“You won’t remember a thing,” the nurse told me.
What I do remember is hell.
You’re about to hear my story. Not because I want to tell you, but because I wish someone had told me beforehand. Before I share my story, I want you to know a little bit about what to expect here.
1. You will hear a story, and every word is true. It’s not pretty. But it’s not gory either.
2. You’ll hear about medications. And possible abuses.
3. You’ll hear about my plan for the next colonoscopy. I won’t let them do what they did to me again. But there is a way to get through this.
And maybe I’ll tell you about the psychologist who counseled me after the depression that was brought about when I realized what I’d been through.
In other articles at this website, you’ll learn about medications, modern techniques, and monetary incentives that work against you.
There are a lot of reasons to have a colonoscopy. What we’re not told is what options we really have, and how abusive this process may be if we don’t do it right.
My story is not unique. What is unique is that you have the opportunity to hear about it before you go for a colonoscopy.
A taboo subject
Frankly, my friends don’t talk about colonoscopies. Maybe yours do. (My wife knows some people who do.) When I needed to know a specialist who could do the work, I asked one of my best friends, my neighbor, Ken, who he went to, and he told me. When I asked, I didn’t even know he’d ever had a colonoscopy. The question was a shot in the dark.
Because of my age (57) and a few minor medical concerns, my primary care physician advuised me to have a colonoscopy. In fact, my wife was counseled the same thing, so soon we were off, together, to see the specialist.
At the initial consultation, I asked the doctor about an anesthesiologist and Propofol. I’d read in The Wall Street Journal that Propofol was being increasingly used for colonoscopies, providing greater confort for patients. The doctor said insurance companies wouldn’t pay for the anesthesiologist (not true for my insurance company, but true for some), and that the drugs they used were quite adequate, I’d be comfortable and “wouldn’t remember a thing.”
That should have been my first alarm.
A month or so later, we did our due preparation: No food for a day and a half, plus laxatives to clean the bowels before the procedure. (That part wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated.)
Bright and early Friday morning, we checked in at the hospital for our “outpatient” procedure.
As I was prepped by the nurse, she told me they would be using two drugs, one to alleviate pain and one that would induce amnesia. “You won’t remember a thing,” she said.
I should have listened to those words more carefully. I heard them repeated to other patients.
I heard another nurse tell the patient in the bed next to mine, “It induces a kind of ‘conscoius amnesia.’ You’re drowsy but conscious during the procedure, but you won’t remember a thing.”
It’s probably 20-20 hindsight, but now, as I hear those words echo in my mind, I have a question:
“If one drug takes care of the pain, why do I
need another drug to forget everything?”
That would be a critical question, I realize today.
Off to the operating room
Soon an orderly came to take me to the operating room. I was wheeled into what seemed like a surprisingly small room. Two nurses were there waiting, and they proceeded to get things ready. They had me roll onto my side and started the medication.
The next thing I knew, I was waking up in the recovery room.
Except for one thing.
I had this slightly groggy memory of excruciating pain, and a feeling of being disembowled, and trying, but being unable to do anything about it. This memory lasted only a minute or so before I blacked out.
At first I wasn’t sure about the memory. Over the next couple of days, it grew.
I became angry. I felt violated, like something really bad had happened to me, but I had repressed the memory.
It was all I could think about. I became obsessed with the fact that I had a doctor who would choose to subject me to that much pain, and choose to make it “okay” by giving me drugs to make me forget.
The more I think about it, the angrier I get. Yet, I know I’m lucky. No perforated bowel, no long term hospitalization. No cancer.
And the treatment I got was no different than most folks, except I happen to remember some of the pain.
That makes me even angrier. The long line of victims, probably thousands every day across the country, people herding themselves in for painful procedures, doctors giving them meds that make their brains forget (repress) the memory of those experiences.
I was further depressed and felt guilt at the thought that I’d located the doctor through my friend’s referral, and my wife was also subjected to similar treatment (though she doesn’t have any memory of the procedure).
I was exhausted but didn’t sleep well that night. Or the next. Or the next. And I was unable to concentrate on anything else at work.
I looked into the medications
My hospital discharge papers told me what medications had been used. Demerol was given for pain and Versed to provide the amnesia effect.
