It only took me 10 years to get up the courage and resolve to have a colonoscopy and endoscopy, and I'm glad I did it.
You need to do it, too, especially over the age of 50. While the preparation for the test is certainly uncomfortable, it can save or prolong your life. That sounds like a pretty good tradeoff.
For the record, the colonoscopy is when a doctor explores your colon with a camera inserted into your nether region, and during an endoscopy the same doctor slides a tube down your throat to check out your esophagus. He might also explore your brain for all you know because you're pleasantly unconscious.
As you probably have experienced or heard, the tests are a snap since they cast a spell on you with some drugs, putting you into a pleasant twilight state. However, the hardest part is the prep the night before.
You have to drink about 9,000 liters of a solution that will remove every trace of anything you've eaten since you were a baby.
Perhaps I exaggerate just a smidgen, but you have to down about four liters of the worst stuff that tastes something like 40-weight motor oil that Jimmy Johnson dumps in his NASCAR racer with a weak attempt at flavoring that you choose. I selected lemon-lime, and I'm sorry I did. It will probably be three lifetimes before I can eat anything with a lemon-lime flavoring again.
Ok, I'm whining; I admit it. I'm still glad I went through with this test. If you prepare your mind like a ninja, you can do it, too.
When I woke up from my slumber, which seemed as if I only closed my eyes for a moment, the nurse was there to greet me and assure me that I still resided on planet Earth.
However, the tests showed two things that I didn't know:
I had 3 polyps (growths);
I have diverticulosis
While I dozed, the gastroenterologist snipped my three polyps -- no big thing. But they could have been, if left undetected to ripen into possible malignancies. I should have known since my father had polyps and so did my younger brother. They run in the family.
I'm no doctor, but a nurse told me that most polyps, if not removed, will develop into a malignancy eventually. So when I think about the discomfort of the prep before the test, it was a small price to pay.
There was good and bad news about the diverticulosis. First, it wasn't that bad and can be controlled with diet and some medication. For several years, I would get at occasional full diverticulitis attack that would cause stomach pain, bloating and weakness. Now I'm pumping more fiber into me that seems to have done the trick.
However, prepping for the scopes aggravated the diverticulosis, according to the doctor.
The morning after my scopes I woke up weak and feverish. I basically felt as if an 18-wheeler pulling a double trailer hit me head on. I was exhausted, barely able to keep my eyes open. Concerned, I called my doctor who saw me that afternoon. He prescribed some antibiotics and by that evening after a long nap, I was regaining my strength.
At least now I know that for the next scope test, I will discuss my diverticulosis with my doctor and take whatever steps possible not to irritate my sensitive stomach.
I write this column about having a colonoscopy and endoscopy because they are tests that prove time and again that they save lives. But don't take my word for it; here's a true story about a good friend (will call him TL) that I had known since grammar school.
He was a gifted three-sport athlete in high school who attended the University of Maryland on a football scholarship. After a broken leg cut that short, he returned to Fairfield University where he had an outstanding baseball career. He married, started a family and became a successful businessman.
A tough guy, TL never let an ache or pain bother him so he ignored a slight one in his stomach that persisted for some time. He didn't like going to doctors, especially after two major leg operations. In time, his stomach pain intensified to a point he no choice but see a doctor.
An examination revealed that he had stomach cancer in an advanced state. Within months of the discovery, he died. Following his death, I wrote a column that TL was always the go-to-guy in any game. If you needed a few yards for a first down, get the ball to TL. Need a base hit with a man in scoring position, you want TL at the plate.
But he let himself down and his family when he ignored his health. A day of discomfort preparing for a colonoscopy probably would have saved his life. His family and friends sure wished he had done it. He died far too early.
Frank Szivos is a freelance writer who advocates colonoscopies. He can be found on Facebook.