doctor in this story
facility in this story
Providence Saint John's Health CenterSanta Monica, CA
My gut didn't tell me not to get a colonoscopy -- that was my fearful mind. Oh, I had really good reasons-- and both of them were dead wrong: 1) The prep was terrible tasting and horrible to go through; 2) No one in my family ever had colon cancer (that I knew of), so I wouldn't get it.
My husband begged me to have the colonoscopy for three years. Last Christmas, I asked him what he wanted for a present. He looked right at me and said: "The best Christmas present you could give me would be for you to get a colonoscopy." In a not very pleasant way, I conceded: “Oh, all right. But you are a bit of a nag.”
So that was how I made the appointment and kept it. Right after the procedure, Dr. Thomas Kun, who had done the colonoscopy came in and told me that he had some bad news. The exam showed I had a rather large tumor in my ascending colon. I was surprised – my husband wasn’t.
The next days went by in a whirlwind – appointments for a scan, with oncology surgeon Dr. Joshua Ellenhorn, with my internist, Dr. Lewis Kanengiser for clearance. Then another intestinal prep...this time for surgery.
My surgery took place three days after the colonoscopy at Providence St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica. I asked Dr. Shah, the anesthesiologist if he would say a prayer for me just as I was going under. He did this most marvelous thing: He waited until the operating team room assembled and we all prayed together. (While I am not so much religious as spiritual, I know this happened easily because of the hospital's religious affiliation, and it provided me with great comfort and peace.)
I made a wonderful recovery from the surgery. There were some complications from the medications I needed to take, but the surgery itself, as completed by Dr. Ellenhorn, was a marvelous success. It was laparoscopic colectomy with an end-to-end resection -- such a technically dazzling feat, really! The oncologist I saw later, Dr. Melani Shaum, looked at the incision and gently touched my abdomen and pronounced the surgery "A thing of beauty...a work of art!"
I believe it's true. And I want to say how amazed I am at the skill and dedication of these physicians. I know that to achieve the level of knowledge they have took many years of their young adulthood. While I was dancing in discos and playing at college, they were studying many hours in brain-challenging textbooks and journals, spending those youthful evenings in libraries, hospital wards, and operating suites.
Well, I got serious a little later in life, so I know the costs and rewards of that kind of learning. However, I so appreciate the sacrifices my physicians made to bring me back from a certain death.
While I was in the hospital, I thought about my years-long refusal to get a colonoscopy. Here are some conclusions I reached about it. By my stubbornness and arrogance, I put myself and my loved ones through a life-threatening event that did not need to happen. And believe me, I suffered and my husband and family did too.
My surgery was difficult, requiring enormous expertise. It was expensive. It could have been unnecessary. (As Dr. Kun said after the exam, "Two or three years ago, this tumor was a polyp" -- a polyp he would have removed as a routine matter.
I've never thought there was any virtue in morbid self-blame over the past, so I have chalked up what I learned from experience and resolved to do better in the future. Doing better means:
Not being a know-it-all about subjects of which I know nothing.
Doing the things that people who actually know tell me to do.
Showing gratitude and kindness to the people who care for me and about me.
My accomplished medical team -- Drs. Kun, Kanengiser, Ellenhorn, and Shaum -- without them, I would be living a much different life than I now enjoy.
I wish them all great blessings in their lives and their careers. They spent many years focusing on what is important-- saving the lives of others. My newly informed gut instinct tells me that they surely must have a special place in heaven and on earth.