according to the calendar Spring begins on March 21. That is the day when the sun is directly over the Equator. That is known as the Spring Equinox. The word Equinox is Latin for “equal nights. So according to that criteria the Season is Winter. However, meteorologists consider the first day of Spring to be March 1.  So according to that criteria the Season is Spring. If you would like, I can give you some pros and cons of each criteria.” Krista said, “No, that’s OK. I’ll just say that you got the right answer.”

Krista then proceeded with blood pressure, vision testing, hearing tests, and an EKG. Everything was looking good until she did the EKG and saw that my heart rate was way too fast. It was sort of a repeat of what happened on the morning of June 20, 2009, before my fourth colonoscopy. I said, “This can be one of the things that I discuss with Dr. Niesen when I come back on March 25.” Krista said, “No, I don’t think we should wait that long. I need to talk to her about this right now.”

Several minutes later Dr. Niesen came in and confirmed that my heart rate was too fast. She said, “I’m going to call Dr. Friedman (my cardiologist) and see what he suggests.

So as I was sitting in the room I happened to look at my watch and realized that I needed to leave in a few minutes to get back to work for a 2:00 conference call. I picked up my coat and walked to the front desk where John and Krista were sitting. I said, “I’ll see you in two weeks.” Krista replied, “You’re not going anywhere, Mister. Get back in the room and sit down. Dr.  Niesen needs to decide what we are going to do about your heart rate.” Trying to project a confidence that I didn’t feel, I said, “You need to decide something very soon, because I need to be back at my office for a 2:00 meeting. My boss expects me to be there, and so does his boss.”

I knew that if they insisted that I stay, I would have to do so. There was no way that I was going to challenge Krista, much less Dr. Niesen. But as it happened, Dr. Niesen came in a few minutes later. She said that I could leave. However, she scheduled an appointment for me with Dr. Friedman at 3:30 the following afternoon. In the meantime, I was to double the dose of my heart medication, and take one of the pills right now. As I was leaving Krista said, “You understand that if Dr. Niesen thought that you were in immediate danger — meeting or no meeting — you would not be walking out of here right now.” I replied, “I know that. That’s the way that I would want it to be.”

When I saw Dr. Friedman the following day, Diane gave me an EKG. Afterwards Dr. Friedman came in and checked me out. He said that the EKG looked fine, and that my heart rate was now normal. He told me to continue to take the double dose of my heart medication, and that should keep things under control.

On Monday, March 25, 2013, I returned to Dr. Niesen’s office for the second part of my annual physical exam. Everything looked fine, including my heart rate. So apparently the new dose of the heart medication had the atrial flutter under control.

As I was getting ready to leave John wrote me an order for some additional blood work and lab tests. At this point I was uncertain whether or not I was going to get a colonoscopy this year. That uncertainty was resolved a few minutes later when Dr. Niesen walked to the front desk and said to John, “Go ahead and schedule him for a colonoscopy exam this year as well.” John gave me a handout of the pre-exam prep procedures, and asked me if I wanted to schedule the exam now, or call him later.  I told him that I would call him later in the week after I had a chance to check my calendar at work.

Later in the week I called Dr. Niesen’s Office to schedule the colonoscopy. Krista set me an appointment for Saturday, May 18. She told me to report to the Endoscopy Unit of Saint Mary’s Hospital at 8:00 in the morning, and said that the actual exam would begin around 9:30.

Talk about poetic justice. On Saturday, March 23 (two days before the second part of my physical examination) I entered a 3 mile run which raised money for colon cancer research and support. Before the run began I visited various booths and talked with some of the people about the importance of early screening, and listened to several speakers talk on the topic after the run.  Who would have known that just two days later I would learn that it was time for my own next colonoscopy?

Some of the information that I picked up that day is worth knowing, so I am going to share parts of it.  There are simply too many myths going around concerning colon cancer.

One myth is that colon cancer is a disease that only affects old men. It doesn’t affect younger people and it doesn’t affect women.  That is wrong. In reality, colon cancer affects men and women equally. As for as the age thing, yes the risk of colon cancer does increase after a person turns 50. But people much younger than 50 can get colon cancer.  The health care workers who spoke at the event all mentioned that they had dealt with people in their 40’s, 30’s, 20’s and even teens who were diagnosed with colon cancer.

The captain of the team that I ran with — Tammy — was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer at the age of 27. This was despite the fact that she lived a healthy lifestyle, and had no family history of the disease. Today Tammy is 38 years old, and she is in excellent health.  I had planned to run along with her during the event, but she was so much faster than I was that I had to abandon that plan after the first 200 yards.

Another myth is that a person cannot get colon cancer if they have no family history of the disease.  Yes, a family history of colon cancer does increase a person’s risk for the disease. Especially if it was a first degree family member who had the disease before the age of 60. But a person can get colon cancer despite no family history.

A myth also exists that if a person lives a healthy lifestyle and has no symptoms then the person obviously cannot have colon cancer. Not true. One of the speakers at the event was a lady named Teri who appeared to be in excellent physical condition.  She regularly participated in (and won!) triathlons,  which are among the most physically challenging events there are. She would seem to be the least likely person to get cancer. Yet when she got her first colonoscopy at the age of 50, it was discovered that she had an advanced stage of colon cancer.

Getting back to my own colonoscopy,  I reviewed the prep instructions and realized that quite a few things had changed since my prior colonoscopies.

First and foremost was the fact that during my previous five colonoscopies the patient was allowed only a clear liquid the day before the exam. No exceptions! Under the current prep instructions, patients are actually allowed to eat a light breakfast of solid food. However, the eating has to be completed before 9:30 in the morning. After that time, the remainder of the day will consist of only a clear liquid diet.

The other change was the amount of liquid prep that the patient must drink. During my first and second colonoscopies the prep consisted of drinking a gallon of a laxative. During my third colonoscopy the prep consisted of taking four laxative tablets and following that by drinking a half-gallon of a laxative. During the fourth and fifth colonoscopies the prep also consisted of drinking a half gallon of a laxative. But unlike the third colonoscopy, no laxative pills were included. With the current colonoscopy I will only need to drink two glasses of a laxative, where each glass is 8 ounces.  I will drink one glass at 4:00 in the afternoon, and the second glass at 10:00 in the evening. So I guess that I will be staying up late on Friday evening.

Then there is the enema, or lack of one. The prep required an enema the morning of the exam during my first and second colonoscopy. During my third and fourth colonoscopy the prep did not require an enema, but my friend Helene (mentioned earlier in this article) convinced me to let her perform this procedure on me as a prelude to the prep. With my third colonoscopy Helene gave me a glycerine suppository and followed it with an enema. With my fourth colonoscopy Helene and her friend Angie gave me two enemas. I did not get an enema before my fifth colonoscopy, and the prep sheet does not call for one this time.

It is unlikely that Helene will have any involvement with my colonoscopy prep this time. She got married back in September 2012. I attended the wedding, which was quite an impressive event. But since Helene got married she has been very busy, so I don’t expect any interaction with her along these lines.

I will probably be making a room reservation at the Cheshire Inn again on Friday and Saturday of the exam weekend. Since my last colonoscopy the Cheshire Inn did close, but later reopened under new ownership. So I will need to call and set that up.

I also decided to have a colonic irrigation before I begin the prep, as an added precaution of getting cleaned out, and making the main prep a little easier to deal with. I learned that in August 2010, Cindy sold the business where I got the colonic irrigations before my second, third, fourth, and fifth colonoscopies. However, the therapists stayed at the business with the new owners.

I called to make an appointment for a colonic irrigation for Friday, May 17 — the day before the colonoscopy. As it happened, however, they had no openings available on that day or even the previous day. However, they did have an evening appointment available on Wednesday, May 15.  So I went with that, and hoped that would be good enough. They told me that the procedure would be performed by a therapist named Sharon.

The other thing that I needed to do between now and the morning of the test was to build up some courage. It’s no secret that I am not a brave person when it comes to medical procedures. Especially ones like this. The last thing that I needed was for the test not to be completed because I got too scared to go through with it. But I still had a few tricks available in this area.

Before my fifth colonoscopy my coworker Bridgit spent quite a bit of time giving me pep talks to build up my courage. The day before the exam she even left a pep talk message on my voice mail. Somehow I managed to accidentally erase that message. That is the bad news. But the good news is that I managed to get the message written down. So as it starts getting close to the day of the exam I will pull that writing out and read it at least once a day. Perhaps I can even bring it with me into the Endoscopy Room on the morning of the test.

Bridgit and I still work together, so if I really need a pep talk I am sure that she will give me one. But I would prefer to not bother her with this.

When I called Cheshire Inn to reserve a room I got a case of sticker shock. I learned that since my last visit in 2009 (probably as a result of the new ownership), the lowest price room that they had available cost more than double what I paid back in 2009. The more expensive rooms cost more than four times as much as what I paid in 2009. So as much as I would have liked to have stayed within two blocks of the hospital, this was just not a reasonable option.

Instead, I reserved a room at the Red Roof Inn, which was located about three miles from the hospital. Not walking distance like the Cheshire Inn, but still a reasonably short drive.

On the evening of Wednesday, May 15, I had my colonic irrigation appointment. But not with Sharon who was originally scheduled to perform the procedure. Sharon was off work that day, and her appointments were handled by a therapist named Kristine. Kristine made the procedure a very easy experience. Throughout the procedure she massaged my abdomen to make the irrigation more effective, and also to alleviate any discomfort. I wasn’t too surprised that the abdominal massage prevented discomfort. It had a similar effect with the enemas that Helene gave me before the third and fourth colonoscopies. It makes sense that this would work with a colonic irrigation just as well as it would work with an enema.

On the morning of Thursday, May 16, I walked into Bridgit’s Office at work. I said, “Two more days until my colonoscopy. I need you to tell me that I have nothing to worry about, and that everything will go just fine. Even if you don’t believe it, I would still like for you to say it.” Bridgit said, “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” I asked, “Stop what?” She said, “Stop acting like you have a choice in the matter. Even if you are afraid of the test, and even if you don’t like the prep, you need to go through with the test. You and I have both known people who got colon cancer because they didn’t get tested early enough. Taking that risk is not something that you are going to do. As many times as you have had the test it should be no big deal for you. In fact, you should be helping other people get through the test. Now understand this. If I find out that you’ve tried to cancel the test I will personally tie you up and drag you to that appointment.” I didn’t know if she was kidding or if she was serious. But I sure didn’t plan to test her to find out.

I was talking to one of my Facebook Friends named Kathy, who is a Registered Nurse, and also works at Saint Mary’s Endoscopy Unit. In fact, her Mother (Carol) was the Registered Nurse who assisted Dr. Niesen during my very first colonoscopy on July 12, 1997. When I mentioned to Kathy that I had not yet found someone to drive me to and from the test on Saturday, she said, “Well why didn’t you say something sooner? I will be happy to give you a ride to the test. If you don’t mind getting up early, I’ll pick you up at 6:00 in the morning.”

I took off work on Friday, May 17, 2013 — the day before the colonoscopy. I ate a light breakfast consisting of a banana and a piece of toast. Under the new preparation method this is now permissible. I then picked up the prep kit from Walgreens, then went to the grocery store and purchased my clear liquid diet for the day. This consisted of apple juice, white grape juice, pear juice, and peach-mango juice. I had wanted to purchase some ginger beer, but for some reason I was unable to find any.

After checking into the hotel I began to drink the liquid prep. As stated above it was a much smaller dosage (two glasses of 16 ounces each) than what I had to drink in the past. And it didn’t even taste too bad. Sort of a cross between Alka-Seltzer and cherry juice if I had to give a description to it. There were no bad side effects, although I was up until about 2:00 in the morning running to the bathroom. Needless to say I got very little sleep on Friday Night.
Kathy picked me up at 6:00, and drove me the 3 miles or so to the hospital. It was fairly obvious to her that I was nervous about the upcoming test, so she kept up a conversation with me to take my mind off what I would soon be going through.

As we walked inside the hospital I realized that we had just transcended from the “Facebook Friends” status to that of “health care professional – patient” status.

When we arrived at the Endoscopy Unit Kathy invited me to follow her through the area and get the Grand Tour. It was definitely a lot bigger on the inside than I thought it looked on the outside. As we walked into the Nurses Lounge she pointed out a plaque that the staff had received in January 2011 from the Hospital President based on a “commending letter” from a patient. The patient’s name was on the plaque. When I looked at the patient’s name that was on the plaque I realized it was mine! Kathy said, “Every time one of the nurses comes into this room they look at the plaque and think about you.” And these are the people who I am afraid of? What is wrong with me?

At this point I told Kathy something that Sandy (one of the nurses who worked for Dr. Niesen back around 1997) once said. She said, “The nurses at Saint Mary’s Endoscopy Unit are the most competent, compassionate health care workers that I’ve ever met.”

I went back into the waiting room where I filled out some forms and gave an interview of my medical history. (If that is the proper terminology.) Around 8:00 Marian (who I met during my fifth colonoscopy on August 29, 2009) walked into the waiting room and called my name. I pulled out my wallet, looked at my driver’s license, and said “That’s me.” We shook hands and said it was good to see each other again.

Marian took me to a curtained off area, asked me to get undressed and put on a hospital gown, and to lie on the bed. Marian returned several minutes later with a filled IV bag and a needle attached. As she was setting it up she called several nurses to come in so I could tell them what day of the week they were born. When I was finished Marian said, “Did you feel anything?” I said, “What was I supposed to feel?” She replied, “I’ve got the IV inserted in your arm. You probably didn’t feel a thing because you were so busy performing your birthday trick.” She was right! Despite my fear of needles, I got an IV put in my arm and didn’t even know it happened.

As I waited for the test to begin Kathy, Marian, and several other nurses stopped by every so often to see how I was doing, and to strike up conversations with me. I suspect they were really trying to take my mind off of the upcoming procedure so I would be less nervous. Marian is also one of my Facebook Friends. She mentioned that she really liked an article I posted there about running. She said, “That was very nice the things that you posted about Joan.” (I met Joan during my third colonoscopy on June 9, 2007. However, she was not working today.)

Around 9:30 Ellen came to my bedside and said that she would be the nurse who would be assisting Dr. Niesen during the colonoscopy. Ellen and I have known each other for a fairly long time. During my second colonoscopy (on June 1, 2002, which was 4,004 days ago), Ellen was the nurse who started my IV. Besides working at Saint Mary’s Endoscopy Unit she also worked part time in Dr. Niesen’s Office. So I knew her from there as well.

Ellen wheeled me into Endoscopy Room Number 2. (Kathy had told me earlier that this is where my procedure would be performed.) I saw a lady in the room, but was surprised that it was not Dr. Niesen. Ellen introduced the lady as Cindy, who worked as a medical technologist in the Endoscopy Unit. Ellen stated that she and Cindy would be assisting Dr. Niesen, who would be in shortly.

Cindy asked me where I worked. I said, “Of all the times to ask me that question did you have to do it right before you’re getting ready to give me a colonoscopy? I work for the Missouri Department of Revenue, and I hope that won’t cause you to change ‘We won’t hurt you’ to ‘This will hurt like hell’. Ellen and Cindy assured me that would not be the case. Everybody has a job to do.

Several minutes Dr. Niesen came in the room. The first thing that she did was look at my heart rate on the monitor to make sure there would be problems with that. She said, “You’re heart rate is perfect today. Apparently the new medicine dosage is working just fine. Are you about ready to begin?” I said, “Not quite. Before we start I would like to repeat a pep talk that my co-worker Bridgit gave me in August 2009 before my last colonoscopy.” Dr. Niesen said, “That’s fine. We will give you a few minutes to silently recite that in your mind.” I said, “Actually, I was hoping to say it out loud so you could hear it also.” And that is what I did. Below was the pep talk that I recited.

“Hi Wayne, this is Bridgit. Your pep talk of the day person. Nothing is wrong. This is only a test. We should be happy that we have these types of tests, because they allow us to catch problems before they become serious. This too shall pass. I really believe that. The worst part is the prep. If you can drink all that yucki garbage, the rest is easy street. So hang in there and appreciate those drugs. By Monday it will all be over. Actually, it should all be over by Saturday afternoon, and you will be as good as new. OK, Wayne. Talk to you soon.”
When I finished reciting the above, Dr. Niesen, Ellen, and Cindy began clapping, and said what a nice talk it was.

Dr. Niesen said, “Time to begin. Go ahead and roll over onto your left side, and follow Ellen’s directions.” After I rolled over Ellen said, “Move a little closer to the railing.” I waited for everything to begin, but that was the last thing that I remember.

When I woke up I had a stomach ache, and thought that the test was still going one and that the sedatives had worn off too soon. I looked up at Dr. Niesen, Ellen, and Cindy, and I said, “I don’t think that I can take any more. I’ve got a stomach ache, and I’m going to have to ask you to stop.” Dr. Niesen said, “We already have stopped. The test is over. You are in the Recovery Room now. That stomach ache will disappear soon. Trust me on this.” She was right. The stomach ache was gone within 10 minutes or so.

Dr. Niesen said that she had found and removed several polyps. She said, “I’m sending these to the pathology lab. Check with my office in about 3 days and I’ll let you know the results. It is a good thing that you had the test this morning. At least now you know that those polyps will never give you cancer, because they are gone.

After about 20 minutes I was ready to leave. Kathy had originally planned to drive me back to the hotel, but she found that she would have to work late. So she asked Ellen to drive me back to the hotel.

On the way back, Ellen asked if I wanted her to stop and pick me up something to eat. I said, “There is a Wendys right down the street from the hotel where I am staying. I could go for a cheeseburger and some French Fries. I won’t even need anything to drink. I’ve still got some juice left from yesterday.” Ellen said, “Your first meal is supposed to be something light, and preferably something healthy.” I said, “I know. But all I had to eat yesterday was a very light breakfast, followed by a clear liquid diet the rest of the day. And today I have had absolutely nothing. So I think that I am entitled to splurge a little.” She finally agreed to go along with my request. I offered to buy her something as well, but she said that she would eat when she got home.

For supper I walked two blocks to Bartolinos newest restaurant. Which I first ate at exactly two years ago today, when we attended the adjacent hotel for a training seminar at work. This time I ate a salad, scallops, and spinach. So at least it was a nutritious meal.

I slept quite well on Saturday Night at the hotel. Early Sunday Morning I left the hotel, and drove home. Which is where I am right now updating this article.

It is now Wednesday Evening (May 22). Earlier today I called Dr. Niesen’s Office to see if the results had come in from the pathology lab on the polyps that were removed on Saturday. John said that Dr. Niesen would call me this evening.

So right now I’m starting to get nervous. Several polyps were removed, and that means the possibility that one or more of them could be cancerous.

I could use a pep talk right now. But how do I get one? I could send Bridgit an E-mail, but there is no guarantee that she will even pick up the e-mail before Dr. Niesen calls. I could also put a posting on my Facebook Page asking for someone to give me a pep talk. But suppose one or more people decide to call me, and while I am on the telephone Dr. Niesen tries to call but is unable to get through? I clearly don’t want that.

