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  Tuesday January 27th, 2015    

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Happy Endings (03/06/2005)
By Linda Lewis

Listen up, baby boomers. It's time to learn a thing or two about something that could save your life.

When my doctor recommended a colonoscopy I suddenly sat up very straight, cringed and made a tortured expression, then meekly submitted to my fate. We set up an appointment and the wheels were set in motion. I had heard of this procedure and had pictured things happening to me that I will not describe here.

After it was all over, I was approached by five people the next day at work, each of them waiting until nobody else was in earshot, asking me what a colonoscopy was all about. Most said their doctors told them that they would need one sooner than later. It is for them and for all of you out there who are my age, fifty-something plus or minus a few years, that I write this article.

Colonoscopy is the stuff that urban legends are made of. I am here to tell you that there is a very good reason the mythbusters have not included colonoscopy on their show. It's too boring.

Early screening and detection are the ways you beat cancer. Here is what you can expect. This is based solely on my own experience, but it's probably typical.

Schedule the procedure at a time when you can take the entire day off work, and leave work by 3 p.m. the previous day. Allow time to get to the pharmacy to pick up the laxative treament prescribed. You'll be getting sedated, so you must arrange a designated driver to get you to and from the hospital, and a responsible adult to be at home with you until the following morning.

Don't count on taking a cab home by yourself. You are not allowed to use public transportation unless you have a responsible adult along with you.

Three to five days ahead of time you talk to a nurse who gives you some typewritten pages of instructions. About 3 days ahead of time you stop eating fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, popcorn, and other foods which are good roughage, high in crude fiber. One day ahead of your colonoscopy you go on a liquid diet that allows clear broth, jello, and many beverages except (attention Red Hat Society) nothing red or purple!

The nurse at the hospital will call you again a day ahead and reiterate instructions and tell you when to show up. The nurse will also give you a time to stop taking anything by mouth. The written instructions said midnight. The nurse gave me until 4:30 a.m. to have water only.

Also, one day ahead, you will take laxatives to get cleaned out. My schedule was 3 p.m., 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. I was all cleaned out by 5 p.m. and everything after that was water under the bridge. I was told by a nurse that was typical.

The 10 p.m. laxative is in the form of two tiny pills. The ones before are a thick salty citrus and ginger flavored liquid that it said to mix with ginger ale, 7-up, or water. I used Sprite. It was no worse than the dregs of a melted down margarita plus all the salt around the rim. Well, maybe not. It has a thick mouth-feel because of the glycerin in it. But it's not bad. Plus, you are assured of getting in your running and/or stair-climbing exercise for the day, perhaps for the whole week. Hopefully you will sleep through most of the night without any, uh, interruptions.

Get up with plenty of time to take a shower, but do not use deodorant or perfume or lotion. Wear comfy loose clothing and show up on time for your procedure. I like to deal with uptight situations through humor, so I brought along some stickers I purchased in the scrapbooking supply area of a local store. On my forehead one said, "I'm trying to look like I'm having fun!" Two others, one saying "What's up?" and another saying "Snap this picture and you're dead meat!" were affixed to the part of me that would shortly be receiving the most scrutiny.

Now comes the easy part. Just do what you are told.

You'll get an IV. An anesthesiologist visits you and asks how sedated you wish to be during the procedure. You can take a nice nap all the way through it, or you can watch the "movie." Some people find it fascinating to watch the journey of the tiny light and camera within their own bodies. I asked to sleep through it. I woke up for the closing credits of the movie, and asked the surgeon if he liked to go spelunking.

Your doctor will tell you right away if all is well or if you need polyps removed or have a touch of diverticulosis (pockets) or diverticulitis (infected).

The nurse warns you to "let it go" if you have a sensation I will characterize as having eaten beans and chocolate ice cream. So let it go. Chances are that everybody in the recovery rooms near you has had the same procedure, so don't worry about the noise. Maybe it'll sound like an old surfer song. How about "Pipeline," by the Chantays, complete with rumbling bass and ghostly reverb?

Before you leave you'll (finally) get some water, juice, coffee, and crackers. When you get home, just eat, drink and go to sleep or at least relax. And keep enjoying those surfer tunes.

P.S. This is colorectal cancer awareness month. 


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