The way I keep my hypochondria at bay is to stay away from most medical information that can be obtained on-line (where most symptoms will most likely match my imaginary illnesses) and to pepper my kind and patient doctors with questions. I definitely fall into the category of people who want to know everything there is to know about any condition that might afflict me. On hindsight, I should have married a doctor – it would have saved time and money although my medical pillow talk would have probably gotten on his nerves rather quickly.
Three years ago I started the yearly routine of the mammogram – my doctor screamed that I had to and to my lamentations that “all my girlfriends say it hurt”, he sent me to a radiology office where the female staff is delightful, they use pink pads that make all the difference on the x-ray machines and they know how to gently handle small breasts squeezed between two plates. Best of all, the doctor will give you the results within minutes and will swiftly perform an ultrasound if there are any lingering doubts.
Also, no paper gowns. I have a thing about paper gowns. I find them demeaning. It’s bad enough to be wrapped in a shapeless garment with bits of you sticking out, being touched and probed by total strangers, without making a crumpled tissue noise every time you move. So I demand cotton of my doctors and I was fully enjoying my maroon shapeless gown today while waiting for my results when a pamphlet on “Virtual Colonoscopy” caught, if not my imagination, my attention. I find it hard to believe I have reached the age where I have to start worrying about all kinds of unpleasant tests and diseases that youth hardly ever battles with. Although I am a few years away from a colonoscopy – the sound of the word is already jarring and it conjures images best left uncovered – I thought I might start enquiring about the options with plenty of time ahead of me.
My doctor, by this point used to the endless questions of his bizarre Italian patient, walked me to the office of a South African colleague who performs virtual colonoscopies and was more than happy to explain to me how they work and even showed me one on the screen. I felt as if I was intruding into the bowels of an unknown patient, looking at his or her polyps on a 3D screen that reminded me of Shrek. The good news is that a virtual colonoscopy is a minimally invasive procedure, with a small, soft rubber catheter inserted into the rectum (if you typically have breakfast while reading this, you might want to stop one or the other activity now). Nothing to do with a tube as tall as me pushed all the way up the bowels. There is no anesthesia required, minimal cramping (if at all) and it typically lasts 10 minutes. Virtually no risk of perforation which, according to my source, occurs in 1 out of 500 optical colonoscopies performed. The only downside is that, as it uses a low dose of radiation in the form of a CT scan, it cannot remove polyps so if it turns out that some large ones are present, they will still have to go in with the long, invasive tube.
If you think I completely lost my mind, bringing colonoscopies into the usually mindless chatter of my blog, well I am going to sleep reassured that I have one less thing to worry about in the next few years and when my time comes I will have an option I am more comfortable with. So, for all the hypochondriacs out there in the throngs of middle age, this one was for you.