The first telephone call that I got this evening was a sales call. As soon as I realized it was not Dr. Niesen, I abruptly cut off the caller and said, “I’m going to have to terminate this call right now. I’m expecting an important call from my doctor. I assumed this was it, and that is the only reason why I picked up the phone.” The caller ignored me and started in on her speech. I said, “What part of I can’t talk now don’t you understand? I’m not going to miss an important call while you’re trying to sell me some overpriced product or service that I don’t need and don’t want. Goodbye.”

Maybe I didn’t have to be so harsh. The caller had no way of knowing my situation. Oh well, that’s how it goes sometimes.

Well, I just got off of the telephone with Dr. Niesen. Everything is OK. Although she removed several polyps on Saturday they were small, and none of them were cancerous. We had a very nice conversation. Dr. Niesen reminded me about the importance of eating a high fiber diet, exercising regularly, and of course getting regular health screenings.

What better way to close out this Part of the article than to give thanks to all of the people who were involved in my test on Saturday. I will never look forward to having this test. But I know that it saves lives. And thanks to Dr. Niesen and the excellent Staff at Saint Mary’s Endoscopy Unit the test was much easier than I would have ever expected.

CONCLUSION

Now that you’ve read the five accounts of my colonoscopies, I hope that you realize several things. A colonoscopy is not that bad of a procedure. It has its trying moments. It even has its humorous moments, as you’ve probably noticed. On the other hand, getting colon cancer that is not detected early is a VERY BAD situation. Don’t be one of its victims.

Clearly, colonoscopies do save lives. They can detect colon cancer while it is in the early stages, when it is still treatable. Not to mention that (at least in my case) it helped to detect a heart problem. Even if that is not the purpose of the test.

I can’t guarantee that your experiences with a colonoscopy will be the same as mine. But I can say is that this test most definitely does catch diseases in the early stages that have the potential to take lives and ruin the quality of life.

OTHER ARTICLES WRITTEN BY THE AUTHOR

To date this article has not been published anywhere. I’ve given copies of it to health care professionals, as well as people who mentioned that they were undergoing the test for the first time, or people who were considering having the test for the first time, and were trying to decide whether or not to have the test.

I’ve also written several other articles over the years, although none of the others were published either. The other articles include:

Climate Control Nightmare — The time that it took me over two years to get a heater fixed on an old Cadillac.

The Rise in Bowling Averages — Discusses the rise in bowling averages from the 1950’s through the early part of this decade. Gives numbers along with potential reasons.

The Bird Mystery — Have you ever tried to proves that something did NOT happen? That’s what I had to do if I wanted to keep my sanity. Funny to read about today. Very aggravating at the time that it happened.

Messages From Beyond The Grave — This one is rather controversial, dealing with the subject of life after death. It reaches no conclusions, merely spelling out some facts, leaving the reader to decide for themself.

My Encounter With A Collection Agency — I never thought that I would find myself in the position of having to deal with a collection agency. But I managed to survive.

Trials and Tribulations of My Probation Period — I’ve worked at the same place for over 34 years. However, there was a time when I didn’t think that I was going to make it past my 90 day probation period.

Semi-Hustler — Another article about bowling — This one talks about people who understate their bowling ability to see the reaction of others when they have “beginners luck.”

The Library Visit That Saved Me From Cancer — Cancer can’t happen to me. It only happens to other people. Or so I thought, until a visit to the library taught me otherwise.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished — Be nice to other people. But not too nice. Otherwise you run the risk of being accused of harassment. Yes, it happened to me.

Carburetor Nightmare — Sort of a sequel to “Climate Control Nightmare”. When I couldn’t find any auto mechanic who really could work on the carburetor on my 1970 Cadillac, I found help from an unlikely source.

My Family’s First Luxury Car — Back in grade school, junior high school, and high school, I often wondered if my father would ever add some prestige to our family by purchasing a luxury car. It finally happened during my senior year of high school. But the outcome wasn’t exactly what I had been expecting.

The Man Who Inspired Me To Be A Distance Runner — Sort of a human interest story about the man who inspired me to develop and keep an interest in running long distances.

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MY COLONOSCOPY EXPERIENCES — PART 3

MY COLONOSCOPY EXPERIENCES  — PART 3

Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Every year more than 50,000 people die from colon cancer. The sad part is that colon cancer is easy to cure—but only if it is caught in the early stages. And colon cancer is easy to detect—but only if you are willing to undergo the proper screening. The best screening for colon cancer is a colonoscopy.

This article will begin where “My Colonoscopy Experiences — Part 2” left off. The reason for breaking up this article into parts is because of the length. If you haven’t yet read Part 1 and Part 2 in my Notes link, you may want to read those parts first, and then come back here to Part 3.

BETWEEN MY FOURTH AND FIFTH COLONOSCOPY

I wasn’t real thrilled about the fact that I went through the prep for nothing, and invested the time to find someone to drive me to and from the hospital for nothing, only to learn that I would need to do this again. But that’s the way that things go.

Whenever Dr. Niesen says it’s time for me to have another colonoscopy, I will go along with it. The reality is that between my age, my family history, and the fact that a polyp was found during my last complete test, I was in a higher than average risk category. So this is an important test for me to have.

And there is another reason at work here. A matter of pride. The fact that my heart was beating so fast the last time that I had the test was at least partly caused by the fact that I was scared. Stated in other terms I acted like a coward. I know it, Dr. Niesen knows it, and the entire staff at St. Mary’s Endoscopy Unit knows it. Even if they are all too nice to say it. I’m one of these people who when I make a mistake I look forward to the opportunity to correct the mistake. So I was looking forward to the opportunity to have the test again and prove to everyone (including myself) that I’m not a coward.

I got to thinking about an incident that happened back in August 2002. The Red Cross came to my office for a blood drive. I was one of many people who signed up to donate blood. I answered a variety of questions, had my blood pressure checked, had my iron level checked, and was cleared to be a donor that morning.

When it came time for me to get on the table to donate, I began to get very scared. I was feeling weak, nauseous, and dizzy. The Red Cross Nurse quickly escorted me to a chair, and asked me what was wrong. When I told her, she said, “If it makes you that scared, we can’t let you donate. We’ll take your name off of the donor list.”

Almost within a matter of seconds I felt better. The weakness, nausea, and dizziness disappeared, once I realized that I would not be donating blood. I stood up and started to walk away. Then I turned back to the nurse and said, “Wait a minute. If I don’t donate this blood, does that mean somebody may die unnecessarily?” The nurse said, “It’s hard to say with certainty. But every pint of blood that is donated has the potential to save up to three lives.” I said, “I’m not going to stand by and let someone die because I’m too much of a coward to donate blood.” I got on the table and said, “I’m ready to donate.”

One of my co-workers named Carol said, “If you want to donate blood, but you’re scared, I will be happy to stand right next to the table and hold your hand throughout the procedure.” I said, “I would really appreciate that. This way if I start to get scared again, I will have some support.” The nurse said, “We really aren’t supposed to allow non Red Cross Personnel to be in this area when someone is donating.” Carol said, “Then I suggest that you ignore that rule. You’ve got a person who is scared to donate blood, but he is going to do it anyway. The least that you can do is to make it easy for him.” The nurse said, “You’re right. It will be fine if you want to stay here with him while he is donating.”

From the moment I laid down on the bed until after I was told that we were finished Carol held my hand, made eye contact with me, and kept me engaged in conversation. I sailed through the procedure with no trouble at all. It wasn’t like I was donating blood. It was like I was having a conversation with a co-worker, and the blood donation was incidental. After it was over I told the nurse that I was sorry that I had acted like a coward earlier. She said, “You’re not a coward. You’re one of the bravest people who I have ever met. You donated blood in spite of your fear”

And that’s how I was going to be with my next colonoscopy. I wouldn’t look at it as coming in to get a colonoscopy. I would look at it as coming in to visit a really nice group of people (which is an accurate description of Dr. Niesen and every single person who I’ve ever met at St. Mary’s Endoscopy Unit), take a nice nap (while I was under the sedation), and incidentally get a colonoscopy exam. Whatever perception the staff had of me as a coward when I walked in the door would change when it was time for me to leave.

On the evening of Monday, June 29, I came home from work and found a letter in my mailbox from Saint Mary’s Hospital, asking me to fill out a detailed survey of my recent visit to the hospital.  I gave every department and every doctor, nurse, technician etc. who I interacted with a glowing report. Madison Avenue couldn’t have written something better. And I meant every word that I said. That got me to thinking, “How could any person with even half a brain be afraid to come to this hospital for a routine test or procedure?” The answer was that there was no good reason for me to be afraid, and I promised myself that next time I would not be afraid.

That evening at the bowling alley I was talking to Kathy, who was the wife of one my team mates. Kathy has worked as a Registered Nurse at a college health service for many years. I was telling her about my recent experience in the hospital.

Kathy talked to me for a few minutes about atrial flutter in general. She then said, “I know a person in denial when I talk to one. That rapid heartbeat that you had before the test may have been precipitated by a fear of the test, but the atrial flutter that was detected was not psychosomatic. You should consider yourself extremely lucky that of all the times for this to happen it was while you were in the presence of a doctor in the hospital. Whatever recommendations you got from your doctor and the cardiologist, you had better take very seriously. And don’t even think about not taking the medicine they gave you.  Finally, if you are ever put in the hospital again for reasons related to your heart, don’t be giving deadlines for when you have to be released. Whether or not your doctor thinks you need additional tests, procedures, or observation is a lot more important than whether or not you have to miss a few days of work.” I realized that this was good advice that I would be wise to follow.

MY CARDIAC EXAMS AND MY FIFTH COLONOSCOPY

On Thursday, July 2, I was in Bridgit’s office discussing a work related issue. When the discussion was over I got up to leave. Bridgit said, “There is something else that I want to talk to you about. Close the door and sit down.” She said, “It has been almost two weeks since you were in the hospital. Have you called your doctor about a follow up visit?” I said, “No, I haven’t gotten around to that yet.” She then asked, “What about setting up an appointment for another colonoscopy? Have you done that yet?” I said, “No, I haven’t done that either.”

Bridgit then asked, “When are you planning on making that call to your doctor?” I said, “It may be a few weeks. This week is about over, with tomorrow being a holiday. And next week my calendar is really full.” Bridgit said, “You and every one else in the office. How long will it take you to call your doctor? Maybe five or ten minutes? Tell me this. Do you want to put yourself at risk for having a heart attack?” I said, “No, I don’t.” She asked, “Do you want to put yourself at risk for getting colon cancer?” I replied, “No, I don’t want that either.” She said, “Then stop procrastinating and make that telephone call.”

Bridgit is young enough to be my daughter, but her approach to this situation was a lot more mature than mine. Right now I was acting like a five-year old child who was trying to justify why he didn’t need to go to the doctor’s office to get a shot. It was time for me to change that mindset. I said, “I guess that I really do need to make that call to my doctor’s office. I will do it on Monday. You’ve got my word on that. Thanks for making sure that I do the right thing here.”

OK, I didn’t get around to making the call on Monday. But I did make it on Tuesday. I talked to Dr. Niesen’s nurse named Krista. Krista said, “Your last set of blood tests really looked good. Both your cholesterol and your triglycerides were substantially lower than they have been the last few years.” Before my fourth colonoscopy Helene had suggested that I eat a diet with a lot more fruits and vegetables, as well as making sure to use olive oil as a salad dressing. Because that diet seemed to give me more energy, I stayed with it after the colonoscopy. Maybe that is the reason why my cholesterol and triglycerides dropped. Or maybe it was caused by the heart medication that I was now taking. Or maybe it was a combination of reasons. In any case, it was good news. (I later asked Dr. Niesen about this. She said that the heart medicine probably would not have been responsible for the drop in the cholesterol and the triglycerides. So it’s sounding like it may have been the diet.)

Krista then asked, “Would you want to reschedule an appointment for the colonoscopy that wasn’t finished?” I replied, “Absolutely yes. Saturdays work best for me, but I will accept any day that you select.” Krista set me an appointment for Saturday, August 29. She told me to report to the Endoscopy Unit of Saint Mary’s Hospital at 8:00 a.m. and said that the colonoscopy would begin around 9:30 a.m. She said that Dr. Niesen would call in a prescription for the prep liquid to Walgreens, and that I could pick it up about a week before the test. She said, “We’ll use the same prep as we used last time. Of all the preps out there, this one generally has the fewest side effects.”

I said, “Tell Dr. Niesen that this time I will be much braver when I come in for the test. It’s no secret that I was a big coward last time.” Krista said, “Don’t say that. You were not a coward.” I said, “Of course I was. But I appreciate the fact that you’re too nice of a person to say it.”   

It was time to start making arrangements for the next exam. I called Harriett and asked if she would be willing to drive me back from the hospital after the test. Hopefully the incident with my last colonoscopy didn’t turn her against the idea. Luckily it did not. Harriett assured me that she had seen a lot worse, and said that she would be happy to drive me to and from the hospital on August 29.

Once again I called the Cheshire Inn and reserved a room for Friday and Saturday of the exam weekend. It worked well the last four times. May as well stay with it.

I called Cindy and asked if she could set me an appointment for a colonic irrigation for Friday, August 28 — the day before the colonoscopy. This procedure seems to offer a little extra insurance as far as being completely cleaned out for the test.  Cindy set me an appointment for 8:30 in the morning. She said that the procedure would be performed by Karen, who also performed this procedure when I came on June 19 — the day before my previous colonoscopy.

I would do my best to avoid Helene between now and August 29. I never told her that the last colonoscopy was not completed, and I preferred to keep it that way. If she didn’t know that I was having this test, she couldn’t decide that I should have an enema a few days before the test. What she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt either one of us.

On Wednesday, July 8, I went into Bridgit’s office at work and told her about my rescheduled colonoscopy. I said, “And I’ve made a promise that this time I will be a braver person when I have the test. I made the promise to Dr. Niesen, I made the promise to myself, and I’m making the promise to you. All the same, I wonder if I should look into finding someone who is not doing anything on the morning of August 29, who would be willing to hold my hand in the waiting room.” Bridgit said, “That may be a good idea. Just pick someone who is not afraid of hospitals.” I said, “That is a good point. Or maybe I could pick somebody very boring so that I would just fall asleep talking to them. If that happened I wouldn’t even need to be sedated.”

During the next few weeks I had follow-up visits with Dr. Niesen and Dr. Reis. It appeared that the heart medication had the atrial flutter under control.

On July 28, I had an appointment with Dr. Reis for an EKG and an echocardiogram. As I was sitting in the waiting room I began to get nervous. I pulled out my cell phone and started to call Bridgit at the office, hoping that she could give me a pep talk to get me past this fear. I stopped half way through the dialing and said (silently to myself), “No! This nonsense stops here and now. Bridgit has a ton of work to do. She doesn’t need to be dealing with a 59 year old man who is acting like a 5 year old boy on his first day of Kindergarten.  Besides, I know from my hospital visit that Dr. Reis is a great doctor. I should consider myself very lucky that such a fine doctor has accepted me as a patient. There is nothing to be nervous about. This visit will go just fine.”

And it did. I got an echocardiogram and an EKG that morning. The echocardiogram was performed by a man named Aaron. He was a very interesting person to talk to. He allowed me to watch the monitor during the test while he explained what he was doing, and even taught me some interesting facts about how the heart works.

The EKG was performed by a Registered Nurse named Diane. She was also a very interesting person to talk to. Both the echocardiogram and the EKG were entirely painless.

Afterwards, Dr. Reis came in and discussed the results with me. Both tests showed normal results. Apparently the heart medication had the atrial flutter under control to the point that it was not even showing up on the tests. Dr. Reis did suggest that I come back the following week for a stress test, just to be sure. I readily agreed with that suggestion, and set up an appointment for the following Tuesday.

So this was the visit that had me so nervous in the waiting room that I felt like I needed somebody to (at least figuratively) hold me hand! I guess that a certain amount of fear is a good thing. Perhaps it was my fear on the morning of the fourth colonoscopy which caused the atrial flutter to be diagnosed, and resulted in me being put on medication which would keep it under control. That part was good. But when the fear makes me hesitant to have important life protecting tests, that is where I have to draw the line.

As I was getting ready to leave Dr. Reis’s office I almost had a déjà vu incident from what happened on June 9, 2007, when I woke up from my third colonoscopy. (The incident was mentioned earlier in this article.) At the front desk were Jo Ann (who scheduled my follow-up appointments) and Diane (the Registered Nurse who had performed my EKG.) I said, “It was really good to meet both of you. You are both very nice people.” Diane said, “But I am nicer than Jo Ann.” Jo Ann responded, “No you’re not. I’m nicer than you are.” They smiled at one another, indicating that the disagreement was merely a joke. I looked up at the ceiling and said, “Oh no, not this again.”

When I saw the puzzled looks on Jo Ann’s and Diane’s face, I told them the story about the nurses at St. Mary’s Endoscopy Unit after my third colonoscopy asking me to decide which one was the most beautiful. Diane laughed and said, “I can see how that question or today’s question could get you into trouble.” I said, “Let me just say that you are both equally nice, and before you have a chance to ask I will say that you are both equally beautiful. Now I really need to leave so I can get back to work.” Before either of them could respond I was out the door, walking toward the exit at a fairly brisk pace.  

Although I complained about being asked a Catch 22 question, I wasn’t really complaining. It was all in good fun. The staff at Dr. Reis’s office, like the staff at Dr. Niesen’s office, the staff at Saint Mary’s Endoscopy Unit, the staff at Saint Mary’s Emergency Room, and the staff at Saint Mary’s Cardiology Step Down Unit are all really fine people. They are very good at the technical aspects of their jobs. But there is more to it than that. They are also caring and compassionate people, who carry out their jobs while making things as easy as possible for the patient. And sharing a joke and a laugh with a patient is a nice way to build a good rapport with that patient.

That evening I looked at the instructions for the following week’s stress test. That was when I realized that this was not an ordinary stress test like the ones that I had in 1993 and 1994. Rather, it was a nuclear stress test which would involve putting some dye into my heart through an IV while I was on the treadmill. I was getting scared just thinking about that one.

I sent off an E-mail to my friend Cat (who I mentioned in two previous places in this article), asking for some (figurative) hand holding. Cat worked for almost 30 years as a nurse, which included experience in numerous different fields of nursing. I asked why they couldn’t just perform a regular stress test like I had in 1993 and 1994. Cat’s answer was, “Because this area of medicine has improved significantly since 1994. A nuclear stress test will provide your doctor with information that would not be available from a regular stress test. Your doctor is obviously up to date on current advances in this field. You have nothing to be scared about.”

This article is called “My Colonoscopy Experiences”, but it now seems to have been expanded to also cover my cardiology experiences and my quest to build up my courage. Maybe I’ll have to think about changing the name of this article. We’ll see.

On the evening of Tuesday, July 28, I also sent out another E-mail. A friend of mine was scheduled to have a colonoscopy exam on Thursday, July 30. She would be doing the prep tomorrow (Wednesday, July 29). The essence of the E-mail was as follows: “Good luck with your prep tomorrow and your test on Thursday. Although I’m not very brave myself concerning medical tests, I can offer advice and support. So if you need someone to talk to either tomorrow or Thursday, feel free to give me a call. And if it will make you feel better to laugh about something, just remind yourself that in slightly less than a month, I will be going through the very same thing that you are.”

