Gut Reaction

by Brian on March 31, 2006

in A Parent in Israel

It’s hard to believe we’re back again. Back in the hospital, that is, a year after our twelve-year-old daughter Merav was hospitalized for severe stomach cramps, joint pain, jaundice and suspected hepatitis.

Last time, she was admitted for a week, and wound up missing nearly two months of school. The doctors chose to wait it out, to avoid invasive procedures, and mysteriously and miraculously, the pain eventually passed without explanation. The doctors never settled on a diagnosis other than suspecting “an unknown virus.” We went on with our lives hoping this was a difficult but one time fluke.

But now, a year later almost to the day, Merav was once again buckled over in pain, complaining of many of the same symptoms. She had once again missed weeks of school. This time, though, her doctors decided the time had come to get more aggressive in their probes. That’s why we were here at the hospital – thankfully this time only as an outpatient – for a test that would take a half-day at most.

But oh, what a test. Merav was having a colonoscopy.

A colonoscopy is a test that checks the gut – the colon and bowel – for signs of inflammation and irritation. It looks for such things as ulcers and IBD – Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Given the location of Merav’s pain, her doctor felt it was important to see what was going on inside.

A colonoscopy, in truth, is not such a big deal. It’s recommended for just about everyone over the age of 50 as a cancer prevention check. You’re put under general anesthesia so you don’t feel a thing. I ought to know: I’ve already had two of them myself. They were no big deal. Really.

Try telling that to a twelve-year-old.

A colonoscopy is one of those tests that just sounds “yucky.” They’re sticking something inside of me…where? Our assurances to Merav that she would be asleep the entire time did not assuage her anxiety.

“What if I wake up in the middle?” she asked.

“You won’t,” I replied. “No one does. It’s virtually impossible.”

“Maybe one out of a million wakes up?”

“I didn’t check. I suppose one out of a million might.”

“And what if I’m the one out of a million.”

“Look, the worst part of the test is not what they do in the hospital, but the preparations,” I said.

And that was certainly true. The day before a colonoscopy the patient has to drink not just one but two bottles of Sofodex – a powerful liquid that totally clears out your system. It doesn’t do it gently either.

The medicine itself doesn’t have a taste per se; rather it’s a “feeling” that is hard to describe if you’ve never had to take it – a slimy mix recalling petroleum and oysters (not that I would know…about the latter at least). It burns going down and induces instant nausea.

The first time I had to take it, I mixed it into a glass of Sprite. The bubbles seemed to exacerbate the experience. For the next six months, I couldn’t drink a Sprite without viscerally reliving the memory of the Sofodex.

Merav wisely mixed her Sofodex into a glass of strawberry-banana juice.

“Don’t sip it,” I warned Merav. “Just drink it down it in one fast gulp.”

Merav immediately took a sip. Teenagers…they never listen!

She immediately shook with revulsion. “I’m not drinking this,” she said. “Forget it.”

“You don’t have a choice,” I said sternly. “Don’t you want to get to the bottom of this, and find out what’s causing all the pain?”

“I prefer the pain to drinking this,” she said.

Eventually, though, she took it. And despite her initial hesitation, it was actually a very brave thing to do. She could have run away. She could have refused entirely. Taking one’s medicine constitutes both figurative and literal courage.

Still, I suspect it will be a long time before Merav ever drinks another glass of strawberry-banana juice again.

The outpatient clinic at Hadassah Hospital at Mount Scopus is located in the far corner of a basement. To get to it, you have to walk past the kitchen and past the laundry, down a long and agoraphobically wide corridor with no windows and just a few flickering fluorescent bulbs. If anyone from Hadassah is reading this: guys, next time you raise some money, throw a little into sprucing up this entrance passage.

My wife Jody, Merav and I were met at the entrance to the clinic by Edna, a tough but sweet talking nurse. She walked us through the recovery room (where we got to see the other patients lying on beds looking rather out of it after their procedures – not a good introduction for a twelve-year-old already quite nervous as to what was coming next).

A six-month old baby was in line for a colonoscopy before us. “It shouldn’t take long, 20-30 minutes maximum,” Edna assured us, adding almost in a whisper: “you see, he’s very little.”

An hour and a half later, we were finally called in. Why did it take so long, I worried. Did they make a mistake? Is the doctor a quack?

The colonoscopy room is a jungle of wires and dials, TV monitors and long black tubes. The anesthesiologist was there with her vials of chemicals. There were several nurses waiting and a smiling bald doctor in one of those green hospital shirts.

Merav was shaking but solid. Someone drew a curtain and asked Jody and Merav to step behind it where Jody helped Merav change into a special smock. When the curtain opened again, I saw the terror in Merav’s eyes (or was that my own reflected by the bright lights illuminating the equipment?) as she climbed onto the table. The IV went in, Merav’s eyes started to close and we were asked to leave.

45 minutes later, the doctor appeared in the waiting room, smiling.

“The procedure went perfect,” he said, “No complications. She’s clear. There’s nothing wrong inside. No inflammation. Nothing at all.”

A wave of relief swept over me. My daughter is fine. She isn’t sick. The nightmare is over.

Except that, in Merav’s case, the “good news” wasn’t entirely good. All we’d done was rule out one possible cause of Merav’s problems. But the source of her pain was still a mystery and was, unfortunately, not about to end just because she’d gotten to the other side of a most unpleasant procedure. There will be more tests on the road to diagnosis.

In some ways, it would have been better if they had found something in her gut. At least then we’d know what was wrong and we could begin some form of treatment rather than letting her languish in pain while the interminable search continued.

We said thank you to the doctor and walked quickly to Merav’s bed in the recovery room where she was just opening her eyes. “How did I get here?” she asked. “I was just…a minute ago…I was in the other room…”

“You’re going to be fine!” I blurted out to Merav. “The doctor said there’s nothing wrong.”

But she had already closed her eyes. “It will be another two hours before the anesthesia wears off and she can hold a proper conversation,” Edna told us.

There are many types of bravery. There are people who run into burning buildings and there are soldiers who fight against unbeatable odds. But there is also the simple bravery of being able to go on despite the pain and uncertainty, to not give up no matter what needs to be drunk or done in the name of progress.

Merav clearly demonstrated that bravery during the day’s harrowing procedure. As Jody and I continue our search for a diagnosis, maybe we have too.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous March 31, 2006 at 8:50 pm

What an ordeal. I hope that you are able to have some answers soon. Speedy healing to Merav. Courage to all.

2 Anonymous April 3, 2006 at 10:29 pm

Has Mervav been checked for malaria? I had it in Israel after visiting South Africa.

3 Anonymous April 10, 2006 at 11:25 am

I hope Merav is feeling all better soon.

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