Preparation is worst part of colonoscopy screening
By Jack Kintner
I turned 62 last December 19, 12 years overdue for my first colonoscopy screening test. I’d kept putting it off despite coming from a medical family – my father and his six brothers are all doctors, as is my younger brother Bill.
Bill, 54, developed the chronic intestinal inflammation known as Crohn’s Disease, which in a first-order (parent or sibling) relative makes colon cancer more likely for me, so I finally made an appointment through my local physician, Dr. Dave Allan, with Dr. Gary Belcaster of the Madrona Medical Group.
My liquids-only diet, required for at least 24 hours before the test, included a gallon of Colyte, a kind of kool-aid that cleans you out from stem to stern like a car wash.
The next day my long-suffering wife Linda delivered me, whimpering like a sheep headed for a lamb chop factory, to the Madrona office since I would not be allowed to drive home because of the anesthesia, which produces a state of conscious sedation.
The procedure began with a nurse handing me a classic “back-draft” hospital gown and, once I was in bed, starting an IV. Dr. Belcaster pointed out a large monitor beside the bed where I could “watch the whole thing.”
A nurse then administered a combination of Demerol and an anesthetic called Versed and I was quickly off to la-la land.
I dimly remember waking up for just a brief glance at what looked like a long hallway with a strangely arched roof, something out of a Harry Potter movie, which was followed almost immediately by a sparkling “That’s it! You’re all done!”
My colonoscopy had apparently taken less time to do than pronounce. I was glad it was over but it was so easy it was almost a disappointment. It actually had taken Dr. Belcaster 29 minutes to run a tiny Olympus camera mounted on the end of a probe along the entire five feet of my large intestine.
He looked for polyps, something like skin tags, all the way in to the point where a right turn goes to a dead end (the appendix) and a left turn to the ileosecal valve, beyond which lies 30 feet of small intestine. He found one, cut it off and brought it back out with the camera.
Once the sedation ended I stood up to get dressed on very uneven legs. The last time I felt like this, Jimi Hendrix was on stage. No way could I have driven home, but by the next day I was fine and ready to go back to work.
A week later I got a letter from Dr. Belcaster saying that the one small hyperplastic benign polyp he found was “not the kind that will develop into cancer,” and that I didn’t need to return for 10 years.
That does not mean, Dr. Allan stressed, that I don’t need to do anything at all until 2017. “If you have an annual fecal occult blood test (FOBT) and if nothing else shows up, then you can wait that long, but if something does present itself, a colonoscopy is the next step.
“We want you to realize that this test is simple, easy, no big deal, and can effectively deal with a potential killer that’s also an almost completely preventable disease.”