Aging with dignity? Don’t make me laugh!
It may make me pee …
One of the many downsides of getting into your mid-60s is the attention doctors start paying to your rear end. They keep wanting to insert things or even requiring you to insert something yourself.
First up was the colonoscopy. Purely as an age-related thing, my GP sent me for one six years ago when I was 57. I didn’t like the sound of it so I paid about $1,500 to a clinic in Michigan that did virtual ones — 15 minutes of discomfort while they took half a dozen scans.
Money well spent and better by far, I thought, than two metres of probe with a camera on the end.
My doctor grumped that I was undermining OHIP. But she was impressed by the amount of data on the DVD from the clinic, which gave me an all-clear.
Late last year she decided it was time for another.
“Have a real one this time,” she said. “They’ll give you an anaesthetic. If you had a virtual one at Mount Sinai and they found polyps, you’d have to have a proper one anyway so they could remove them.”
Mount Sinai does virtual colonoscopies now? On OHIP? My doctor sighed.
“Don’t blame me if you have to have two.”
I went in ahead of time to pick up “a kit” for the colonoscopy – a large bottle of barium, a smaller bottle of something else (I never did figure out what but everything was vaguely fruit flavoured) and instructions about the kind of laxative to buy.
Laxatives amaze me. They’re so … precise. At 7 a.m., you’re thinking, “I can never leave this loo again.” At 7:15 you’re getting dressed, buoyed with empty confidence.
Mount Sinai had me change into two gowns — not like the days when, to remind you that your dignity as well as your life was in their hands, they gave you one and it gaped open. Now you put one on backwards and one frontwards.
A cheerfully matter-of-fact technician inserted a couple of centimetres of airhose and began inflating my colon.
It’s akin to blowing up your tires at a gas station, except a bell doesn’t ring when you reach the right pressure.
Three scans on my stomach, three on my back — 20 minutes, start to finish.
A few days later, I got a call to say everything was copasetic. No need for the two-metre probe.
Meanwhile, my prostate was misbehaving. PSA levels here, there and everywhere and a “digital rectal exam” (the king of euphemisms) revealed enlargement.
“That wasn’t the high spot of my day either,” my doctor said, peeling off her latex glove.
She sent me for an ultrasound — more insertion of foreign objects — which confirmed the enlargement but showed nothing untoward. Fine by me. I could live with a couple of extra trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
But my GP was still not happy. So two weeks after the colonoscopy, I was back at Mount Sinai to see a specialist.
Nice place the prostate-cancer clinic has; very soothing. A bit like an airport executive lounge minus the cookies and cheap wine.
The urologist, Dr. David Hajek, was also cheerfully matter-of-fact and, after the digital insertion that I was beginning to see as a proctological how-do-you-do, said I should have a biopsy.
“Chance of cancer, maybe one in three,” he said. “Chance of cancer that needs serious or immediate action, a lot less.”
He assured me the procedure wasn’t as bad as everyone thought (it would have to be better; I couldn’t imagine anything worse).
Oh yeah, and I’d have to give myself an enema beforehand. The drugstore would have the necessary squeeze-bottle of fluid with a lubricated nozzle.
The instructions said I should lie in the bathtub, sort of in a fetal position but on my back, do what was necessary and then hold the pose until it became clear that the fluid was doing its stuff.
I lay there almost too long. It suddenly became very clear that it was working so there I was, scrambling around in the tub like a flipped-over turtle, trying frantically to get where I needed to be before the question became moot. I made it, but only just.
The biopsy was done at Princess Margaret Hospital and, truth to tell, it wasn’t terrible: A couple more digital poke-arounds and then an ultrasound probe to guide the needle.
The local anaesthetic stung but the tissue sampling itself (the doctor took 13, my lucky number) was more sound than fury. I felt it but it wasn’t pain and it sounded like a staple gun being fired.
“There will be blood,” he warned me, in my bodily effusions for a couple of weeks and probably some immediate topical bleeding.
(It wasn’t on my bucket list but I can now add to my life experiences going to bed with a “heavy days” pantiliner in my underwear.)