On Thursday my friend called to say that everything turned out well. She was calling from her cell phone as her husband was driving her home from the hospital. She said that the prep was bad, but the test itself was a breeze.

On Monday, August 3, I was telling Bridgit about the following day’s nuclear stress test. Bridgit said, “Stop that.” I said, “Stop what?” She said, “Stop being afraid of the test.” I asked, “What did I say?” She said, “It’s not what you said. It’s the look on your face when you said it.” I said,” I guess it is that obvious. You always could read me like a book.”

Bridgit said, “You will do just fine with tomorrow’s stress test, and you will do just fine when you have your colonoscopy on August 29. You will go through with the colonoscopy this time. There is no reason why anybody should ever die from colon cancer.” I said, “Absolutely! You’re talking to the person who wrote an article on the subject. An article which is now 40 pages long, and stresses the fact that this test saves lives, and is nothing to be afraid of.” So why don’t I take my own advice?

I then said, “On tomorrow’s stress test, if I start to get nervous in the waiting room can I call you for a pep talk? I realize that once I walk past the front desk I’m on my own. But while I’m still in the waiting room, it would be nice to have a lifeline or a security blanket. Even if I don’t use it, having it available will still be nice.”  Bridgit said, “Of course you can call me. But you won’t be alone when you walk inside for the test. You said yourself what a great staff they have at the doctor’s office.” She had a very good point!

That evening at the bowling alley my teammate Mike asked me why I was being so quiet. I told him that I was nervous about the following day’s nuclear stress test. He said, “I had that very same test two weeks ago. I was nervous also. But my wife Kathy, who is a nurse, told me it was nothing to be worried about. She was right. It was a very easy test. Not to mention that I got great results.” That would at least make it a little easier to sleep on Monday night.

I arrived early on Tuesday Morning (August 4), so I stopped off in the lobby of Saint Mary’s Hospital, which was right next door to Dr. Reis’s office. In the hospital lobby they had a piano which was “automatically playing” continuing songs. I was getting ready to leave to walk next door to Dr. Reis’s office, when the next song that began to play was “Someone To Watch Over Me.” I took this as a good omen, and stayed around until the song was over.

At Dr. Reis’s office a lady introduced herself as Robin, and said that she would be performing the nuclear stress test on me. She brought me into a room where there was a treadmill and some tables, and gave me an overview of what would happen that morning.

Robin began by inserting an IV in my arm, which would be used to transport the dye to my heart. As soon as the needle was inserted I began to get very scared. I said, “Robin, I’m really getting scared. I don’t think that I am going to be able to go through with this. I probably made a mistake agreeing to do this test.” Robin said, “You didn’t make a mistake. This test will give us some valuable information about how your heart is performing. Think of it this way. You and I are working together as a team here. We’re going to get you through this test with very little discomfort to you.” I asked, “Can you hold my hand for a few minutes?” She said, “I’ll do something better than that. I’m going to lower the table so you get more blood to your head. Then I’ll just stand here with you, and not do anything else until you are ready for the next step.”

A few minutes later the fear went away, and I was feeling better. Robin said, “You must be feeling better. You are smiling now.” I said, “I sure am. I’m not afraid anymore. Now I know that I can go through with this test. Thank you for being the good person that you are, and giving me the courage that I need to go through with this.”

I was taken into another room where I was told to lie down on a table and some pictures were taken of my heart. Robin said that they would take similar pictures from this same machine after I finished with the treadmill.

After that I was taken back in the room with the treadmill. A Registered Nurse introduced herself as Deborah, and said that she and Robin would work together to give me the nuclear stress test. I would be walking on a treadmill, which was flat and would walk or run at a slow speed. Every so often the speed would increase, and the treadmill would be raised to a slight incline. They would warn me before the speed and the incline were increased.

The treadmill provided me with a good cardiac workout. I try to run (or more accurately slowly jog) three times a week. In fact I came for this test wearing a shirt which I got from entering a 10-K (slightly over 6 miles) run back in 2005. I figured that may give me a little extra confidence. Deborah and Robin closely monitored my blood pressure and heart rate, among other things, throughout the procedure. We kept a conversation going until the time when the speed of the treadmill got to the point where I was no longer able to talk and “run” at the same time. Afterwards I thanked Deborah and Robin, and said it was really nice to work with them. They are both really great people.

Robin then took me back into the room where they took the earlier pictures of my heart so they could get “after the stress test” pictures to compare with the “before the stress test pictures”. As the pictures were being taken I said, “Robin, when we are done here today I really need to go back to work.” Robin said, “That is fine.” I said, “Maybe I need to ask this a different way. Do you ever have patients whose test results look so bad that you insist that they immediately go to the hospital?” Robin said, “That is very rare, but it does happen.” I said, “If it were to happen to me today, would it be possible for me to talk my way out of it?” Robin asked, “Do you honestly think that you could outtalk Deborah or me, much less Dr. Reis?” I said, “No, that would never happen.” She said, “Don’t worry. I haven’t seen anything bad in your test results today which warrant something like that. Dr. Reis is still going to have to look at some of the numbers which don’t mean anything to me. But that won’t be until tomorrow. Our office will call you tomorrow with the final results.”

As I was leaving I said, “Didn’t I tell you that with you and me working together as a team I would get through this test today?” Robin said, “As I recall, I was the one who said that to you.”

After I left Dr. Reis’s office, I took a shortcut through the ground floor of Saint Mary’s Hospital to get back to my car on the parking lot. As I was walking past the Endoscopy Unit, Mary came walking outside. Mary was the Registered Nurse who assisted Dr. Niesen during my last colonoscopy on June 20, 2009. We said hello, and had a brief conversation. Mary said, “Dr. Niesen said that you are coming back for another colonoscopy soon.” I said, “That’s right. I will be back in a few weeks on August 29. I hope that I get to see you that morning. And I promise you that I will be much braver this time.” She said,  “What makes you think that you weren’t brave last time? You couldn’t help it if your heart was beating too fast.” I said, “Interesting that you should mention that. I just came from Dr. Reis’s office, where I had a nuclear stress test.”

All these weeks I had been assuming that the staff at Saint Mary’s Endoscopy Unit was thinking about me as the big coward who came in for a colonoscopy on June 20, and was too scared to finish the test. I suddenly realized that this was not the case. I was probably the only person who had that perception of myself. And even if it were a true perception, it brought out the atrial flutter heart problem which had previously been unknown, and set me on the road to getting and keeping that under control.

On Wednesday I got a telephone call from Melanie in Dr. Reis’s office. Dr. Reis had the chance to review my nuclear stress test results in detail, and determined that everything looked fine. So other than staying on the heart medication (for the atrial flutter), and one low dose aspirin per day, I could continue to live my normal life style.

Right now I was considering myself quite lucky in this area. I had a great Primary Care Doctor and Gastroenterologist (Dr. Niesen), a great Cardiologist (Dr. Reis), and a great Dentist (Dr. Pagano). For health care needs, a person can’t ask for more than that!

Now that I had gotten through all of the cardiac tests — with a lot of help from some really fine people — I could look towards the upcoming colonoscopy exam on August 29. I was confident that I would not be nervous about the test this time. That’s what I’m saying now. That confidence may quickly disappear on the morning of the test, but let’s hope not.

On August 20, I was in Bridgit’s office at work. I said, “Just 9 more days until my next colonoscopy.” Bridgit said, “Do I need to give you another pep talk”? I said, “Yeah, I think you’d better do that.” She said, “I can’t decide whether to talk nicely and tell you that everything will be fine, or to take a tough approach and tell you to just grow up.” I said, “Whatever you think is best. This whole thing started 50 years ago this week.” Bridgit said, “What started 50 years ago this week?” I said, “My fear of hospitals and medical procedures. That week I went into the Jewish Hospital for a hernia operation.”

Bridgit got a puzzled look on her face and said, “I thought that hernia operations were done on an outpatient basis.” I said, “They mostly are today. But remember that we are talking about 1959. I was in the hospital for four days. Which was fairly normal for that procedure back then. I remember the day of the operation like it was yesterday. I was scared when I woke up that morning. I was more scared after the nurse came in and performed the pre-op procedures. And I’ve never been so scared in all my life as when they wheeled me into the operating room with the bright lights and the team of doctors and nurses waiting for me in their white outfits. After it was over and I woke up, I was sick for the rest of the day because of the anesthesia that they used back then. Would you believe that they used ether? If it weren’t for the fact that I was only 9 years old and didn’t have the option to refuse I would have never gone through with it.”

Bridgit said, “But you did go through with it, and you made it through OK. Would you say that the operation was a success?” I said, “Absolutely. It’s now 50 years later and the hernia has never returned.” She asked, “Were the doctors and nurses good?” I said, “They were very good. Don’t get me wrong. They were nowhere near as good as Dr. Niesen, Dr. Reis, or the staff at Saint Marys. But they were very good by 1959 standards. And I certainly didn’t make their jobs any easier.”

Bridgit said, “Now tell me this. Despite your fear of hospitals and medical procedures, you got through your first three colonoscopies without a hitch. Why do you think that is?” I smiled, knowing where this was going, and said, “Because Dr. Niesen and the staff at Saint Mary’s Endoscopy Unit are so good at their jobs.” Now it was Bridgit’s turn to smile. She said, “That’s what I was hoping that you would say. I think there may be hope for you yet. Think of it as an adventure. You’re going to visit some past friends in the Endoscopy Unit, and you may make some new friends.” That was certainly a way to approach it.  The Saint Mary’s Endoscopy Unit Staff definitely does treat patients like friends. And I mean this in a good way.

Bridgit said, “In case you didn’t notice, one of your staff members has been pacing back and forth outside my office. Maybe you’d better find out what he wants before he wears a hole in the carpet.” When I walked out of Bridgit’s office I felt like I had more courage than I had when I walked in a few minutes earlier, and I just hoped that I could keep that courage for another 9 days.

What just happened here? This was the first time that I had openly identified the reason why I was afraid of hospitals and medical tests. I had probably known it subconsciously for many years, but this was the first time that I had actually said it. The first step towards solving a problem is to identify the problem. I had been looking for temporary fixes, when I should have been looking for real solutions.

I could ask for pep talks from now until the next century, but the time has come when I have to stand up on my own, resolve to maintain some courage, and do the right thing. I need to get rid of the ghosts and demons from 1959, and move into 2009. The right thing is that I need to get this colonoscopy exam done. My life may very well depend on it. And I need to do it in a way that does not create any unnecessary work or problems for Dr. Niesen or the fine staff at Saint Mary’s Endoscopy Unit. They deserve better than that. Finally, I needed to stop bothering Bridgit every time I got nervous about a medical test or procedure. Constantly telling me that I would do fine with a medical test or procedure is not a part of her job description. Although I have to admit that she does it very well, just as she does her regular job very well.

As I was getting ready to leave work on Thursday I said to Bridgit, “I’ll see you on Monday. Wish me good luck on the test on Saturday.” Bridgit said, “You won’t need any luck. You will do very well on your own. But just to be on the safe side, I am going to call your voice mail and leave you a message. If you start to get nervous before the test you can call your voice mail and listen to my message.” I said, “Thanks. On Monday Morning I will stop by to tell you how brave I was, and how the test results looked. If I don’t come in with a report, you come looking for me.” She said, “Count on it.”

On Thursday Evening, I ate a big supper at Hometown Buffet (the same place that used to be called Old Country Buffet), knowing it would be the last solid food that I would eat until Saturday after the test. I probably overdid it on the food, but you know how it is with buffets!

I took off work on Friday, August 28 — the day before the colonoscopy. I had my colonic irrigation appointment at 8:30 in the morning. The procedure was performed by Karen, the same therapist who performed this procedure on June 19—the day before my last colonoscopy. The colonic irrigation went very smoothly, as I felt no discomfort at all. During the procedure Karen and I discussed some ideas for how I could be less afraid of the test on Saturday.

Afterwards I went to the health food store and the grocery store to purchase my clear liquid diet for the day. This consisted of Ginger Beer, vanilla flavored carbonated water, pear juice, apple-banana juice, and white grape juice. I also purchased some Bach Flower remedies which can sometimes help with nervousness. (Karen had said that they often work for her, although she couldn’t guarantee that they would work for everyone. But I figured it was worth a try.) I then purchased the liquid prep from Walgreens.  

I stopped off at the Endoscopy Unit of Saint Mary’s Hospital to pick up the forms that I would need to fill out for tomorrow. May as well get these out of the way today, and that would save everyone a little time tomorrow. As I was walking out of the Endoscopy Unit, I saw Mary walking in. She is the nurse who assisted Dr. Niesen during my last colonoscopy. We greeted one another and I said, “I’m looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.” Mary said, “Actually I’m not working tomorrow. But I will be thinking about you. You’ll get to work with plenty of good nurses tomorrow.”

After checking into the hotel, I called my voice mail and found that Bridgit had left me a pep talk message. The message was as follows:

“HiWayne, this is Bridgit. Your pep talk of the day person. Nothing is wrong. This is only a test. We should be happy that we have these types of tests, because they allows us to catch problems before they become serious. This too shall pass. I really believe that. The worst part is the prep. If you can drink all that yucki garbage, the rest is easy street. So hang in there and appreciate those drugs. By Monday it will all be over. Actually, it should all be over by Saturday afternoon, and you will be as good as new. OK, Wayne. Talk to you soon.”

I started drinking the liquid prep around 3:00 in the afternoon. It was the same prep that I used back on June 19, but for some reason it didn’t taste as bad as it did last time. The only side effects that I had were having to make repeated trips to the bathroom until Midnight or so.

At 5:30 in the afternoon, I turned on the Channel 4 Evening News hoping to get some inspiration for this test from watching Katie Couric. But to my disappointment Katie was absent that evening, and another announcer had taken her place. So much for that idea.

I awoke at 5:00 on Saturday Morning, and watched TV for a few hours. Harriett picked me up from the hotel at 7:15, and drove me to the hospital. In the Endoscopy waiting room Harriett and I chatted on a variety of subjects, to help kill the time. Harriett said, “You must really be starved, with so little to eat yesterday and today.” I said, “You know what? Until you just now mentioned it, I hadn’t even thought about being hungry. I’m kind of surprised, but I certainly won’t complain. That is one less thing for me to worry about.”

Around 8:00 a Registered Nurse named Maurie asked me to come inside. Harriett wished me good luck on the test as I was walking inside. Maurie and I remembered each other from my third colonoscopy on June 9, 2007. She had assisted Dr. Niesen during the colonoscopy. We got along very well during that visit, so it was nice to see her again.

Maurie took me inside and introduced me to some of the nurses who were working that morning. These nurses included Donna, Marian, Kathy, and a few others whose names I am not now remembering. Donna was the same nurse who assisted Dr. Niesen during my second colonoscopy on June 1, 2002. Marian asked me some questions about my medical history.

The question was raised as to why I was having a colonoscopy when I just had one on June 20, 2009. I briefly explained what happened. I then said, “You are all too nice to say it, but the real truth is that I acted like a coward.” Maurie said, “That is just plain wrong. You are not a coward. Being afraid of something doesn’t make a person a coward. You stood up to your fears and came in today to get the colonoscopy that you knew that you needed. In my book that makes you a very brave person.” I always said that Maurie was a good person!

When I was answering the preliminary questions at the beginning I told a group of the nurses how Bridgit had been giving me pep talks during the summer and even left a message for me on my voice mail. One of the nurses said, “That Bridgit sounds like a real gem. If she’s not married, I have a son.” I said, “Forget it. Tomorrow is her 100 Day Wedding Anniversary. She and Dr. Niesen both share a wedding date of Friday, May 22. Only 28 years apart.”

Marian took me into a curtained off area, told me to get undressed, put on hospital gown, and lie on the bed. I said, “On the undressing part, do I just undress above the waist?” Marian said, “How are we supposed to examine your tush if you only undress above the waist?” I said, “That’s the whole point. If I only undress above the waist you can’t.” She laughed and said, “You silly boy. I’ll be back in a few minutes with a warm blanket for you to cover up with.”

After I got undressed and had the hospital gown on, I opened the curtains back up so that I could see what was going on in the area. Marian returned with a warm blanket and an IV bag which she put on the stand. She said, “I’m going to start your IV now.” I said, “I promised myself that I would remain brave today, but I’m already starting to get nervous about this.” Marian asked, “Would you like me to bring you in your cell phone so that you can call your voice mail and listen to Bridgit’s pep talk message?” I said, “If you wouldn’t mind, that would be great.” Marian returned with my cell phone. I must have been nervous because it took me several tries to dial the number correctly. But I eventually got it right, and listened to the message. This seemed to give me added courage.

 After I was done I asked, “Do you know Bridgit’s home phone number?” Marian said, “Now how would I know that? I don’t even know her last name.” I said, “If you did then you could call her up and tell her to come down here and hold my hand when you insert the needle.” She laughed and said, “I’d better double check our orders on you. Are we supposed to be examining your butt or your head?” Now it was my turn to laugh. I said, “How can I be scared of any person who can make me laugh like that?” Marian said, “If you’d like I can go into the waiting room and ask Harriett if she can come in here and hold your hand until it is time to go into the Endoscopy Room.” I said, “No, that won’t be necessary. I think I’ll be OK now.” And I was. The needle insertion was nothing more than a brief stick.

As I waited for the test to begin I struck up a conversation with a lady in the bed across the hall by the name of —- that was a close one. I almost said her name, which for privacy reasons I don’t want to do. Anyway, as we were talking Maurie walked up to her bed and said that she would be starting the IV on the lady. The lady said, “I don’t know about this. I really don’t like needles.” I said to the lady, “I don’t like needles either. But I had no problems a few minutes ago. Just as Marian didn’t hurt me, Maurie won’t hurt you. Maurie and I have known each other for 812 days, and I can tell you that she is as fine of a person as you will ever want to meet.” Maurie said, “I will have to take your word on the number of days, but I definitely appreciate the compliment.”

Around 9:30 a Registered Nurse approached my bedside and introduced herself as Kathy. I looked at her name tag and noticed that she had the same last name as a couple who I used to bowl with. When I mentioned this to her she said, “What a small world. Those two are my cousins.”

Kathy wheeled me into the Endoscopy Room, where we struck up a conversation while we waited for Dr. Niesen. Kathy was a very interesting person to talk to. Dr. Niesen walked in and said, “Well hello, stranger.” I said, “Good morning, Dr. Niesen. I really appreciate everything that you have done for me. You’re a very fine doctor and a very fine person.” Kathy asked, “Is he always this nice, or does he just talk this way when you are going to give him a colonoscopy?” Dr. Niesen said, “He is usually a very nice person.”

