It was a rainy day in March of 2002 when Sue, a friend of mine, and I were having lunch, much like the many other occasions in our past. This time was to be different.
Sue, you see, was dealing with thyroid cancer and that alone changed the typical discussion to a more substantive one about life, friends and family. It was during this discussion that I happened to mention my annual physical was coincidently scheduled for the very next day. When Sue heard that, she asked if I had ever been screened for colon cancer. I was 52 at the time and was not aware that screening was recommended when you turn 50. I responded that I had not been, but would ask the doctor about it at my appointment the next day.
Well, I waited to see if my Doctor would bring it up, which he did not. Then near the end of my exam, I asked if I should have a colonoscopy, given my age. He shrugged his shoulders and said it probably would be a good idea.
A week or so later, I got the call that nobody wants to receive. Hearing the "c" word is deafening and it took a while for these "routine exam results" to sink in. A month later, I successfully had a colon resection and am thankful my friend Sue probably saved my life.
You would think this would be nice way to wrap up this story, but little did I know that the word "colonoscopy" would again throw me a curve ball.
This time, it was November of 2007 and my wife (Ann) was having her regular colonoscopy performed in a small rural hospital on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. After all, we were now believers in early detection and that a colonoscopy was the best tool available. What could go wrong?
Well, she walked in healthy and wound up in the hospital for three weeks. The doctors told us the colonoscopy had given her a pin-size hole in her colon that would heal with bed rest. So, we waited and waited for about a week. All the while Ann was getting sicker and sicker. After a week, we took her to a Seattle hospital where they immediately performed surgery on her.
As it turned out, she had a dime-sized hole and was completely septic after lying in bed for a full week. At Seattle, they were able to do a resection of her colon. We spent Thanksgiving 2007 at Swedish Hospital licking our wounds. She now has a colostomy bag and another operation in her future to remove it. To this day, she has a form of Colitis due to the improper assessment and treatment of her condition early on.
So, now we are asked many times by friends how we feel about colonoscopies.
In our case, we could argue that they saved my life and then drastically changed my wife's in a negative way. However, we continue to absolutely believe in them and have them regularly as part of our health maintenance routines. But this time, we are much more in tune with the practitioner performing the procedure and their expertise and experience.
This story is worth telling in the hope that someone will learn from our experience and ask a lot of questions before a crisis happens.