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.”
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.