Dr. Niesen said, “Your heart rate is looking much better this time. It’s at 72 right now, as opposed to around 155 last time. Incidentally, I got the results on your cardiac tests from Dr. Reis. Everything looked really great.” I said, “You and I both know what happened last time. You’re just too nice of a person to say that I behaved like a coward.” Dr. Niesen said, “Stop beating yourself up like that. You’re not a coward.” I said, “I am trying to be braver this time. It’s only a test. We should be happy that we have these types of diagnostic tests that allow us to catch problems before they turn into serious diseases. Do you know what I am quoting?” Dr. Niesen said, “No, not really.” I said, “I’m quoting my co-worker Bridgit. She has been giving me pep talks all summer long trying to build up my courage for medical procedures in general and this morning’s test in particular.” Dr. Niesen said, “Well I’ll tell you what. That really makes a lot of sense.”

We were having a friendly discussion when Dr. Niesen said, “It is time to get started. Roll over on your left side, and do whatever Kathy tells you.” Now I was feeling scared. Kathy asked, “Are you ready to begin?” I said, “Yes ma’m. Could you make sure that the sedatives have taken effect before the scope is inserted?”  She said, “That is why I am here. I promise that you won’t feel a thing.” And she was right. The next thing that I knew I was waking up in the Holding / Recovery Area.

I asked, “When are we going to start the test?” One of the nurses said, “Look around the room and tell me what you see?” Then it dawned on me. I said, “We’re not in the Endoscopy Room any longer, so I guess the test is over.” The nurse said, “You are correct. Dr. Niesen and Kathy are doing another colonoscopy right now, but Dr. Niesen wanted me to tell you that they found no cancer and no polyps. If you call her office on Monday she can give you the rest of the details.” I felt a little tired and somewhat lightheaded from the sedatives, but the nurse assured me that the lightheaded feeling was just temporary.  The nurse brought me a cup of juice to drink.

She said that Harriett would be coming in to see me in a few minutes and that I could leave whenever I felt ready. A few minutes later Harriett and I left the hospital. I asked Harriett if on the way back to the hotel we could stop off at Carl’s Deli to get something to eat.

When we got to Carl’s Deli I offered to also buy Harriett something to eat, but she said that she would be eating with her family when she got home. I said, “I know just what I’m going to get. A corned beef sandwich with spicy mustard on rye bread sounds really good right now.” Harriett said, “Didn’t you read the discharge orders from the hospital? Your first meal is supposed to be bland food. I’m going to order you a sliced turkey sandwich on wheat bread with lettuce and tomatoes. You can pick yourself out a bottle of juice also.” That was fine with me. As hungry as I was anything sounded good.

When we got back to the hotel Harriett talked to me for a few minutes and had me walk around the room to make sure that I was OK. She said, “I’m going to be leaving now, but I’ll write down my cell phone number just in case you misplaced it. If you need anything at all don’t hesitate to call me.”

I was feeling somewhat sleepy, so I got in bed for a few hours and took a nap. When I woke up I turned on the television and watched Chanel 9 shows on the Big Band Era and the 1950’s song Era. It was a nice way to unwind. Afterwards I got out some notebook paper and wrote two letters. One letter was to Dr. Niesen. The other letter was to the Staff at Saint Mary’s Endoscopy Unit. Both letters offered my thanks for everything that they did to get me through this morning’s colonoscopy. They are all really fine people!

I then called Bridgit’s voice mail at work and left a brief report about the outcome of my colonoscopy. Although Bridgit does not come in the office on Saturdays she sometimes does check her voice mail on weekends, so I hoped that she would check it and pick up my message. On the message I started off by saying, “I did it. Or more accurately we did it. You were the one who gave me the courage to make it through this test.”

For supper I ate a barbecue chicken sandwich and French Fries from a nearby restaurant. OK, it wasn’t the healthiest meal in the world. But I figured that I had earned the right to indulge myself a little.

I decided to spend the night at the hotel. I was too tired to safely drive home. And I was paying for the room for the night anyway. I woke up the following morning around 5:30 and felt fine. There was no indication that I had just been through such an invasive procedure.

I decided to go out jogging. This late in the year it was still too dark at 5:30 to jog through Forest Park. Forest Park is not a safe place to be when it is dark. Although yesterday (August 29) was the 41 year Anniversary of the first time (and only time) that I took a girl to Forest Park after sundown. Rather a risky venture to be sure, but I was only 18 at the time, and I didn’t have a whole lot of sense at that age. Anyway, getting back to the present, I jogged about 3 miles. The fact that I was able to jog 3 miles slightly less than 24 hours after a colonoscopy proves that Dr. Niesen and Kathy performed the colonoscopy well enough to leave no side effects the following day. In other words, they did a fine job.

Afterwards I ate the free Continental Breakfast that was offered in the lobby, checked out of the hotel, and drove home.

On Monday morning I walked into Bridgit’s office at work. She said, “I got your telephone message from Saturday. It sounds like at least the preliminary results from the test look good. And you’re here, so I would say that you survived.” I said, “Everything went fine. There were a few times when I started to get nervous, but your many pep talks during the summer, and the lifeline message that you left on my voice mail really helped. Between the fact that Dr. Niesen and the Endoscopy Staff were really great, and all of your support, things worked out well. Right now I feel like a giant weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Thanks for everything that you did.”

My father used to say that everything happens for a reason. Although I would have never believed it at the time, I now realized that the uncompleted colonoscopy on June 20 may have been a blessing in disguise. That incident got me to have some cardiac tests that I otherwise would have never believed were necessary. Plus it got me to make some lifestyle changes and got me on some medication that should benefit my heart in the future.

On Wednesday Evening Dr. Niesen called me at home. She said that the test results looked fine. No cancer, no polyps, no need to do any biopsies. Plus she noted that this time my heart rate and blood pressure remained normal during the test. She said, “So I would say that everything is looking good.”

I said, “Dr. Niesen, did I ever tell you that you are a very fine doctor and a very fine person?” She said, “Yes, you have told me that many times. And I never get tired of hearing it.”

As we were wrapping up the telephone conversation I said, “One last question. Was I a good patient on Saturday?” She said, “You were an excellent patient on Saturday. I wish all my patients were like you.” I asked, “So does this mean that you and the Staff at St. Mary’s Endoscopy Unit no longer consider me to be a coward?” She said, “We never did consider you to be a coward. That was just something that you came up with yourself. I guess you could say that you were your own worst critic.”

As I wrap up this article it is now early September. Summer is turning into fall, and it was a rather interesting summer. And a productive one as far as my health goes. I successfully completed the colonoscopy, and won’t have to worry about that for a few more years.  Plus I’ve gotten a heart problem under control that I didn’t even realize that I had. With two great doctors — Dr. Niesen and Dr. Reis — to make sure that I live a healthy lifestyle, take the proper medications, and get regular health screenings, I should be on the right track.

Thanks to my friend and co-worker Bridgit, I’m now a braver person about medical tests and procedures. I no longer consider myself a coward. As Maurie said, being afraid of something doesn’t make a person a coward, as long as they do the right thing in spite of their fears. There were times during this past Saturday when I was afraid while waiting to undergo the colonoscopy. But I went through with the test all the same, and I’m happy that I did.

ONE YEAR LATER

 

Monday, July 12, 2010, was the 13 Year Anniversary of my first colonoscopy. Two things happened that day to remind me of the incident.

I got a message on my Facebook Account from Donna. She is the Registered Nurse who assisted Dr. Niesen during my second colonoscopy on June 1, 2002. I also saw her during my fifth colonoscopy on August 29, 2009. As to the Facebook message, she noticed that I had a Facebook Account and wanted to thank me for the Happy Nurses Day Card that I sent to the Endoscopy Staff in May.

The other thing that happened on that day was that one of my friends had her first colonoscopy at the age of 46. Because she had a family history of colon cancer her doctor wanted her to start screening early.

The results of the test were that everything looked fine. My friend was not happy about the fact that she had to go through the prep and the test for nothing. I said, “It wasn’t for nothing. There could have just as easily been a problem that needed immediate attention. The only way to know for sure was to have the test. So you did the right thing.”

Exactly one month later — August 12, 2010 — I returned to Saint Mary’s Hospital. But this time it was not to the Endoscopy Unit. Rather, it was to the Same Day Surgery Center, to have some surgery to remove a basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) on my face. Luckily the cancer was caught in the early stages. The details of this incident are discussed in my article, “The Library Visit That Saved Me From Cancer.”

17 MONTHS LATER

On January 25, 2011, I had a follow up visit with the cardiologist. Dr. Reis has now left the practice, and her patients were taken over by Dr. Friedman. Dr. Friedman, like Dr. Reis, is considered one of the best cardiologists in Saint Louis.

Diane checked my pulse and blood pressure, and performed an EKG on me. The results of all three looked good.

Afterwards Dr. Friedman came in. He listened to my heart with a stethoscope and checked a few other things. He said that everything was looking good. He then brought in a plastic model of a heart and showed me how a heart normally operates, and then showed what deviations occur with atrial flutter. Fortunately the medicine that I was taking was doing a good job of keeping the atrial flutter under control to the point that it did not even show up on the tests. So he told me to keep taking the medicine and to continue to live my healthy lifestyle.

As I was leaving I took a shortcut through the ground floor of Saint Mary’s Hospital, as a shortcut to get to my car. As I was walking past the Endoscopy Unit I saw Marian walking by. She was the nurse who took my medical history and started my IV during my fifth colonoscopy on August 29, 2009.

After our greetings, Marian asked me if I wanted to come in and say hi to the staff members. I said, “I don’t know. I really need to be getting back to work.” Marian replied, “Oh don’t be silly. You can take a few minutes away from work to say hi to your friends. We were just talking about you last week. How we appreciate the birthday cards and letters that you’ve sent. Everyone will be happy to see you.” I said, “Well, since you put it that way, sure I’ll come on in and say hi to everyone.”

Marian took me inside and walked me around so that I could say hi to everyone. I saw some people who I knew, such as Maurie, Donna, and Maureen. And I met some new people, like Marilyn and Kathy. During my five different colonoscopies I actually met three different nurses named Kathy. So now I knew four different nurses named Kathy who worked in the Endoscopy Unit. Turns out that the Kathy who I met today was the daughter of Carol — the nurse who assisted Dr. Niesen during my first colonoscopy on July 12, 1997.

As I was leaving I said to Marian. “This is the first time that I’ve ever come here when I was not scared.” Marian laughed and said, “It’s probably also the first time that you came here and were not drugged when you walked out.” That was true also.

When I got back to the office I told Bridgit what had happened. I said, “As I was in the waiting room at the cardiologist’s office, I began to wish that I had asked you to give me a pep talk first.” Bridgit said, “Oh for heavens sake. A man your age shouldn’t need a pep talk for a routine doctor’s visit. It’s not like they planned on doing anything invasive.”

Then I told Bridgit about the visit to the Endoscopy Unit. She said, “I’ll bet that you’re the only person in the world who has Staff Members from a Hospital Endoscopy Unit for a fan club. At this rate it won’t be too long before you start looking forward to having a colonoscopy.” I said, “No, I will never look forward to having that test. But you and I both know that the test does save lives. When it comes time to have the test again I would not want it done anywhere else. You can’t ask for a better combination than Dr. Niesen and the Staff at Saint Mary’s Endoscopy Unit.”  Bridgit said, “It’s almost 1:30. Guess you’d better be heading to your office for your conference call.”

CONCLUSION

Now that you’ve read the five accounts of my colonoscopies, I hope that you realize several things. A colonoscopy is not that bad of a procedure. It has its trying moments. It even has its humorous moments, as you’ve probably noticed. On the other hand, getting colon cancer that is not detected early is a VERY BAD situation.  Don’t be one of its victims.

Clearly, colonoscopies do save lives. They can detect colon cancer while it is in the early stages, when it is still treatable. Not to mention that (at least in my case) it helped to detect a heart problem. Even if that is not the purpose of the test.

I can’t guarantee that your experiences with a colonoscopy will be the same as mine. But I can say is that this test most definitely does catch diseases in the early stages that have the potential to take lives and ruin the quality of life.

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MY COLONOSCOPY EXPERIENCES — PART 2

MY COLONOSCOPY EXPERIENCES  — PART 2

Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Every year more than 50,000 people die from colon cancer. The sad part is that colon cancer is easy to cure—but only if it is caught in the early stages. And colon cancer is easy to detect—but only if you are willing to undergo the proper screening. The best screening for colon cancer is a colonoscopy.

This article will begin where “My Colonoscopy Experiences — Part 1” left off. The reason for breaking up this article into parts is because Facebook Notes can only hold so many characters.

 MY THIRD COLONOSCOPY:

Once again we go forward approximately 5 years to April 20, 2007. That afternoon I visited Dr. Niesen for my annual physical exam. Based on my past schedule of colonoscopy exams, I expected that I would get another one this year. After going through it two previous times it was no longer a big deal.

During the physical exam neither Dr. Niesen nor I mentioned a colonoscopy. However, I realized that it probably would not be mentioned until I was getting ready to leave, and received the written orders for the blood tests.

At the front desk Dr. Niesen’s nurse named Krista wrote me an order for the annual blood tests. She then asked me what day and time would be best for me to have a colonoscopy. I asked, “Are we talking hypothetically or actually”. That question was unnecessary, as I already knew the answer. Krista said that we were talking for real. I said that Saturday mornings would work best for me. Krista set me an appointment for Saturday, June 9, 2007. She told me to report to the Endoscopy Unit of St Mary’s Hospital at 7:00 in the morning. She said that the colonoscopy would begin around 8:30. That would be one hour earlier than we started last time.

Krista then handed me the instructions for the pre-exam prep. (I will hereinafter refer to this as the “new preparation” method, as opposed to the pre-exam prep used during my last two colonoscopies, which I will refer to as the “old preparation” method.) 

The new preparation method was somewhat similar, although not identical, to the old preparation method. The clear liquid diet restriction to be followed the day before the exam, and nothing to be eaten the morning of the exam, was the same for both preparation methods. However, the old preparation method involved drinking a gallon of Colyte the afternoon before the exam. The new preparation method involved taking four laxative pills the afternoon before the exam, which would be followed by drinking a half-gallon (two quarts) of Colyte.  Using the new preparation method it was no longer necessary to have an enema on the morning of the exam.

As with the last two exams, I made a room reservation at the Cheshire Inn for Friday and Saturday of the exam weekend. The proximity of the hotel to the hospital and the privacy that I would get from the hotel room would work out well. I still wasn’t sure how I was going to get back to the hotel on Saturday after the colonoscopy, but I had time to figure that one out.

I checked out the new preparation method on the Internet, and determined that the possible side effects were similar to those of the old preparation method. If anything, the new method took longer to work than the old method. 

Prior to my second colonoscopy I had found an article on the Internet which said that having a colonic irrigation before you start to drink the Colyte can reduce the amount of Colyte that you have to drink, plus reduce some of the negative side effects of drinking the Colyte. Would having a colonic irrigation first provide the same benefits when using the new preparation method? I decided to research that question on the Internet.

I could not find anything on the Internet that discussed whether having a colonic irrigation first would allow you to take fewer laxative tablets or drink less of the Colyte with the new preparation method.  Nor could I find the article from the doctor in Texas that I had read last time on the subject. You know how Internet sites come and go. However, I did find several articles which said that having a colonic irrigation first would help to reduce the possible side effects of the “new preparation” method.

The lady who gave me the colonic irrigation last time (Cindy) was still in business. In fact, her business had significantly grown during the last five years. She now had several therapists working for her, plus the fact that she was now providing a variety of holistic health services. 

On the evening of May 2, I attended a seminar at Cindy’s business on the subject of nutrition. This was given by two graduate students from Saint Louis University, who were majoring in nutrition. After the lecture I asked Cindy if it would be possible to schedule an appointment for a colonic irrigation for Friday, June 8—the day before the colonoscopy. She said that would be no problem. She wasn’t sure who would be performing the procedure that day, but she marked me down for a 10:00 a.m. appointment.

As it got closer to the day of the exam I began looking for people who might be able to drive me back to the hotel after the colonoscopy. I called a lady named Helene, who I have known for almost 10 years from dancing. Although not employed in the medical field, Helene did attend medical school for a few years before dropping out for financial reasons. And in recent years she has developed an interest in holistic health.

Several years ago I had driven Helene to and from the hospital when she had some outpatient surgery. So perhaps this would be her opportunity to return the favor. When I called Helene she said that regrettably she could not pick me up from the hospital on June 9, as she was scheduled to work that day. She did say that if I came by her house on the evening of Thursday June 7, she would help me get started with the prep.

I asked Helene exactly what she had in mind, since the prep was not supposed to begin until Friday June 8. She said that she would give me a glycerin suppository, and follow it with an enema. I said, “That is not going to happen. This time the prep does not require an enema.” Helene said, “The pills and the liquids will be easier to take if you are cleaned out first.” I reminded her that I would be cleaned out first, because of Friday Morning’s colonic irrigation.  Helene said, “That’s on Friday, the day of the main prep. The colonic irrigation will be easier to take if you first get cleaned out on Thursday.”  I remarked that it sounded like the person who swallowed the spider to catch the fly. She said, “You don’t have to get sarcastic about it.”

Helene then said, “It doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. I’m doing this for you. Both of my parents had a colonoscopy last year.  I performed this procedure on both of them the day before they began their prep, and they both said that it made the main part of the prep go much easier. Besides, hasn’t my advice to you in the past always been reliable? Remember the time in 1998 when you got that bad case of food poisoning from the bowling banquet that you attended? You tried several over the counter medicines that proved worthless. Then I suggested that you purchase some ginger powder and take a couple of teaspoons of it. That solved the problem like some miracle drug.”

Well, that was true. In fact, since that time I always keep ginger powder in the house for those rare times when I get nausea. I told Helene that I would think about it. She said, “Don’t take too long. If you’re not coming over I would like to know, so that I can make other plans for that evening.”

On May 30 I called Helene to tell her that I would come over on the evening of June 7, and allow her to give me her prep.  I’d trust her on this one.

On Thursday afternoon (June 7), I found a way to get back to the hotel from the hospital after the colonoscopy on Saturday. I found a company close to Saint Mary’s Hospital that provided transportation to and from doctor’s offices and hospitals. They set me an appointment for Saturday morning, and said that I should give them a call when I was ready to leave the hospital.

On Thursday afternoon I ate a big supper at Dennys, realizing it would be the last solid food that I would have until Saturday after the test. Sort of like a condemned man’s last meal? No, I shouldn’t make that comparison. This test was being done to protect my life.

That evening I went to Helene’s house, hoping that I was doing the right thing. She greeted me at the front door and asked if I would like to have the grand tour of her new house. I said, “Right now I’m not in the mood for any pleasantries. What I would like to do is just to get this thing over with. Do whatever needs to be done, and then you and I will call it a day.” 

Helene began by inserting a glycerin suppository, then immediately followed it with an enema using some sort of contraption that I couldn’t quite identify. When I started to feel cramps I said, “It’s over. Let’s stop right now.” Instead Helene began to massage my abdomen. I asked, “What are you doing? Nobody has ever done this to me during an enema before.” She replied, “They should have. This will accomplish several things, not the least of which will be to take your mind off of the cramps.” I was about to say “what nonsense!”, when I realized that she was correct. Maybe it was all in my mind, but from that point forward I had no more cramps or discomfort. When it was over and I had gotten dressed I said, “Thanks, I guess. Now let’s have that grand tour of your new house that you mentioned earlier.”

I took off work on Friday, June 8—the day before the colonoscopy. I purchased the prep kit containing the laxative pills and the Colyte from Walgreens, then went to the grocery store and purchased my clear liquid diet for the day. This consisted of several bottles of a variety of juices. By 9:00 a.m. I was already beginning to get hungry. How could I possibly last until Saturday after the test?

At 10:00 I arrived for my colonic irrigation appointment. The colonic irrigation was given by Maya, one of the graduate students who had given the class on nutrition that I attended on May 2.  The colonic irrigation went very smoothly.  I had no discomfort at all. As I was getting ready to leave Maya wished me good luck on the test.

I was just walking out the door when I turned back and said, “One more question, since you are very knowledgeable on the subject of nutrition. Is there anything that I can drink to keep me from being starved by this clear liquid diet?” Maya said, “Actually there is. Take a drive up to Trader Joe’s Health Food Store, and buy some Ginger Beer. Don’t let the word “beer” fool you. There is no alcohol in it. What it consists of is pineapple juice, lemon juice, limejuice, and ginger.  Every one of these ingredients are good to make your stomach feel better if you get hungry from the clear liquid diet, or if you get nausea or cramps from the laxative pills or the liquid prep.”  Sounds like Maya and Helene both agreed on the value of ginger for stomach problems. 

I took Maya’s advice, and purchased some bottles of the Ginger Beer (which as we now realize is not beer at all) from Trader Joe’s, and drank one of the bottles before I even left the parking lot. After finishing the bottle I did notice that I did not feel nearly as hungry as I had before drinking it.

After checking into the hotel I began to use the prep kit. I took the four laxative tablets, and then began drinking the Colyte about an hour later. I got no unexpected bad side effects; unless you count the fact that I constantly had to get up during the night to run to the bathroom.

During the time that I was doing the prep (this was around 5:40 in the afternoon) I switched on the hotel’s television set without bothering to see what channel it was set on. Who do you think was on the screen doing the news? Katie Couric. That gave me a little more courage to go through with this. If Katie Couric can have a colonoscopy performed on live television while the entire nation watched, I could certainly go through with a colonoscopy given in private. In fact, any person who would have their colonoscopy broadcast on live television to save the lives of countless strangers has to be a wonderful person.

I had no trouble waking up at 5:00 on Saturday morning, since I was up half the night anyway. I got dressed and turned on the television, hoping to kill some time before I went to the hospital. I was getting nervous just sitting in the room trying to watch TV programs, waiting for the time to pass. So I turned off the TV, left the hotel, and went for a walk around the neighborhood. I walked into the Endoscopy Unit around 6:30, which was 30 minutes before the time that I was supposed to get there.

In the Endoscopy waiting room there were two other people. One was a lady waiting to undergo an endoscopic procedure, and the other person was her mother, who would be driving her home.  We introduced ourselves, but for privacy reasons I won’t mention their names. They were both very interesting people, and talking to them helped the time pass, and took my mind off what I would soon be going through.

A few minutes after the daughter was called in, a Registered Nurse with a cheerful smile on her face named Joan called my name and asked me if I was ready to come in. I said, “I guess so. If I try to run away I’m sure that you will be able to catch me.” She smiled and said, “It won’t be that bad.” (An interesting side note here. I later found out that Joan most definitely would have been able to catch me if I had tried to run away. She is a marathon runner.)

Joan took me into the Holding / Recovery area and introduced me to some of the nurses who were working that morning. Two of those nurses—Ellen and Laurie—I remembered from my visit in 2002. Ellen had started the IV on me during that visit, and Laurie was the one who helped me put the hospital gown together. Other nurses who were introduced to me were Jo, Judy, and Maurie. (Judy was not the same Judy who I met during my 1997 colonoscopy.) I said, “If you cater to cowards we will get along very well.”  They smiled and assured me that was the case.

I was instructed to get undressed in a curtained off room, put on a hospital gown, and lay on a bed where an IV bag had been set up. This time the hospital gown had no clamps. Just a simple slip on gown. Before closing the curtains to get undressed I noticed that the lady who I had met in the reception area earlier was lying on a bed hooked up to an IV. I gave her a thumbs up, and wished her good luck with her procedure. She said, “Thanks. Same here.”

I put on the hospital gown and lied down on the bed, trying not to look at the attached IV. Several minutes later Judy and Jo came in the room and said that they would start the IV. First, they covered me with a very warm blanket, which was well appreciated. As I watched Judy wrap a blood pressure cuff around my left arm, Jo said, “I’m inserting the needle in your right arm. You’ll just feel a brief stick.” She was right. I did feel a brief stick. But it was no big deal. Jo and Judy told me to just lie still until it was time to go into the Endoscopy Room.

It was around 8:30 or so when Maurie entered my room. She said that it was time to go into the Endoscopy Room, and that she would be assisting Dr. Niesen during the colonoscopy. She wheeled me into the Endoscopy Room and pointed out the various pieces of equipment. This time I even worked up the courage to look at the colonoscope.

Maurie was a very interesting person to talk to. As we talked about our jobs, hobbies, and various other aspects of our lives I almost forgot why I was there. Dr. Niesen walked in the room and greeted me cheerfully. I said, “Do you find it hard to believe that this is my third colonoscopy? Or how about the fact that on March 21, 1997, I told you that I would never have a colonoscopy?” She said, “You’ve come a long ways in that regards. You’re a smart person who realizes the importance of early screening.” With some renewed courage I looked at both Dr. Niesen and Maurie and said,  “I’m not looking forward to this test. But since I’m having it, I can’t think of two people who I would rather have with me performing the test.”  Dr. Niesen said, “Go ahead and roll over on your left side, and we will get started.” I rolled over, and that was the last thing that I remembered.

I woke up in the Holding / Recovery area, and noticed that the IV needle was now removed. I was sleepy and a little lightheaded from the sedatives,  but otherwise I felt fine.

Quite a few of the nurses were in the room and walked over by my bedside. I said, “This is a nice way to wake up, in the company of all these beautiful women.” The nurses gave each other a little smile. Maurie asked, “So which one of us would you say is the most beautiful?” I was afraid that question was going to get me into trouble! I said, “Well actually —- you are all very beautiful.” Another nurse said, “We know that. But which one of us is the most beautiful?”  I looked up at the ceiling, hoping that I may get some Divine inspiration. But it didn’t come. How do I get myself into these situations? I asked, “Can’t I just say that you are all equally beautiful?” Maurie laughed and said, “Of course you can. We’re just having some fun with you.” I said, “Oh sure, I knew that.” It was nice to share a joke with them.

Joan asked me if I wanted something to drink. I said, “You bet I do. As hungry as I am, I’ll take anything that I can get.” She brought me several cups of grape juice with ice.

Dr. Niesen walked in and asked me how I was doing. I said that I was feeling fine, but right now I wanted to know how the test results looked.  She said, “Everything looked fine, except for one thing. I did find and remove one polyp.”  I hadn’t been expecting that.

It’s a good thing that Dr. Niesen had insisted that I have a colonoscopy every five years. I asked if the polyp was malignant or benign. She said, “I have no way of knowing at this time. I’m sending it off to the Pathology Lab to have it tested. I expect that I will have an answer by Tuesday. Call my office, and I’ll let you know the outcome. Be aware that the majority of polyps are not cancerous. However, we have no reliable way of knowing which ones will ultimately turn into cancer. That is why it is important that all polyps found be removed.  In the meantime, I am going to give you some literature on polyps. It also includes some good information on how to prevent new polyps from forming. One of the most important things you can do on an ongoing basis to prevent polyps is to eat a high fiber diet.”

About 15 minutes later I asked if one of the nurses could call for my ride to come. A man from the medical transport company showed up a short time later, and took me back to the hotel. I waited about an hour, and then took a stroll across street to Carl’s Deli to get myself a corned beef sandwich and some coleslaw.  It was sure great to have some solid food to eat.

When I got back to the hotel after eating lunch, the reality of the situation hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a polyp, and I wouldn’t know for sure until Tuesday whether or not it was cancerous. Was this something that I had inherited from my grandmother? Or was there some other reason why this polyp had formed despite my overall healthy lifestyle?

There were certainly times in the past when I thought that Dr. Niesen was being overly cautious by putting me on a five-year schedule of colonoscopy exams. I wondered why we couldn’t just do this test every ten years. I suddenly realized that Dr. Niesen was absolutely correct to have set me up for this test every five years. If this polyp were cancerous I certainly wouldn’t have wanted it to remain undetected for another five years. And even if it proved to not be cancerous, if it hadn’t been detected now that would have given it time to later become cancerous.

I pulled out some notebook paper and wrote two letters. One letter was to Dr. Niesen. The other letter was to the Staff at St. Mary’s Endoscopy Unit. I offered my thanks for them doing so much to help get me through today’s colonoscopy.  Dr. Niesen and the fine staff at St. Mary’s Endoscopy Unit had (for the third time) made this into a very easy procedure.

Afterwards I got in bed and took a nap for about two hours. I guess that the lack of sleep yesterday, combined with the sedatives this morning, played a role in my being tired. For supper I had planned to go to the hotel’s restaurant to have some of their great prime rib. However, when I got to the restaurant I discovered that they were closed for a while for renovations. So I settled for a barbecue chicken sandwich at a nearby restaurant.

I spent the night at the hotel. By the time 8:00 rolled around I was surprised to see that I was no longer tired. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to risk trying to drive home. The sedatives may have still been affecting me more than I realized. Plus I was paying for the room for the night anyway.

I felt fine when I woke up on Sunday morning. There was nothing to suggest that I had been through such an invasive procedure less than 24 hours earlier. I was tempted to take a stroll through Forest Park, as I had done on the Sunday following my last colonoscopy. But I decided to put that off to some time in the future. Right now I had something else that I really needed to do. I had a lot of work waiting for me at the office, since I had taken off all day Friday. When I scheduled this colonoscopy six weeks earlier, I hadn’t realized what a busy week this would be at work. So I drove into the office, knocked out a few hours of work, then drove home. All I could do now was wait for the news on Tuesday as to whether or not the polyp was cancerous, and hope for the best.

During most of Monday I was almost a basket case, as I anxiously waited for the news that was scheduled to come on Tuesday. Was the polyp cancerous? If so, had the cancer spread anywhere? I realized that in all probability the polyp was not cancerous. But right now I wasn’t interested in dealing with probabilities. I wanted to know for certain. This may seem like a rather strange statement coming from a person who always seems to be quoting statistics. I guess when my life hangs in the balance I look at the world through different standards.

On Tuesday morning at work I spent several hours on a conference call, and it was obvious to everyone on the call that my mind was somewhere else than the subject at hand. Although I didn’t explain to any of them why I was having a difficult time answering simple questions that I usually rattle off without a second thought. I couldn’t take my mind off of the polyp.

On Tuesday afternoon I got a telephone call from one of the nurses in Dr. Niesen’s office. She said that the report on the polyp had come in from the Pathology Lab. She said that after Dr. Niesen finished seeing her patients for the day she would begin making telephone calls, probably after 6:00. I said that I was going to stay late at the office to catch up on some work, and asked if Dr. Niesen could call me there.

That evening I got a telephone call at work from Dr. Niesen. She asked, “So how are you doing?” I replied, “I’m doing fine. No, I’m really not doing fine. Actually, I’m scared to death concerning what you are about to tell me.” Dr. Niesen said, “Well, I have good news for you. I removed the polyp on Saturday, so it won’t cause you any problems. And the Pathology Report says it is not cancerous. So it didn’t leave any cancer in your body.” I can’t begin to describe the elation that came at that moment from knowing that I could continue to live a normal life. Who would ever think that being normal could be so wonderful?

I said, “So it sounds like the whole thing was a false alarm.” Dr. Niesen said, “Not so fast. I said that the polyp had not turned to cancer yet. The polyp was a tubular adenoma.  This type frequently does turn into cancer. So if I hadn’t removed it, there is an excellent chance that you eventually would have gotten colon cancer.” That reality sent a cold chill down my spine.

This points out a difference between a colonoscopy and most medical screening procedures. While most medical screening procedures only detect diseases, a colonoscopy can prevent and even cure colon cancer. It can prevent colon cancer by removing polyps before they become cancerous. And in certain instances it can cure colon cancer when the doctor removes a cancerous polyp where the cancer has not spread outside of the polyp.

I asked how this could have happened when I maintained a healthy lifestyle. Dr. Niesen said, “My best guess is that it was the result of your family history of colon cancer. Had you not followed a healthy lifestyle you may have gotten that polyp at a younger age. Then again, some people get colon cancer despite no family history and despite a healthy lifestyle.” (That got me to thinking about Katie Couric’s husband.)

Dr. Niesen said, “The polyp was found in the uppermost part of your colon, near the liver.” The significance of this was obvious, but I had to ask to be sure. I said, “Are you saying that if we had done any screening procedure except a colonoscopy the polyp would have been missed?” Dr. Niesen said, “That is exactly what I am saying. If we had used any other screening test you and I would never know about the polyp. We would be thinking that everything was fine, not realizing that you were carrying around a time bomb capable of turning into cancer.”

I asked Dr. Niesen what I could do in the future. She said, “Keep following your healthy lifestyle. And try to increase the fiber in your diet. You’ll get some ideas for that from the booklet that I gave you on Saturday. While this can’t guarantee that you will never get another polyp, it will certainly reduce the odds. Not to mention the fact that a high fiber diet should help to keep your cholesterol numbers in check.”

Dr. Niesen said, “Now for one final piece of bad news. Because of this we can no longer wait five years between colonoscopy exams. We will need to do them on a more frequent basis.” I said, “Dr. Niesen, that is no problem at all. I will happily get a colonoscopy every year, even without sedation, if that is what I need to do for proper screening.” (OK, I didn’t really mean the part about “without sedation”. Although I did say it.) Dr. Niesen said, “Don’t worry. I would never ask anyone to undergo a colonoscopy without sedation. And we won’t have to do it every year. Maybe every two or three years. We’ll talk about it at next year’s physical exam.”

After the telephone conversation was ended, I decided to wrap things up for the evening. There would be plenty of time tomorrow to finish up what I had on my desk at work. As I was walking across the parking lot to my car, my mind began to fill with a bunch of “what ifs”. What if Dr. Niesen had never suggested (must less insisted) that I have a colonoscopy exam?  What if my first response in 1997 of “I will never have a colonoscopy exam” had been my last word on the subject? What if my first or second colonoscopy exams had been a bad experience, and I had decided to never repeat the procedure? Things could have turned out much differently than they actually did. I considered myself lucky to have such a fine doctor.

On Wednesday morning I walked into my manager’s office and said, “How are you doing, Craig?” He said, “I’m doing fine. You’re the one who I am concerned about. These past two days you’ve been acting like some sort of a zombie. Was there something that you wanted to talk to me about?” I said, “No. I had a personal problem the last few days. But I got it taken care of last night.” He said, “So I guess there is no reason why today your mind won’t be on your work?” I said, “None that I can think of.”

ONE YEAR LATER

Saturday, July 12, 2008, was exactly 11 years to the day after my first colonoscopy. On that day I found myself back at the Cheshire Inn—this time as a visitor. And I also found myself back at St. Mary’s Hospital—as a visitor to the cafeteria. OK, I guess an explanation is in order.

A friend of mine named Cat was visiting Saint Louis that weekend. Of all the places to stay, she picked the Cheshire Inn. She liked the fact that it was right across street   Park. I met her at the Cheshire Inn on Saturday morning, with the intention of us eating breakfast together, then going for a walk through Forest Park.

When I arrived at the hotel, Cat suggested that we eat breakfast at Parkmoor.  I said, “You really have been away from Saint Louis for a long time. Parkmoor closed up in 1999. That will be 9 years this October. If you want to go some place close, we can go to the cafeteria in St. Mary’s Hospital. As hospital cafeteria food goes, theirs is better than most of them.”

When we finished eating breakfast, we were walking toward the east end of the building. As we walked past the entrance to the Endoscopy Unit, several staff members walked out. At least two of the ladies looked familiar. I was tempted to introduce myself, and ask if they remembered me. But I decided against this. They probably had a long day ahead of them, and were just out for a short break. It wouldn’t be fair to cut into their break to play 20 questions. So I just said hello, and wished them a nice day. They returned the greeting.

As we were walking through Forest Park Cat asked, “Did you know those ladies?” I said, “Maybe. Two of them looked familiar. I may have met them during one or more of my colonoscopies. Speaking of which, have you ever had a colonoscopy? I know that you’re turning 50 in December.” Cat said, “No, I’ve never had one. And I really don’t want one. But since I’m a former nurse, I know that it is an important test.  So I’m sure that I will have a colonoscopy sometime next year.”  I’ll have to remember to send her a copy of my article.

MY FOURTH COLONOSCOPY MAY HAVE SAVED MY LIFE

My fourth colonoscopy may have saved my life. But not for the reason that you may be thinking. Read on, and I will explain how.

We now jump forward to May 1, 2009. That afternoon I visited Dr. Niesen for my annual physical exam. I realized there was a chance that I would be getting another colonoscopy this year. When the polyp was found after my third colonoscopy in 2007, Dr. Niesen said that I would now be getting this test every 2 to 3 years, rather than every 5 years as was previously done. However, I was hoping that “every 2 to 3 years” would actually mean every 3 years, so that I wouldn’t have to go through this test until next year.

During the physical exam, neither Dr. Niesen nor I brought up the subject of a colonoscopy. However, I realized that I probably wouldn’t know for sure until it was time to leave.

When I was checking out, John said, “Looks like you will be getting the same blood tests that you get every year. The good news is that you don’t need a colonoscopy, since you just had one of those two years ago.” I said, “Actually, it has only been 692 days.” Right then Dr. Niesen walked out of her office and said, “Wait a minute. He does need a colonoscopy this year. Since I found the polyp in 2007, he is now on a two-year schedule for colonoscopy exams.” John raised his hands in surrender and said, “What can I tell you? I guess I’m overruled on this one.”

John asked me if I wanted to set up an appointment for a colonoscopy now, or if I wanted to give him a call next week and set something up. I was tempted to say that I would call him next week, and then “forget” to make the call. But I quickly decided that this would be a bad idea. Putting off medical tests until “later” was something that my mother did, and that is probably why she passed away back in October. By the time she finally did agree to have the medical tests recommended by her doctor, her condition was beyond the point of being curable.

So I told John we could set something up right now. He set me an appointment for Saturday, June 20. He told me to report to the Endoscopy Unit of St. Mary’s Hospital at 8:00 a.m. and said that the actual colonoscopy would begin around 9:30. He then gave me a handout of the pre-exam procedures to be followed. It looked like we were going back to the old preparation method — Drinking a gallon of Colyte. The only thing that had changed from the original version of the old preparation method was that an enema was no longer required as part of the prep. That was fine with me. Also, this time I would not have to spend $30 or $40 to purchase the Colyte from Walgreens. John gave me a bottle of the prep to take home. Now I just had to put it someplace where no visitors to my house would see it, yet someplace that I would remember.

