colonoscopy and me

Every year, Kaiser sends out a FIT kit, "FIT" being an acronym for "fecal immunochemical test". You take a dump on a piece of paper, scrape a tiny amount of poop onto a brush, stick the brush into a tube, and mail it to Kaiser. They check it for blood, and if any shows up, they recommend a colonoscopy. I had a positive test several years ago, and did the preliminary procedures, but no one ever contacted me to actually get the colonoscopy. For many subsequent years, my tests were negative. Honestly, I think they just caught a hemorrhoid that one year.

Well, this year, it came back positive again, and my doctor put his foot down and said I was getting the colonoscopy done for sure.

Everyone said the same thing: the prep was far worse than the actual procedure. Many of you will have gone through this yourself, but for any rookies out there, this was my schedule:

Thursday: Thanksgiving.

Friday morning: Quit eating high fiber food.

Saturday night: Eat a small dinner, which will be my last solid food until the procedure was done.

Sunday morning: Drink 8 ounces of clear liquid every hour until I go to bed.

Sunday evening: Beginning at 6:00, drink half-a-gallon of colon cleanser, 8 ounces every 15-30 minutes. This stuff WORKS. I spent most of the next two hours sitting on the toilet. It doesn't help that our toilet is currently semi-broken, with the plumber coming to fix it on Tuesday. Go to bed whenever you want, but you're going to get up very early the next day, because ...

Monday morning: Get up at 4:30 and do another half gallon of colon cleanser. Finally, get to the hospital at 9:00 for a 9:30 procedure.

To be honest, nothing was as bad as I expected. The two sessions of constant shitting were completely water-oriented, if that makes sense, more like peeing out your butt. The cleanser, which supposedly tastes vile, seemed tolerable to me once I added the lemon-lime flavoring. I was gulping 8 ounces of liquid every 15 minutes ... well, I drink like that all the time. And it's not like this was the first time I sat on the toilet, reading a book. They sedate you for the actual procedure, so who knows what that was like ... I was in a zone.

FWIW, they found 7 polyps.

The best story comes last. On Sunday, my wife made a pumpkin pie, and today, when we got back from the hospital, I broke my fast with that delicious dessert.

As is so often the case, the anticipation for something far surpasses the actual event. I wrote about this once, in reference to Picasso's Guernica:

As we walked down the city streets to the Reina Sofia, my eyes filled with tears of joyous excitement. The work had brought me to tears before I'd even seen it! The "aura" seemed to have escaped from the painting itself and wafted its way onto the streets, where it compelled me with an insistent uniqueness.... As it turned out, the Guernican aura on the street was itself what I'd been waiting for; to be in the presence of great art mattered more than the art itself. The aura had taken over from its source.

Similarly, my colonoscopy was nothing compared to what I imagined it would be like.

That anticipation, though, ruined more than a week of my life. Not the colonoscopy, but the anticipation. Because I couldn't get the damn thing out of my mind, I lived in a stupor while I waited. If you read this blog, you experienced this. I posted on Friday the 17th. I posted on Friday the 24th. And that was it ... two posts in ten days, until this one, which hopefully marks the return of my brain.

bipolar disorder

The Kaiser website for patients offers an incredible amount of information, and makes it easy to get appointments, order prescription refills, email doctors, and the like. It's not very well designed, in my opinion, but if you wander around enough you'll usually find what you are looking for.

One page lists "Ongoing health conditions". Mine has nine items, which sounds worse than it is, since a few of them are related enough that I consider them one condition, not several. There aren't any real surprises on the page. I have high blood pressure, which has been true for decades, although it's under control. I've had asthma since I was a kid, although it's not a very serious case. There's the rather innocuously named "Allergic Rhinitis (Nose Congestion)", which on a daily basis is probably my #1 condition. I had headaches for as long as I could remember, until once an emergency room doctor looked up my nose and prescribed steroid nose spray. I've been taking that spray for almost 20 years now, and I haven't had a single headache. This is miraculous. (I am not symptom free, but when the occasional pain arrives, it's clearly sinus related, and the additional drug of choice becomes a decongestant. Which is thankfully simple, considering the various treatments I had tried over the years for my headaches: migraine medicine with ergotamine, acupuncture, having four wisdom teeth pulled, becoming addicted to caffeine for years on end.)

