Emil Guillermo: My pre-Thanksgiving colonoscopy
The runup to Thanksgiving is predictable. Like clockwork, President Biden has pardoned Chocolate and Chip, two North Carolina turkeys. But think about the other 45 million unpardoned birds and 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 vegan meat substitutes and vegetables, your colon will definitely be grateful.
And that is my goal this year, to have a grateful colon.
On Friday last week, I had a colonoscopy.
Consider this my Thanksgiving public service message.
Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer among Asian Americans (compared to the third most common in the U.S.), and it’s the most common cause of cancer death among Asian Americans, according to Wiley Research.
And as far as I can tell, colorectal cancer isn’t Democratic or Republican.
If you’re over 50, a colonoscopy is the best preventive action you can take.
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. A difficult Kodak moment. The universe 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 like a drive through. There are 15 million colonoscopies are done in the U.S. each year.
It’s practically a McColonoscopy.
And yet for some reason, I remained skeptical.
I had signed up and cancelled so many times. I even thought about that alternative method I call “poop in a box,” where you simply put your stool in a plastic bag and send it by USPS.
I know my mailman. I couldn’t do it.
The box sat on my desk. And now Katie Couric, whose husband died of colon cancer, has switched from being the face for colonoscopy to advocating for “poop in a box.” I still couldn’t.
I can’t explain my colonoscopy reluctance, but the facts end up making the case. Second most common cause of cancer among AAPI? Compelling.
So, I was ready for the procedure. But then last month in October, the New England Medical Journal published a landmark study that said the benefits of colonoscopies for cancer screening might be 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.
The do-nothings win?
This study is 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.
How is that done? Through colonoscopy.
Finally, my animal rights wife just said, “Stop acting like a baby. Just do it.”
So I did it, last Friday.
If there’s anything bad about colonoscopies, it’s the so-called “prep.”
But it’s really to make sure the doctor doesn’t have to see your poop.
You do. And do. And do.
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 total.
This is the shortcut.
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 or so. 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 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 cell phone 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 closeup.”
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 the shutter on the colon cam!
The nurses who prepare me for the procedure are all Filipino. And they know I am one too when I say my last name, “Guil-yermo,” just like all the Filipinos.
You’re like my dad, one said to me.
They roll 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?”
So I told them I was a journalist.
And the doctor said at this age, as if work were not an option.
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 team, three nurses and the doctor in the operating room.
A happy colonoscopy team is a good thing.
They turned me over on the side to insert the camera, but by then I’ve been given the sedative Demerol.
Demerol, as you know, is an opioid. And I attest it really works. A half dose was all it took. I definitely was not in 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 was a little woozy, but I was told they found a small polyp and snipped it off to test for malignancy. Basically, my vegan diet had done the trick. I had a young man’s colon!
And that was that. They send you home.
THE DRIVE HOME
On the drive home late in the afternoon, I was relieved it was not a big deal. They didn’t find a 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.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt this clean ever before. 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.
I turn to my wife who is driving us home, and she is the 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 empty feel.
And then on Sunday afternoon I broke the fast with a banana burrito.
Remember the AAPI colon cancer stats. If you are hesitant, don’t be.
That’s my recommendation. If you are middle-aged or older, get one. Frankly, I’m grateful I had mine \around Thanksgiving. If you find yourself racking your brains wondering what to be thankful for, you definitely should get a colonoscopy.
It’s guaranteed to cure your gratitude deficit from the inside out.
NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.