Tom Ross: A gift for me
I finally went in for that colonoscopy, and it wasn’t so bad
December 28, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Here's hoping you had a peaceful holiday weekend and Santa left your heart's desire under the tree Saturday.
I can say that without a doubt the most precious gift I received this season was the peace of mind that comes from having finally gone into Yampa Valley Medical Center for a colonoscopy. Yeah, I know, it's pretty unglamorous and damn tricky to gift-wrap.
The colonoscopy is a gift I should have given myself years ago, but I sometimes put things off to an unreasonable degree. I think one of the reasons I've remained a newspaper reporter for all of these years is that I need the external discipline of daily and weekly deadlines to be my most productive.
However, in my case, there's no excuse for not having gone in for a colonoscopy sooner. I've had all of the warnings anyone could possibly need. I understand how important it is to get screened for colorectal cancer.
And my family is blessed to have great medical benefits through my employment, something I never have taken for granted. It was a provision in our health insurance plan that finally got me into Dr. Mark Hermacinski's office at Alpine Surgical Associates this month to make an appointment for the colonoscopy. The cafeteria plan in our health coverage allows families to plan to set aside a fixed amount of money for the coming year's medical expenses and then have them deducted from their paychecks before taxes are withheld.
One year ago, I chose to set aside enough money to cover my first colonoscopy, at age 57. The bulk of the cost of the procedure, about $1,400, already had been paid for — I had to go.
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I know, I should have done this five years ago. So, consider this a confession.
I had the colonoscopy Dec. 20, and thanks to a team of reassuring nurses in pre-op at the hospital, and the light anesthesia administered by Dr. Jeffrey Pal, it was no big deal. The surgeon found a polyp that needed to be removed and cleanly excised it.
The only thing I remember of the entire procedure was putting a breathing mask over my face and drifting off to a pleasant dream. I regained consciousness in the recovery room, wondering what had just happened.
When I returned to work first thing Tuesday morning, a colleague asked where I had been, and when I replied with a deliberately vague explanation, he responded, "Oh, they violated you."
I was taken aback at first, but as I pondered his reaction, it occurred to me that one of the reasons people put off colonoscopies could have been betrayed in his remark. They feel squeamish and uneasy about it.
So, this is to reassure you that having a colonoscopy with anesthesia is an experience you never will remember in any detail, but one that could save your life.
Hermacinski took a few minutes in the midst of a busy schedule of holiday colonoscopies last week to interpret the meaning of the polyp he removed from the nether regions of my large intestine.
It's not cancer — it's pre-cancerous.
"In another 10 years, that would be full-blown colon cancer," he said matter-of-factly while looking at a color photo of the offending mass of tissue.
I guess it would be safe to think of the polyp as a little, pink, ticking time bomb — one that the bomb squad has deftly neutralized.
Finally, Hermacinski invited me to come back in five years to have another colonoscopy to see whether I have any new polyps. That's a date I solemnly promise to keep.
And if you are older than 50 and you've been putting off your own colonoscopy because you imagine it will be unpleasant, you've got it all wrong.