Upon reaching the age of fifty or so, we experience a coming-of-age event known as a colonoscopy, a screening recommended by all Primary Care Physicians. During the Reagan years, when the president was found to be at risk for colon cancer, the medical community got all over fiber and regular testing.
While some naïve patients may go into this procedure thinking, “How bad can it be?” to those of us who know the answer to that question, a colonoscopy is regarded definitely as something we would least like to do.
The prep for this event is worse than the actual test. The night before the appointment, the patient must drink a large pitcher of Go Lightly, a misnomer if one ever existed. Thus cleansed, the person to be tested reports to the clinic and receives a generous dose of Versed, a drug given to produce amnesia, so the mind forgets the invasive procedure.
And so it happened, a few years ago, that I took my sister, Betty, in for this routine exam. As the nurse approached with the needle, Betty felt the need to say, “I medicate easily. If you need responses, don’t give me much of that stuff.”
The nurse said, “You meditate easily?”
“Did I say ‘meditate’? I meant . . . zzzzzzzzzzz.
They rolled her away and told me to wait.
Later, the nurse called me to the recovery cubicle where Betty lay, sound asleep.
“We found diverticulosis,” the nurse said. “The doctor could not view the entire colon. Miss Betty needs to have a barium dye and x-ray. She can go to the hospital as soon as she wakes up.”
The nurse patted the patient’s hand gently and said softly, “Miss Betty . . .”
After a few minutes of this, I shook my sister’s shoulder and said loud enough to be heard in the waiting room, “BETTY, WAKE UP. You need to go to the hospital.” I explained, as best I could, the reasons. She nodded affirmation.
The nurse put the bed in a sitting position. The doctor entered with pictures of someone’s colon, maybe Betty’s, and gave a detailed explanation of what, how, and why, ending with the pros and cons of having the test. Betty slept. The doctor looked at me and said, “And you need to remember everything I said and tell her later.”
We roused my sister again and helped her dress. She asked, “Now . . . where am I going?” I explained again — and a couple of more times during the process of loading her up for the drive across the street to the hospital. Each time, my explanation was more terse: “diverticula … yada … barium … yada … hospital.” Yet, as we stopped in front of Out Patient Admitting, she said, “I’m still not clear why I’m here.”
She told the admitting clerk it wouldn’t be necessary to make an I-V stick because she was pretty sure she already had one. She pulled her sleeve showing her bare arm. Of course the clinic had not sent her off with a needle in her vein. I explained that she had been sedated already that morning and to please note: she didn’t need any more.
The clerk had Betty sign papers allowing the hospital to perform a second procedure, then she said my sister shouldn’t drive or make important decisions for twenty-four hours. Next day, Betty vaguely remembered signing papers but was not sure why. The Versed did its job.
I’m sure this is something I never want to do because at my age every day is precious. It’s a shame to lose one.
This essay on the subject “something I never want to do” won an honorable mention at the Arkansas Writers Conference this weekend.