Thanksgiving Gratitude: A Colonoscopy is Better than Cancer

Jim and I were supposed to have follow-up colonoscopies in 2010 and 2012, respectively. However, we decided to ignore this recommendation, to practice conscious denial, if you will, partly because of the explosive elimination involved (what Jim calls, “peeing through your butt,”) but also because of the odious prep solution, a hideous concoction tasting like sickeningly sweet cough syrup blended with polluted oceanic salt water. But, for whatever reason, a couple of weeks ago, I felt an internal nudge to get us scheduled for the dreaded procedure before the end of the year.

That internal nudge is interesting, isn’t it? What is that? Some may call it heeding that “still, small voice within,” the wise (and maybe divine) part of each one of us who knows all kinds of stuff beyond our little egoic selves and what is best for our well-being. Or maybe, it was just time to do it, or maybe we just couldn’t face our general practitioner once again, giving us the stink eye when we croaked out our lame excuses about why we hadn’t scheduled the dreaded procedure.

I sure hope that I am growing at least tiny branchlets of wisdom along with the seemingly out-of-control proliferation of skin tags, freckles and wrinkles that are coming to dominate my physical self. Could wisdom mean paying attention to strongly-worded recommendations to get regular screenings, like colonoscopies?

Two weeks after paying attention to that internal nudge (for whatever reason), there I was lying supine on the bed in the pre-op area at the Space Coast Endoscopy Center in Rockledge, Florida, behind a Dunkin’ Donuts, fuzzy black socks pulled over my feet to beat the chill in the room, warm blanket tucked around me by Nurse Margaret, and IV#2 taped securely in my arm, having replaced IV#1 after it blew out a vein and elicited a look of alarm from Nurse Rosie, after I said, “My arm hurts,” and we looked down to see my bulging forearm distended by a build-up of fluid.

Lying there waiting to be wheeled into the operating room, trying to talk myself out of the urge to pee, and using my considerable willpower to power myself into surrender (these people know what they’re doing, trust the process, trust the process) and in between saying to Jim, sitting by my side, after reluctantly putting away his IPAD to just sit with me, “I just can’t get used to this physical aging thing. Especially when I feel no different on the inside.” We share a moment of rueful head scratching.

I lay there silently for another 10 minutes and then said to Jim, “I don’t much care for this process.” He chuckled and then told me once again about his six years in the Army Reserves, which mostly boiled down to this, “Hurry up and wait.”

Hurry up and Wait. Those are my husband’s pearls of wisdom on a late Wednesday morning while his wife waits for the anal probe. Two hours in, Jim accurately calls the defining nature of this “experience,” radiating comforting calm as I struggle mightily to will everyone around me to move this process along in a speedier manner. But, along with that surfeit of obsessiveness, a tiny little part of me relaxes just a tad, just enough, (maybe even surrendered a bit?) when he said that.

Shortly after that moment of shifting “something,” in the pre-op area, I am whisked away, past the nurses’ station, down the hall, through double doors whooshing open, (a sign on one which said, “The Three R’s of surgery: Right Patient, Right Site, Right Procedure Surgery”), leaving behind The Spinners crooning, Working My Way Back to You, over my head. Then a sharpish right turn deposits me into an even chillier room.

There were three of present and while we were waiting for Dr. T., I asked Nurse Anesthetist Brian and Nurse Susie what they liked about working there. The relative calm, they both say, (this being a free-standing center specializing in endoscopies and colonoscopies, versus a hospital), that the docs are not called away at the last minute for emergencies, the staff, and the more regular hours. Then the doc showed up, he actually startles, me, gliding in silently and suddenly appearing on my right, and then I surrendered my glasses to Brian to place in a basket under the table, and then he asked me to turn on my left side and I felt the cold air hit my now-exposed right flank and then I said, “This is interesting,” as things faded to black.

Jim tells me I was flailing around upon waking, but I don’t remember that. I do remember asking, “Did Hillary win?”, somehow hoping that the last two years were some kind of transitory waking nightmare. Probably cognizant of a range of political views in the common, post-op area, in response, Nurse Margaret wiped away an imaginary tear—that I remember, as I came back into the world as it is—right now.

“Two polyps,” Dr. T. said, a few minutes later. He removed two polyps, which can only be a good thing.

“When do I have to do this again?”

Dr. T. says, “In three years.”

“Ugh,” is my involuntary response, and I immediately teleport myself into the future where I am once again gagging down the sodium sulfate, potassium sulfate and magnesium sulfate oral solution, and swigging lemonade to swoosh away the foul taste. But then I snap back into the present where Brian says, “It’s just one unpleasant day,” and Dr. T. says, “It’s better than having colon cancer.”

Amen. Amen to that.

So, on this post-colonoscopy cusp of Thanksgiving, I feel grateful. I feel grateful to be on the other end of that procedure, for sure, and also grateful for caring medical personnel with senses of humor and decent healthcare, and for precious friends and family, and animals we adore, and term limits for politicians, and for readers, like you. You mean the world to me. Happy Thanksgiving!


Reader’s Invitation: Got any amen experiences? What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving? Please share. I will generally respond to your comments within a day. And, please do tell me if something you write is not for public consumption.

6 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Gratitude: A Colonoscopy is Better than Cancer”

  1. Valerie L Fiorillo

    Ha Ha This is a funny piece in a painful kind of way. Oh my gosh, the dreaded colonoscopy. I’ve had two and I’m actually going to ask if I could have my third please. I’ve seen too many people suffering from colon cancer. I don’t want to take any chances! Anyone who has bleeding from the rectum, get to a doctor right away and pursue what the cause is. On a funnier note, during the last colonoscopy I had, when I was wheeled into the procedure room, I was greeted by 6 people. I said, “What’s going on? Are we having a party?” “No, we have many new people in training and they’re here to see you!” Oh great! I said, I have only one question, “Did I have any of you for a student at Broadalbin-Perth?” I was quite relieved that none of the newbies were past students. So Beth, I’m happy your polyps were removed and you have a clean colon! I hope Jim came through with flying colors too! Happy Thanksgiving to both of you! Love, Valerie

    1. Hey Valerie, Chuckling here in Cocoa Beach reading your response. Thanks for all this. Yup, it was the right thing to do and hopefully we’ll be better patients in the future with follow-ups. OMG – the “crowd” in the procedure room, yikes! That is not a place you want to see your former students! Hope you and yours have a fabulous Thanksgiving. Much love and good cheer.

  2. Another great one Beth. As you know I have had my share of this and other unpleasant experiences. The good news is most time you wait a bit and then are on other side. I loved that you said “ did Hillary win”. That’s a great one. I only wish the last 2 years had been a very bad dream. Enjoy the next 3 non colonoscopy years!

    1. Hi Nedra, Thanks as always for reading and commenting. That actually might be my favorite part of this process–hearing from you and others who can relate (or not, but have their own interesting story to tell). Jim was pretty funny going off to his (which turned out fine). Before I left him in the pre-op area, I turned around to see him being wheeled down the corridor propped up to sitting waving a royal wave to all those still waiting. It was quite amusing. Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Hi Beth, interesting colonoscopy story. What an ordeal. I have temporarily lost my phone contacts and am in cocoa beach until Monday morning. Hope we can get together if you are in town.
    Happy thanksgiving!

    1. Hi Susan! Great to hear from you! Thanks for reading this specific “ordeal,” not a big deal in the whole scheme of things, but it did provide an opportunity to see how much I clamp down (literally and figuratively) around these types of experiences (and being vulnerable). Always hope that I capture something true and universal in my writing. Happy Thanksgiving! I’ll text you.

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