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.
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.