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The Colonoscopy

By Maggie

Colonoscopy. The dreaded word comes up at my first post aged 50 visit to the doctor. Colonoscopy. You are fifty. It’s time to begin screening. But my doctor is really nice and she’s going to spare me the colonoscopy this time. I just have to do the fecal occult blood test . I leave the office with the test kit, smug in the knowledge that I got off easy.

I collect the fecal samples over a three day period and bring them to the lab. I forget about it. Ten days later, the phone rings and it’s my doctor calling. She never calls…

Seems as if they found some blood in one of my samples and she wants to send me for a colonoscopy. Oh no! I hate medical procedures. Especially ones that beckon off colour jokes.

Be brave. Book your appointment and get it over with. I call the Clinic. They’re quite cheery (after all it isn’t their butt that will be examined). The appointment is booked for 6 weeks later.

How do I get through the next 6 weeks? It doesn’t help that the Globe and Mail is featuring a series on cancer and does a spread on colon cancer. I try not to read the article, then I’m glad I do. Apparently only 2.2 percent of those with blood detected in the fecal occult blood test have a cancer. I take heart that it’s unlikely that I’ll be in that group. After all, there is no history of colon cancer in the family.

The day before the test comes. I begin my preparation at noon by stopping all solid foods. They say that the preparation (and I don’t mean Preparation H) is worse than the actual procedure. I figure that if I get through the preparation it will be smooth sailing from there on in. At 5pm I take the first of two doses of laxative. My 12 year old daughter wants to know all. She sits with me as I pour the Tang-like granules into the 5 oz. of water. She even volunteers to taste it for me. Down it goes. Hey, it wasn’t so bad! I wait for an hour and nothing happens. Another hour passes and then my trips to the bathroom start.

I drink 24 ounces of liquid (Gatorade and apple juice) every hour to make sure that I don’t get dehydrated. It’s really not that bad! I’m not nauseous; just tired from keeping up with the ingestion of liquids and my increasingly frequent trips to the bathroom. I get through the night only waking once. It's 7am the next day and one more dose of the laxative. I’ve made it this far and I can do it!

Before I know it, I’m off to the clinic. I’ve been so busy with my preparation I’ve had little time to worry about the test. The nurse calls me in and explains the procedure. Not that I need to know anything more – I’ve been on every reliable What is a Colonscopy? website there is. I’ve even googled: What does Pico-Salax (the laxative) taste like?

Into the procedure room. They lie me down on an examining table, cover me with a sheet and prep me for the procedure. The doctor injects a sedative and painkiller into a vein in my hand and asks me where I work and how many children I have. Next thing I remember is feeling some strong cramping (like very bad menstrual cramps) and hearing the doctor say that he’s finished. Other than that I have no recollection of the procedure. I can’t remember how I go to the recovery room, but suddenly I’m there, chatting with the other patients. I’m so groggy I don’t even think to ask if everything is ok.

The doctor comes in and tells me that all went well and my colon is good and healthy. He says to come back for a repeat test in five years. I come home, still a little disoriented, but relieved that the procedure is over and I don’t have cancer. My husband makes me something to eat. I’m a bit crampy as I digest but nothing to complain about. I rest for a few hours and wake in time to catch the last half hour of Oprah. By supper time I’m back to my old self, advocating the test to friends and family.

If you’ve hit fifty, do yourself a favour and ask your doctor to order a colonoscopy. It’s really not that bad. Colon cancer is the only internal cancer that can actually be prevented. In fact it’s almost 97% preventable when detected early.

I’ll be back at the clinic in 5 years.

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