Tag Archives: health

I survived my colonoscopy

Colonoscopy is the new root canal; everyone who hasn’t had one yet fears it, and everyone who has had one has a horror story. The people who haven’t had a colonoscopy are afraid of the procedure itself. The people who have had one can tell you that the colonoscopy is a cakewalk. It’s the preparation that’ll test your mettle.

At the appointed hour for my colonoscopy, as I lay on the gurney, a nurse explained the procedure to me. She pointed to a high-definition monitor on which I’d be able to view the inside of my colon. She told me that during the procedure they pump in air and that I’d need to expel it and I shouldn’t feel self-conscious. I can’t imagine why she bothered with all that information, because the one thing she neglected to tell me was that as soon as they started the valium-like drip I’d be out like a light. I did not get to watch my colon on TV, and I was not aware of the need to expel air. For all I know, while I was out they removed a few organs. No matter, I had a great nap.

The preparation is to flush your system so the gastroenterologist can see what they’re doing. A couple of days before my procedure I had to drink ten ounces of magnesium citrate, a saline-based laxative. The day before, I went on a ‘clear liquid’ diet. These things were no big deal. The night before was when things got hairy. If you’re not already familiar with Dave Barry’s piece about his colonoscopy, and you want a good laugh, you should read it. He focuses less on what he had to drink and more on what the end result was. I was more traumatized by what I had to take in than what ultimately came out.

In fifteen minute intervals, I was supposed to drink ninety-six ounces of a solution that was mostly water, had an off-putting, but bearable, taste, and a strange viscosity. After an hour and fifteen minutes, and five glasses of this stuff, it all came up again. I called my father (a doctor) for advice and he said, “Keep going. If you’re not cleaned out the scope won’t work and you’ll have to start over again.” Over my dead body, I thought. I apprehensively drank three more glasses and then took the prescribed hour off. I could only force myself to drink two more glasses after that; sixteen ounces shy of the total. If someone had held a gun to my head and said, “Drink more or die,” I would have said, “Shoot me.”

At the hospital the next morning, I told everyone who would listen that I had not completed the preparation and was scared that I would ‘fail’ as a result. No one seemed too concerned. On my discharge notes, the doctor wrote, “Excellent prep!” I felt like a school girl who’d gotten an unexpected A. Maybe gastroenterologists aren’t sadists after all. Maybe they know that if you’re busy focusing on the horror of the preparation, you won’t worry about the reason you’re doing it. Oh yeah, turns out I don’t have cancer.


Just because you’re paranoid…

I got in the car this morning to drive my daughter to the bus, and pushed the button that turns on the Prius. Nothing happened. I looked at the dashboard and saw that the only light that had appeared was a small key icon with a line through it. That didn’t do it for me. I said, without expecting an answer, “What gives?” And my fourteen-year-old daughter, who does not drive, replied, “Do you have your purse?”

The Prius has what’s called a ‘keyless entry’; you carry a fob that communicates with the car and as long as it’s in the vicinity of the ignition you’re good to go. The fob lives in a zipped pocket in my purse. I never leave the house without my purse. My purse was in the house.

Last week, I was working out with my trainer, and he demonstrated something he wanted me to do. Then he went to get a floor mat and I immediately forgot the specifics of what he had shown me fifteen seconds earlier.

I recently read a book called Still Alice, about a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s. The protagonist was about my age, but much more accomplished, a professor at Harvard (which underscored how much she had to lose compared to the rest of us). Literary criticism aside, I found the book disturbing, primarily because now I have something else to worry about.

I’ve had a bad memory all my life. I inherited it from my mother, who, by the way, is still sharp as the proverbial tack. I always make lists of things to do so I’ll remember to do them. If I run to the store for a couple of things without writing down what I need, I’ll recite a list of the items all the way there so I won’t forget. I always knew this behavior indicated a somewhat compulsive nature, but I didn’t think it foreshadowed Alzheimer’s.

Since reading Still Alice, that’s all I think about. I fantasize about what life would be like for my husband and daughter if I did have that disease. I wonder if I’d have the courage, not to mention the wherewithal, to check out before it became too problematical for all of us. When these thoughts get overwhelming, I chastise myself for being maudlin and melodramatic. I remind myself that there’s no family history of Alzheimer’s, and the likelihood that I will fall prey to it is slim. Then I remember the old chestnut, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you, and I start to worry all over again.

