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The best birthday present ever

Updated: Jun 18, 2019

I received the best birthday present a while back. You could say that I bought it for myself.

It was my first colonoscopy, a disruptive, yet critical examination of the large intestine.

Thankfully, the results were negative.  No cancer, no polyps.  Clean as a, er . . . whistle.

[Note: I've had many such exams since, knowing how important it is to stay on schedule with colonoscopies.]

I’ve always felt a strange sense of obligation to talk about the colonoscopy procedure. I even worked it into a comedy bit and talked about the experience in front of large crowds when I do keynotes.

Most of my male friends don’t care to talk about this important topic.

Woody Allen says, "A colonoscopy is kind of like dying in your sleep, very euphoric. Life, however, is like the prep day."

Katie Couric had her colonoscopy broadcast live on television.

Taking a cue from Couric, I want to help educate people on how to get tested for one of the most preventable forms of cancer.

We humans make sure that our external features get a lot of attention. We spend lots of time assessing our hair, skin, fingernails and whether we have dark circles under our eyes.

We obsess about the extra flesh at our waistlines, even if we're not actually concerned enough to do something about it.

Some of us are concerned about our “‘A-List” organs such as the heart, the stomach, and the brain, which is good.

But, if you really want to take care of yourself, keep track of the darkest organ--your colon.

Colon cancer usually develops from polyps, so the goal is to discover and deal with the polyps, ideally at the pre-cancerous stage.

Over 90% of people who get colon cancer are over 50.  Many have neglected themselves by developing sedentary lifestyles and/or poor eating habits.

Many people have colon cancer for a long time before they realize it.  Eventually, changes in bowel habits, bloody stools, persistent cramping, gas or abdominal pain sends them to a doctor.

It’s sad that so many people develop colon cancer, since the disease is quite preventable with early detection.

The procedure

“How do you feel, Mr. Caruso?  A little dehydrated?”

Nurse Angie of the Rochester Medical Clinic was getting me situated for my very first colonoscopy exam.  The clinic has seven doctors who do 10 to 15 procedures a day.

“How could I be dehydrated?”  I teased.  “You made me drink 64 ounces of Drano.”

And yet, I was dehydrated. 

The “Drano” was actually 238 grams of Miralax powder and a little Fleet Phospho-soda.  This concoction is expressly designed to move more liquid out of me than I was taking in.  Let me go on record as saying there’s nothing “lax” about Miralax.  It was the Fleet Phospho-soda, however, that really cleared the pipes.

The idea is to have the colon completely clear of waste material, so the doctor can get a good look with his camera.

“How much do you weigh, Michael?” Nurse Angie asked.

“I used to weigh 163, but I’ve been through a lot in the last 24 hours.”

The day before the exam I was allowed to eat breakfast, but that’s all.  I consumed nothing but water and chicken broth for the 20 hours before the exam.  I never got hungry thanks to the distracting effects of the laxative.

Nurse Angie seemed very pleased that I was getting a colonoscopy just days before my 50th birthday.  “You’re right on schedule!” she beamed.  Whatever makes her happy.

Dr. Dennis A Dahlstedt is an M.D. of Gastroenterology, but he could also be a stand-up comedian.

I met him about 30 seconds before we became intimately acquainted.

Have you seen the funny prostate exam in the movie, Fletch where Chevy Chase interrupts himself to sing, Moon River, when the doctor slips him a digit?

Well, Dr. Dahlstedt is apparently more fond of the famous Damon Wayans/(Dr.) Lou Rawls TV skit because Dr. D. actually sang, You’ll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine), while I was in the exam room.  I swear to you, it’s the last thing I heard before I was put to sleep.

So, while some folks have trouble talking about the colon, others enjoy singing about it.

Tools of the trade

The anesthesiologist put me out with a terrific drug called Propofol. also known as "milk of amnesia.

This concoction is amazing!  I awoke totally refreshed and clear-headed, so I asked for a six-pack of Propofol to go.

Michael Jackson, who died at age 50, lived just long enough to be eligible for a colonoscopy.  I don’t know if “The King of Pop” ever had the procedure done, but he hired a doctor to administer the drug to him every night as a sleep aid. This, of course, didn't end well for Jackson or the doctor.

Before I went under, I caught a glimpse of the colonoscope, a black plastic lariat that looks a little like miniature PVC tubing.  The tube is about as thick as an, um, index finger.  The hose was approximately four-feet long.

Talk about an all-in-one tool!  The Swiss Army knife has nothing on the colonoscope.

The business end of the tube is a camera.  A dial at the other end makes the camera move.  The tool has the ability to irrigate the colon, a forceps, and snare or “noose” to clip and collect polyps.  The colonoscope also has a light to illuminate the darkest human organ.

Clean bill of health

After the procedure, Dr. Dahlstedt came to see me in the recovery area.

He was quite pleased with my test results and gave me a strange compliment.  “Great prep job!” he exhorted.  “It’s like artesian well water in there!”

Foggy from the Propofol, I decided not to struggle with the analogy. I asked Dr. Dahlstedt what he thinks of colonic cleanses and the like.

“Ridiculous!” he said.  “Totally unnatural!  You don’t hear about squirrels giving themselves enemas in the woods, do you?”

Yeah, but neither is it natural to pay someone $1,000 to shove a camera up your butt.

“One more question, Doctor, what’s the single best thing I can do to take care of my colon?”

“Eat vegetables,” he said.  “See you in about ten years, Mr. Caruso.”

Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living.  Well, a colonoscopy is an examination that helps ensure that a person goes on living.

If you’re over 50, get tested for colon cancer right away.  Share this article with men of a certain age.  I know it’s hard, but talk about it.

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Let’s get the word out on preventing colon cancer.

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