The following day (Saturday, May 2) I bowled in a tournament where the proceeds went for colon cancer research. The event was sponsored by a lady named Sophia who works as a licensed practical nurse. The way that Sophia got into this was that her father died of colon cancer in 2007.  So she is trying to get out the word that this disease is curable if it is caught in the early stages. At the event several people tried to give me literature on colon cancer screening. I’m not sure if they believed me when I said that just yesterday I scheduled an appointment for my next colonoscopy exam.

The day after that (Sunday, May 3) my friend Cat once again visited Saint Louis from out of state. Only this time she didn’t stay at the Cheshire Inn. Instead she stayed at a hotel near the Airport. She said, “I really appreciated you sending me your accounts of your colonoscopy exams. I’m going to be having the test myself later this year, so I can use that as a guide of what to expect.” I said, “It’s interesting that you mentioned that. I just found out on Friday that I’m going to be having the test again on June 20. So you may be getting an updated version of that article in a few more months.”

Once again I made a room reservation at the Cheshire Inn for Friday and Saturday of the exam weekend. This worked well in the past, so I figured that I may as well stay with it.

I also decided to have a colonic irrigation the day before the colonoscopy. With the old preparation method this does seem to reduce the amount of Colyte that you have to drink. Not to mention the fact that it can help to reduce some of the negative side effects of drinking Colyte. I called Cindy (the owner of the business where I had the colonic irrigations before my second and third colonoscopies) and explained the situation. She set me an appointment for 9:30 in the morning on Friday, June 19 — the day before the colonoscopy. She said that the procedure would probably be performed by a therapist named Karen.

My next step was to find a way to get back to the hotel from the hospital after the test. That proved to be easy this time.  Last year my mother found a home health agency called Mid America Home Health Care. On several occasions my mother got visits from a Registered Nurse named Tonya, and two Nurses Aides named Harriett and Keondra. After my mother passed away, Harriett continued to provide services for me. I asked Harriett if she would be willing to drive me to and from the hospital on the day of the colonoscopy. She said that she would be happy to do this for me.

On May 30, I attended a birthday party for Helene. She helped me with the prep before my third colonoscopy. At the birthday party somehow the subject of cancer screening came up, and Helene asked me when I was getting my next colonoscopy. I said, “Sometime in 2012. I have the test every five years.” Helene said, “Why don’t I believe that answer?” I said, “I don’t know. Why don’t you believe it?” Helene said, “You were on 5 year recalls before the last test, when your doctor found a polyp. I can’t believe that your doctor wouldn’t have shortened the recall time after that.” I guess that I can’t put anything past her. I said, “OK, I’m now getting the test every two years. My next colonoscopy is scheduled for Saturday, June 20.”

Helene asked me what the prep schedule was this time. After I explained it, she said, “On Friday and Saturday you will follow your doctor’s schedule. On Monday through Thursday you will follow my schedule, as long as it doesn’t conflict with any instructions from your doctor. The reason why the prep is so difficult to go through is because you are trying to clean yourself out in one day. I’m going to have it so that you will clean yourself out over five days. By the time that you are ready to start drinking the Colyte you will be cleaned out well enough that this part should go very easy.”

Helene said, “On Monday through Thursday make sure that you drink a lot of water, and eat a high fiber diet. Vegetables are very important. Eat lots of carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and cabbage. Try making yourself a salad with these vegetables, and use Olive Oil as your dressing. Also eat some pineapple and papaya on those days. The digestive enzymes in those fruits will be beneficial for this process. On Wednesday Evening I want you to come to my house, and we will do one more thing that should help the process along.” I decided not to ask, although I was fairly certain what this would be from last time.

On June 8, I decided to get a head start on Helene’s diet suggestion. She wasn’t asking me to eat less, or to take any questionable supplements. She was only asking me to eat a diet that was higher in fruits and vegetables, drink more water, and replace salad dressing containing fat with pure Olive Oil. I was surprised that by the end of the week I felt like I had more energy and endurance. Maybe I would stay with this diet after the test was over.

On Saturday, June 13—exactly one week before my colonoscopy—I walked in the Koman Race For The Cure, which raised money for breast cancer research. Although this was a different type of cancer than colon cancer, there were two messages that came through loud and clear during the walk: (1) Living a healthy lifestyle will reduce a person’s risk of getting cancer in the first place; (2) If a person does get cancer, the sooner it is diagnosed the better chances for survival. This reinforced my realization that I was doing the right thing by having the colonoscopy  

When Dr. Niesen found the polyp in 2007, I stated that I would do whatever is necessary to get properly screened for colon cancer in the future. Dr. Niesen is an excellent doctor. Every one of the staff members who I had contact with at Saint Mary’s Endoscopy Unit were excellent. So why on the evening of Monday, June 15 (just 5 days before the colonoscopy) did I suddenly start to get nervous about this test while I was at the bowling alley? I wouldn’t seriously consider doing something stupid like trying to cancel the test. Would I?

I needed to get out of this mindset right now. When I got home from the bowling alley I got into my E-mail account and sent E-mails to three people asking them to tell me that (1) I was doing the right thing and; (2) I would do just fine with the test. One of those people was a Licensed Practical Nurse named Sophia, who I mentioned earlier in this article. Her father died of colon cancer in 2007. The second person was a Registered Nurse named Jo Ann, who works at a cancer center. The third person was a 34 year old lady who was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 27. She is now cancer free, and runs a not for profit organization that helps people who have been diagnosed with this disease. All three of these people responded to my E-mail in a positive way, giving me encouragement.

On Wednesday evening I arrived at Helene’s house, hoping that I would not regret this visit. Helene and Angie greeted me at the door. Angie was a friend of Helene’s who I had met a few weeks earlier at Helene’s birthday party. Angie worked as a reflexologist on the side. Helene asked me how her diet suggestion was working. I said, “I feel like I have a lot more energy with this diet. Whether it will help me when it comes time to do the prep on Friday, I guess the jury is still out on that one.”

Helene said, “Angie and I are going to give you two enemas to help with the cleaning out process.” Based on my visit to Helene before my last colonoscopy I kind of figured that may be the case, although I was hoping that would not be what she had in mind. I said, “Before we start we need to set some ground rules. If I say stop, then you stop. No questions. No arguments. No negotiations. Stop means stop.” Helene said, “That is understood. But I don’t think you will have any problems. Remember last time when you started to get cramps, I massaged your abdomen, and that really helped? Well this time I will start the abdominal massage right away, so the discomfort will never start. While this is happening, Angie will be doing reflexology on your hands and feet, paying particular attention to the areas which affect the intestines. Those two procedures together will insure that you feel very little in the way of cramps.

Helene and Angie had me lying on a massage table, and brought in something that looked like a glorified hot water bottle. I was expecting the worst, but thanks to the abdominal massage and the reflexology, there was very little discomfort during the enema. Other than a little momentary discomfort in my hands and feet, when Angie pressed a little too hard on the reflex points.  Helene said, “I’ll bet that if Angie and I were with you during the colonoscopy and performed our abdominal massage and reflexology, you would be able to go through the procedure without any sedation.” I said, “You will never be able to prove it or disprove it by me, because I would never even think to try that”.

On Thursday I walked into the office of my co-worker Bridgit. I said, “Can I ask you to give me a pep talk about something?” She said, “Isn’t this a role reversal? Aren’t you the one who usually gives me a pep talk?” I said, “Not always. You’ve given me a few good pep talks when I really needed them. Let me explain what is going on.”

After explaining the situation to Bridgit she said, “OK, let’s look at it this way. Three things. First, you are 59 years old. Second, you have a family history of colon cancer. Third, your doctor found a polyp during your last colonoscopy. There is no way that you should not have this colonoscopy. Finally, you admit that your doctor and the staff at Saint Mary’s Endoscopy Unit are really great at their jobs. So stop being nervous and you will do just fine.” That’s what I wanted to hear.

On Thursday evening I ate a large turkey dinner at Deluxe Diner, knowing this would be the last solid food that I would eat before the test was over on Saturday. Later that evening my dentist, Dr. Pagano, took me and some of his other patients to the circus. That was a good opportunity for me not to think about Saturday’s exam.

I took off work on Friday, June 19—the day before the colonoscopy. I went to the grocery store and purchased my clear liquid diet for the day. This consisted of apple juice, banana juice, and pear juice. I then went to the health food store and purchased some ginger flavored carbonated water, and some Ginger Beer. (Which as I discussed earlier contains no alcohol, despite the word “beer”.)

I had my colonic irrigation appointment at 9:30. The procedure was performed by a therapist named Karen. The procedure went very smoothly, as I felt no discomfort at all. Plus Karen was a very interesting person to talk to. So that may have helped to take my mind off of what was going on. Afterwards Karen wished me good luck with the test.

After checking into the hotel I started drinking the liquid prep. I had assumed that it was Colyte, but when I opened the box I realized that it was some other brand of liquid prep. And unlike Colyte, which required drinking a gallon, this brand only required drinking two quarts (one half gallon). I didn’t care much for the taste, which was sort of a cross between Kool Aid and salt water. I didn’t have any unexpected negative side effects, other than some very brief mild stomach cramps, plus spending most of the night running into the bathroom.

I awoke at 5:00 in the morning on Saturday, and killed a few hours watching television. Harriett picked me up at 7:00 and drove me to the hospital. I filled out some forms and was given a brief interview of my medical history etc. When I was in the waiting room I said, “Harriett, if I decide to get up and walk out of here, you won’t let me do that, will you?” Harriett asked, “Why would you try to walk out of here?” I said, “You know, like if I get nervous or something.” Harriett replied, “Don’t be getting nervous. You admit that you’ve had the test before and didn’t have any problems.”

Around 7:40 a Registered Nurse  , asked me to come inside. As I followed Sharon inside, Harriett wished me good luck with the test.Sharontook me to a curtained off area, where there was a table with some IV equipment attached. She told me to get undressed, put on a hospital gown, and lie down on the table.

A few minutes later Sharon came in with another Registered Nurse who she introduced as Mary. She said, “I will start your IV, and Mary will assist Dr. Niesen during the colonoscopy.” I said, “Sharon, I’m starting to get scared. I’ve been nervous about this test all week long, although I can’t figure out why.”Sharonsaid, “We don’t want you to be nervous. Take some deep breaths, think happy thoughts, and just loosen up.”

I felt a brief stick when Sharon inserted the needle. That was no big deal, but when I was hooked up to the monitor it showed that my heart rate was way too fast. I knew that it was probably caused by the fact that I was nervous, but how could I calm down when I heard the machine making this loud beeping noise, to remind me that my heart was beating too fast? Do you see the Catch 22 situation that I was in?

Around 9:30 Mary came in and said that it was time to go into the Endoscopy Room to begin the colonoscopy. She wheeled me into the Endoscopy Room, where I saw the monitor and the colonoscope. Dr. Niesen entered the room a few minutes later. She asked, “What is going on with your heart rate?” I said, “I’m scared. I’ve been nervous about this test all week, and there is no good reason for it. I’ve had the test three times and every one has been a very easy procedure. You’re a great doctor. The staff here is excellent. Intellectually there is no good reason for me to be nervous. But today my emotions seem to be overriding my intellect.” Dr. Niesen said, “When I start the sedatives hopefully your heart rate will drop. If that doesn’t happen I won’t be able to do the test. Roll over onto your left side, and let’s see what we can do.” I rolled over, and that was the last thing that I remembered.

When I woke up Dr. Niesen was standing at my bedside. I asked how the test results looked. She said, “I was not able to finish the test. I got about one third of the way through, and had to stop because your heart rate would not come down. I’m taking you into the Emergency Room.” I said, “Forget that. Just let me get dressed and I’ll go on home.” Dr. Niesen said, “That is not an option. I’m your doctor, and I am your friend, and I will not allow you to endanger yourself like that.” I said, “You’re right. Take me to the Emergency Room.”

Dr. Niesen took me into the Emergency Room, where a group of doctors and nurses immediately began working on me. They gave me some medication through an IV which they said would help to reduce my heart rate, hooked me up to some sort of a machine, and drew some blood from me. It wasn’t long before my heart rate dropped to normal. They told me that one of their top cardiologists, Dr. Lisa Reis, was being assigned to my case, and that she would be in to see me in a few minutes.

Several minutes later Dr. Reis came in and introduced herself. I said, “What is going on here? I came in for a colonoscopy, and suddenly I’m in the Emergency Room with a heart problem.” Dr. Reis said, “The colonoscopy did not cause the heart problem. I understand that over the years you have had EKG’s, stress tests, and echocardiograms, that have all come back with normal results. These are good tests, but they are not foolproof. The fact that this happened merely because you were nervous about a test means that there was a heart problem that had never been diagnosed. That being the case, don’t you think it was good that we found it out now when you were in the hospital, rather than having it surface when you were someplace where no medical help would be available?” I had to admit that she was correct on this point. Having the colonoscopy that morning may have saved me from a future heart attack.

A Registered Nurse walked up to my bed and said, “I am the Head Nurse on the Third Floor Cardiology Step Down Unit. Just as soon as a bed is available we will be taking you up there.” I said, “You mean for a few hours of tests?” The nurse said, “No. I mean you will be staying here overnight.” I said, “No, I am not staying in the hospital overnight.” The nurse said, “Yes you are.” By this time Harriett had been allowed in the Emergency Room, and she was standing at my bedside. She looked at me and said, “You need to listen to what the doctors and nurses are telling you. They are only interested in what is best for you.”

I said, “OK, I am willing to stay one night. But tomorrow I am leaving no matter what. I need to be back at work on Monday.” The nurse said, “You will stay here as many days as are necessary, until either Dr. Niesen or Dr. Reis decide it is safe for you to leave.” My response to that statement was not fit to be printed. But the nurse wasn’t about to be deterred. She said, “If you really want to leave we can’t stop you. It is your right to leave any time you want. But that right isn’t going to do you much good if you are lying on the floor dead from a heart attack.” I glanced over at Harriett, whose nod of the head suggested that I would do well to follow this advice. I said to the nurse, “You just won this argument.  I’ll go upstairs with you, I’ll stay as long as is necessary, and I won’t cause any more trouble. And thank you for having the courage to insist that I do the right thing, rather than the easy thing.”

When I arrived on the Third Floor, I was once again hooked up to an IV, had some more blood drawn, given an EKG, and had a portable machine hooked up to my chest which would give a constant read out of my heart activity.

I’ve always had a great deal of respect for people who work in the health care field. And my stay in the hospital only increased that respect. This is a job which requires a great deal of technical knowledge, people skills, time management, ability to deal with difficult patients (like myself!), and the ability to correctly make split second decisions which may not be reversible.

Later that afternoon Dr. Niesen and Dr. Reis came into my room. There is a certain feeling of security with having two very fine doctors working together on your case. They explained that I had atrial fluttering. Left untreated this can cause some serious problems. However, if I take the medicine that they would be giving me when I leave, and follow their guidelines, I should be just fine. They listened to my heart, and mentioned that the last round of tests performed earlier that day all came back normal.  I said, “So tell me this. With this condition will I be able to play the violin?” Dr. Reis said, “Of course you will.” I said, “That’s great. I’ve never been able to play the violin before.” Dr. Niesen laughed and said, “Listen to the comedian here. He must be feeling better if he is telling those kinds of jokes.”

I did stay in the hospital overnight. More tests and more blood drawings. I don’t like needles, but the staff was so good at drawing blood that I hardly felt a thing. It did get rather boring being confined to bed with nothing to do but watch TV and stare at the four walls. But I wasn’t going to complain. It was a small price to pay to get better. I was happy to hear that all of the subsequent tests came back normal.

On Sunday Morning Dr. Niesen came to see me. She gave me a printout of what I needed to do when I left the hospital, along with a prescription for the medicine that I would be taking. She also told me to call both her office and Dr. Reis’s office to schedule follow up visits.

I said, “Dr. Niesen, I want to ask you a favor. Understand that this is a great hospital. The staff is wonderful, and they have about the best hospital food that I’ve ever tasted. They could teach the restaurants a thing or two. But I would really appreciate it if you could see your way to letting me go home today.” I gave her a look which I hoped would say, “Work with me on this.” Dr. Niesen appeared to be giving it some thought then said, “Well what are you waiting for? Get dressed and get out of here. I’ll write a discharge order and turn it into the nurse’s station.” I said, “Thanks! You’re the best! Oh, and if you could have somebody come in and remove my IV. I’m afraid that if I try to do it I may bleed to death.” As Dr. Niesen was walking out of my room I said, “One more thing. Do you think that we can postpone the colonoscopy until next year?” Dr. Niesen said, “No. We will be doing the test again later this summer.” I said, “OK, I can live with that. And I promise you that next time I will be a braver person about the test.”

After my IV was removed I got dressed and made my rounds (not to be confused with a doctor’s rounds) telling the staff members goodbye, thanking them for everything that they did for me and wishing them the best of luck.

I then walked to the front desk to see Michelle. She said, “I guess that you are all ready to leave.” I said, “Not quite. There is one more thing that I need to do.” Michelle said, “I can’t imagine what that would be. It looks to me like everything is in order.” I looked directly at Michelle and said, “I want to apologize for the way that I talked to you yesterday. I had no right whatsoever to say the things that I said to you.” Michelle laughed and said, “Don’t worry about it. When people are sick they often say things that they don’t really mean. I’ve already forgotten about it.” I said, “Yeah, but I haven’t forgotten about it. You and every other staff person on this floor are very fine people. Now you’d better get me out of here before I start to cry.”

I found it somewhat ironic that I was standing on a cardiology floor where I had just received a host of heart related tests, and was wearing a shirt which said, “Law Enforcement Run.” Hardly the type of shirt you would expect to see a cardiology patient wearing. As it happened, I didn’t actually run in that event. I got the shirt from a former co-worker whose husband worked for the Missouri State Highway Patrol. However, less than four weeks earlier I did successfully complete a 6 mile run. How did I go from there to here in such a short amount of time? Then again, there have been Marathon Runners who have died from heart attacks. So I guess it happens.

On my way home I stopped off at Walgreens to get my prescription filled for the heart medicine. When I arrived home and walked into the house, I found it hard to believe that so much had happened in just a little over 24 hours. I resolved to follow Dr. Niesen’s and Dr. Reis’s instructions to the letter, so that I would have no more problems. They are both great doctors, and I was lucky to be their patient.

That evening I got on the computer and found an E-mail from Bridgit at work. It was sent on Friday Evening. It said, “As we discussed at work yesterday, don’t be nervous about the colonoscopy on Saturday. You will do just fine.” I wasn’t looking forward to facing Bridgit on Monday, and telling her what actually happened.  The reality is that I wasn’t convinced that at least some of the rapid heartbeat on Saturday Morning wasn’t caused by my fear of the test. And if that was the case, then I should be ashamed of myself.

