Lucky Number Seven

Today I had my seventh colonoscopy. I’m afraid to report that colonoscopies don’t get easier with age. My mother contracted colon cancer when she was around 70 years old.  She hated them. More specifically, she HATED drinking “the stuff”, the liquid you take to flush your digestive tract out. Back in those days (we’re talking about 1990 or so) you had to drink a gallon of rank tasting liquid. Then repeat the process 12 hours later. In between you shitted your brains out.

It’s much easier now. You only have to drink 48 ounces (you save 12 ounces! What a bargain) twelve hours apart. And the foul tasting stuff is only in the first 16 of the 48 ounces. A friend of mine told me about her colonoscopy prep. She took a pill. Even better she was awake for the procedure and watched it on TV.

When you get your colonoscopy, try to schedule it for early in the morning. The only slot my doctor had was 11:30 a.m. so I was pretty much up the Shits Creek without a paddle, so to speak.

For three days prior to the procedure you can’t eat anything that might get hung up in your inner tubes. Popcorn, peas, fruit with skin, nuts, etc. I had Indian food one night and Thanksgiving leftovers the another. The day before you can’t have any solid food, only clear liquids. I chowed down on tea, gatorade, and chicken broth. How do you handle a hungry maaaan?

At 4 p.m. I drank my first round of the stuff.  I fought off the urge to throw up. Then, after an hour, I heard the telltale gurgle in my gut and ran to the bathroom where I made like a Saturn 5 rocket engine for about an hour. It’s unbelievable how effective the stuff is. It must have Drano in it to work it’s way through your intestines so fast. The entire time the stuff was doing, well, its stuff, I was thinking of one scatological joke after another. I was just making the best of a totally helpless situation.

After an hour, the storm receded and was followed by occasional shit squalls until midnight. I fell asleep with my alarm set for 4 a.m. when round two would commence.

Let me tell you, as a breakfast drink, The Stuff is rather rude. I downed the brew and waited. Then the voiding process repeated. This time, thankfully, I had no more solids in me. (The doctor’s instructions say that if the prep doesn’t work, you’ll have to do it for two days. I’d rather die.) We renovated the bathroom next to the man cave this year and I am happy to report that the toilet and piping passed the ultimate test with flying colors. Mrs. Rootchopper had put a new bottle of Febreeze in the bathroom and it kept the paint from peeling off the walls.

By about 7:30 I was empty. I could tell just by looking in the mirror. My belly was flatter than it has been since riding 4,300 miles to Portland in 2018. Mrs. Rootchopper drove me to the hospital and, after a 20 minute uneventful check-in process, I was taken back to the pre-op area.

I weighed in at 203 with my clothes and shoes one. I was down about 8 pounds from my last weigh in a month ago. (Have I got a diet for you! Actually, don’t even go there. I tried a water diet my freshman year in college. It messed me up for three days. And could have killed me.)

I got in my gown and laid down on a comfy portable bed. A nurse took my vital signs. My blood pressure was normal. My pulse was 44. (“I ride a bicycle. A lot.”) The nurse covered me with a warm blanket. Having had only about 4 hours of continuous sleep, I was ready to take a snooze. And so I did. Zzzzz.

The doctor was backed up. Wait, let me rephrase that. He was behind schedule. So I got a nice hour or two nap in. Then I was wheeled to an operating room. There the anesthesia nurse gave me a stimulant to increase my heart rate.  A pulse of 44 leaves too little down side. Then she injected one of the tubes leading to my veins with an anesthetic and I woke up. In the recovery room.

I have no recollection of the procedure. For all I know they went out for lunch at Denny’s.

After a while my doctor came by with the preliminary results. (My brain: Please don’t be cancer. Please don’t be cancer.) He had pictures that look like a tunnel except for close ups of three polyps. One looked innocuous to him. The others looked worthy of a biopsy. Once that was done he removed them. Actually, he torched them. Seriously. Thankfully, the prep had eliminated the chance for a fatal blue dart.