I have a history of "Renal Calculus", which sounds bizarre but which is just kidney stones. Perhaps the thing I have that frightens most people is a history of methicillin resistant staph aureus, better known as MRSA. It is kinda spooky if I think about it ... I've had two breakouts I can remember, one of which put me in the hospital for almost a week. I feel like a walking infection, and am always "under the weather", which I imagine is related to this somehow.

But none of these are the reasons for this blog post. What got me thinking was when I discovered that one of my listed ongoing health conditions is "Bipolar Disorder".

There it is, right on the page, spelled out and everything.

It was 2005 when I finally broke down and went to the doctor about my mental state. Kaiser has (had?) a system where you saw a psychologist if you wanted therapy, and a psychiatrist if you wanted meds. I wanted meds. I got some, and I got lucky ... the initial choice (Wellbutrin and Depakene) worked from the start (or it had a tremendous placebo effect). I've been taking those meds for a dozen years now ... I remember the doctor at the time telling me that it was possible I'd take them the rest of my life, and I should consider that before I decided to go in that direction.

That first meeting didn't take very long, and I only saw that doctor one more time. She moved to Spain, and I saw a second doctor a couple of times, but I haven't seen him for a few years now. The meds are just part of my pharmacy collection. When we met the first time, the doctor listened to me describe what made me feel bad, and then told me that there wasn't anything particularly special about my case. (It's funny, I somehow want to be special at a time like this, like I'm the only person who has my problems.) She then told me she wasn't much for labels, didn't like to use them, but everything I described fit into the general category of Bipolar II. (For a rather scary definition of Bipolar II, check out the Wikipedia page on the topic.)

I have tried to be honest about this over the years. There should be no shame attached to the disorder. About the only thing I hesitated to do was label myself ... it was as if being Bipolar was just a newly-fashionable disease, and I didn't want to seem like a bandwagon jumper. But eventually I realized it was just another thing, like having a history of MRSA.

And yet, when I saw it listed on my Kaiser page ... well, I was startled. I can remember a time when my pharmacy doctor told me the medical folks didn't have access to my psychiatry files. It was a privacy issue or something. I told her this seemed silly, since she knew every prescription I had (that's why I have a personal pharmacist), and she knew what they were for, so she didn't need access to files to know I took Wellbutrin and Depakene. Now, it's just listed as one of my "conditions".

That is probably appropriate. I guess after all these years, I can officially claim to be Bipolar ... II, that is. It's not a romantic thing, I assure you. Most of the time, it's not even worth bringing up. But that Kaiser page got me thinking.



Yesterday, we made a day trip to Estepona, about 90 miles down the coast west from Nerja, which is where our Spanish grandparents were from. Between the traffic and the problem finding parking, it took us about two hours to get to the Oficina de Turismo, where we thought we could perhaps access digital records to find information, particularly about our grandfather, whose life in Spain is largely unknown to us. A woman there directed us to El Archivo Municipal de Estepona, where a man named Alfredo Galán could help us.

It was a hot walk at the wrong time of the day, so we stopped halfway there for some food and beverages. Eventually we arrived at the archive, where Sr. Galán was well known ... I barely got through my explanation for why we were there when the woman at the front desk said we needed to talk to him. He came out and led us back to his office.

We sat down at his desk, and I said my grandparents were from Estepona. Before I could continue, he interjected, "Hawaii". Apparently all those stories about  the migration of the Andalusians to Hawaii are true! Yes, I said, the first place they went from Spain was Hawaii, to live and work.

I told him my grandfather's name was Miguel Rubio y Peña. He said both names, Rubio and Peña, are very common in the area, so finding Grandpa's parents might not be easy. The bigger problem is that they have good archives from the middle of the 19th century (can't remember the exact years), but there is a big chunk of time between then and early 20th century where there is nothing. He kept bringing up the Civil War, but I don't know that there is a connection between the war and the missing archives. His English was close to non-existent, and he thought highly enough of my Spanish that he happily jabbered on, assuming I knew what he was saying. I did ok, but I wouldn't trust me on the Civil War stuff.

Ultimately, we learned very little, but at least now we know who The Man is for Estepona archives. He was extremely nice, and as helpful as possible under the circumstances. He gave us his work email and phone number, saying if we ever dug up more info, to let him know, because it would all add to the possibility of tracking down our family.

I've posted these before. Here is the front and back of the ticket for the ship that took my grandparents from Hawaii to San Francisco in 1917.