Thankful For My Pre-Holiday Colonoscopy
by Emil Guillermo
This Thanksgiving, President Joe Biden pardoned Chocolate and Chip, two North Carolina turkeys. But don’t forget about the other 45 million unpardoned birds. Just go vegan.
It’s not impossible to go beyond the cruelty of the Thanksgiving meal. You’ll still be full, but healthier. And if you eat more vegetables, your colon will definitely be grateful.
And that was my goal this year, to have a grateful colon.
Consider this your holiday public service announcement.
Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer among Asian Americans (compared to the third most common in the U.S.), and the most common cause of cancer death among Asian Americans, according to Wiley Research.
So after years of procrastination, the Friday before Thanksgiving, I had a colonoscopy.
Colonoscopy, of course, is a big word for “Your large intestine would like its picture taken—from the inside—now.”
In the past, this would seem to be an impossible selfie. God did not make it easy to do such a thing. But thanks to human ingenuity, the idea of a camera up one’s butt was not considered so daunting a task.
Today, colonoscopies are practically a drive-through procedure. There are 15 million colonoscopies served in the U.S. each year. It’s practically a McColonoscopy.
And yet for some reason, I had remained skeptical. There’s just something about your colon saying it’s ready for its close-up.
I had signed up and canceled so many times. I even tried that alternative method I call “poop in a box,” whereby you simply put your stool in a plastic bag and send it by USPS.
I couldn’t do it. I know my mailman. The box sat on my desk empty. And now Katie Couric, whose husband died of colon cancer, has switched from being the face of colonoscopy to pitching women for “poop in a box.” I still couldn’t.
I can’t explain my colonoscopy reluctance, but the facts end up making the case.
Colon cancer the most common cause of cancer death among Asian Americans. If you’re over 50, a colonoscopy is the best first step to finding out what’s inside you.
But even as I was ready for the procedure, in October the New England Medical Journal published a landmark study. that said maybe the benefits of colonoscopies for cancer screening have been oversold.
A group from the University of Oslo did the first head-to-head comparison of colonoscopies vs. doing nothing in a randomized trial.
The results? Only an 18 percent lower risk of getting colorectal cancer and no significant reduction in the risk of cancer death.
Is this study a procrastinator’s enabler?
But then I recalled the 2020 death of Chadwick Boseman, the “Black Panther” actor who died at age 43 of colorectal cancer. That cancer is increasingly hitting younger demos. And it’s a cancer that is preventable if caught in time.
You need to take that picture. Finally, my animal rights wife just said, “Stop acting like a baby. Just do it.”
So I did.
The worst thing about a colonoscopy is what they call “the prep.” It’s what you do to make sure the doctor doesn’t have to see your poop.
The goal is to clean out your intestines with a nice flush. Ask your doctor for the prep that takes just 6 ounces of a clear fluid and tastes like Robitussin. You mix that with 10 ounces of water. And then you drink another 32 ounces within an hour. That’s 48 ounces in total.
Big improvement. They used to make people chug a gallon of liquid.
And then you wait till your stomach gurgles and you race to the toilet where you sit down and it feels like a trap door has opened up under your bowels. Or maybe it’s more like Niagara Falls. Results will vary.
Remember, you have 48 ounces in you. It doesn’t happen all at once. Maybe eight times over the next 4 hours. It’s an experience.
And then 12 hours later, you do it again! Another 48 ounces. In and Out. As you go through it all, your poop evolves from murk to clear. The promised land. That really is the worst part of a colonoscopy. But your colon is now clean and presentable for public viewing.
Thank God for Filipino nurses and Indian doctors
At the hospital, I meet the doctor and try to do a video with my cellphone where he explains how he’s going to take a picture of my large intestine.
I repeat the line, “My colon is ready for its close-up.” My Indian American doctor plays along, but then stops and says, “You better press start on the camera.”
And at that point, I knew I was in good hands. This doctor knows not to forget to press start on his colon cam!
The nurses are all Filipino and they prepare me for the procedure. And they know I am Filipino too when I say my last name, “Guil-yermo,” just like all the Filipinos.
You’re like my dad, one said to me. Then she rolls me onto my gurney into the procedure room, the photography suite. One of the nurses who saw me with a camera and taking notes asked, “Do you blog?”
And I told them I was a journalist. The doctor though seemed skeptical, just as I was of his colonoscopy. And I said, “Doc, you’re about to put a camera up my butt, is it too much to Google me?”
That got a big laugh from the three nurses and the doctor in the operating room. I was the warmup act for my own colonoscopy. They turned me over on the side to insert the camera, but by then I’d been given the sedative Demerol.
Demerol, is as you know, an opioid. And I attest it really works. A half dose was all it took. I definitely was not my body. I was somewhere else.
The next thing I knew I was slightly upright, and they were showing me pictures like vacation snapshots.“Your colon,” said the doc proudly. I’m a little woozy, but I’m told they found a small polyp and snipped it off to test for malignancy. Basically, my vegan diet had done the trick. Don’t worry, they said. I had a young man’s colon!
And that was that. They send you home. They do 15 million a year of these. Next!
The drive home
On the drive home late in the afternoon, I’m relieved and thankful it was not a big deal. They didn’t find the potential for cancer. And I may not have to do this again for another five years or more.
But I’m thinking, I kind of liked this.
Maybe I can do this every year. Just for the Demerol? That and I don’t think I’ve ever felt this clean before ever. My colon is empty! It’s a kind of purity like I’ve never felt before as if there is some deeper meaning to my colonoscopy.
Was this my cosmic colonoscopy? Letting go of all my poop? I turn to my wife who is driving us home, and she is my reality check.“Knock it off,” she says. “It’s just a colonoscopy.”
She’s on to the next thing. Dinner. But not for me. I stayed pure for two more days, drinking just water and coffee and boullion. I liked the feeling of emptiness.
On Sunday afternoon, I broke the fast with a banana. Still mindful of all those AAPI colon cancer stats. If you are hesitant about the procedure, don’t be.
If you are middle-aged or older get a colonoscopy.
And make it special. Do it just before Thanksgiving. Not only will you be primed and emptied out for the big holiday meal, but you’ll also have a bonafide sense of gratitude from the inside out. Guaranteed.
EMIL GUILLERMO is a journalist and commentator. His talk show is on www.amok.com.