My doctor, who has been doing colonoscopies on me for 24 years, thinks that the lab results will show that the polyps he biopsied are benign. He gave me the good news that if they are benign, I don’t need another colonoscopy for three years. (Most people who are free of polyps or tumors and have no family history are put on a five or ten year cycle. Thanks, Mom.)

I do hope that the prep is made easier by then. This was the hardest prep I’ve ever done. I attribute the difficulty to age. No wonder my mother hated it so. I can’t imagine being 70 years old and weighing all of 105 pounds and going through this over and over and over again. She was one tough customer. She also survived her colon cancer and lived another 20 years.

So there you have the whole story.

Many thanks to Mrs. Rootchopper for getting me to and from the hospital and waiting several hours longer than we had planned. And thanks to my doctor and the staff and nurses at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital for being so professional and good humored.

PSA – Get your ass to a doctor

If you’ve been meaning to do one of those cleansings of your inner organs, do I have a treat for you.

This week I will be having my seventh colonoscopy. PARTAY! Colon cancer doesn’t much care if you think a colonoscopy is gross. To be honest, the cleansing routine the day before is not much fun, although, unlike a decade ago, you no longer have to drink two gallons of foul tasting fluid to get the job done. Fair warning: do this at home. (Don’t ask.)

My mother survived it. My friend Bob is undergoing chemo for it. My grad school roommate Chet died of it a year ago. Like you, they were/are all very nice people. Colon cancer didn’t much care.

So if you are 50 or older, or if you have a family history of colon cancer, get your ass to a doctor and get a colonoscopy. It’s not nearly as gross as having eye surgery while conscious. (Been there. Done that. I have stories.)

Pictures of the Year 2016

 

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Sunrise on the Mount Vernon Trail

When the sun and my work day cooperate, I stop and take in the sunset over the Potomac River. It rarely disappoints.

The Big Reveal
100,000 Miles

It took me 25 years but I managed to ride 100,000 miles since acquiring The Mule (bottom left) in 1991. In 2002 I bought Big Nellie, a Tour Easy recumbent (top left), and rode it exclusively for several years. In 2009 (or thereabouts) I bought my Bike Friday New World Tourist, a folding travel bike that I call Little Nellie (upper right). Last year I picked up Deets, a Surly Cross Check, that turns out to be a fantastic bike for commuting.

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Drink Up Cowboy (Colonoscopy Prep)

In October, amid a frenzy of bike event riding, I had a colonoscopy. It was my third. I am happy to report that there was no cancer detected. I’ll be back in 2019 for another. Drink up!

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Me in Front of Copenhagen Central Station Bike Racks

I went to Scandinavia with my wife and daughter. I didn’t ride a bike but I saw a few here and there. The cycling infrastructure is so much better than in the U.S. And the road users are all so well behaved. As my friend Finn Quinn once said: “The future is a foreign country.” We can only hope.

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Beer Tent Volunteers at Tour de Fat

I volunteered at the Tour de Fat this year. I had fun despite not being completely recovered from my not so fun trip to the ER a week earlier. We were a well behaved bunch. The only beer we imbibed were the ones the organizers comped us for our efforts on their behalf.

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Friday Coffee Club

You may never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. You certainly won’t find it here because the building where this picture was taken is being renovated. Friday Coffee Club moved across town and, but for one appearance after Thanksgiving, I had to stop going. I miss these scoundrels.

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Michelle Smiles Even When She’s Freezing (Vasa Ride)

Speaking of scoundrels, for the last several years Michelle has been running bike events at the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA). I am convinced that she is trying to kill me. It is widely rumored that she even controls the weather. I am so grateful for all the hard work Michelle (and the other folks at WABA and the volunteers) put in to make #bikedc better every year. (Michelle also has a serious interest in the Beats and Kerouac. Check out her blog.)

