For those of you who are younger, it’s true what they say about turning 40: it’s all downhill from there. Take me for example.
There’s nothing like getting grey hair (or worse, losing hair in the places you want it, and growing it in the wrong places–I’m lucky when it comes to hair loss, though). Oh wait, I’ve had grey since my 30’s.
Well, then there’s, um, what was I writing about? Ah yes, memory. Oh wait, I’ve always had bad memory–I can’t use turning 40 as an excuse there.
Okay, how about health in general? I hit 40 and, um, well, I guess I’ve actually had assorted aches and pains since my 30’s, too.
So I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I’m really a 50-year old trapped in a 40-year-old body.
Okay, so why am I writing about getting old if it’s so bad? Well, because very recently I had my first-ever certain medical procedure that is associated with old age. So recent, in fact, that as of my deadline I didn’t have the full results of this exam yet (although the doctor relieved me of my worst–and most irrational–fears). It is a medical procedure that is potentially lifesaving, but one so embarrassing Dave Barry has probably written a column about it before (if he has, though, I haven’t read it).
I just had my first colonoscopy.
There, I said it. I don’t feel so bad about it now, knowing Katie Couric of NBC had one done at age 42 on live national television. She did that because her first husband died of colon cancer, which is actually preventable. A colonoscopy can spot if you have the disease and doctors can then begin treatment, which is normally successful if it’s caught early enough.
This procedure isn’t typically recommended until you turn 50 (hence my claim that I’m a 50-year old trapped in a 40-year-old body). And then it’s only recommended you have it done once every decade (thank goodness!).
I’ve usually been the kind of person who won’t see a doctor until I’m either semi-conscious or bleeding profusely from somewhere (and even then, if a simple bandage can stop the bleeding, I won’t go see an M.D.). So it’s only natural that now that I’m 40 I’d become a hypochondriac overnight (I have a number of other–but much-less invasive–medical procedures scheduled for the next few weeks).
Younger readers take note: this is what happens as you get older and your body deteriorates at a geometric rate!
So, why did I go and get a colonoscopy done? Simple answer: doctor’s orders. Seriously… I’d been suffering from the classic symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and heartburn for a number of years but because neither condition was too bad, I ignored them both. Just about the time I turned 40, however, symptoms for the two conditions became stronger, to the point where I couldn’t really ignore them anymore. So I did the HMO thing: I went to see my doctor, who referred me to a GI specialist, where I was then mildly chided for procrastinating about my conditions and scheduled for several procedures, including the colonoscopy.
For those of you who have never had the procedure done, I suggest you thank your lucky stars and kiss the ground right now. Seriously, you have to make sure you are clean internally. That means no food starting the day before the procedure. You’re only allowed clear liquids and jello. The night before, you are supposed to drink A LOT (about 3 quarts to a gallon, in fact) of what could quite possibly qualify as the most vile liquid on earth (and that includes such things as everclear and nuoc mam, a Vietnamese fermented fish sauce). The drink is actually a chalky powder you can only get by prescription (I don’t see why, I don’t know why ANYBODY would want to drink this voluntarily), which you mix with water and then drink. And drink. And drink. And drink some more.
In fact, as my doctor informed me, it is ideal if you drink as much of it as fast as you possibly can (think of chugging from a beer keg, like you might have done in college). Only this isn’t Budweiser.
(WARNING: don’t read the next sentence if you are now or about to begin eating… although I’m having some pizza right now myself).
The drink is supposed to, um, let me put this in medical terms, force you to evacuate your bowels until all you get is nothing but liquid.
Some people say preparing for the colonoscopy is the worst part of the experience. But I’m a wimp when it comes to medical procedures and spending even a few seconds in a sterile, clinical environment where everything is cold, white or stainless steel, and brightly lit. So that’s why I asked for them to knock me out COMPLETELY when my turn came. For that, I am eternally grateful to the doctor’s assistants and staff.
When you’re finished, you’re usually a bit groggy from sedation. Enough so that you should probably have someone else drive you home. In fact, my doctor’s office wouldn’t even begin the procedure unless the person driving you home was either there with you in person, or available by phone (yes, they called to verify my ride home).
As I stated before, I had some other procedures performed on me besides the colonoscopy. During the same visit in fact. So I also had an endoscopy (to check my esophagus for my heartburn) and I had a small device implanted in my esophagus to measure my body’s production of acid. It’s pretty neat: I have to walk around with a small radio receiver that records the information from the implant. At any time, I can see the pH level of my esophagus (it fluctuates from about 6.6 to 7.4, unless I’m eating, then it goes lower). The device is only supposed to record for a couple of days, at which time I return it to my doctor while the small implant is supposed to be “eliminated” (euphemism for “crapped out”) from my body.
For me , the best part of having these procedures done is that they’re over. Now I can go back to “normal” (or what passes for normal in my life) and actually EAT.
But all my health concerns have opened my eyes to something very important. I’ll admit, I love junk food and I love fast food. But I know they’re not very healthy. So now rather than having them as staples of my diet, they are rare treats. I started by eliminating chips of all kind (potato, plantain, tortilla, corn, etc.) from my house. If I wish to munch on something, it’s either popcorn (I prefer Smart Balance or Healthy Choice), nuts, whole wheat crackers, whole wheat toast or fruit. When I do turn to fast food, I try to get a sub and make sure they make it with plenty of vegetables. I haven’t gone overboard on a health kick, but I am more careful about what I eat. And I take my dogs for a walk three times a day, rather than let them go out to my small yard to “go.”
If you’re under 40, I urge you to consider making changes in your life to promote better health. I mean, you wouldn’t want to become old and decrepit like me, would you?