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Don't Let The Fear of Colonoscopies Kill You

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

ScottWheeler1Scott Wheeler giving the thumbs up with Betsy Zorn, RN and Paula Geil, RN.

 I don’t know of many people who don’t dread getting a colonoscopy. It’s just not most of our idea of a good time, but it really is a necessary evil.
In 2003 I interviewed a man on a mission. His mission was to educate people about the importance of colonoscopies. He hoped to save a few lives while he was at it.  This man’s name was Harold Crowe of Derby.
Harold wasn’t a prominent doctor using years of college to convince people of the merits of the procedure. Instead, he was a well-known smalltime car dealer. No, he didn’t have a bunch of degrees to his name, but he had a whole lot of knowledge of colon cancer. You see, when I interviewed him he was in his final days of life, dying of colon cancer. Harold accepted his fate, including accepting the fact that not getting a colonoscopy when he should have probably shortened his life (typically when a person turns 50, or earlier if colon cancer runs in their family). Instead of bemoaning his pending fate, he took it upon himself to educate people about the importance of colonoscopies .While losing his life to cancer, he was trying to save other lives.
 I suspect Harold’s mission, which became very public, saved lives.  That isn’t counting the many other people who had a colonoscopy and walked away with a clean bill of health. I know for a fact many people who’d been putting off their colonoscopies suddenly scheduled them after learning of his story.
Although Harold passed away on December 11, 2003, I have never forgotten his mission, and I knew once I turned 50 I’d follow his advice and get a colonoscopy.  As I neared 50, and although I knew the importance of screening, with each passing year, then months, I began to dread it more, after all, I’d heard so many horror stories about the day before colon prep, nothing to say about the actual procedure of having your bowels probed in search of cancer, or precancerous polyps.  Some people probably don’t get the procedure because of lack of insurance, but I suspect most people put it off because of the stories, and because the idea of the procedure makes them squeamish.
When I turned 50 almost a year ago, I tried to reason away my own colonoscopy, but Harold’s words kept coming back to me. Besides that, my doctor, Dr. Robert Wood – my medical God, reminded me it was time. Medically I have led a blessed life. I’ve never broken a bone, or had an operation. And I’ve never spent a night in the hospital as a patient.  For that matter, I’m a bit of a chicken when it comes to medical procedures. If I’d been born a woman I’d probably never had children to avoid the discomfort of childbirth.  Adding to my worry about the procedure, a couple of years ago my mother died following a rather routine surgery. No matter how routine and minor colonoscopies are, it was still in the back of my mind I’d end up like her.
Before Christmas I met with Dr. Terry Larsen, a surgeon at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital (NVRH) in St. Johnsbury. A congenial man, he educated me a bit on the procedure, the protocol leading up to it, and what to expect the day of the procedure. A nurse recorded my vital signs and recorded my medical history. The date of my colonoscopy was set for January 8th.
Two days before the colonoscopy, January 6, I was required to change to a soft diet. That was really no big deal. For the most part, I could eat my typical diet with a few exceptions. The next morning, January 7, was liquid diet day – no food at all, just broth, gelatin, popsicles and such.  This was a bit more challenging because, although not a big eater, I do like to graze all day long.  It was also the day for colon cleansing, the day not to venture far away from the bathroom. At noon I had a “lunch” of two Dulcolax laxative tablets, then two hours later, within about an hour, I consumed 64 ounces of lemon Gatorade with a laxative called Miralax dissolved in it.  I’d heard how nasty the colon prep concoction is,  but it was really no big deal (I understand the prep drink has improved dramatically in recent years). Drinking 64 ounces of liquid within an hour was a bit challenging, but far from impossible.  Once consumed, the next few hours of your life will revolve around the bathroom. That was no big deal either. As for “dinner”, that involved two more Dulcolax tablets. Although one can’t eat during the day before the colposcopy, it is important to remain hydrated, so I drank plenty of apple juice and water.
The day of the colonoscopy, my wife, Penny, and I drove to NVRH where I checked in at day surgery. Eventually I was directed to a patient room where I was asked to change into one of those not so modest gowns that opens in back. Settling into my life as a patient, the medical team charged with preparing me for the procedure did a great job.  Their caring and humor put me at ease.
Then it was show time! Dr. Larsen came in, chatted with me a bit, then off I went on a stretcher to a procedure room. That’s where I met the nurses who’d be assisting Dr. Larsen. They were so good at tolerating my offbeat sense of humor. They explained I’d be sedated, but I wouldn’t necessarily be totally out of it as is typically the case with surgeries. I might even be able to watch part of the procedure on a video screen. As we all chatted, whatever was in that IV bag began to run into my veins. I remember one of the nurses asking me if I was tired yet. I said, not a bit.  I’m not sure if she hit me with a hammer, or if at that moment the drugs kicked in, because apparently I was out like a light. When I woke up (they tell me I’d been out for about 15 minutes) I cracked a couple jokes then focused on watching the probe travel through my colon. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to watch, but it was fascinating). I think I dozed back off, but when I came to I remember asking if it was done, and when they answered in the affirmative, I said something like, “that’s it”. Honestly, I couldn’t believe I’d fretted about undergoing the procedure for years. The only downside was that during the journey through my colon Dr. Larsen located and removed one polyp, which are typically not cancerous. A biopsy later confirmed it was noncancerous.
It was then back to my room where I exchanged my gown for my clothes, and reunited with my wife. I felt so good I swear I could have driven myself home, but that is strictly forbidden because of the drugs still in the patient’s system. Once back home, life pretty much began where it left off before I started the colon prep.
If you have been putting off getting a colonoscopy because you are nervous or squeamish of the procedure, call your doctor and schedule one. It is no big deal, and the discomfort you might feel in the process is far more comfortable than finding out later that you have advanced colon cancer, cancer that could have been detected years earlier with a simple colonoscopy.
As for the folks at NVRH, I can’t thank the entire team I dealt with that day enough – from the intake worker who checked me in, to all the medical professionals, including Dr. Larsen – for making my stay far more bearable than I ever thought it could be.


Cynthia A. Swartz, MD Joins NVRH as Inpatient and Outpatient Consult Psychiatrist
Carlos Alfaraz, MD Joins Corner Medical as Full-Time Practitioner
Tennyson Marceau is the Prevention Specialist for The Regional Prevention Partnerships
NVRH is First Vermont Hospital to Acquire Resuscitation Quality Improvement Program
Paul Bengtson Receives Advocacy Award from Kingdom Recovery Center
Katherine Harris, LICSW is Behavioral Health Specialist at Women’s Wellness
Jade Kaplan, Certified Nurse Midwife Joins Women’s Wellness at NVRH
Karen Kenny, MD Offers Total Laparoscopic Hysterectomy
FLEK, Inc. Garners Two National Awards for NVRH Annual Report
NVRH and Local Organizations Join Bridging for Health
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Kelly Lemieux, Family Nurse Practitioner, Joins Hospitalist Group
Leah Pearl, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Joins NVRH
Anne Somers is New Practice Manager at Kingdom Internal Medicine
Sharon Mallett DNP, RN is New Director of the Medical Surgical, Pediatric and Infusion Units at NVRH
Karl Granskog, Doctor of Pharmacy, is NVRH's Ambulatory Care Pharmacist
Kara Pool, DNP, FNP-BC is New Full-time Provider at St. Johnsbury Pediatrics
Hazel's Success!
Joyce Vitale, Certified Nurse Practitioner Joins Kingdom Internal Medicine
Danielle Schryver, Registered Respiratory Therapist is Respiratory Care Supervisor
To The Rescue!
Listen to ER Director Ryan Sexton, MD on Ticks
Christopher Willey is New Manager of Materials Management at NVRH
Free Summer Meals for Kids at NVRH
NVRH Awards Dr. John Elliott Community Service Award to Tom Ziobrowski, MD
Jackie Zaun Is New Director of Diagnostic Imaging
John Koella, MD Joins Hospitalist Team at NVRH
Bridges Out of Poverty
Don't Let The Fear of Colonoscopies Kill You
Taking Back My Life
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Ted Houle, MD Retires
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Brynn Evans is Newly Appointed Director of Development at NVRH
NVRH Welcomes New Full Time Urologist, Eugene J. Dixon, MD, FACS
Ryan Sexton, MD is New Medical Director of Emergency Medicine at NVRH
NVRH Birth Center is One of the First in Vermont to Introduce the Option of Nitrous Oxide During Labor
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Michael Moss, APRN, FNP-BC is New Nursing Director of NVRH Emergency Services
Caryn MacDonald, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner Joins Kingdom Internal Medicine
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NVRH Gray Gallery Hosts Local Artist
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Michelle Blanchard, RRT, is New Supervisor of Respiratory Care at NVRH
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Christopher Stranathan, MD Joins Hospitalist Team
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NVRH CEO Bengtson Named "One of the Top 50 Rural Hospital CEOs to Know"
Ahmad Shahzad, MD, Joins KIM as Internal Medicine Practitioner
NVRH Gray Gallery Hosts Artists from Kadunc Art Workshop
Jeanne McBride, MS, ASCP is Director of Laboratory at NVRH
NVRH Holds 2014 Annual Meeting
NVRH Awards Five Community Health Fund Grants
Seleem Choudhury, Vice President and Chief of Nursing Inducted into Prestigious Academy of Emergency Nursing
Ebola Information
Terri Schoolcraft is New Accounting Manager at NVRH
Anna Driscoll, AGNP-BC, Joins Hospitalist Team at NVRH
Michelle Shepard, MD, PhD and Pediatrician, Joins NVRH Medical Staff
Dr. Annick-Marie V. Kaufman, MD and General Surgeon Joins NVRH Surgical Group
Raising Funds to Support Maternity Hospital in West Ghana in Memory of Sue Hoffman, CNM
Dr. Amanda Van Straten is New Full Time Neurologist
Paula Gaskin Wins 2014 Dr. John Elliott Community Service Award
Information about How to Sign up for the NVRH Patient Portal
NVRH Laboratory Passes Rigorous Regulatory Requirements
NVRH Awards 4 $1,000 Scholarships
Women's Wellness Center Achieves Rural Health Clinic Certification
Dr. Elliott Community Service Award 2014
Jim Coulson, MT, HEM is NVRH's New Infection Control and Compliance Officer
Karyn Patno, MD is First Pediatrician in Vermont to Receive National Board Certification in Child Abuse
Paul Bengtson to Lead American Hospital's Association Section for Small or Rural Governing Council
A New Year's Letter from Paul Bengtson
NVRH Awards Four Community Health Fund Grants
NVRH Holds Annual Meeting
Seleem R. Choudhury, MSN, MBA, RN, CEN is New Chief Nursing Officer
Pain Management Clinic Opens at NVRH
Sarit Shatken-Stern, CNM, MS Joins the Women's Wellness Center
Anne M. O'Connor, MD Joins the Women's Wellness Center
NVRH to Convert to Clean Compressed Natural Gas
NVRH Opens Palliative Care Services With Newly Certified Physicians
NVRH Awards Dr. John Elliott Community Service Award
Hilairy DeBlois Receives NVRH’s Coveted Bev Moffatt Scholarship Award
NVRH Urologist, Dr. Andrew Nisbet, Achieves National Board Certification
Leah Rexford, BSN, RN, CNOR Earns Perioperative Registered Nurse Certification
New Surgical Group Formed
NVRH Announces New Director of Laboratory Services
Kirby Quilters Display Timeless Craftwork at NVRH Gray Gallery
NVRH Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug (A.T.O.D.) Prevention Taskforce Praises Eastern Main Market Deli
Healthy Snack Ideas For The Holidays
NVRH Circle of Care Cancer Boutique Award Receives Award
Prevention Research Center Receives Community Based Participatory Research Award
Joyce Dobbertin, MD, DC is Named Physician of the Year by Vermont Medical Society
Secondhand Smoke: What is it, Why is it a Problem, and What Are the Advantages of Smoke-free Multi-Unit Housing?
NVRH Birth Center Receives Award
NVRH Hospital Report Card Public Meeting on Monday, 9/24/12 at 6:00 pm.
NVRH Recognized for Safety Efforts
2012 Recognition Dinner -- 40 Years Serving The Community
Angela Williamson Garners Dr. John Elliott Community Service Award
FLEK and NVRH Win Big
NVRH Recognized for Safety Issues
FLEK and NVRH Win Big in National Advertising Awards
NVRH Birth Center Implements Sophisticated Perinatal System
Mindy Warren is New Birth Center Director
NVRH Birth Center Implements Sophisticated Perinatal System
Corner Medical Recognized as a Medical Home
NVRH Joins UVM Medication Management Pilot
NVRH Corner Medical Welcomes Brigitte F. Dargis, MD
Kingdom Internal Medicine Opens in Their New Location
Abby Pollender Named Chaplain at NVRH
NVRH Names Main Hospital Building for Gregory Rubin Reynolds
NVRH Chapel is Re-dedicated to Father Mel Richardson
Dr. Tim Thompson Retires After Practicing Medicine for 38 Years
Medical Home Recognition for St Johnsbury Pediatrics
NVRH Cardiology Services Now Available Four Days A Week
Dr. Karyn Patno Receives Award
From the Caledonian Record Headline: Former NVRH Worker Charged With Selling Drugs
St. Johnsbury Medical Offices Way Ahead in Healthcare Reform
Dr. Terry Larsen, General Surgeon, Joins NVRH Medical Staff
Dr. Andrew Nisbet, Urologist, Joins NVRH Medical Staff
Keep Up To Date On The Latest H1N1 Information
NVRH Laboratory Passes Rigorous Re-accreditation
Mammography Department Earns Re-certification
NVRH Salutes Peter Crosby
2010 Nominations for the John Elliott Community Service Award
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New Neurologist, Dr. Justin Mowchun, Joins NVRH
Dr. Krista Haight Joins Eye Associates of Northern New England
Bed Bugs - Prevention and Treatment
Dr. Justin Mowchun, Neurologist, Joins NVRH Medical Staff
Fit and Healthy Survey
NVRH Care Managers Earn Gold Standard
CenteringPregnancy Program Earns National Certification
Day Surgery Department Earns Recognition
NVRH and Palliative Care
Improving Care in the NVRH Emergency Department
Vermont Tech, Lyndon State College, and NVRH to Collaborate on Nursing Program
NVRH Birth Center Reinstates VBACs
First Vermont Primary Care Offices Recognized as Medical Homes
Dr. Kantrowitz Starts at St. J Pediatrics
NVRH Campus Goes Tobacco Free January 1, 2009
NVRH Cafeteria Takes the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge
NVRH Receives Governor's Award
Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital
PO Box 905 1315 Hospital Drive
St. Johnsbury, Vermont 05819
802 748-8141
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