stat counter

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Gut Feelings, Part 3

It’s been about three weeks since my last blog post.  Good grief- that sounds like I’m in a confessional: “. . . My last confession was three weeks ago.”  It has been a month and a half since the colonoscopy, and those weeks have been, for lack of a better term, interesting and educational. And not much fun.

We met with the surgeon on Friday, April 10, two days after the colonoscopy. He told us that the biopsies had come back positive for adenocarcinoma, rectal cancer.  He said that treatment would involve working with an oncologist to set up a treatment plan to shrink the tumor so that it could be removed surgically.  He also said that because of the location of the tumor, he would most likely have to remove the anal sphincter also, which would require a permanent colostomy.  Not the best news to hear.  Then, I guess he decided that seeing the pictures from the colonoscopy wasn’t good enough and he wanted to  do a digital exam of my already  very sore  rectum. After that wonderful experience I decided that I cannot be held responsible for any bodily harm I might inflict on the next person who approaches me wearing a lubricated latex glove! After that ordeal he said he wanted me to have a CT scan to see if the cancer had metastasized. The scan was set for the following Tuesday and I was told not to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before.  That instruction probably wasn’t all that necessary; I had pretty much lost my appetite by then, anyway. The doctor said he should have the results of the scan a  couple of days  after it was done and to call for the results.

We arrived at the radiology department at the hospital for the CT scan at 7:30 AM.  After registering, I was given a  16 oz bottle of clear liquid contrast material to drink.  It wasn’t exactly delicious, but it definitely tasted better than the colonoscopy prep stuff! After about an hour I was called back to the scan area, where they took blood to check my liver function. Then had me get on a table and inserted an IV to administer more contrast material just before running the test. This was my first experience with a CT scan and I was a little apprehensive, but it wasn’t bad at all.   The table I was on rolled in and out of a doughnut shaped opening that rotates around, taking x-ray images.  Every once in a while a robotic voice would tell me to “breathe in, hold, release.” It didn’t take all that long, and we went home to wait for the results.

I began calling the doctor’s office but didn’t hear back from him until the following Monday- six days after the scan. The wait was quite harrowing, actually, as one’s imagination tends to go into overdrive imagining  what the results might be.  He apologized for the delay, told me the scan showed my lungs were clear but there were some small spots on my liver, the largest being about a centimeter, that he wasn’t overly concerned about them as they were most likely harmless hemangiomas, not liver mets. He said he would have the oncologist’s office call me to set up an appointment to discuss a treatment plan which would include both chemotherapy and radiation therapy to run about six weeks. He said   he would  do the surgery to place a port for the chemo after I met with the oncologist and that  another CT scan would be done after the therapy to see if and how much the tumor had shrunk.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Gut Feelings, Part 2

April 13, 2015
Mr. G and I arrived at the hospital for the colonoscopy just before 7 AM and signed in. Horror of horrors, they took my picture for their records.  I should tell you that although I had not been told to remove my dentures for the procedure, I decided not to wear them because there was a chance they would get lost or damaged if I was asked to remove them at some later time. So there I sat, toothless, as they aimed the little camera  at me. I did NOT smile and say “cheese”!

We were then told to go to the GI/Endoscopy Lab Department down the hall and around the corner. Once there, Mr. G and I were called to go through the door to the department admitting area.  He was asked to sign a paper saying he would be driving me home and would not allow me to drive myself. I signed all sorts of papers, including one that gave permission for the doctor to review the procedure findings with Mr. G, since I would be under the effects of anesthesia and wouldn’t remember much anyway.  Then they took me back to a large area with curtained cubicles, pulled the curtain and told me to take off my clothes except for my shirt and socks (hooray- no cold feet!) and climb up on the table. 

A nurse then came around to ask me a zillion questions, as she input info into the computer she wheeled into the cubicle.  She hooked me up to a blood pressure cuff, stuck about five little sticky patches with electrodes on my chest and upper abdomen, and inserted a port for an IV.  Thank goodness she was good at what she did and was able to get what she needed on the first attempt so I didn’t feel like a pincushion that had been stuck once too often. Then an anesthesiologist came around, all smiling, and asked how I was. Stupid question and I laughingly told him so! He assured me they would take good care of me and after a little more banter I was pretty much relaxed by the time a nurse came to wheel me to the procedure room. 