On the evening of Tuesday, June 23, I wrote a number of letters. These letters were sent to Dr. Niesen, Dr. Reis, the Endoscopy Staff, the staff of the Third Floor where I was a patient, and the Emergency Room Staff. Each letter offered my thanks for everything that they did for me. I also wrote a letter to the President of Saint Mary’s Hospital (William Jennings), telling him about my positive experiences in the hospital.

So I guess that before the summer is over I will be updating this article to also talk about my fifth colonoscopy.

NOTE: To be continued in Part 3

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MY COLONOSCOPY EXPERIENCES — PART 1

MY COLONOSCOPY EXPERIENCES  —PART 1

INTRODUCTION

Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Every year more than 50,000 people die from colon cancer. The sad part is that colon cancer is easy to cure—but only if it is caught in the early stages. And colon cancer is easy to detect—but only if you are willing to undergo the proper screening. The best screening for colon cancer is a colonoscopy.

The problem is that too many people would rather risk colon cancer than get the necessary screening to detect it. I know, because I used to be one of those people. When my doctor first suggested that I have a colonoscopy I said, “Absolutely not!”  But then she explained why it was in my best interest to have the test—the benefits of having it, and the risks of not having it. My original answer of “Absolutely not” eventually changed to “Maybe—Let me think about it”, and finally to “Sure—Let’s do it.”

This article tells the true story of my colonoscopy exams. The first one that I received in 1997, the second one that I received in 2002, the third one that I received in 2007, the fourth one that I received in 2009, the fifth one that I also received in 2009, and the sixth one that I received in 2013. Two colonoscopies in the same year? You’ll have to read the article to understand why that happened.

Why am I writing this article? To improve my typing skills. Just kidding! My hope is that this article will cause some people to be screened for colon cancer who would otherwise not have done so. If I can accomplish this for even one person, it means that I may have saved a life. And that’s as close as I’ll ever come to doing something heroic.

While I was trying to decide whether or not to have the test, I heard some real horror stories about colonoscopies. They simply weren’t true. The actual test was much easier than I ever imagined possible. And I’m not a brave person. If I can do it, anybody can do it.

My first colonoscopy convinced me that the test is nothing to be afraid of. My second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth colonoscopies reaffirmed this. My third and sixth colonoscopies probably saved my life. And my fourth colonoscopy probably also saved my life—but not the way you may have expected.

So do yourself a favor. If your doctor recommends that you have a colonoscopy, say yes. If your doctor doesn’t bring up the subject, you bring it up first. Ask your doctor what type of colon cancer screening you should have. And suppose your doctor already recommended a colonoscopy, and you said “no way”? Then do what I did. Call your doctor and ask if it would be OK to change your mind and correct a mistake that you made.

ABOUT ME

For reasons of privacy and confidentiality, I have chosen not to mention my name in this article. But I will tell you a little about myself. I’m a 63 -year-old man who lives in St. Louis,Missouri.  I try to keep myself in good health. I get annual physical exams, don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol, exercise regularly, and eat a sensible diet. My physical exams have always produced good results.

ABOUT MY DOCTOR

I’ve been going to the same doctor since 1983—Anna Niesen MD. Dr. Niesen’s specialties are Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology. However, it wasn’t until 1997 when I first had the opportunity to make use of Dr. Niesen’s skills in Gastroenterology. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate Dr. Niesen at a 12. She is an excellent doctor who really cares about her patients.

WHY I DECIDED TO WRITE THIS ARTICLE

 

Shortly after I had my first colonoscopy in 1997, I happened to mention to Dr. Niesen the fact that all of the articles on what to expect from a colonoscopy were written by medical professionals. I said that it would be nice if a layperson could write an article telling what to expect before, during, and after a colonoscopy. Dr. Niesen said, “Why does someone else have to do it? Since it is your idea why can’t you do it?”

So I did. I wrote an article about my colonoscopy experience. I later updated the article in 2002 to include my second colonoscopy, in 2007 to include my third colonoscopy, and in 2009 to include both my fourth and fifth colonoscopies.

Over the years I’ve given copies of the article to health care professionals who deal with patients who may get this test, as well as lay people who are considering having or already have decided to have the test, and want to know what to expect.

MY FIRST COLONOSCOPY

It all began on March 21, 1997.  That day I visited Dr. Niesen for my annual physical exam. Afterwards, she wrote me an order for the annual blood tests that I have done in a nearby lab. She then said, “Everything looks fine, as usual. However, there is one thing in your family background that has me concerned. Your grandmother had colon cancer. With a family history of colon cancer, we have to be more aggressive in screening for that disease than if the family history didn’t exist.” I knew where this conversation was going, and I didn’t like it. She was going to suggest that I have a proctoscopic exam. This consists of inserting a flexible lighted tube into the rectum and lower colon to search for colon cancer. I had never had a proctoscopic exam, but I’ve known people who had. They described the procedure as very uncomfortable.

When Dr. Niesen told me what she actually had in mind, I suddenly wished that she had suggested a proctoscopic exam. What she had in mind was a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is similar to a proctoscopic exam, except that the scope goes much deeper—the entire length of the colon. People I knew who had this test described it as a really horrible procedure.

I already disliked the idea, and I started to like it even less when Dr. Niesen gave me a handout of the procedures to be followed the day before and the morning of the exam. The day before the test I was to eat (or should I say drink) only a clear liquid diet. The afternoon before the test I would drink a gallon of a powerful laxative called Colyte, which would keep me running to the bathroom for 4 or 5 hours. The morning of the exam I would take a plain water enema before reporting to the hospital. At the hospital, I would be hooked up to an IV (Intravenous line), before the colonoscopy began.

I didn’t want to go on a clear liquid diet for a whole day. I’d probably be starved. Nor did I want to drink a gallon of a powerful laxative. I’d never before taken so much as a teaspoon of a mild laxative. Equally bad was having to take an enema. The last time that I had an enema was in the hospital at the age of 9. It was a painful procedure that I didn’t want to repeat. Finally, I didn’t want to be hooked up to an IV. I’d never had an IV, but I’ve been at the bedside of hospital patients who had them inserted. The looks on their faces told me that they were in pain. I told Dr. Niesen that I didn’t want to have this test, but she reminded me of the importance of being properly screened for colon cancer.

Over the weekend I visited a medical school library, and read some medical journal articles on colonoscopies. What I read only served to convince me that I really didn’t want to have this test. I decided that the best way to handle the situation was to get the blood tests that Dr. Niesen ordered, and just “forget” about the colonoscopy. With all of the patients that Dr. Niesen had, she’d never know if one of her patients forgot to have one test that she ordered.

Because I had been busy at work, it was late May before I got around to going in for the blood tests. On June 13 (it was a Friday 13), I got a call from Sandy, one of the nurses in Dr. Niesen’s office. She said that the blood tests were all normal. Just when I thought that the conversation was over Sandy asked, “So when are you going to schedule an appointment for the colonoscopy that Dr. Niesen ordered for you?” I told Sandy that I had heard and read enough bad things about colonoscopies that I would just as soon not have the test.Sandyreplied, “I think that you’re exaggerating a bit. The preparation for the exam can be kind of rough, but the test itself is no big deal.  Besides, with a family history of colon cancer it’s important that you be properly screened for that disease. And when it comes to screening for colon cancer, nothing can compare to a colonoscopy.  Before you flat out refuse the test I wish that you would at least give the matter some serious consideration.”

Over the weekend I gave the matter a lot of consideration, and suddenly felt rather ashamed of myself. For over two months I had been making excuses why I shouldn’t have the test, rather than just setting up an appointment and getting it over with. I didn’t think that I had inherited colon cancer from my grandmother. But I suddenly realized that it was possible. I decided that first thing Monday Morning I was going to call Dr. Niesen’s office and ask Sandy to set me an appointment for a colonoscopy.

When I called Dr. Niesen’s office on Monday, I learned that Sandy was on vacation for the week. So I asked John (the office manager) to set me an appointment for a colonoscopy. John told me to report to the Endoscopy Unit of St. Mary’s Hospital on Saturday, July 12, at 8:00 a.m. He then reiterated the instructions which were on the handout that I got from Dr. Niesen. One good thing came out of this discussion. The handout that I got from Dr. Niesen said to take a plain water enema the morning of the exam. John said that if I drank the entire gallon of Colyte I could skip the enema. At least this would be one indignity that I wouldn’t have to suffer.

During the next few weeks I found myself mentally going back and forth as to whether or not I was doing the right thing by having this test. Some days I would be convinced that I was doing the right thing. Other days I would begin to have serious doubts. On Tuesday, July 8—four days before the scheduled exam—I was telling a friend about the upcoming test. She said, “You’re making a big mistake. My father had that test several months ago. He said that it was very uncomfortable. Plus the fact that he was sick for several days afterwards.” I told my friend how Sandy had said that the test was no big deal, plus the fact thatSandyhadn’t said one word about getting sick afterwards. My friend replied, “Of course not. They won’t tell you that because they want you to have the test.”

Now I was really confused. Should I go through with the test or just forget about it. The following morning I called Dr. Niesen’s office and expressed my concerns to Sandy. I asked, “How can any test that’s so invasive not be painful?”Sandyreplied, “Because you’ll be under conscious sedation. You’ll barely know what is happening.” At the time I assumed that I was only being given conscious sedation because I had expressed fear about the test. I later learned that Dr. Niesen, along with most other doctors, always use conscious sedation during colonoscopies. The only exception is if the patient specifically asks not to be sedated. In that case, the doctors will go out of their way to convince the patient to change their mind.

I then told Sandy what my friend said about being sick afterwards. She responded, “ I suppose that could happen if the test isn’t given properly. But Dr. Niesen has been giving this test for over 20 years, and knows how to do it very gently. And Dr. Niesen won’t be giving the test alone. She will have a Registered Nurse assisting her. The nurses at St. Mary’s Endoscopy Unit are the most competent, compassionate, health care workers that I have ever met.” That was the turning point. At that moment I decided that I was going through with the test, and this time there would be no more second-guessing. Forget what my friends said, and forget what the medical journals said. I was going to listen to Dr. Niesen.

I suddenly realized that I had two important decisions to make. The first decision was where to go when it came time to drink the Colyte. I don’t live alone, and I frequently have visitors drop by unannounced. Once I started drinking the Colyte, I’d be running to the bathroom for 4 or 5 hours, and I didn’t want to do this with other people around. I called the Cheshire Inn, and reserved a room for Friday and Saturday. The Cheshire Inn is located about two blocks from St. Mary’s Hospital, so I could easily walk to and from the hospital on Saturday Morning.  

The second decision that I had to make was whether or not to have an enema the morning of the test. The handout that I got from Dr. Niesen said to take an enema the morning of the exam. John said that if I drank the entire gallon of Colyte I could skip the enema. But suppose I couldn’t finish the Colyte? In that case, having the enema could mean the difference between successfully completing the test, or having to go through it a second time. Under the circumstances, I decided to go ahead and have the enema.

I didn’t want to try to give an enema to myself, for fear of causing an injury. So I decided to hire a private duty nurse. I opened the Yellow Pages, and selected Delmar Gardens Home Health Care. The reason why I selected them was because I knew that they were related to Delmar Gardens Nursing Home. I had an aunt and uncle who had spent time in Delmar Gardens Nursing Home, and I was very impressed with the excellent care that they both received.  When I called Delmar Gardens Home Health Care, I was transferred to Theresa Jones, the patient coordinator. I asked Ms. Jones if she could send a nurse to the Cheshire Inn on Saturday Morning at 6:30 a.m. to give me a cleansing enema. Ms. Jones said that finding somebody to work at this odd hour on such short notice would be difficult. Nevertheless, she promised to do everything possible to find somebody. She suggested that I call back on Friday to see if her efforts had been successful.

I took off work the day before the exam.—Friday, July 11. I went to the grocery store and purchased my clear liquid diet for the day — this consisted of apple juice, white grape juice, and lime flavored carbonated water. I then purchased the Colyte from St. Mary’s Pharmacy. After checking into the hotel I called Delmar Gardens Home Health Care to see if Theresa Jones had found a nurse to give me the enema. Ms. Jones said that she had been unable to find a nurse’s aide or a licensed practical nurse to work at the requested time. She did find a registered nurse, but warned me that the price would be much higher. The price that she quoted me sounded reasonable. (It was less than I was expecting to pay.) So I told her to go ahead.

I started drinking the Colyte at 3:30 in the afternoon. The next few hours were kind of rough, having to make repeated trips to the bathroom. However, the procedure wasn’t as bad as I had feared. I didn’t experience any of the nausea, dizziness, or cramps that the medical books said occasionally resulted from drinking Colyte. 

Later that evening I got a telephone call from Linda, the Registered Nurse who would be giving me the pre-exam enema the following morning. She explained how the procedure would work. She said that enemas can be uncomfortable, and that I’d probably experience a lot of cramping. Despite this caveat, she seemed like a really nice person, and promised to do everything possible to minimize the discomfort.

I awoke at 5:00 on Saturday Morning, and didn’t even try to go back to sleep. Linda arrived at 6:30 as promised.  She had me fill out some forms, took my vital signs, then said, “I’d like for you to undress below the waist and lie on the bed on your left side.” As I lay on the bed I wondered which would be worse, the discomfort or the embarrassment of the procedure.

Linda returned several minutes later, carrying a disposable plastic enema bucket filled with 1 ½ liters of warm water. Linda ran the water in very slowly, giving me progress reports—how much I had taken, and how much I still had to go. I took the entire solution with only minimal discomfort. She then asked me to hold the water in for 10 minutes. After about 5 minutes the cramps started to get pretty bad, so I was able to talk Linda into letting me go to the bathroom after 7 minutes.

I then got dressed and walked the two blocks to St. Mary’s Hospital. As I was checking in at the Registration Desk I suddenly began to get nervous. Up until now this test was just something to deal with in the future. Suddenly the future was here. I was instructed to undress and put on a hospital gown. I was then introduced to the three Registered Nurses who would be working with me that morning—Judy, Kathy, and Carol. Judy and Kathy would start the IV, while Carol would assist Dr. Niesen during the colonoscopy. I told the nurses how Sandy had spoken very highly of them. I then mentioned that I had never had an IV or a colonoscopy, and admitted that I was rather nervous about both procedures. The nurses assured me that they would do everything they could to make both procedures as easy as possible.

Judy and Kathy had me lie on a bed where an IV Bag was set up. While Judy inserted the IV Needle into my right arm, Kathy held my left hand and gave me an encouraging smile. I felt a brief stick, and that was the extent of the discomfort. The metal needle was replaced with a plastic shunt. This meant no lingering pain, and none of the black and blue marks that sometimes result from IV insertions. I even had full range of motion of my hand and arm. Judy explained that the IV Bag contained a saline solution, which would be replaced with medication once the colonoscopy began.

As I waited for the test to begin I engaged some of the other patients in conversation. In a way, I was luckier than they were. When their test was over they would be returning to their hospital room. When my test was over, I would be returning to the hotel. At 9:30 Carol said that it was time to begin the colonoscopy, and introduced me to a man named Dr. Lee. I looked suspiciously at Dr. Lee and said, “I thought that Dr. Niesen was supposed to be performing this test.”  He said, “She is. I’m an Intern who will be assisting her. If that’s OK with you.” I replied that would be fine.

I was wheeled into a semi-dark room where Dr. Niesen was waiting. In the middle of the room I noticed a TV Screen or computer monitor—I wasn’t sure which. Off to the side I glimpsed an object that I suspected was the colonoscope. I decided not to look at it, for fear that if I saw the size I would change my mind. I asked Dr. Niesen if she thought that I would ever go through with this test. She said, “No, I really didn’t. But I’m glad that you decided to do so. Now I’d like you to roll over onto your left side.” I rolled over and noticed that I was quite scared. The test was about to begin. Dr. Niesen said, “Carol is going to add some sedatives to your IV. When you wake up, it will all be over.”

That was the last thing that I remember before waking up in the Recovery Room. Kathy was standing at my bedside and told me that the test was over. I was kind of sleepy from the sedatives, but otherwise felt fine. There was no pain or discomfort. And I didn’t feel sick. I asked Kathy how the test results looked. She said, “Why don’t you ask Dr. Niesen.” That’s when I noticed that Dr. Niesen was in the room.  She gave me a thumbs up and said that everything looked fine. There was no indication of cancer or any other abnormalities. The dreaded IV and colonoscopy proved to be no big deal. Plus I had the peace of mind of knowing that I didn’t have colon cancer. Not to mention the fact that I got to meet several really nice people that morning.

About 20 minutes later I felt well enough to walk back to the hotel, but the Nursing Staff insisted that I not do so. The called a taxicab so that I wouldn’t have to exert myself. (Back in 1997 it was acceptable for colonoscopy patients to leave the hospital in a taxicab. Today they are not allowed to leave in a taxicab or other public transportation. Not sure why this changed.)

When I got back to the hotel I noticed that I was very hungry. It had been almost 48 hours since I had eaten any solid food. I made up for it by having a nice prime rib dinner at the hotel’s restaurant.

I decided to spend the night at the hotel. I was still kind of tired from the sedatives, and didn’t want to risk driving home. Plus I thought that it would be a good idea to be close to the hospital, in case something went wrong. As it turned out, however, nothing went wrong. I felt fine when I woke up on Sunday Morning. There was no indication that I had just gone through such an invasive procedure. I alternately ran and walked six miles throughForest Park, ate breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and drove home.

That would be the end of the story about my first colonoscopy, were it not for an incident that took place several months later. I had gone out to eat after bowling one night with some friends. One of the ladies in the group mentioned how her father had died of colon cancer. She described how the last few months of her father’s life were pure torture. She said the doctors told her that if her father had gotten a colonoscopy while the disease was still in the early stages, it could have been easily cured. At that moment I realized two things: (1) I had done the right thing by having the colonoscopy; (2) If I hadn’t gotten the colonoscopy, I would be calling Dr. Niesen the following morning, asking her to set me up an appointment for one as soon as possible.

MY SECOND COLONOSCOPY

We now fast forward almost 5 years to April 11, 2002. That afternoon I visited Dr. Niesen for my annual physical exam. I realized going in there was a chance that Dr. Niesen might order another colonoscopy for me.  When I had my last colonoscopy in 1997, Dr. Niesen said that I would probably be repeating this test every 5 years. If you add 5 plus 1997—-well, you can do the arithmetic.

During the physical exam Dr. Niesen didn’t mention one word about me having another colonoscopy. And I certainly wasn’t going to bring up the subject. When the exam was finished she said, “Everything looks fine. Get dressed, and I’ll meet you out front.” It looked like I had just gotten another year’s reprieve on the colonoscopy.

At the front desk Dr. Niesen said to her nurse named Bonnie, “Give him a slip for the same blood tests that he had last year. And also set him up for a colonoscopy exam.” I said, “Wait a minute. I thought you had forgotten about that. You didn’t say one word about a colonoscopy during the physical exam.” Dr. Niesen said, “That’s because I didn’t want to give you an opportunity to argue about it.” I said, “That was last time. I’m not going to argue this time. All I will ask is that we do the exam on a Saturday. That way I will only have to take off work for one day—Friday for the prep. If we do the exam during the week, then I will have to take off work two days—One day for the prep, and one day for the test.” Dr. Niesen said that would be fine. She frequently performed colonoscopy exams on Saturday. Bonnie set me an appointment for Saturday, June 1. She told me to report to the Endoscopy Unit of St. Mary’s Hospital at 8:00 a.m. She said that the actual colonoscopy would probably begin around 9:30. She gave me a handout of the pre-exam procedures. It looked similar to what I was given last time.

