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Dare to GoLytely into the depths of the colon

You know you are doomed when the first thing a medical specialist does after you give him a delicate, but factual, précis of your symptoms, is circle your age on the file he has open on his desk.
I spent a chilly afternoon, stoned on Gravol, cleansing my colon.

You know you are doomed when the first thing a medical specialist does after you give him a delicate, but factual, précis of your symptoms, is circle your age on the file he has open on his desk.

Yep, medical people aren't just whizzes at figuring out what's wrong with you, and how to fix it, they can also do the math.

Given the aforementioned symptoms and the age thing (I have no idea how I got to be 52, but I am, the numbers don't lie) a diagnostic procedure is solidly indicated.

Before I am admitted into the august inner sanctum of the surgeon, to whom I was referred by my GP, an incredibly perky office assistant complete with dimpled, sunny smile hands over some horrifying reading material to educate me on the risks of the procedure he might suggest.

In a state of growing dread, I listen as the doctor, possessed of a polished desk side manner, smooth and reassuring, outlines all the horrendous things that could go wrong.

He says they do upwards of 2,000 procedures a year at Battlefords Union Hospital, with an average of one complication. I hope that's not me, but it would be just my luck. He assures me that, at my age and state of health, I would be an excellent candidate to survive corrective procedures.

Well, that's good news at least.

As we take care of pesky paperwork to ensure he and the health region are reassured I have been made aware of all the risks, but provide them with permission to invade my person anyway, he's impressed to learn I'm the editor of the paper. He says he can think of me when he reads it. And I'm stuck with the knowledge he'll know some of the most intimate parts of me and I'll be sedated.

I leave his office to begin the waiting game for the call to my very first colonoscopy.

Unfortunately I don't have to wait long. "What ever happened to those famous waiting lists?" I cry as I read the e-mail scheduling me for the procedure in a few short weeks.

The e-mail contains a detailed check list of my duties prior to appearing at the hospital for the procedure.

There are two pre-operative visits to BUH - one in the morning with a nurse, one in the afternoon with an anaesthetist - a directive to see my GP for a pre-operative assessment within six weeks of the procedure and another horrifying description of how yea olde colon will be cleansed prior to the procedure.

The pre-op stuff gets a tad repetitive. By the time I'm finished two hospital visits and the trip to my family doctor I've been weighed twice and asked basically the same questions three times. A co-worker, who has more experience with enmeshment in the health care system than I, says she started carrying a cheat sheet for each time someone wanted her to relay her history of operations and procedures.

The pre-operative nurse consultation is useful because it goes over, in person, the pre-op cleansing process in delectable detail and outlines the consequences of not following the process to the letter.

The family doctor office visit goes a bit off the rails. A medical student attempting to complete the assessment under the supervision of my physician has to try to get in a word edgewise as the doctor and I swap neighbourhood gossip. She lives just down the street from me.

So, armed with all the necessary paperwork and with all the prescribed pre-op visits checked off my list, the other shoe drops. Another totally unrelated procedure has been scheduled in a Saskatoon hospital two days after the BUH event.

"Where or where are those waiting lists?" I moan.

Then comes the reprieve. She of the dimpled smile and sunny disposition phones me on the Friday before my Monday date with extreme diagnostic invasion to advise me my time slot is urgently needed by some other poor schmuck. I attempt to relay my extreme disappointment.

My reprieve was for only a few weeks, but it saved me from enduring back-to-back procedures, giving me proper time to savour each one.

Preparation Day

It's arrived. I've visited my friendly pharmacist and picked up my precious jug of GoLytely (who thinks up these names?). I pick up a couple tips from the pharmacist and a woman behind the till (her daughter has had the procedure a couple of times).

"Lemonade," she says. "It goes down easiest with lemonade."

Over the prior weeks I came into contact with a host of medical professionals, and the one most valuable piece of advice I received was from someone who knew someone who had been there!

A visit to the frozen foods section at the grocery story had me going, "Hmmm, all this frozen juice has pulp in it. The directions are extremely strict about no solid food after I start downing the magic GoLytely elixir."

I shift my quest to the soda pop section and find what I'm looking for. Lemonade in a can. I buy a case.

I have to leave the newsroom early on a Tuesday and be absent throughout Wednesday, the day of the procedure. It would take another whole story to describe just how disrupting that is to my newsroom crew, but they are a resilient team and are able to fill the gap.

So, promptly at noon I head home, down my prescribed Gravol dose and begin the task of drinking four litres of there's no way to describe it. The stuff is gruesome.

I should mention I'm a lightweight when it comes to any kind of sedative or muscle relaxant, so by the time the Gravol kicks in, I'm more than a little stoned.