The GI doctor who would be doing the procedure came in, asked me a few questions and told me what would be happening. A nurse hooked some wires and tubes to me, put an oxygen tube in my nose and told me to slide towards her a little. Meanwhile an anesthesiologist was cracking jokes with me and saying what a tiny person I was and how they would give me anesthesia through the IV.  That’s all I remember.  I never even got a chance to watch the tube traveling through my colon.  Which, come to think of it, may not have been such a bad thing since I had already researched the whole thing and even watched a few videos of colonoscopies, including one of Katie Couric saying that she had a “pretty little colon.”

The next thing I remember is waking up back in the little now uncurtained cubicle, with the worst gas pains I have ever felt!  They told me they would pump some air into my colon during the procedure but nobody told me they would blow me up like a giant balloon! The nurse told me that once I passed some gas I’d feel better and to that end she put me in a wheelchair, pushed me to the bathroom and had me walk a little before getting me settled on the toilet.  Nothing!  No gas would pass and I began to feel that I would either throw up, pass out or explode, or maybe all three simultaneously. She wheeled me back to the cubicle, got me a nice warm blanket because by that time I was   shivering quite a bit, and we tried again later.  Meanwhile, there must have been a whole symphony of gas toots going on all around me because I saw other people who had come in much later than I had being wheeled out fully clothed, ready to be discharged. I developed a bad case of fart envy as I lay there!  Meanwhile poor Mr. Grace was being told the results of the colonoscopy.  I had written out a list of questions for him to ask, but in typical  fashion, he  forgot to do that and told me later I could ask them myself on Friday. Seems they found two polyps and removed them, found some mild diverticulosis in the sigmoid colon and a “huge” tumor in the rectum. Four biopsies were taken and the GI doctor told Mr. G we would need to see a colorectal surgeon, who was actually there in the hospital and had seen the results. The surgeon said he would have the biopsy results back by Friday so we made an appointment to meet with him at his office early Friday morning. The nurse had shown me the same pics and the doctor came around to talk to me.  I was still groggy, but could see that the pics of my colon did not show that I had a “pretty little colon.” It was actually quite gross looking, to tell the truth.
Meanwhile, the gas   was still there and they became concerned enough to wheel me down for an x-ray to make sure there were no perforations. The trip to x-ray department, getting on and off various slabs, etc. seemed to help dislodge the gas because next time I was taken to the loo, you could hear the explosion for miles! The gas was released from bondage at last! The nurse and I almost did a happy dance!  Although the gas wasn’t all gone I felt good enough to get dressed and go home finally and they wheeled me out to Mr. G who had been patiently waiting in the car to pick me up.  He said they had sent him out earlier, and then told him to come back in when they sent me for x-rays.  Fortunately, he only had to pay once to exit the parking lot!

Once home, I lay down with a heating pad on my abdomen and all was right with the world once more. I was even able to eat some grilled fish, baked potato and green beans for dinner and some delicious strawberry cheesecake for dessert.  I felt pretty good all day Thursday and figured this colonoscopy thing wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be.  One odd thing, though,  I began to itch and discovered that I was still wearing the five little electrode patches.  I wondered just how they showed up on the x-ray if they did show up!

I know that folks  tend to run when someone says, “I had surgery,  let me show you my scar,” but for those of you who are turned on by gross stuff here are some pics.  Be warned, though, they are pretty gross.
The middle row, pics  4-6, show the two polyps they removed.  Pics 7,8 and 9 are the pics of the tumor.   In 8 and 9 it reminds me of some kind of evil ninja turtle.

There were 16 pics in all but I thought I’d spare you any more trauma. Stay tuned for part 3.

Gut Feelings, Part 1

April  12, 2015

I’ve lived with weird gut problems most of my adult life. So much so that I can tell you exactly where every public restroom along any given route or in any public building is and how long it takes to dash to it from point A, B or C.  Eating out was a problem because I was never sure just what might trigger an attack. But I learned to live with it and life went on more or less normally with a minimum of embarrassing incidents and accidents.