When is a religion not a religion?

It came up during dinner conversation the other night that the fatal disease, Tay-Sachs, is more likely to be found in Jews than other ethnic groups. My daughter thought (since we’re Jewish) that I was expressing some bizarre form of reverse bigotry, making a gross generalization. I explained that no, Jews had a genetic predisposition to the disease.

She pointed out that we have good friends who are Jews-by-choice, so they’re not more likely to carry Tay-Sachs than non-Jews, ergo, being Jewish had nothing to do with it. I allowed as how converted Jews probably didn’t carry the genes, but it didn’t change the fact that Jews by birth were at higher risk than the general population.

I explained that all ethnic groups have some genetic predispositions when it comes to diseases (not that I can name any, other than maybe hemophilia for descendants of European royalty) and that Jews were no different. It was clear that even post-Bat Mitzvah, my fourteen-year old still hadn’t fully groked the fact that we’re not just Jewish by religion, but by dint of our ethnic group. (What did she think the Nazis were going on about?)

The knowledge that Jews, as a group, share genetic traits, should help explain why there are so many Jews who are also atheists: there’s more to being Jewish than the religion. For many of us, the cultural identity far outweighs the religious aspect, and for some, the whole g-d part is irrelevant, if not moot. (I’m not admitting to my own beliefs one way or the other, but let’s just say I’m starting to appreciate the wisdom of the old saying, ‘there are no atheists in foxholes’.)

I always wondered why Jews were the only religion that carried the -ish suffix. Christians are Christian, Muslims are Muslim, but Jews are Jewish. The suffix can mean (among other things) being, as in British (of Britain), or inclined or liable to, as in bookish. That supports my contention that I am part of an ethnic group (Jewish) and inclined toward the religion (Jewish).

I recently found out that Ashkenazi Jews are also slightly more prone to breast and ovarian cancer. As a matter of fact, it turns out there are a whole host of Jewish genetic diseases I didn’t know about. It’s enough to make me want to convert, until I remember that it doesn’t matter what I say, it’s in my DNA.

Water, water, everywhere…

First a volcano in Iceland erupts and causes us to cancel our trip to Paris. Painful as that experience was, it served to remind us that there’s no place like home. Now a broken water main makes the simple act of brushing ones teeth onerous enough that home isn’t looking too attractive anymore either.

When the water main that serves our area broke, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), started feeding us water from alternate sources; bodies of water that are not normally purified. The MWRA began to treat that water right away but it wasn’t enough to guarantee that some nasty germs didn’t sneak in. To be sure that the water was safe to consume, the Department of Health issued a ‘boil water’ order.

At first I wasn’t all that concerned. I don’t drink much water and I figured if I was thirsty Fresca would do the trick. It didn’t take long, however, for the magnitude of the problem to become apparent. We use clean water for a whole lot more than drinking, and even I would balk at brushing my teeth with Fresca.

So boil water we did. We boiled big pots of water and when they cooled we transferred the water to pitchers and boiled some more. We put pitchers of boiled water in the bathrooms so we could fill and re-fill glasses to brush our teeth and rinse our toothbrushes. We finessed the hand-washing problem with liquid hand sanitizer. But we couldn’t reach a consensus on how to handle dishes.

Modern-day dishwashers have a ‘sanitize cycle’ that goes up to 150 degrees. But don’t let the word sanitize fool you. You have to hit 170 degrees to actually kill some of the bacteria we’re fretting about. To paraphrase The Princess Bride, at 150 degrees your dishes would be “mostly clean.” The public health folks suggest you avoid the issue altogether and use disposable dishes and cutlery. Sadly, that doesn’t square with our desire to minimize the amount of garbage we contribute to the landfill.

For now, we’re using our dishes and putting them in the dishwasher. We’re not running the dishwasher, mind you, we’re just staging the dishes there while we wait for the MWRA to pronounce the water good to go. If we don’t do any cooking, and we eat dinner out, I think we can hold out for another couple of days. After that, if the water’s not clean, we’ll just have to move.