Any candidate for a transplant has to have cancer ruled out. Five years ago, in February 2009, I had a prostatectomy, that is, my prostate was surgically removed, due to the presence of cancer. One of the options available to me at that time was “watchful waiting,” an approach that I understand is gaining traction as most prostate cancers tend to be slow growing and the aftermath of surgery has its own side effects that make life different than it was before (I am no exception in this regard). In retrospect, having the surgery was a good choice if for no other reason than that I am now cancer free for five years, which allows me to be a candidate for a transplant. Patients with active cancer cannot be considered for a transplant because the immunosuppressive drugs required after a transplant mean that your body’s ability to fight cancer is compromised.
To rule out colon cancer, the LHSCMOTPPTB (London Health Sciences Centre Multi-Organ Transplant Program Powers That Be) decided that I needed a colonoscopy as well. The typical person over age 50 can request a colonoscopy every 10 years. I had one back in 2006 because I was experiencing some undetermined pain in my gut. That eventually turned out to be an issue with my gallbladder, which was removed in 2007 (I need a t-shirt that says something like, “I made it to 55 and I still have most of my parts…and most of the parts that remain still function”). Eight years ago was long enough ago that a second colonoscopy was, not unreasonably, required.
If you’ve ever had a colonoscopy, you know that there is something called “bowel prep,” to clear “things” out. The preparation involves eliminating all solid food and drinking down copious amounts of a liquid that eventually makes you spend a great deal of time on the toilet. That’s probably the worst part of the whole process. By the time Monday morning rolled around, I was feeling a bit lightheaded.
The whole process at the hospital was pretty uneventful. By now, I’ve spent enough time in hospitals, clinics, etc., that I don’t feel that apprehensive. After all, no one’s going to cut me open and remove anything. No one’s going to poke a hole in me and put in a tube. The surgeon is going to use a pre-existing orifice to investigate. That, I can handle.
The nurse who started my IV chatted with me about her vacation in Mexico last week. The anesthetist came by and explained a bit about the drugs that they were going to put into me. As he eloquently stated it, “you take a nap.” And then I was rolled off into the operating room. Nurses and doctors surrounded me. It was lesson in efficiency. I briefly saw the surgeon’s face, who said a few words to me and then prodded my belly. An oxygen mask was fitted to my face. I was instructed to turn on my side and draw up my knees, which, given the nature of what was about to occur, made sense. Wouldn’t a colonoscopy want to make anyone retreat into a fetal position? The anesthetist pushed a drug into my IV port. When he pushed a second drug in, he said, “This drug sometimes burns, but it goes away in a few seconds.” As I attended to the feeling in my arm, to see whether it would burn…I woke up 45 minutes later back in the recovery room.
I was surprised at how quickly I came back to wakefulness. Eight years ago, I remember feeling out of it for a couple of hours after the procedure. Not so this time. The progress in medicine is truly amazing. Current meds have a much shorter half-life. That’s all to the good, I suppose. I recall that when I was being assessed for a transplant during the summer, the anesthetist who spoke to me then said, “These drugs are poison.” Evidently anesthetists are the most eloquent of physicians. Nevertheless, I recall from the colonoscopy in 2006 feeling really “mellow” afterward, so I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t have that feeling this time. That’s okay, though. The less poison in my system, the better.
From beginning to end, the colonoscopy itself took a little over 20 minutes. I have a few thoughts on that. 1. The surgeon must be well practiced in his technique. 2. The procedure was remarkably efficient. 3. I am grateful for government health insurance, or as Americans might say, “socialized medicine.” I don’t have to choose between getting the medical care I need and placing my family under a severe financial burden.
The result: After I was fully awake, although still a bit lightheaded, I was given a sheet that confirmed, “No Office follow-up is required. Your colonoscopy was normal.” Good news. Despite the litany of surgeries and my ongoing kidney disease, I am in pretty good health, good enough that I am a candidate for a kidney transplant. Now it’s just a waiting game. Not a picnic, to be sure, but I’m alive and for that I am grateful.
And because inside of me there is a spelling Nazi always screaming to get out, I close with this e-card: