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.

 

 

Healthy as an old horse

horse

I GET A MEDICAL checkup once a year, self-directed and inexpensive, which is to say about as far from the Obamacare coercion as one can get. Here’s how it goes:

Each December is kicked off by a visit to a private lab where I leave a bit of fresh poop and have blood extracted. The poop test is, of course, an old method to check for colon cancer.

My choice.

I got a colonoscopy once, in 1997 before leaving Houston. Haven’t had one since. In Mexico I’ve twice subjected myself to the barium enema, one step up from the poop test and one step below the colonoscopy. I’ll stick to the poop test in the future.

Also at the private lab, I get results on cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar. I do not do the PSA (prostate) exam because medical thinking on it has changed radically in recent years, especially the wisdom of doing it after age 70.

I leave that controversial can of worms sealed.

I always arrive at the lab at 8 a.m. when it opens. With rare exception, I’m the first customer.

It’s a small place, an outpost of a larger lab across town, and it’s manned by a nice nurse who takes the blood and accepts the poop sample I scooped up an hour earlier. I pay the peso equivalent of 25 bucks, and leave by 8:20.

The results are ready by 1 p.m., same day. No doctor request/permission is required. It’s my decision, as it should be. This year’s results are all very good.

Next stop: X-rays, and my child bride goes with me. We both get the chest shot to evaluate heart, lungs, spine, etc. This is done in a different lab a few blocks away from the first place.

Again, no doctor’s permission required. No appointment either. We just show up at 6 p.m. one evening.  The wait is about five minutes. I go first. She goes second.

This runs the peso equivalent of about 15 bucks each. For that you get not just the X-ray, but a doctor’s evaluation of the results.  We pick that up the following morning.

Again, everything looks good, especially for this old dog. The next stage is my electrocardiogram. For this I made an appointment with an internist who does the test in his office.

We arrived at his clinic for the 11:30 a.m. appointment, waited about 10 minutes before being ushered into the doctor’s office. The test results were very good. Cost:  20 bucks total.

Summing up: tests for cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, colon, chest X-ray and electrocardiogram totaled 60 dollars out of my pocket. It’s a very basic test but far better than nothing.

And so simple to do.

I think 60 bucks is about what American hospitals charge insurance companies for one aspirin.

Meanwhile, this old horse gallops on through golden fields, a young filly at his side, not with a sunset ahead but a sun rising behind. And strains of Cielito Lindo  soar in the sky.