On Being a Patient

I opened my eyes as I slowly regained consciousness. I looked around and I was alone in some kind of cubicle where the curtains were drawn close. I was lying in a stretcher with nothing on but a flimsy hospital gown. I felt cold and naked. Wrapped around my left arm was a blood pressure cuff, and attached to my chest were leads of a heart monitor. In the back of my right hand was a small catheter inserted through my skin, while intravenous fluids infusing slowly through my veins.

My mind was still foggy like I was dreaming. I felt like floating and detached, and yet I was so calm. Is this out-of-body experience? It must be the sedatives I received.

Moments later the nurse entered through the curtains and smilingly told me that everything went smoothly. Not too long after, the doctor came in and said everything turned out to be alright.

Before you think that there was something bad or serious that happened to me, it was not that. I just had my screening colonoscopy done. Nothing more.

Colonoscopy is a recommended procedure for all people above 50 years of age, to screen for colon and rectal cancer. It is through this test that small polyps in the colon, which can be pre-cancerous or early cancerous lesions, can be detected and removed. And though I am still a few years from fifty, yet with my strong family history, as my mother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, my good friend who is a gastroenterologist, recommended that I have the procedure done early according to the American Cancer Society’s Guideline. That was more than two years ago that I was told that, but I dragged my feet to have it done. Doctors can be the worst patient you know.

When I had my annual physical exam few months ago, my personal physician also recommended that I undergo colonoscopy. Now I cannot escape the doctor’s orders. So I finally gave in. Doctors like to give orders, but not necessarily like to follow their own advice or follow the orders they were given.

So there I was lying in the recovery room, still dazed from the sedatives I received during the procedure. As the doctor approached the stretcher where I was, it dawned on me that there was a big reversal of role. I was not the doctor in control. This time I was the patient.

The doctor came in, who was nicely dressed with his white coat on, while I was butt-naked with nothing on but a hospital gown. He towered over my bed confidently like the man in-charge, while I laid there feeling groggy and helpless. Not knowing what just happened as I was just coming out of sedation, I felt so vulnerable and invaded. If having a scope shoved down in you-know-where would not give you a feeling of invasion, I don’t know what will. And lastly, when my doctor came in to give me the news whether it be good or bad, he knew something that I don’t, and yet it concerns me, my health, my life.

So this is how a patient feels. Exposed and powerless. No option but to submit, for resistance is futile. Entrusting your life to the hands of somebody. Somebody you barely know, except for his name. Somebody that you can just hope, will take good care of you.

I am glad that I experienced being a patient, for it gave me a different kind of perspective. A point of view that I have never seen before. Though I don’t look forward of having my colonoscopy done again in about 5-10 years as what was recommended. But I admit the floating, detached, and calm feeling from the medication was some kind of “high.”

The next time I stand over patients’ bed while they lay there defenseless, with my white coat on while they are almost naked, and with facts that I know while they don’t know and yet it concerns their life – I will certainly hold it with such high esteem and with utmost reverence, that trust that was given to me.

Being patient is a virtue. In my case, being “a patient” made me virtuous.

Doctor’s Prayer

15 thoughts on “On Being a Patient

  1. Glad to hear that everything went well.
    Day by day we are to live for God.Day by day, we are to help those around us. As we do this, angels work with us; and what a joy is ours ! Matthew 18:10

  2. Mammogram, pap smear, lipid profile or cardiac risk factors (before getting life insurance) to name a few…. Not in my wildest dream did I ever think I’ll have those as a child and yet we have to face the inevitable. Many times God will bring us in a situation or place we never thought we would be…. Because only then when we can fully understand what or how it is to be in others shoes. And sometimes being “bangag” is the time when we are inspired to write. Thanks for sharing.

  3. despite i truly understand the procedure even with eyes closed, i cannot imagine the feeling of being subjected to colonoscopy myself. oh my…

    i remember my dad-in-law in St Louise MO told me he had colonoscopy too because it’s a part of the check up for his age. it was the same feeling i had when i read this post (read: paano kaya pag ako na? haha!)

    and may i state, i highly agree with this statement, “Doctors can be the worst patient you know.” …so beware! you are warned, people! hahaha… di ba, doc? 🙂

    • The colonoscopy itself is nothing since you will be sedated for it. It is the day and night before the procedure that is miserable with the fasting and the colon prep, causing you to go to the restroom every 10-15 minutes. I don’t know why they call the prep “Go-lytely,” for it should be “Go-turbo,” or better yet “Go-to-hell.”

  4. No offense but if given the choice irregardless of the organ being screened, I think I’d rather have mammogram test or pap smear test over colonoscopy. These test are all uncomfortable but colonoscopy seems to be the most invasive. Good that you are done with that test 🙂

  5. ahaha… ei, wala nang hang-over ng pampatulog?… ^^

    to be a patient doctor, one must know how to be a patient patient… ^^ it must have been some moment for you siguro, to be at the receiving end, the other end… 🙂

    mayroon akong mga binabasa dating doktor na authors – sina Anton Chekhov, William Carlos Williams and Lewis Thomas. ahihi, mahuhusay sila, as in… ^^

    regards to you and your loved ones. 🙂

  6. I came from a cancer stricken family on both sides. Something that I am not proud of. I should have gotten a colonoscopy but like any other patients I did not like the idea or the discomfort I would feel .

    I just would like to ask a couple of questions ? Did you feel anything? How long were you sedated ? Can you write another post about this ? I have to admit I am a little scared.

    • The colonoscopy itself is a “walk in the park,” since you are asleep for it, and will not feel anything at all. But even without sedation, it is tolerable. I even know a gastroentorologist who did this procedure on himself! He was the doctor and the patient at the same time! Thus he was awake throughout! Besides, if no polyp or mass is found to biopsy, the colonoscopy can be as short as 5 to 10 minutes.

      It is the day before the colonoscopy is done that can be grinding, when you have to drink 1 gallon of colon prep. You have to drink a cupful every 10-15 minutes, and you will be going to the toilet also as often, with the watery bowel movement.

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