A Meet ‘n Greet With My Colon

[Warning:  the following is a description of unspeakable bodily functions that could really turn you off, so all of you males out there who have crushes on me…close your eyes…IJ]

SATURDAY A.M. – A couple of years ago my doctor suggested that since I was over 50, I should have a colonoscopy.  I didn’t think much of it at the time and said “Sure,” so she booked the appointment.  Or rather, she had my name put on the list, because in BC and most of the rest of Canada it takes a long time to get one of those, as well as many other procedures.  Not that I was in a hurry to have it!  The whole conversation pretty much slipped my mind after that, and I didn’t think anything more of it.  But here it is, a full two years after the initial booking and I’m finally scheduled to go into the hospital tomorrow morning.  A Sunday morning 9am appointment, including everything that has to be done beforehand (ahem…the evacuation process, so to speak), is not my idea of a pleasant weekend, but there’s no turning back now.

I should mention that between the time we booked the colonoscopy and now, there was a decision to change all colonoscopies to CT colonographies, a much less intrusive procedure.  If you don’t know what a colonoscopy is, essentially it involves the insertion of a fiber optic camera into the anus, which then winds its way through your bowels on the hunt for polyps, which can be an early sign of colon cancer.  A friend of mine passed away several years ago from colon cancer at the age of 46, but the disease itself is curable if caught early.  A CT colonography is less invasive in that it is basically a CT scan of your colon, and only involves the insertion of carbon dioxide through a small tube inserted into the anus, to expand the colon, which makes it easier to view on the scan.  Either way, the patient has to spend a day and a half “cleansing”.

I received a letter in the mail just over a month ago, describing the procedure, what to do ahead of time and where to go to have it done.  Last week, I went to a pharmacy to pick up a whole array of weird-sounding concoctions that were on my list.  Well, I looked around the aisles for awhile and couldn’t for the life of me find any of them.  There happened to be three pharmacists working, one male and two females…I approached the desk and was REALLY hoping that I could catch the attention of one of the females, but sure enough, it was the male pharmacist who noticed me first.  As I started to stutter the names of the medications on my list, he quickly smiled and gave me a knowing look…in a flash he was under the desk rifling for a kit which contained some of what I needed.  Then he flew around an aisle or two and retrieved the remaining ingredients for me.  I’m sure, like a doctor or nurse, a pharmacist becomes immune to the barrage of embarrassing bodily procedures and functions that come to his attention on a daily basis.  But this was all new to me.

I’ve been lucky in my life to have never been in hospital for anything other than the birth of my two daughters.  To some degree, giving birth tends to be quite enough to get a person over any self-consciousness.  I mean, with everybody poking around down there, the whole thing is pretty much out of your hands, isn’t it?   And you’re in so much pain, you don’t give a rat’s ass what they think anymore.  Just get that thing outta there!!

When I was a kid, I was afraid of doctors…I think it had to do with my mother becoming ill and eventually dying of Hodgkin’s disease. I think I somehow unconsciously associated her death with doctors and hospitals as if they were to blame, and I didn’t really start seeing a doctor until I got pregnant with my first daughter.  After my two daughters were born, I pretty much went back to ignoring the whole doctor thing again, but then I really didn’t need to go anyway.  And though I’ve been lucky when it comes to my health, I realize that as I get older, parts are going to break down, problems are going to surface, and a person just can’t expect to be perfectly healthy forever.  If there is something I can do to prevent or detect a serious illness early, I’m up for it.  So in a few moments I begin the process of prepping for my Sunday morning CT colonography.  Wish me good luck!


I have had a CT colonography and have lived to tell the tale.  I really didn’t feel like sitting here and blogging during the process about my every move, so to speak, but now that it’s over I’ll fill you in.

Saturday was not too bad at first.  I had to mix a concoction including the first cleanser and drink it along with some juice and about 4 or 5 glasses of water.  The instructions said that things would start “happening” within an hour, but it didn’t hit me hard at all at first.  I figured, okay, this is not so bad.  However, as the day progressed and I had to swallow more muck, it got worse.  By the time I was to have my lovely dinner of hot broth, I was pretty much exhausted from running back and forth to the washroom.  That didn’t change much during the night either, so by the next morning at 7am when I had to get up to take the last of my mucky mixtures…I was pretty much ready to get it done with.

I arrived at the hospital a little early which was lucky because they were able to take me in almost immediately.  So began the ritual of changing into the hospital gown, signing a form and having the procedure explained to me.  I was given an IV so that they could give me a medication that would relax the colon, which makes it easier to view.  This medication also raises your heart rate, blurs the vision and dries out your mouth, so it’s serious stuff.  Then I was then taken into the room with the CT scanner, which looks like a giant donut on its side with a table going through it.  I was told to lie down on my side, and up the yin yang went the small tube that delivers the carbon dioxide.  As they were setting things up, the nurse told me that people actually experience quite a bit of  “discomfort” when they are filled up with the carbon dioxide.  Okay, what?  The red flag goes up when they use the word “discomfort”.  Who are they kidding…it’s going to hurt, right??

