During my first annual physical following my fiftieth birthday, my doctor looked at me and said with a wry smile, "You already know what I'm going to say..."
"Yes, Doctor, but since colon cancer isn't that common before 55 and since I have no risk factors, can we wait five years?"
He groaned, but short of dragging me upstairs to the gastroenterology department, pinning me down and gagging my screams of protest, there wasn't anything he could do. I left the office congratulating myself on the temporary reprieve my husband hadn't been brave - or fool-hardy - enough to demand, when had turned fifty, five years before. After all, I ate a good diet and, as far as I knew, no-one in my family had the remotest problem with their colons. Then when the five years had passed, I put off the inevitable, for another three years.
My first clue that something was not quite right was when I began to regain consciousness while the gastroentrologist was still scoping me. I watched the screen, wriggling with the pain each time the scope passed the splenic flexure, that bendy bit where your colon turns south, just below your rib-cage on the right hand sign. I moaned, I tried to escape, the nurse gave me as much of the sedative as she was legally allowed, I heard the doctor sigh... I must have nodded off, because the doctor was now sitting at a computer talking what sounded like rubbish. Obviously I was not as conscious as I thought.
In a session that lasted two hours, the doctor had removed fifteen separate polyps and had done his best to remove a carpet of polyps, but he would need to repeat the scoping again, three months later, he told me. I was at one and the same time stunned and relieved in equal measure. At least it wasn't cancer, but so many polyps in someone "not at risk," whatever I had imagined that to mean.
Over the next few months, I would undergo three more colonoscopies, including one particularly difficult one for which I was referred to another doctor. If he couldn't remove it intact, I would need surgery to remove the ileocecal valve, together with a small part of my colon. Fortunately, this specialist managed to remove it all in two separate attempts and I was told I needn't return for two years.
Why had I put it off for so long? Fear, I suppose. I had watched my husband gag on the preparation fluids and if there's anything I hate, it is gagging and the only antidote I know is laughter. I found, during two pregnancies, that throwing up and laughing don't go hand-in-hand, so I called my best friend and laughed my way through what seemed like gallons of fluid going in and an endless stream coming out at the other end. I wish such a good friend for everyone! Friends who will talk to you while you are "peeing through your bottom," as I like to call it, are not easily come by. As for the liquid you have to down at some unearthly hour on the morning of the colonoscopy, not a lot that happens before 6:00 am gets through. I think I learned to drink it in my sleep. I also found it easier to sleep if wearing some sort of padding. It gave me confidence that I wouldn't soil the bed.
As for the procedure itself, I'm now given deep sedation and have no clue, from the moment they push the plunger on a syringe to when I look into my husband's smiling face, what they are doing to me.
So, the moral of my little story is not to put those colonoscopies off. It is not as bad as any man wants you to believe and, if you have been waiting out of fear, is really not as bad as your imagination tells you it will be.