The process is to drink eight ounces every 10 minutes, until it is gone. Iron man marathon runners have nothing on those who have bravely undergone a colon cleanse! This takes serious dedication.

I've prepared the GoLytely according to the directions on the jug and advice of the pharmacist. "It goes down better cold," he advised.

The woman with the lemonade advice told me not to be surprised if I vomited up the first round, Gravol not withstanding. I am proud to say, I did not!

My strategy is to ensure the stuff never touches my tongue. I pour the eight ounces into a go-cup, snap on the lid and thread a flexible straw through the opening. I take a deep breath, place the straw at the very back of my tongue (I have a strong anti-gag reflex) and "suck" like a Hoover in overdrive. About halfway though I gasp in a breath, and experience just a wisp of the GoLytely's "bouquet" on the back of my tongue, before vacuuming up the rest. A huge gulp of lemonade is consumed by sucking on a straw in another go-cup. This, however, is savoured and rolled around in my mouth to obliterate all taste of the other.

Ah! One down, how many to go?

My stoned brain gave up on the whole confused concept of converting ounces into millilitres. Why can't Canada go metric or revert back to Imperial? This whole tawdry marriage of the two is just too much for the mathematically challenged.

As promised, the GoLytely begins its work precisely an hour after the first eight ounces are ingested, and works brilliantly throughout the afternoon. One side effect argues for trying to have this procedure scheduled for the middle of the summer, however. I become so cold I am shaking.

I go upstairs, never venturing far from a commode, and change into my long johns, sweats, an undershirt and a cozy sweatshirt and grab a comforter off the bed. I am still shivering and miserable every time I have to abandon my cocoon in the family room recliner to down another delectable cup of colon cleansing potion.

Upstairs a second time, I find the incredibly plush, terry towel bathrobe I had purchased for my husband at Holt Renfrew in Calgary a few months previous. He eschews it for a ratty model with threadbare seams. I wrap it over of the previous two layers and again huddle under the comforter. Warmth at last!

I don't remember how long it took to finally vanquish the jug of GoLytely, but I get the gold star for downing every drop.

As it turns out, the afternoon spent alternately shivering and warming the commode seat is the worst part of the procedure.

Clear fluids and Jell-O until midnight, water thereafter and I'm ready for my early morning date with destiny.

My husband drops me off at the hospital at the appointed hour, and after one wrong turn, I report to the appropriate desk at BUH. I'm installed in a room where I don one of those nifty hospital outfits that puts patients of all social strata on the same fashion plane and the futile "insert the IV" process begins.

Seems I've discovered one of the few thin things about my body structure - my veins.

Here's the thing. You've just been subjected to a process that by it's very definition is going to dehydrate you. No matter how diligent you are with trying to replace the lost fluids, it's an issue when they try to find a place to insert the needle.

Waiting is minimal at this juncture of the process and once the needle is properly inserted, I'm soon whisked off to the OR, where I have a brief glimpse of surgeon and anaesthetist before being sent off to La La Land.

Next thing I know, I'm being wheeled to a recovery area, and soon after I'm transferred to a wheelchair and returned to my room. I am fed the most delicious muffin and coffee I've ever had in my life and it isn't long before I'm allowed to text my husband to come get me.

I spend my afternoon back in the recliner, dozing and "passing gas," according to my husband, who hangs around to ensure I'm OK. He's not overly solicitous, but continues a home renovation project that involves a hammer drill, saw and various other noisy implements. I was oblivious to it all.

I go back to work the next morning, but part way through the second hour realize I am still a little "under the influence," so call it a day.

The Outcome

Two weeks later I visit my GP for an appointment. "You phoned us, right?" she asks. This is good news because she only phones me if it is bad news.

I've learned there is no nasty boogeyman lurking in my colon and that as a person who never considered Jell-O an item on the food chain, I hope never to be forced to consume it again.

Why Be Tested?

Cancer View Canada, a website developed by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer Corporation, offers information about the benefits of colon screening.

According to the partnership, cancer is one cancer that can be stopped in its tracks.

Screening tests help find colon cancer before any symptoms develop, or even before cancer starts. It is recommended those of a "certain age" be checked even if they are feeling fine.

Screening tests for colon cancer can help find easily removed polyps before they become cancer.

Screening tests can also find colon cancer early. Even if a polyp has turned into cancer, it can be treated. It is most effective to treat and cure colon cancer when it is found early.

The partnership recommends anyone age 50 or over or anyone at a high risk for developing colon cancer undergo screening.

There is a higher risk of developing colon cancer is higher if a family member has had colon polyps or colon cancer and colon polyps have been detected before. Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease) are also at higher risk.

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