Once again, I reserved a room at the Cheshire Inn for Friday and Saturday of the “exam weekend”. On Friday I could drink the Colyte without having anyone else present. On Saturday I would have an easy walk to the hospital, and a short taxicab ride back after the test. This time there was no second-guessing as to whether or not I should go through with the test. I knew that I was doing the right thing by having the test.

On Saturday, May 4, I attended a health fair. One of the many booths at the fair covered the subject of colon cancer. Several Registered Nurses were running the booth, and handing out literature about colonoscopies. One of the visitors at the booth said, “Forget it. I would never let someone give me a test like that.” I walked up to the man and said, “That’s what I used to think, also. But in 1997 my doctor convinced me to have the test. It was really no big deal. The test came out normal, which gave me a great peace of mind. And if the results had come back with a problem, at least I would have had a better chance for an early cure.” The man asked me to tell him honestly whether or not I would be willing to repeat the test. I said, “I certainly would. I’m having my next colonoscopy exactly 4 weeks from today.” After the man left, the nurses at the booth thanked me for my testimonial.

A few weeks later I was on The Internet, when I decided to see what kind of information was available on the subject of colonoscopies. I found an article written by a Doctor in Texas. He said something that I already knew—The worst part of a colonoscopy isn’t the test itself. It’s drinking the prep liquid. (Such as Colyte.) Then he said something that I didn’t know. He said that you could get by drinking a lesser amount of Colyte by having a colonic irrigation a few hours before you start drinking the Colyte. The Doctor also said that a colonic irrigation would help to reduce some of the negative side effects of Colyte. What exactly is a colonic irrigation? The article described it as sort of a deluxe enema. No thanks! That’s not for me. It’s bad enough that I have to take an enema on the morning of the test.  I’ll just deal with the Colyte the day before.

But then I read the next paragraph and started to have some second thoughts. The article explained that a colonic irrigation had two advantages over an enema. First, a single colonic irrigation will clean you out better than multiple enemas. Second, while enemas can be quite uncomfortable, colonic irrigations produce almost no discomfort. OK, I was starting to get interested. I found a therapist named Cindy, who performed colonic irrigations. I called her, and she set me an appointment for Friday, May 31 (the day before the colonoscopy) at 10:00 a.m.

One week before the exam—Saturday May 25—I attended the funeral of a good friend who died of cancer at the age of 58. It wasn’t colon cancer. Rather, it was lung cancer. Between the fact that he was a heavy smoker, plus the fact that he had resisted going to the doctor until the symptoms got very bad, the cancer was not caught until it was in the late stages.  As I drove out of the cemetery after the funeral, it served as a reminder to me how important it is to live a healthful lifestyle, and get proper screenings for cancer and other diseases.

I took off work on Friday May 31—the day before the colonoscopy. At 10:00 a.m. I had my colonic irrigation appointment. The colonic irrigation was surprisingly easy to take. I lay on a table on my back while Cindy pumped water in and out of my colon for about 45 minutes. While I took several gallons of water during the 45 minutes, only a small amount of water was in me at any one time. The only discomfort I felt was right at the end. Cindy said, “This is going to be your last fill. So this time I would like you to take as much water as you can. When you reach your limit let me know and I will remove it.” Afterwards, Cindy wished me luck on tomorrow’s test. She told me to call her and let her know how the test results turned out.

I purchased the Colyte from Walgreens. Then I went to the grocery store and purchased my “clear liquid diet” for the day. This consisted of apple juice, white grape juice, lime flavored carbonated water, and pear juice. I got the idea for pear juice from an Internet Site. This said that drinking pear juice could help to prevent and/or cure stomach cramps. Since one of the potential side effects of drinking Colyte is stomach cramps, I thought this might be a good idea.

It was around 3:00 when I noticed a side effect of a clear liquid diet that nobody had told me about. I seemed fine on the liquid diet as long as I didn’t exert myself. But as I began to climb a small flight of stairs I suddenly found this to be a real struggle. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to the top. Only 4 days earlier, I had successfully completed a 6-mile run, which included several steep uphill stretches. So it’s not like I was out of shape. I have to assume that the clear liquid diet either didn’t provide enough calories or enough nutrients to give me the energy that I needed. I would have liked to blame this on the Colyte. But I hadn’t started to drink the Colyte yet.

I started to drink the Colyte at 4:00. Thanks to the colonic irrigation, I was able to get by with only drinking about half of the bottle of Colyte. And I had no side effects. At least no unexpected side effects. I did find myself getting up quite a few times at night to run into the bathroom. That plus the fact that I was kind of nervous about the upcoming test made for rather limited sleep on Friday Night.

The final thing that had to be done to prepare for the colonoscopy was to take an enema on Saturday Morning before reporting to the hospital. I set up the plans for this about two weeks before the colonoscopy. I could have probably given the enema to myself. But I was concerned that I might do something wrong, and cause an injury. When I had my last colonoscopy, I contacted Delmar Gardens Home Health Care, who sent out a Nurse named Linda. She performed the procedure with very little discomfort. I was considering calling Delmar Gardens and asking if they could send out Linda again. But there were two problems with this. First, I didn’t know Linda’s last name. Second, I had no idea if Linda was still working for Delmar Gardens. This was, after all, 5 years later.

That’s when I came up with another idea. Last Summer (July 2001) I met a Registered Nurse named Margaret at a holistic health seminar. Margaret mentioned that she worked as a Private Duty Nurse. She gave me some of her business cards, and asked if I would give them out to anyone who might need her services. I rummaged through my desk until I found one of her cards. I gave her a call, and explained the situation.  Margaret said, “Sure, I’d be happy to do that for you. I’ve been giving enemas for over 35 years. When I was in nursing school back in the 1960’s, Registered Nurses got a lot of training in how to give enemas. Not like today, when most nursing schools don’t even teach that procedure.”  I said, “Margaret, as far as I’m concerned the entire procedure could disappear. But right now it’s one of those necessary evils that I need to get through the test.” Margaret replied, “OK, I’ll get off of my soapbox. I’ll drop by your hotel room between 6:30 and 7:00 on Saturday Morning, June 1.

Margaret arrived on Saturday Morning around 7:00. A man who she introduced as Jerry accompanied her. She said, “I’m going to let Jerry give you the enema. He’s studying to be a CNA, and I thought that this would be good practice for him.” I said, “Wait a minute, Margaret. I hired you—A person with over 35 years experience. Not a student who is looking for someone to practice on.” Margaret said, “I just figured that because of the part of the anatomy involved, you would prefer to have this procedure done by a man.” I said, “It’s not a question of a man versus a woman. It’s a question of who is the most qualified person. That’s you.” Margaret said, “OK, I’ll give you the enema.” She opened her handbag and pulled out a 2-liter disposable plastic enema bag.   

Margaret told me to undress and had me lie on the bed in something that seemed like a cross between my left side and my stomach. She called it the left Sims position. As I was receiving the enema I started to get cramps. I said, “I hope that we are almost finished, because I’m starting to get full.” Margaret said, “You’ve only taken about half of it. Try doing some deep breathing through your mouth. That should help reduce the cramps.” That reduced the cramps enough so that I was able to take all of the water. But I could only hold it for a few minutes.

As I was getting dressed I began to feel guilty about my behavior a few minutes earlier. I shouldn’t have jumped on Margaret and insulted Jerry. I’m usually a nicer person than this. Maybe I was on edge because I was nervous about the test.

A few minutes later I began to feel even guiltier about my behavior, when I realized what a nice person Jerry was. He asked me how I planned to get back from the hospital. I stated that I would probably take a taxicab. He said, “You’re not going to take a taxicab. The driver will let you off at the door, and leave you to fend for yourself to get to your room. I’ll drive you back.” I said, “I can’t ask you to do that, Jerry. It could be hours before I’m ready to leave the hospital.” Jerry wrote something on a piece of paper, which he handed to me. He said, “Hold onto this. It’s my cell phone number. Here’s what we will do. Margaret and I will drive you to the hospital. I will walk into the Endoscopy Unit with you, to see where it is. Then I will drive Margaret home, and find something to do for a few hours. When it’s time for you to leave, either call my cell phone number, or else have one of the Hospital Staff do it.”  I offered to pay them extra for this added service, but Margaret and Jerry both refused to take any additional money.

At the Registration Desk I filled out some forms, then was turned over to a Registered Nurse named Theresa.  She took my blood pressure, and asked me some questions about my medical history. My blood pressure was quite a bit higher than it normally is. But Theresa assured me that this was not unusual for patients who were waiting to have this sort of procedure. She told me to undress, put on a hospital gown, and come out to the Holding/Recovery Area.

The hospital gown was one of the new fangled models with all sorts of clamps that I couldn’t seem to figure out. I must have looked pretty ridiculous, because when I walked into the Holding/Recovery Room, several of the nurses started laughing.  A nurse named Laurie said, “Here, let me help you with that gown.” She made some major corrections to the way that I had it put on.  She then said, “I’m sorry that I laughed at you.” I said, “No problem. If you’re laughing, I’m laughing. And if I’m laughing, it means that I’ll be less nervous.”

Looking around the Holding/Recovery Room I saw Ellen—one of the nurses from Dr. Niesen’s Office—tending to a patient. I said, “Good morning, Ellen. It’s nice to see a familiar face.” She said, “In a few hours we will all be familiar faces to you.” I understood what Ellen meant. From my last visit in 1997, I realized that when you come to St. Mary’s Endoscopy Unit you are more than just a patient. You are a patient and a friend. I said, “Ellen, do you think there is any chance that I might get a reprieve?Maybe Dr. Niesen forgot that we had this test scheduled?” Ellen said, “I don’t think that is going to happen. Look behind you.” I turned around and saw Dr. Niesen in a glass-enclosed room. She smiled and waved at me.

Ellen said, “I’m going to go ahead and start your IV. Come over here and lie on the bed. When I was lying on the bed I looked up at the IV bag and the needle, and suddenly began to get scared. I’m not sure why this happened. The last IV that I had—right in this same room—proved to be a very easy procedure. But who can explain human emotions? I needed to buy myself some time, so I said, “Wait a minute, Ellen. Last time they used two nurses for this procedure. One nurse held my hand, while the other nurse inserted the IV needle.” Ellen must have figured what was happening. She squeezed my hand, made eye contact with me, and asked, “Will you be OK with me starting the IV now? Or do you need a few minutes to compose yourself?” The fear went away as suddenly as it had come. I said, “You can go ahead and start it now. But thanks for giving me that option.” I felt a brief stick when Ellen inserted the needle. The discomfort lasted for maybe 2 or 3 seconds. Ellen said, “Now don’t go anywhere.”

Around 9:20 a Registered Nurse walked up to my bed, and introduced herself as Donna. She said, “We’re going into the Endoscopy Room now. I’ll be assisting Dr. Niesen during the colonoscopy.”  I said, “Donna, what are the chances of convincing you to lose me before we get to the Endoscopy Room?” She answered, “Somewhere between slim and none.” Despite my jokes in this area, I really didn’t want the test to be cancelled or postponed. I didn’t want the test to be cancelled, because I knew that it was something that I needed to have done. And I didn’t want it postponed, because that would mean having to go through the prep a second time. As Donna wheeled me out of the room, Laurie and Ellen wished me good luck with the test, and promised to be waiting for me when I returned.

Donna wheeled me into the Endoscopy Room. She pointed out the monitor, and asked if I would like to see the colonoscope. I said,  “No Donna. I really don’t think that would be a good idea. I’m afraid that if I see the size of that thing, I may just change my mind.” Dr. Niesen walked in at that moment and said, “We certainly don’t want that to happen.” I said, “Dr. Niesen, I want you to know that you are a very persuasive person. You are one of the few people who could actually convince me to have this test.” She said,  “There was no convincing involved. I just told you that you were going to do it.”

Dr. Niesen said, “We’ve started the sedatives, so you should start feeling sleepy fairly soon. Go ahead and roll over onto you left side.” For the next few minutes Dr. Niesen, Donna, and I made small talk. I recall Donna telling me about the husband and wife who came in together for a colonoscopy. Each of them asked to have the procedure done without any sedatives. I assured Donna and Dr. Niesen that I would never be that brave. I was starting to feel sleepy, and just hoped that the sedatives would take hold before the colonoscope was inserted—or at least before it got too high. As it turned out, I never did feel the insertion of the scope.

When I woke up in the Holding/Recovery Area, the wall clock showed a few minutes after 11:00. The entire procedure had taken approximately 1-½ hours. I wasn’t sure how much of this time was the actual exam, and how much of the time was sleeping off the sedatives.  Donna, Ellen, and Laurie came over and asked me how I felt. I replied, “Not very well. I’ve got a stomachache.” Donna said, “That’s not too surprising, considering that you just had the scope through your entire colon.  The stomachache will go away in about an hour.” I said, “Donna, there’s no way that this is going to be gone in an hour.”  But Donna was correct. In fact, her estimate was on the high side. The stomachache was actually gone in about 30 minutes. To help me wake up I was instructed to walk around the room, while a man named George held onto me for support.

When I walked out into the front, Jerry was waiting for me. I’m not sure if he just came back to wait, or if one of the Hospital Staff had called him. He shook hands with me, asked me how everything went, and then took me back to my hotel room.  In the room he asked if I would like him to get me something to eat. I said, “That would be great. After having only a clear liquid diet yesterday, and nothing to eat today, I’m starved. How about walking down the street to Carl’s Deli and bringing me back a corned beef sandwich and some cole slaw. And buy yourself something also.”  Jerry asked if I wanted anything to drink. I said, “No thanks. I’ll just finish up the bottles of juice from yesterday.” When Jerry returned with the food he said, “I’m going to take off now. But if you need anything, feel free to call me.”

After eating lunch I noticed that I was feeling very tired. I got in bed and slept for several hours.  I was awaken by the ringing of the telephone around 5:00 in the afternoon. It was Margaret calling to see how I was doing. She asked how the test results had come out. I said, “You know what? In all the excitement I forgot to ask. That should have been my first question when I woke up.” She said, “I wouldn’t worry about it. If there was a problem I’m sure that your doctor would have told you.”

For supper I went downstairs to the hotel’s restaurant and ordered their specialty—prime rib. I realize that prime rib isn’t exactly a healthy food—especially several hours after a colonoscopy. But I figured that I had earned it. I spent the night at the hotel. I was paying for the room for the night anyway. Plus I really felt too tired to try to drive home. I just hoped that I would feel OK when I woke up in the morning.

I felt fine when I woke up on Sunday Morning. If I hadn’t known better, I would have never believed that I had gotten such an invasive procedure less than 24 hours earlier. The last time that I got a colonoscopy, I went out on Sunday Morning and alternately ran and walked 6 miles through Forest Park. This time I didn’t bring along my running shoes. So I settled for walking the 6-mile course through Forest Park. I promised myself that before the summer was over, I would come back and run the entire 6 miles. I then ate breakfast, checked out of the hotel and drove home.

When I got home one of the first things that I did was to go to the kitchen table and write two letters. One letter was to Dr. Niesen. The other letter was to the Staff at St. Mary’s Endoscopy Unit. I offered my thanks for them doing so much to help get me through yesterday’s colonoscopy. I wonder how often doctors and nurses get letters from patients who thank them for performing a colonoscopy! Getting a colonoscopy will never be on my list of favorite things to do. But Dr. Niesen and the Staff at St. Mary’s Endoscopy Unit sure made it a lot easier than I would have ever guessed was possible.

On Monday I began to think about what Margaret had said to me on the telephone—“I wouldn’t worry about it. If there was a problem I’m sure that your doctor would have told you.” Maybe Margaret was right. But suppose she was wrong? Suppose there was a problem that Dr. Niesen didn’t want to discuss while I was still partially under the effects of the sedation?  I suddenly began to worry, and it got worse as the day went on. Every time that the telephone rang I had two opposite feelings. I wanted it to be Dr. Niesen, so that she could tell me that everything was OK. But at the same time I didn’t want it to be Dr. Niesen, for fear that she might tell me there was a problem.

When Dr. Niesen did call I quickly asked, “So what’s the verdict? Good news or bad news?” Dr. Niesen said, “Very good news. Everything looks just fine. No cancer, no polyps, nothing that would indicate a problem.” The relief that flooded through me at that moment was great. I couldn’t have been happier if I had just been told that I won the million-dollar lottery. (Well, I might be exaggerating a little to make that comparison. But I was very happy.)

On the morning of August 10, 2002, I returned toForest Park, and fulfilled the promise that I made to myself on June 2. The one whereby I promised to run the entire 6-mile course before the end of the summer. Afterwards, I ate breakfast in the cafeteria of St. Mary’s Hospital, since it was right around the corner from where my run ended. In case you’re wondering, no I didn’t stop by the Endoscopy Unit to visit. The Staff at St. Mary’s Endoscopy Unit are wonderful people. But a hospital Endoscopy unit isn’t exactly the sort of place that I want to visit without my doctor’s orders.

BETWEEN MY SECOND AND THIRD COLONOSCOPIES

Since the time of my second colonoscopy I would occasionally pull up medical websites on the Internet, just to satisfy my curiosity as to whether anything had changed in this field. Nothing had taken the place of a colonoscopy as the gold standard for detecting colon cancer.

One thing that I did learn from an Internet site was TV Newsperson Katie Couric’s crusade to have more people get tested for colon cancer. This came from a personal tragedy that she suffered. Her husband died of colon cancer at the age of 42, despite the fact that he had none of the risk factors normally associated with colon cancer.

In an attempt to get the word out, in March 2000 Katie Couric had a colonoscopy that was broadcast on live television. Shortly afterwards, the number of people who requested colonoscopies from their doctors dramatically increased. The medical community called this “The Couric Effect”. For some reason I had not heard about any of this at the time that it happened. Rather, I read about it on the Internet three years later.

I did purchase a CD on the subject of colon cancer screening from Katie Couric’s foundation. (I believe it is called NCCRA.) It is hard to watch that CD and not walk away with the realization that a colonoscopy is an important life saving procedure. 

After watching the CD I offered it to a friend who was about my age. When he returned the CD he told me something that I hadn’t known. He said, “You don’t have to sell me on the importance of colon cancer screening. I was diagnosed with colon cancer back in 1983 when I was living in Chicago. I was barely 30 years old at the time. Luckily, it was caught early, and I have remained cancer free ever since. And just to show you what a small world it is, remember the last doctor who Katie Couric interviewed on the CD? That was the same colon-rectal surgeon who diagnosed my colon cancer, and operated on me.”

NOTE: Subsequent colonoscopy exams will be documented in Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 of this article. This article is being broken down into four parts because of the length of the article.

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