Some time back, though, I began to develop other problems. I hate going to the doctor and rarely do so unless something seems broken, so I self-diagnosed myself with bleeding hemorrhoids and constipation. Last month, I decided that hemorrhoids didn’t last that long without letting up and maybe a doctor should check me out.  Our family doctor had died within the last year so I ended up going to a new doctor I’d never seen before. He did a blood work up, then donned his latex gloves, well lubricated, to do a digital rectal exam. That was SO much fun! He figured I was about  20 years overdue for a colonoscopy so he had his nurse schedule one with a gastroenterologist. The colonoscopy was scheduled for three weeks away. Meanwhile, the results of the blood test showed I had no anemia but I did have high cholesterol so he phoned in a prescription for a statin without discussing it with me. The more I read about statins, the less I liked the idea, and it seemed my levels were not in the danger zone, so I decided to delay starting them until after we saw what turned up on the colonoscopy, and then he and I could discuss whether there was some other way to get the cholesterol levels down without the statins. That at least took my mind off worrying about the colonoscopy.  I had heard so many horror stories about that particular procedure that I was ready to call if off more than once during that three week wait.

I got a little package in the mail from the gastroenterology clinic telling me my procedure was scheduled for April 8, this past Wednesday. In the package was a prescription for a laxative with the  innocent sounding name of Nulytely, plus instructions to buy another over-the-counter laxative pill.  I was to go on a clear liquid diet on Tuesday, the day before the procedure, take two laxative pills at 2 PM, mix up the wonderful prescription powdered drink with warm water, then pour half of it out (I was beginning to like these directions already!) then divide the remaining liquid, refrigerate it and begin drinking the first half, which amounted to a liter, at 6 PM, drinking a glass full every 10-20 minutes until the first liter was gone.  Then I was to wake up at 3AM and drink the second liter. That sounded doable.  I mean, how bad can two liters of a mixture of polyethylene glycol, table salt, potassium chloride, bicarbonate of soda and lemon-lime flavoring actually taste? 

As it turns out, it really didn’t taste all that bad- unlike the blue Gatorade I bought to supplement my liquid diet- now THAT was gross tasting stuff!  The first liter of the prep stuff wasn’t so bad. I had read all kinds of horror tales about the prep and how it was the worst part of the whole thing, etc. but I’d also read some helpful hints on the Colon Cancer Alliance site. They suggested checking with your doctor and going on a low fiber diet five days before the colonoscopy, which I did. One of the forums had some helpful advice about buying Depends, in case you couldn’t make it to the bathroom in time.  That turned out to be very good advice, because once that stuff hits, it hits hard and fast. Mostly I camped out in the bathroom- even set up the charger for my Kindle and downloaded a few books to keep me occupied. More advice was to get the softest toilet tissue you could find and some baby wipes, along with some diaper rash ointment. All those hints paid off in spades. In an attempt to fool my stomach into thinking it was getting solid food, I ate lime Jello.  If I never see another bowl of lime Jello it will be too soon! That first round of the prep liquid really wasn’t all that bad, except for the fact that every time I moved or walked I could hear all the liquid I’d drunk sloshing around and I was pretty much glued to the toilet seat. I think I flushed at least ten pounds of my already skinny self down the toilet! Given that the adult human body is 55-60% water, I figured that if this colon cleansing kept up much longer Mr. G. would open the bathroom door in the morning to find a collection of bones  surrounding the toilet, with all the flesh and muscle liquefied and flushed away!  I was finally able to feel confident enough, with the added security of a Depends, to go to bed, with the alarm set for 3 AM.

I didn’t need the alarm. The sloshing and rumbling kept me awake and by 2 AM, I’d convinced myself that sleep wasn’t really necessary. At 3AM I drank the first glass of the last liter of prep stuff. It wasn’t going down quite as easily as it had the night before, and try as I might I got only half of it down before it tried to come back up. By then it was 4 AM and I figured if I wasn’t supposed to drink anything after 4, we were done for the morning. I was well on the way to flushing away what little was left of myself and became concerned that the trip to the hospital could get kind of messy.  Mr. G. must have felt the same way, because when I went to get in the car, I saw that he had covered the passenger seat with an old packing quilt, “just in case”.  So there we were at  6:15 AM in the car, going down the driveway when all of a sudden  water began to pour into my lap! It had rained heavily for a few days, and oak catkins had clogged up the drainage channels for the moon roof causing the deluge.  I had Mr. G stop the car so I could get in the back seat.  The roof still leaked in the back but I didn’t feel in danger of drowning back there.  As it turned out, the quilt was a good idea for protecting the seat- but not in the way Mr. G. had planned. :-D  My first thought was that this is a most inauspicious start to the day! However, we arrived at the hospital without incident. The “procedure” will be the subject of my next blog entry.