As I’ve explained in previous columns and blog posts, it’s important for even normal, healthy adults to get a colonoscopy at age 50. It’s not just about detection; it’s also about prevention.
A colonoscopy is a test for colon cancer and any other irregularities of the colon. The patient is sedated and a video camera is inserted, let’s say, where the sun don’t shine. Attached to the camera is something like a pair of scissors which can be used to cut away growths called polyps (and bring them out so that they can be tested).
Some polyps are cancerous; some are not. But, here’s the thing; the benign polyps can become cancerous over time.
So, here are the possible outcomes of a colonoscopy:
- They find a cancerous polyp. Colon cancer is quite survivable if it’s caught and treated early. So finding that polyp can save your life.
- They find a non-cancerous polyp. This is what happened to me when I had my age-50 colonoscopy in 2012. They found two polyps and removed them. They were tested and found to be benign.
- They find no polyps. This outcome is called peace of mind. That’s what happened to me today; I had a followup colonoscopy, and there were no polyps. Remember, they removed benign polyps in 2012. If I had not gone in for a colonoscopy at age 50, it’s possible those polyps might have become cancerous, and — in that timeline — I might have colon cancer today.
So you see the importance of this procedure. So do insurance companies; even though I am still well under my deductible, my insurance covers a routine, screening colonoscopy. The insurance company realizes that money spent now on a colonoscopy might prevent money spent later on treatment.
Yes, it’s kind of a hassle. I had to take today off work. I had a liquid diet all day yesterday, and last night, I had to take two doses of a prescription-strength laxative called Suprep. (The colon has to be empty in order for the gastroenterologist to see polyps.) I had to stay up until midnight before I felt safe going to bed, and even so, I had to get up several times during the night. When I had the procedure five years ago, I think I only got up once.
My assigned arrival time at Murfreesboro Medical Clinic was 7 a.m. today; my father picked me up at 5:45, and we made excellent time, arriving well in advance. I had set my alarm for 5:25, but I woke up in advance of that, and went ahead and got up for fear I’d sleep through the alarm.
MMC had sent me paperwork to fill out weeks ago, but for some reason when I checked in they made me go to a billing office on the other side of the building to update my financial information. Everything they asked for was something I’d already filled out as part of the advance paperwork, but it didn’t take too long and soon I was back in the same-day surgery department.
A few minutes later, the nurse called for me and took me back to a prep room — but it was a false alarm. Before I could get undressed, she discovered that they weren’t actually ready for me yet and sent me back to the waiting room. It turns out that the gastroenterologist who was supposed to perform the procedure called in sick this morning, and so his partner was forced to double up. Because of the preparation that a patient has to do at home, it wouldn’t go over well to try to reschedule the procedure for another day!
Eventually, I was called back for real. They had me change into a hospital gown and took my vital signs. An IV port was put in the back of my hand and EKG sensors were stuck to my torso. I was wheeled into the procedure room and sedated … which is the last thing I remember. The next thing I remember is already being in the recovery room, where I sipped on a Coke (the first thing I’d had to eat or drink since going to bed Monday night) and then got dressed. The doctor had spoken to my father and given him the good news that no polyps were found. I’m supposed to come back in five years for a followup colonoscopy.
Because of the sedation, I’m not supposed to drive or make major decisions for the rest of the day. Dad drove me home to Shelbyville, and by the time he stopped at his house to check on the cat, we were almost to the time when they told me I could start eating again. We went out for breakfast at Huddle House, just before the lunch crowd started to file in.
After we ate, Dad took me home. I was, at that point, exhausted — I’d gone to bed late, gotten up several times during the night, awakened early, and I’d been subsisting on broth and Jell-O prior to my Huddle House breakfast. I took a nap. I’m still a little tired, but I have the rest of the afternoon and evening to recover before returning to work tomorrow.
I’m grateful to my father for getting up early and taking me to the procedure today, and also to my co-workers for covering for me in my absence. (There’s a county committee meeting I would otherwise have had to cover tonight.)
As you know, I lost my mother to cancer in 2010 and have been an active volunteer in the American Cancer Society Relay For Life since that time. The American Cancer Society recommends that normal healthy adults get a colonoscopy at age 50. I recommend it too.