Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Buddy System Saves Lives

It started Thursday afternoon. That familiar scratchy feeling in the back of my throat. I'm catching a cold? Seriously? It's still Summer, for crying out loud. I suppose my immune system can hardly be blamed for taking its autumn vacation a month or two early. The past week in Atlanta has felt more like October than August.

August 2013 graph of Pac's state of mind. As you can see,
the wheels started coming off around the 15th.

As much as I'm annoyed by the common cold, I was reminded it could always be worse. I'd already arranged to take Friday off work anyway because it was that time again. Time for my life partner, JB, to get checked-up from the rect-up. It was a procedure he'd scheduled months ago, on a day I remember it like it was yesterday...

Picture it: Rocky Mountain National Park, May 17th, 2013. The sun is warm, the air is fresh and clear, and wildfire season is still a week or two out. The only perceptible sounds are the birds in the budding trees, the babbling of ice-cold brooks fed by receding winter snowcaps, the crunch of our boots on the trail, and the labor of our breathing as we adjust to the altitude.

With our normal work-a-day concerns 1,200 miles to the east-southeast and more than a mile below us, JB's iPhone manages something it can never do at home. It locks a clear AT&T signal and begins to ring. And as we hike our way up Beaver Mountain, JB decides this is as good a place as any to take a speakerphone call from Digestive Healthcare of Georgia Endoscopy Center, LLC.

"Is he...?"

"Scheduling a colonoscopy? Yup."

I think to myself "I'm so glad Stevie got to see this first hand. I never really know if he believes half the crap I text." Cue wavy cross-fade back to the present.

I was introduced to the "colonoscopy buddy system" six years ago. After JB's oldest brother passed away far too young from colon cancer, family history made it prudent to get a good look at JB's insides well ahead of the normal starting age of fifty. Now that many of our circle of friends are reaching this age, it's not uncommon to be asked for "a ride".

This ride is a bit more intimate than asking to be dropped off at the Kia dealership on your way to work. It involves actually going into the appointment with your buddy and ceremoniously taking possession of his or her car keys under the watchful presence of the admitting nurse. I imagine it's what being friends with Lindsey Lohan feels like.

You are then required to remain on the premises in a room full of your fellow colonosco-pals while your loved one, close friend or sad acquaintance enters the machine. A clockwork system of moving gurneys which, I'm sure if he were alive today, would make Henry Ford smile. Because most historians agree he was that kind of dick.

Expect a 90 minute wait, give or take a polyp or two. During this time you may or may not have access to wifi, but there's guaranteed to be a television tuned to a channel in which no one is interested with the volume a bit too loud and no visible means of adjusting either. New waiting room companions continuously rotate in as others are called away to collect their charges.

When it's finally your turn, you're escorted through a curtain to your buddy's gurney as the effects of their light anesthesia wear off, and the air that inflated their colon like a tragic balloon animal is incrementally released. (The giggles are a give-away.) Meanwhile you're trying not to listen to the other balloon animals deflating through the curtains on either side.

Just as you start getting light-headed from unconsciously holding your breath, nurses start barking instructions like "no beans or raw vegetables" and "no aspirin or NSAIDs" and you start thinking you should probably be writing this stuff down. But they got you covered, and they hand you a print-out four or five sheets thick, stapled in the corner.

Now if you haven't been paying attention to anything before this point, this next part is key... Depending on how close you are to your buddy, if you're handed a print-out, seriously think twice before reading past the first page. I know it's instinctual to flip through the pages of any random document you're handed, especially when you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. But take my word and resist this urge. Especially if you're squeamish. I wish someone had warned me there were snapshots in there.

You Are Here - Reading your colonoscopy results is a lot like visiting an
 unfamiliar mall for the first time. It may look like you've been here before
and it has all the same outlets, but it still helps to reference the Directory.
Except for Chick-fil-a, they always seem to be in the same place.
Every few minutes a nurse comes in to check the patient's vitals. The doctor may stop by discuss the results. Remember that it's impolite to refuse to shake his hand. It's your task to remember what the doctor says, because chances are your buddy won't. Then, once the nurse decides the patient is ready to leave, TAG! You're it.

This transition may seem shockingly sudden the first time you experience it. And no matter how much you protest, there's no takesy-backsies. The machine can not be stopped. This is why they expect you to take this buddy system stuff seriously. Your still-loopy buddy, looking confused, disheveled and a little violated, is in no condition to drive home and is counting on you.

In three short years it'll be my turn. And even though I'm counting on JB to call "payback" on, I'll consider myself lucky to have even just one other person in my life close enough to consider asking to take me. Sure I can joke about it, but it's actually a great honor to be asked. And you can always bank it and call "payback" when it's your turn. The buddy system works both ways.

This was my third time going through this routine with JB, and I'm happy to do it. Because they usually find and remove a polyp or two, he's required to go back more often than most people do. But since polyps which are removed early don't get the chance to develop into cancer, it's a no-brainer. JB was back to normal Friday afternoon with no lingering discomfort, just in time to take care of me. Ironically the cold I considered preferable to getting a colonoscopy kept me miserably in bed until Sunday evening. I lost an entire weekend and I'm still coughing and sniffling.

Please don't let embarrassment or discomfort prevent you from getting a colonoscopy or from helping out a friend in need. Preventing cancer and possibly saving a life is a pretty compelling upside when only downside I can think of is that your awkward experience might be used for someone's blog post.

1 comment:

  1. WELL written.

    I have my prep-meds on the counter just waiting for me to schedule my first one. I heard it is the best 20 minutes of sleep you'll get. I can deal w the violation - just not drinking that crap.