“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Sometimes, even a ton. As a veterinarian, I've essentially preached something similar to pet owners and farmers alike my entire career. “Heartworm test your dogs, vaccinate your cats, spay and neuter them all, and de-worm your sheep!” All of this was done with the intent to keep animals healthy and prevent the spread of disease in the population.
As a 53 year old, however, there was something I had been putting off for quite some time, something that was widely and highly recommended by the human medical profession — the dreaded colonoscopy.
Oh, I've had my old man prostate examined three times already, thank you, but there was something about this other procedure that seemed more, for lack of a better term, “invasive.” Plus, I had heard horror stories of hemorrhaging and perforations. The real reason, though, I'm ashamed to admit, had more to do with squeamish modesty and privacy concerns of having my “you know what” out there for all the world to see.
But this spring, in a rare mature moment, I decided that was stupid thinking and it was time to schedule an appointment. The young lady at the check-in desk mentioned that I looked familiar.
“You probably never forget a … face,” was blurted out nervously. I thought I was hilarious. My wife apologized.
Nonetheless, the girl was right. I was there two months prior for my wife's colonoscopy. Okay, so I made the mature “colonoscopic” decision if Bonnie went first. It was lambing season, after all, and I couldn't afford to be out of commission during the preparation. Besides, truth be told, she's braver about such things. Most women undoubtedly are. This was her first colonoscopy, too, however, and we are the same age. What was her excuse? I'm guessing it was me.
Thankfully, she did go first, because a valuable lesson was learned regarding the gowns which would have been the death of me. After giving the order “Everything off but the socks,” her nurse exited the cubicle, leaving my soon to be naked wife and I with what appeared to be a flat sheet, a couple of ties, and snaps that made no sense. With 14 years of college education between us, you'd think we could have figured it out. Nope. After what seemed an eternity, we called for help. The snaps, if properly aligned, were to form the arm holes — a lesson not forgotten.
When I received that same command two months later, the first thing checked were those darn snaps. My gown, fortunately, came pre-snapped, and within seconds I was up to code and safely tucked in the bed.
Not long after, the doctor entered the “room” to explain what was going to happen during the procedure. He went on to say that colon cancer is the most preventable cancer there is, and most colon cancers begin as a small out-pouching of tissue called a polyp, which over time can become malignant. If any were found, they would be removed and biopsied.
I really didn't think he'd find any, though, because I had no problems in that department, if you know what I mean, and fecal occult blood screenings after my yearly man exams were all negative. Still, my family physician had always cautioned me that a person can have colon cancer with no discernible blood.
In the procedure room, I asked the nurse how many colonoscopies they did per day. “About thirty-five,” she replied. It was then I felt myself begin to relax as I realized my “you know what” wasn't going to leave much of a lasting impression on them. After the sedation was administered, I bid the team “good luck,” and as far as I was concerned my first colonoscopy was over.
I awoke, what seemed like seconds later, to the sound of my wife and doctor talking. Guess who had a polyp? Apparently my own colon health assessment was not very accurate. Because I did have the polyp, the doctor wanted to see me back in five years. And you know what? If he had said five days, I would have complied.
We all die, and I know something will eventually get me, but that insignificant little piece of tissue will not be the thing that does. If you need to schedule your first colonoscopy or are overdue for a follow-up, do it now. The preparation part isn't much fun, but the procedure itself is not a big deal. The reason for it, however, is. It can save your life.
If you won't do this for your family or friends, then do it for your pets. Surely, they'll miss you.
Dr. John Jones practices at Delphos Animal Hospital.
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