Reversing roles

Today, I saw my colorectal surgeon, Dr. Craig Brown, for the first time in almost a year. Only this time, I wasn’t the one lying in the bed in a hospital gown. That was Doug’s role! No need to worry however… Doug was in to see Dr. Brown for a routine colonoscopy, not for something more serious.

A few months ago, Doug turned 40. Because he has risk factors for colon cancer on both sides of his family, including relatives with colon polyps and others with cancer (including a couple of relatives who had colostomies), it was recommended that he go in for a colon cancer screening beginning at age 40 instead of the standard age 50. A couple of months ago, we were really happy to discover that Dr. Brown preformed routine colonoscopies, as well as surgeries. There is no physician on the planet who we are more comfortable with or have more trust in. We knew Doug would be in good hands for his very first scope.

So we drove to the surgical center at 6:30 a.m. for Doug’s colonoscopy, which was scheduled for 8 a.m. On the drive we chatted about the upcoming procedure. We talked about how when you are scared about something, all the other little things you might normally be worried about, such as work projects or errands or little disagreements you might have had with others, no longer matter. We reminisced about driving the same road at the exact same time of day for my surgery over a year ago and how, though on a different scale, the nervousness and worry of the unknown was similar.

Once we got to the surgical center, Doug did some paperwork, and was taken back to the prep area where I soon joined him. It was bizarre seeing Doug there in a hospital gown with his very first IV ever. He was chilled and wanted my down jacket to wrap around his legs. I was instantly taken back to that well-known feeling of being cold from IV fluids. I looked around at all the medical instruments on the wall and of Doug’s clothing packed neatly into a plastic bag with his name on it. The scene was familiar but also felt a little foreign now from this new perspective of not being the patient. Doug and I joked around a bit and did a mock artist critique of the kid-friendly castle-and-unicorn mural on the wall. Then suddenly the nurse came in and told Doug it was time for me to go. It all happened so quickly, I didn’t even have a chance to give him a good luck smooch… something that made me sad as I headed to the waiting room.

Doug's first experience with hospital gowns and IVs.
A fanciful mural on the pre-op wall, complete with elves, fairies, a unicorn, knights and a castle!

Since I had always been the patient, leaving Doug in the lobby, it was weird for me to be the one left behind in the waiting room this time — and I was only there for 30 minutes during a routine procedure. I kept trying to picture what it had been like for him to be hanging out in the waiting room for four hours during a major surgery. I couldn’t imagine going through that and was reminded of the difficult times Doug had gone through during my illness.

Before I even had to time to become fully immersed in my book, I heard a nurse call my name, and I was summoned back to meet Doug. Thinking back to my own post-scope experiences, I was fully expecting Doug to be loopy and drugged when I saw him. Instead, he was amazingly coherent, had a pretty good memory of what happened and did not ask the same questions over and over. Turns out he was somewhat resistant to the conscious sedation drugs even at the high dosage that was administered. For his next scheduled scope, Dr. Brown will be calling in an anesthesiologist and putting Doug completely under to make things more comfortable. Other than that, Doug had a great scope with no polyps or signs of cancer. Due to his family history of these things, he will be getting a colonoscopy every 5 years. That way, if any polyps do develop in the future, they will be removed in a timely manner, hopefully before they get a chance to become cancerous.

After the scope, Doug was hungry (24 hours of fasting) so we went to a neat little eatery that Dr. Brown had recommended. It was amazing (they even had chocolate chip gluten-free pancakes!!!) and Doug perked up a bit after getting some food in his belly.

Enjoying a post-scope breakfast at the amazing "Snooze" restaurant in Denver.

One of the hardest things for me about Doug’s colonoscopy scheduling, prep and procedure was putting my own experiences aside and letting Doug deal with things in his own way. I have been through 7 bowel preps, 6 colonoscopies and countless IVs in my life. These things had become so routine for me, but I had to remember that they were entirely new for Doug. So often I wanted to say don’t worry, that is normal, or this is what happened to me or here is what you will likely experience.  But that isn’t always what someone who is anxious wants to hear. Sometimes they just want you to listen and not say anything at all. Just as Doug learned he needs general anesthesia for his next colonoscopy, I have learned how to be a better partner by having our patient/caregiver roles reversed for a little while.

And now for my public service announcement. I talk a lot on this blog about conquering fears and being proactive with one’s health. I was really proud of Doug for doing both of these things today. Getting a colonoscopy is something a lot of people put off due to being uncomfortable with the idea or because they are scared of the procedure or preparation. Some even avoid colonoscopies because they are afraid of what might be found. However, Doug overcame such trepidations and sifted through his family history, talked to his regular doctor and got scheduled for the procedure at the correct time based on his risk factors. I encourage anyone who still has a colon and is reading this to do the same.