An inkling of death

AFTER A POINT on the Highway of Life, death ceases to be a concept that has little to do with you, and it becomes considerably more real.

I have passed that point.

My father developed colon cancer when he was about 70, younger than I am now. He previously had dealt with prostate cancer. Both were in remission when a heart attack killed him with no warning when he was 75.

JM15_2_1024x1024In spite of my father and I appearing to be clones, I’ve had no significant health issues at all until relatively recently. I’ll be 74 in a couple of months.

Generally, I avoid the medical community when possible. If my body doesn’t bother me, I don’t bother it. We made a deal.

I keep my head firmly plunged into the sand. I am my own ostrich and worst enemy.

However, one of the many great aspects to healthcare in Mexico is that you can do lots of things on your own, things that would require the permission of a doctor above the Rio Bravo.

Due to this liberty, I give myself an annual checkup, a simple one that hits the high points. I go to an independent lab, and leave some blood. Sometimes I leave other things too, stuff that comes out of other orifices.

Cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides, blood in the stool, etc. That latter is the old test for colon cancer. It’s marginally effective but better than nothing.

Due to my father’s having colon cancer, “they” say my chances are increased. I wonder if they are right. They probably are. Due to that, I got my first colonoscopy in Houston in 1997. No problem was found.

When I moved to Mexico, I read somewhere that colonoscopies are done under full anesthesia. I don’t want to do that, so I opted around 2005 for a barium enema, better than the stool test, not so good as colonoscopy.

You do not get anesthesia for a barium enema. By the way, barium enemas are no fun, but not nearly so bad as you may have heard.

Again, no problem was found. In 2011, I did it again with the same outcome.

Here we are in 2018. For some reason, I had decided not to do those tests anymore. I was sticking to my guns until about two months ago when my usual pattern down south changed noticeably. Every morning.

This is one of the warning signs of colon cancer, so my ears perked up.

Many physical issues clear themselves up if you’re patient. I waited. It did not clear itself up, but it did make a significant move toward normal. But not entirely.

I started checking around, and discovered colonoscopies are available without undergoing full anesthesia. I did it last Saturday and wrote about it in the eloquently titled post Getting a hose up my butt.

But today’s post is not about the procedure. It’s about the dark days before.

* * * *

Again, an inkling of death.

I kinda wigged out.

Sometimes the internet is great. Sometimes you should steer clear. Something I did not know was that colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, and it’s one of the slow growers.

That means by the time you have symptoms, it’s made a bit of progress.

This put me into a funk. It wasn’t too bad in the daytime, but nights were another matter. You know how actual, trivial problems seem, well, trivial in the light of day, but at 3 a.m. they become catastrophic, an odd phenomenon.

Sleeping became a challenge. In the daylight hours, the situation was more manageable in my head, but it was still serious.

I became mostly convinced I was dead meat. This causes apathy, and I grew extremely apathetic and glum.

I was worried mostly about my child bride, less about myself. I am not young, and I have no more goals to reach, as if I ever had many in the first place.

I subscribe to no organized religion, but my experiences with LSD and psilocybin in the 1990s mostly convinced me of an afterlife. That was somewhat encouraging, and I was looking forward to it a bit.

But mostly it was a dark apathy.

The colonoscopy, however, found no polyps, not even precancerous ones. But the doctor did extract a bit of liquid and told me to take it to a lab for biopsy.

Biopsy!

And come back in a week, he said. We’ll have the results.

So there I was again. The cloud had dissipated somewhat, but I viewed the biopsy matter with a very dark eye.

The followup appointment was yesterday. The biopsy found nothing bad. The sun began shining again. I was good to go for a spell longer.

My only aunt, my father’s only sister, also was an ostrich. Her cancer — I do not know what type — appeared quickly and beyond repair when she was about 86. She died shortly after. She, my father and I  have the same surname.

My mother, on the other hand, made it to 90 and simply died of old age, too many things in her body just ran out of steam.

Turns out that what caused my bowel issue in the first place, what led me down this dark lane, was diverticulitis. I am being treated with antibiotics and intestinal flora.

I wish my body had just told me that in the first place.

I thought we had a deal.

 

 

Getting a hose up my butt

MY FATHER HAD colon cancer. He didn’t die of it. A heart attack carried him into the ethers at age 75 back in 1991.

He was in a hospital in Atlanta getting his five-year, remission checkup when he was on the verge of being discharged, cancer-free, just lying in a bed. Bam! Dead. Heart attack.

It’s a good way to go, far better than cancer. But he was only two years older than I am right now. His cancer was found at age 70 via a colonoscopy.

All of which is to say that I have a very close family tie to colon cancer. The medical community therefore recommends that I get colonoscopies on a regular basis. I do not do that. They are unpleasant tests, and I tend to dodge unpleasantries when possible.

This is shortsighted and stupid, of course.

My first colonoscopy took place in Houston in 1997. After I moved to Mexico in 2000, I heard that colonoscopies are done here under full anesthetic, the kind you get with major surgery. Nah, I said to myself.

Instead around 2005, I got a barium enema, which has a reputation of being very unpleasant. It’s no fun, but it’s not horrible either. It’s a good scan of the colon, but it lacks the thoroughness of a colonoscopy.

I was polyp-free. In 2011, I did it again. Polyp-free.

New ImageRecently, I noticed some odd sensations in the nether regions, so I thought maybe I should get another checkup, especially since life was going so well, and I was hesitant to wave bye-bye.

I found a gastro surgeon in the capital city by pure happenstance, which is to say I grabbed a business card from a counter at a hospital. I emailed him, and he answered right back. I told him I would prefer not to have a full anesthetic, so he gave me what I had received in Houston. It’s called “conscious sedation.”*

I did it yesterday. The procedure was done in a small operating room in a huge, new facility called Hospital Victoria. In attendance were a nurse, the gastro surgeon,** an anestheologist in a “Fly Emirates” T-shirt, and the gastro surgeon’s very sharp son, 11,*** who acted as a go-fer.

The anesthetic was not like I remembered it 20 years ago. It immediately shot me into a bizarre world of chaos and colors. It seemed like I was there 30 seconds, but it actually was about half an hour. I came out of it quickly, and my concerned child bride was standing at my side.

I am still polyp-free, but the doc did encounter what was causing the above-mentioned sensations. I return next week to see what can be done about that. With luck, it will be non-surgical.

Amazingly, the full tab for everything, including the crap you have to drink the previous night to flush your gut, was the peso equivalent of about $400 U.S.

I even received a color DVD of the hose’s full journey up my backside and back again. I have not watched it yet, and likely never will.

I paid cash, as I have done with all medical expenses since moving over the Rio Bravo. I am not in the clutches of ObamaCare.

Or Medicare either, for that matter.

Aging is no fun, but what can you do?

* * * *

* Why it’s called that is beyond me. I was not conscious at all, but you do come out of it very quickly and with little hangover.

* * Dr. Angel Arroyo, Office 1005, Hospital Victoria.

*** How many doctors take their sons to work in the United States?  They’d likely lose their licenses.