Tuesday, August 18, 2015
A Colonoscopy for a Wheelchair User
But I didn’t accept my 50th birthday present. I wasn’t comfortable with the logistics, given that I’m a wheelchair user. As my 52nd birthday approached, however, I reconsidered and thought it might be important to get a colonoscopy. I’ve heard that colon cancer sucks, and that catching it early improves your survival rate dramatically. For me, the problem was the preparation required the day before the procedure. Patients have to drink a laxative concoction which induces sudden and uncontrollable bowel movements (or BMs, as my mother, a real lady, used to call them). Patients stay close to the toilet to avoid accidents. I have an overhead lift system to get me from wheelchair to toilet, and the transfer process takes 30 to 60 seconds. Hence the problem.
The obvious solution would be for me to sit on the toilet for the entire 3 to 5 hours of, let’s call it vigorous bowel activity. Because I no longer can shift my weight around to remain comfortable, I have an elaborate seating system on my wheelchair, with various air chambers and cushions, and the ability to recline my upper body and raise my feet. Even this system barely allows me to get through the day without a sore butt. I dreaded the thought of sitting on the toilet seat for five hours.
But I knew what I had to do. I scheduled a colonoscopy for last Friday morning. The procedure called for me to take a laxative pill at noon on Thursday and then start drinking the laxative cocktail at 4 PM. I sat on the toilet at 3 PM. It didn’t take long before my butt ached, so we became innovative. First, we added two small pillows between me and the seat. That helped for about half an hour. Then we tried two big pillows. That helped for another half hour. Then Kim ran to the corner drugstore and bought one of those inflatable donuts that women use after they have a baby. That got me through the rest of the five-hour ordeal, but it wasn’t fun.
Harley asked me a ton of medical and personal questions, including, “How tall are you?”
“About four feet, six inches,” I responded.
“I can see what kind of day this is going to be,” she said with a smile.
Next, Harley tried to start an IV, with no success. Two other nurses poked me a total of four other times, until I had five holes in me, but still no IV started. Each nurse apologized profusely. I explained that I am a difficult prick, so to speak, even when I’m properly hydrated. Then they brought in the heavy artillery. I can’t remember her name, but she said she usually worked “downstairs.” After a few minutes, she was able to thread the catheter in my vein and establish an IV.
Quite late now for my 7:30 colonoscopy, they wheeled me into the procedure room. Two nurses and the doctor rolled me over on my side to expose my, shall we say, point of entry. They hung a bag of the sedative solution on my IV stand but couldn’t get it to flow into my vein. I asked one of the nurses (not Harley) if the IV was working. “We will make it work,” she said with determination. So, instead of a constant drip throughout the procedure, they force-fed two syringes of the drug directly into my IV port, and it worked.
Why am I sharing this story with you? If you are a disabled person, this serves as a reminder that even though you may have a serious condition, like MS, for example, you still need to consider your overall health and well-being, and you need to get the screenings recommended for people your age.
If you’re not a disabled person, and you are avoiding screenings like a colonoscopy, I hope this post makes you feel guilty. Given that I made it through this procedure, certainly you can.
In closing, if you live in the United States, or somewhere else where colonoscopies are recommended at the half century mark, I wish you a very shitty 50th birthday, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.