After I found I was losing sleep I started searching the internet for information about the drugs. Here’s what I found:
Versed is given for colonoscopies and a number of other procedures. It’s also known as a “date rape” drug; used illegally it can make people forget things.
I thought that was interesting. That’s pretty close to my feelings about it.
Some people who were given Versed had memory losses that were longer than the procedure… extending to more of the day.
I even saw one report from a man who said he was an engineer and after the Versed treatment he was no longer able to remember key processes that he used daily at work. I don’t know about that, but if it can mess with the brain to make you forget an hour, or a day, it sounds like potential trouble to me.
I also learned that about 10% of Versed patients have varying degrees of memory. Some say they remember the procedure and there wasn’t much pain.
Others reported intense pain, which doctors and nurses did little to alleviate. One patient reported dreaming extreme pain and screaming for them to stop, but they wouldn’t stop. After the procedure, he asked a nurse about that. She said, ‘I thought you wouldn’t remember.”
If you doubt any of this search Google or Yahoo! on colonoscopy versed … you’ll find stories of both happy patients, and angry patients.
I also learned that some doctors use Versed alone, without an accompanying narcotic to reduce pain. This strikes me as even more cruel, only relying on the drowsiness and amnesia so patients don’t remember the pain. I guess I was extra lucky there; at least my doctor did something for pain reduction. I just can’t imagine any doctor not being sensitive to this pain issue, or nurses putting up with the situation.
Maybe I just don’t understand medicine.
And I kept coming back to the big question.
“If one drug takes care of the pain, why do I
need another drug to forget everything?”
My colonoscopy revealed a polyp; it was removed. As a result of this finding, I’ve been advised to repeat the procedure in two to three years.
“I’m not letting anybody do that to me again! Ever!”
But I know I’m going to have to do something.
After all, a colonoscopy is the best procedure for protection against colon cancer, a much bigger threat than most of us know. You need that test. But there are risks, discomforts, and sometimes excruciating pain.
‘A colonoscopy is the best procedure for protection against colon cancer…’
Here’s my plan, one I’d recommend to anyone:
1. Get a virtual colonoscopy. It’s more like a cat scan… less invasive. My primary care physician says that eventually, they’ll be very popular, but for now most insurance companies won’t pay for them. It’s worth the money. You shouldn’t be paying someone to hurt you.
And lobby your insurance company now to pay for virtual colonoscopies.
2. If the virtual colonoscopy shows polyps or something needing attention, get that done but insist on an anesthesiologist and Propofol. Insist. It’s your right.
Insurance company bean counters take note: If my wife and I had followed this procedure, It would have saved you money, even though I still would need a regular colonoscopy.
How can doctors do this to us?
When did doctors decide it was okay to hurt people if you could give them a drug so they wouldn’t remember it?
I just do not understand how doctors (or nurses) can subject patients to unnecessary pain. They call it discomfort; that probably helps their conscience. Have they just become numb to their patients’ feelings?
Somehow it seems dishonest. Or cruel.
I wonder about the mental state of the doctors and nurses that do this… are they just so cold or blind to the pain they cause that they don’t care, or do they actually get their jollies doing this?
Probably some of both.
I’d suggest to anyone who finds that Versed is going to be administered, get dressed and get out as fast as you can.
There are alternatives that actually reduce the pain, but they cost more, and it’s likely that your colo-rectal specialist who is doing your procedure won’t like having another doctor on hand. Hospitals and specialists seem to favor not having the anesthesiologist who will get paid instead of the fee for your specialist’s or hospital’s nurse who administers the Versed.
You may have noticed that I have not shared the name of my doctor. That’s on purpose, because it could be your doctor. You see, what my doctor did is what most doctors are doing; it’s the accepted medical practice.
There’s a serious point here. Your specialist will never tell you that you should get a virtual colonoscopy, because that’s just sending business to the competition. You’re going to have to manage this yourself.
To get better treatment, you’re going to have to find an exceptional doctor who sees his or her patients as people rather than as slabs of meat lined up for a medical procedure.
I’m also willing to admit that I blew it… and I’m hoping that by sharing my story, I’ll save you the immediate pain and the pain and depression of repressed memories that I’ve experienced.
If you’d like to read The Wall Street Journal story, check these reprint links: