The Latest Greatest Colonoscopy
Hello diligent readers (if there are any of you out there)!
I know I have not written in a few months, three to be exact. I still have a few stories to tell from my road trip; about my time visiting a Native reservation in Gallup, NM or my almost mental breakdown in a bizarre Christmas themed hotel in Flagstaff, AZ. But upon my arrival in Los Angeles, I hit a writers block facilitated by both having too much fun in a new city and anxiety caused by joblessness (still having fun in a new city, still anxious about employment).
My transition to Los Angeles has been relatively easy considering. I have a great number of childhood friends here. I moved in with my best friend who I have known since high school. Thanks to his excellent taste, I am now living in a beautiful mid-century looking apartment in the artistic eastside neighborhood of Echo Park. While I am still finding myself lost and flailing through this enormous city, the large life challenges are for the most part minimized.
The greatest thing I have found so far in my experience in California, has been the healthcare system. I shudder to think about our current administration’s effort to dismantle what little protection other states do have and am glad to find myself in the safely liberal enclave of Los Angeles in this unsettling time. As I have written before, I had a great deal of trouble with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Ga. They denied me coverage when they were still legally allowed to do so. They refused to pay countless bills for almost every procedure and those they paid were never paid in full. They mistakenly accused me of owing them $25,000, which I was bullied into making payments on for months until I managed to find the root of the problem, a billing error on their part, which I was eventually reimbursed for.
My moving to California was partially spurred by my desire to escape the confusing GA healthcare bureaucracy. I envisioned a Shangri La where I could afford an individual plan that actually covered my needs; a place where doctors believed my Crohn's disease could be managed through diet and exercise. Unlike my gastroenterologist in Georgia, who told me diet and exercise had little to do with my gut health, and the only therapy was a high dose of drastic pharmaceuticals.
I find the Los Angeles healthcare system to be nothing short of fantastic. Starting with finding an advocate on the Covered California website, I was able to sign up for an individual Kaiser healthcare plan. Upon my arrival in California, I was able to get onto a Kaiser/Medi-cal hybrid plan. Medi-Cal is a California healthcare program for many people with low or no incomes, as I am currently still looking for full-time work I qualify.
Thanks to Obamacare (THANKS OBAMA...no really thanks!) Medi-Cal has been expanded to adults 19-64 without children and incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level. Essentially, anyone unemployed can qualify. Because I had the guidance of an advocate, I was able to get on the Kaiser/Medical hybrid plan, which has allowed me to use all of Kaiser’s excellent in-house medical treatments at no cost.
In the three months that I have lived here, I have been able to visit a general practitioner, visit a gastroenterologist, get full blood work/tests, an MRI of the bowel, and just today a colonoscopy and an endoscopy. This amount of medical attention in Georgia, would have terrified me. I know as soon as I sought this treatment, I would receive a deluge of bills for various amounts, from various providers, for every test and procedure. Since I have been on this Kaiser plan, I have paid only $80 total, and that was for a specific test I requested. Anything my doctor has said I need, is what is ordered.
Today, I had my second colonoscopy in about four years. I woke this morning at 2:30AM after 24 hours of fasting, ready to drink the final ¾ a gallon of Gavilyte, a salty solution used to completely clear out the bowel. The prep for a colonoscopy requires 24 hours of liquid fasting, followed by drinking a full gallon of Gavilyte, followed by an hour on the toilet clearing your stomach of it’s already empty contents. I woke again at 5:30AM to be taken to the hospital by my roommate. After an hour in the waiting room, I was taken back to a hospital bed, my vitals taken, an iv put into my hand, and eventually rolled into the operating room.
I have had a few surgeries in my lifetime. The most frightening part is always the moment before you are put out by the anesthesia. In a flurry of activity, the anesthesiologist sprayed a bile inducing numbing solution in the back of my throat. I was clipped into heart monitors. A bite-guard slipped into my mouth leaving me to drool on my side like a deranged football player. This is when I felt that brief moment of panic, where I wanted to shout, “Wait! I’m still awake! Don’t do anything!” Then moments later, I woke up on my side in the hospital bed, in the pre-operating area, having survived the simple procedure, and feeling surprisingly lucid.
This was a different experience than my first colonoscopy. The first one was administered in Marietta at a time when I was so sick I could barely get out of bed for the appointment. I can almost not recall the experience, a hazy memory of drinking broth and sleeping in mother’s bed. Following that colonoscopy, I was diagnosed with severe Crohn’s of the upper and lower bowel. My doctor put me on a regimen of medications including Humira and Remicade. Following a severe allergic reaction to the Remicade, I was determined to understand this disease and try to manage it without medications that were toxic to me. I am not suggesting this is the best path for everyone suffering from a chronic illness. I have met wonderful people who manage their disease in all sorts of ways, including Remicade.
For the past year, I have committed myself to a strict diet and exercise regimen based on a Food Sensitivity Test and an elimination diet based on the LEAP protocol (Lifestyle, Eating, And Performance). I eat mostly rice, quinoa, carrots, eggs, simple greens, avocados, salt, olive oil, and citrus. I have completely eliminated tobacco, almost all alcohol with the exception of clear liquors like vodka and gin, I work my damndest to avoid sugar (FYI it’s in everything, seriously everything), and most important, I try to exercise five days a week. That may sound drastic and it is. It has been very difficult to remove myself from the social aspect of eating and drinking.
I have spent a great deal of my life and energy trying to lose weight for purely aesthetic reasons. Even now, I am plagued by the thought that I am less-than because I find myself larger than most women I encounter on a daily basis (especially in Los Angeles, good lord the women here are tiny beautiful freaks!). This diet and complete lifestyle change has not dramatically affected the way I look. My skin is a little clearer and maybe I am slightly more toned, but I am still as the Commodores might say, “a brick house.”
However, what this regimen has done for me is life-changing. I am still awaiting the biopsy results of my colonoscopy, but following my procedure my doctor said I appear to be in full remission. My once inflamed body is quiet and no longer showing the painful fiery signs of Crohn’s Disease. While I am saving my full exuberance for the biopsy results, it is a real testament to what a dramatic lifestyle change can do. In Atlanta, I was religious about this diet. I stopped eating out and (for the most part) drinking alcohol. Since I have been in Los Angeles, I have loosened my grip on this diet, and I feared backslid in my control over my Crohn’s. This positive result from my procedure has alleviated some of my guilt over not sticking so religiously to my regimen. I can have the occasional indulgence of pork belly ramen or all night gin-drinking dance party without undoing all of that good.
It is a relief and a joy to know I am in control of my personal health and wellbeing. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s about the same time a very good friend of mine was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Though not the same and I am in no way conflating her struggles with mine, that news and timing gave me a Nihilistic view of one’s wellness. I developed a sort ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ mentality and I am just unpacking that now. This news makes me feel that even if I cannot control anything in my world, I have some control over my existence and that can make all the difference.