It wasn’t exactly Disneyland, but I had a feel-good visit to hospital that I’m itching to tell you about.
Well, feel-good is an overstatement, but given what I thought I was in for, it was heaven.
The endoscopy unit at St. Clare’s is a fitting name for that section of the hospital, seeing it’s where colonoscopies are performed. I was there for the “two-for-one special” — a check of the colon and an upper endoscopy; in simpler terms, I had an investigation of my bowel and a separate examination with a tube down my throat. It’s a helpful test for cancer, but it’s a procedure most of us would probably not go begging for. Three years ago when I first had these tests I vowed never again; today, I have to hand it to the unit’s staff for helping me laugh through my nervousness and apprehension.
I had been dreading the appointment for months. It was postponed several times, and I’d thought about trying to force another delay but I had to man up and get this thing done.
If you’ve never been through it, you spend the day before emptying your insides in preparation for the foreign intrusion. I actually started doing the opposite a week earlier, making sure I ate like there was no tomorrow. Two nights before the test, as I prepared for my 24-hour liquid fast, my wife was surprised I didn’t have a drink. I feared one wouldn’t do, so I didn’t bother. The next morning — prep day — I dove head-first into the prescribed course.
I drank the Purg-Odan (it actually tasted pretty good), and soon downed the required two litres of clear fluids. I’d have to repeat this again later in the day, but before that I spent considerable time in the confines of the washroom.
By evening, just when I wondered what could be left, it was time for the second “drink” and a repeat performance in the loo. I felt like a bloated pig, but ushered myself off to bed, still hoping a snowstorm, hurricane or flat tire might save me from the hospital visit. My wife says I shouted out in my sleep. She was only half-right; I shouted all right, but I wasn’t asleep. I was visualizing every inch of a camera on a rope being forced down one part and up another part of my anatomy.
Workers in other industries could learn a thing or two from the staff on the endoscopy unit. Seriously. They deserve customer service awards. They know patients are anxious and fearful and about to expose themselves to an almost unthinkable indignity, but everyone from the receptionist to the nurses to the doctor made me feel like I was the most important person.
They explained things fully and put me at ease through all those moments I had spent nights worrying about. They sprayed my throat to make it easier to handle the exam, and laughed when I told the doctor I had been sprayed but not neutered. The medication to relax me worked quite well, thank you very much.
Coincidentally, that same day Health Minister Susan Sullivan was on her feet in the legislature, updating the province on the Colon Cancer Screening Program. It involves a take-home test which checks for blood in the stool that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Followup testing could include colonoscopy, and the hope is that the early detection of colon cancer will reduce the number of people who die from the disease.
Colon cancer is the second most common cancer in men and women and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in this province. Eastern Health tells me that for the fiscal year 2011-12, more than 16,000 endoscopies were performed in the eastern region; more than half were colonoscopies. If your doctor ever advises you to have one, get it done.
By the way, my colonoscopy settled one argument in my marriage. The nurses and doctor confirmed for my wife that my head is not up you-know-where.
I’m good for another few years.
Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org