Well yeah!  It felt like a pretty serious case of gas…my stomach started to gurgle as the carbon dioxide went in, then I felt bloated as if I had just eaten a huge meal…and next came the pain.  I was told to roll over on my back and to raise my arms above my head to prepare for the first scan, which intensified the pain.  A weird, female computer voice said “Breathe in, breathe out.  Now hold it…”   I waited in agony as the scanner started spinning and moving slowly over me.  “Breathe normally.”  Phew!

Once the first scan was done, they had me roll over on my stomach with my hands above my head again.  This position actually felt more comfortable, and they were moving quickly so my “discomfort” wouldn’t go on any longer than necessary.  Finally, the scans were finished and out came the little tube and the carbon dioxide along with it.  What a relief that was.  In so many ways.

The final process was a quick check of my heart rate, which was still a little high.  Well, I wonder why!

The staff were very kind and explained everything they were doing, so I never once felt nervous (except maybe for that “discomfort” part!) and it was all over within about 20 minutes.  I did have to wait an extra ten minutes or so for my heart rate to be normal, but then it was back to the change area for me, out of the hospital gowns and back into my good ol’ clothes.  Ah. 

All in all, the worst part was the day before as I was going through the cleansing part.  But to tell you the truth, the whole process really wasn’t that bad at all, and I feel better having done it.  I hope any of you out there over the age of 50 might consider asking your doctor to book a CT colonography for you.  On the whole, it’s a very small period of unpleasantness that could actually save your life.  As I mentioned earlier I had a friend pass away from colon cancer, and even though she was younger, by the time she knew she had it, it was pretty much over for her.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

Okay, boys, you can open your eyes now 🙂


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Becoming A Caregiver

Older Elderly sister looking down - bangkokImage by Sailing “Footprints: Real to Reel” (Ronn ashore) via FlickrI stood at the door of the men’s washroom in the specialists office yesterday, waiting for my Dad to come out.  We were there for his quarterly checkup, and Dad had to go to the washroom.  It’s not that he can’t go to the washroom by himself.  Actually, it IS that he can’t go to the washroom by himself.  Not at the doctor’s office.  Because every time he comes out the door, he gets lost.  The first time it happened, another man found him wandering down the stairs.  It scared the heck out of me.  So now, every time he has to go, I wait by the door so I can walk back to the waiting area with him.

Yesterday was like any other visit, except for the fact that I suddenly realized how I’ve become somewhat of a caregiver to my parents whenever I am there.  My father is in a care facility because he has Alzheimer’s and my stepmother lives in a townhouse, blind as a bat with a bum heart, a pacemaker, recovering from two broken hips.  I travel over at least once a month to spend two or three days, to help out wherever it is needed.  My sister interacts with them more regularly and deals with more than I do because she lives closer. And between the two of us, we have become their support system.  They have friends who help out as well, but the main part of it is up to the two of us.

It speaks to that reversal of roles that happens once parents become elderly, and I guess the whole transition happened gradually.  But it started to change about six or seven years ago when my stepmother had to have open heart surgery and my father thought she was going to die.  I traveled to the mainland to provide support for my Dad during my stepmother’s surgery and recovery.  He was confused about her condition, and that confusion eventually lead to the diagnosis of dementia, “probably” Alzheimer’s.  My stepmother recovered from her heart surgery, but one thing after another kept happening;  first one broken hip, then the other, then a diagnosis of macular degeneration which slowly blinded her, then a pacemaker, then a hernia operation.  And my father’s dementia was eventually accompanied by kidney disease and prostate cancer.

I found myself going over quite often at first, every two or three weeks as my stepmother recovered.  I kept thinking it was only temporary, but as they both began to struggle through their various physical ailments, I eventually came to realize that traveling there was just going to become part of my routine.  And so it has.

When my father came out of the washroom at the doctor’s office and we sat down in the waiting area, I watched an elderly woman come out of the office and prepare herself to leave the building.  She sat down carefully, placing her cane beside her, and gingerly fingered her purse, looking for the zipper.  It took her awhile to find it, her fingers shaking slightly at the exertion, but when she did, it took her another while to feel and see what she was looking for.  It was a change purse, and she was likely trying to set aside change for the bus.  She had to count through the change several times to make sure she had it right.  Then she began the process of putting her change purse back where she could find it, and slowly zipped up her purse.  When that was finally done, she fumbled for her cane, and eventually was able to lift herself up out of the chair.  Then it was the slow, careful walk to the elevator.

I looked at her and marveled at how much this old woman was doing for herself, how even though it took her so much time and patience, she managed to get herself to and from an appointment in downtown Vancouver.  Who knows how far she had to come and how early in the morning she had to get herself going JUST to GET there.  In the last few years, watching my parents grow older and more dependent on us, I’ve found an appreciation for just how much work it takes to be old. I looked at the elderly lady again and saw myself some day.  I hope.


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