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Amy at Great Pumpkin Ride

It was windy and coolish, but Amy was determined to do her first long event ride. This hill during the Great Pumpkin Ride near Warreton Virginia was mighty steep but Amy (with Jody behind her) managed it without apparent difficulty. The leaves on the road were produced by powerful winds that made the day quite a work out. The rest stop after this photo was at a Old Bust Head brewery.

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Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan

This picture doesn’t do justice to how steep these dunes are. And this is only about 1/2 of the height. The remaining elevation is obscured by the angle of my shot. Later that day the road I was on went up the dunes just to the south of this one. It made for some tough climbing into a persistent headwind. It was perhaps the physically hardest day of my 11-day solo bike tour. As hard as it was on my body, the tour was a feast of rolling meditation for my mind and soul.

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What Yoopers Eat (Bike Tour)

The people who live on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the UP, are called Yoopers. They eat white fish and pasties (a kind of meat pie) and have their own candy bar. They (mostly) also talk like all the hockey players from Ontario that I roomed with during my freshman year at college. Eh?

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My Deck Buddy

I was hanging out on my deck one sunny day when I went to open my deck umbrella and found this critter. Cute.

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My Perch in Left Field

The left field grandstand was my perch for about 10 games at Nats Park this year. I became personal friends with Jason Werth. (That’s him in left field.) Okay, that’a s lie.Somewhere up there under the third light stanchion is Klarence keeping score. Hurry spring!

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Darth Paul on the Five Boro Ride

That’s Paul on the left on FDR Drive on the east side of Manhattan. It is cold. It is raining. Paul is not smiling. He had so much fun. We stopped in Astoria, Queens, to stand around and freeze our asses off. Who knew that the Brooklyn Queens Expressway would be even more fun. I have now ridden my bike across the Verrazano Narrows and the Golden Gate. Woot!

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A Section of the AT

The Appalachian Trail is nice enough to come down to I-66 which made for a couple of convenient solo day hikes.

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Veronica Help Us Save a Duckling on the MVT

I found a duckling on the Mount Vernon Trail on the way to work one morning. Mr friend Linel stopped to help and we tried to figure out what do with it. Then Veronica showed up. She took the duckling to her office then to an animal rescue place. This is a decidedly better outcome that the two animal skeletons I saw last year. Just sayin’. Thanks, Veronica.

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Night in the ER

This is me getting a nebulizer treatment in the ER. A few hours earlier I couldn’t move without experiencing a knife-like pain in my upper right chest. (I blame yoga.) The doctors were pretty confident that it wasn’t a heart attack. I had a resting pulse of 46 and my blood pressure was normal. They did some tests and took some x-rays. Then they put this on me. I was recovered enough to do Bike to Work Day, volunteer at Tour de Fat, ride DC Bike Ride, and fly to Stockholm over the next nine days. Do not try this at home. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Getting MY Ass to the Doctor

Well, today’s the day for my colonoscopy. It’s a routine test. I have no symptoms to indicate anything is wrong, but you never know. Fingers crossed. Knock on wood.

Just to let you in on the fun, here is what’s went down this week.

Monday to Wednesday: My diet was restricted in preparation for the big event. I could not eat peas, corn, nuts, popcorn and other small foods that might not be fully digested by my stomach and small intestine. So I changed my diet for a few days. Pizza for lunch! (My advice is to add jalapeno peppers to the do not eat list. You’ll thank me for this.)

Wednesday: No solid food today. Just clear liquids. Breakfast was a can of Sprite. Through the rest of the day I drank four cups of coffee, a jumbo Gatorade, an Arnold Palmer (may he rest in peace), a Mountain Dew, and lots of water. I had chicken broth for dinner. (And, yes, I still biked to work.)

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The stuff

Wednesday evening: I began drinking what my mom called “the stuff.” This is a liquid laxative that flushes your system out. Years ago this meant drinking two gallons of really nasty tasting fluid. Now the stuff is a six ounce bottle of clear laxative topped off with 10 ounces of water. This is followed by two pints of water. I cheated. I had two cans of broth and some water left over from my bike bottle.

 

Based on my experience, there is no telling when the laxative will start flushing you out. So you would be wise to do this at home. This time it was about an hour after I drank the stuff. Basically, your stomach starts feeling like Vesuvius, then you hightail it to the WC where you sudden are doing a rather good imitation of the launch rockets on a Saturn 5.

This continues at random intervals for the next two and a half hours.  With each “launch” the flow is clearer. This is good.

It did not hurt. At all.

Thursday morning: At 8 am I take my second dose of the stuff. Drink two pints of water. We have liftoff!!! After three trips to the Kennedy Space WC, I have achieved clarity. Mission accomplished.

My next task was to avoid any thought of food. Chocolate chip cookies. Pizza. Tater tots. Beer. Burritos. Ice cream. I have  a three-hour wait until I go to the hospital. I take a nap a and dream of all the foods.

Thursday afternoon: Mrs. Rootchopper drives me to the hospital. I already paid by phone and gave the hospital my medical information but I still go through check in and registration because hospital redundancy makes the military look like amateurs.

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Yellow Sticky Sox

I walk to the prep room. Mrs. Rootchopper is sent to a waiting room. I put on the standard hospital gown, open in the back, of course. And some yellow sticky socks. Then I climb on a hospital bed. I am covered in warm blankets. I am given a binkie. (No, I just made that up. But it was super comfy under the blankets.) My prep nurse reviews my medical info because redundancy. Another nurse starts an IV for fluids. The fluids are cold, but that’s just the contrast with my body temperature.

 

The prep nurse sees my pulse is 44 to 46. “Do you work out?” I love when they ask this. I’m a bike commuter! The nurse anesthesiologist appears. I tell him I’m a barfer. He starts me on an anti0nausea drug. He says the anesthetic is pretty short acting but I won’t feel anything during the procedure. I am also given something to raise my heart rate. This is just in case the anesthetic causes my heart rate to drop unexpectedly. It gives him room for error.

Another tech nurse comes in. He positions me for the procedure. I move to the right edge of the bed. Then I roll onto my left side. My knees come up near my chest. My feet and shins are cushioned by warm towels. The doctor will, um, see you now.

Then the doctor shows up. All set? Let’s do it. The anesthesiologist starts the anesthetic. It’s 2:00 pm.

I wake up. Another nurse is there. She tells me it’s over. I look at the clock. 2:15. I felt absolutely nothing. I am lying on the same bed that I started on. On my back. Under warm blankets. The nurse starts asking me how I am doing. My mouth is incredibly dry. She brings me some ice water. Ahhhh! She confirms that my prep was done properly and that the doctor had no problems doing the exam.

The doctor bursts in. Stinking of gin. No, I made that up.

The doctor comes by. He has pictures from the procedure. He found two polyps. In different parts of my colon. He says they both look benign but they are being sent to pathology for confirmation. I’ll know more in a week. The doctor is unconcerned. I think he will keep me on the three-year screening cycle because of the polyps and my family history.

Mrs. Rootchopper comes in. The nurse gives her my post-op instructions and she signs the release form because I am still legally not allowed to do so since I am still groggy from the anesthesia.

I feel fine. Drink some more ice water. I stand to get dressed and stagger back against the bed. I start putting on my underpants backwards. Then I start doing the same with my sweatshirt. Mrs. Rootchopper gets a laugh out of it. Okay, I’m gonna chill for the rest of the day.

A volunteer comes and gives me a wheel chair ride to the car that Mrs. Rootchopper has pulled up to the hospital door. In five minutes I am home eating a light meal.

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Post Op Comfort Food

That’s it. Easy peasy. I should be fine to ride to work in the morning. Rachel “Don’t Call Me Bob” Cannon has offered to buy me a cookie at Friday Coffee Club. I just might take her up on that.

I was going to include pictures from the procedure but that might gross you out. They are of the inside of the colon. The irregularities are obvious which is why this screening is so useful to doctors. I think the pictures are really cool, but I know some people find this sort of thing off-putting. (I used to like looking at my father’s medical journals. My colonoscopy pictures are pretty boring by comparison.)

I encourage you to talk to your doctor, especially if you have an immediate family history (mother, father, syblings) of colon cancer. Or if you have any abnormal symptoms that might involve your colon.

 

 

 

Get Your Ass to a Doctor

I have often said that had I been born 200 years ago I would have died before the age of 50. Modern medicine has fixed my broken parts many, many times. Nearsightedness, a damaged knee, a ruptured disk, two retinal detachments in my left eye, cataracts in both eyes, and secondary cataracts in both eyes. I just wasn’t born for the long haul.

I apparently also have a little genetic flaw. About 25 or so years ago, my mother contracted colon cancer. She caught hers in time, had an operation, and lived to the age of 90. Inside of my colon cells lingers a strand of DNA that is going

Tick, tick, tick.

Colonoscopies are examinations in which a doctor uses a fiber optic camera at the tip of a long flexible probe to search for irregularities. Cancerous tumors are of immediate concern but so too are polyps, bumps in the wall of the colon that can become cancerous.

When I was around 40, I had my first colonoscopy. In order to clear out my pipes, I had to drink about a gallon of laxative solution that tasted pretty wretched. My mother, who weighed less than half of what I weigh, had to drink about twice as much. Once, she was diagnosed, she had to have frequent colonoscopies. She didn’t mind the procedure itself but she HATED that “stuff” as she called it.

My first colonoscopy came back clear. My second revealed a couple of polyps which were removed and proved to be innocuous. My third not so much. I had seven polyps. My once every five year routine was bumped up to once every three years. In recent preparation for a colonoscopy next month, my doctor showed me why. He pulled out his tablet computer and pulled up a picture from my last procedure. All the way back, at the furthest point in my colon, I could clearly see what looked like a wart. It was an adenoma. This is a type of polyp that could have morphed into a tumor had it not been removed. Welcome to the high risk list. 

I have no symptoms. I felt fine then. I feel fine now. But I know that dear old Mom left me a gift that I don’t want to open. So in a month, I go for my fourth colonoscopy. Each of my four procedures has been a little different. Each time the laxative solution is less voluminous and less nasty tasting. One time I was given light sedation. This was rather fun (I loved up at the nurse who injected me and said, “That feels WONDERFUL” as the drug worked its way into my brain) except when the instrument had to turn a corner. Last time I was knocked out completely. No muss, no fuss.

Here’s how the deal will go down:

I stop eating small foods like corn, peas, and nuts beginning on Sunday. On Wednesday I drink only clear liquids. No solid food at all. At 6 pm on Wednesday, I drink a 16 ounce solution of the stuff. Then another 16 ounces on Thursday morning at 8. At 1 pm, I go to the hospital. At 2 they do the deed. At 3 I will be at home having something to eat before sleeping off the lingering anesthesia. Friday, I go back to work.

It’s that easy. It doesn’t hurt. Regardless of the outcome I will be much better off for having the colonoscopy done.

If you have a family history of colon cancer, talk to your doctor about getting a colonoscopy.

Whether you have a history or not, if you are 50 or older, get one.

Don’t believe all the unpleasant stories you’ve heard. It’s not bad at all. It’s way easier than retina surgery or back surgery. And it’s way easier than contracting undetected colon cancer and having a bowel resection or worse.

Yeah, it’s icky. It’s inconvenient. Do it anyway.

And finally a special note to my middle-aged (sorry, middle age begins at 40) friends who live an awesomely healthy lifestyle (e.g, yoga, gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, whole 30, microbiotic). Good on you. Now get your ass to the doctor! No excuses. To my friends go all woo woo about the universe taking care of you. It’s time to put a colonoscope in your present moment.