about a month ago, i had a diagnostic esophageal endoscope (which has the coolest long name ever: esophagogastroduodenoscopy). i’ve known about my gastro esophageal reflux disease syndrome (GERDS) for the last 10 years or so, but suspect i’ve had it much longer, as i remember having difficulty swallowing from the time that i was 13 or so. this time was supposed to gauge my reaction to the proton pump inhibitor drugs (aciphex) i’m on and any improvement that may have resulted.
the procedure is pretty pleasant, actually, in that you’re partially sedated (read: “totally out of it”). it’s done as an outpatient procedure, onsite, in this case. there’s a surgical center in the basement of the palo alto medical foundation and i scheduled the thing over the phone. showed up at 6am, changed into the “humiliation gown”, was given an iv (in my hand, as usual — my arms seem to hide blood vessels when i’m nervous) and read a magazine for 25 minutes or so. the nurse and anesthesiologist introduced themselves and rolled me into the operating room. they made some jokes about one of their coworkers, “colin” (pronounced “colon”), and tried to get me to laugh. about 5 minutes later, i was given a heavy sedative and a narcotic through my iv. off to lala land. i normally don’t like drugs that numb my senses in any way (ok, with the exception of alchohol), but the combination of the warm blanket they’d given me and the drugs they pushed into my bloodstream managed to make me blissfully happy to be lying on a hospital gurney and having a camera shoved down my throat. in each of the 6 instances i’ve had it done, the drugs have given me medically induced amnesia and retained no detail about the procedure, this was no exception. basically, they have you swallow a large (dime sized) tube with a light and camera on it and look around your insides.
the during my scope, my doc took a number of biopsies. he was pretty annoyed that none of my previous gi docs had taken biopsies and was keen to get them. he suspected that i either had bacteria called “h. pylori” present in my stomach or was having an allergic reaction to food in my esophagus. biopsies would have confirmed either of these cases.
immediately following the scope, in the recovery room, i had a conversation with my doctor. i don’t remember a word he said, but appearantly he told me that i had a large hiatal hernia and some acute ulceration in my stomach. he wrote these words on the memorabilia photos of your insides they send you home with. i was pretty spaced out for the rest of the day and spent most of it sleeping.
monday of the next week, he called my cell at lunch and asked if it was a good time to talk. i told him it wasn’t, as i was interviewing a candidate for one of my open jobs, at the time. i agreed to call him back at 4:30, that afternoon. at 4:29, i called back and was told that he was running behind, but would return my call. no call that day. no call the next day, so i called back at 4:30 and left voicemail for his nurse.
that wednesday afternoon, he called me back and talked me through the results of the scope, again. he told me that i had a segment of barrett’s esophagus (also known as intestinal metaplasia) that he’d visually seen, but waited for biopsy results to confirm. i’d read about barrett’s, but hadn’t really considered it a possibliity, since it was usually accompanied with the words “rare” and “extreme untreated cases of reflux” and other wonderfully dismissive adjectives. i knew from my reading, that it was a precursor and often accompanied by cancer. i hadn’t read enough, or often enough to know what questions to ask. i knew enough to panic and asked some questions that seemed relavent; some were, some weren’t. what i knew at the time: i had barrett’s and it was considered “long segment”, at 7cm. it was of considerable concern and i should get used to the scopes. was he doubled my already heavy dosage of aciphex, and we moved my followup appointment up by a couple weeks and agreed to talk about it then. he kept leaving the option open to “be more aggressive about remediating the situation, though surgery”, but i don’t honestly think i heard him until after i was off the phone. i spent the night freaking out, with my girlfriend, trying to comprehend what i’d heard.
i had a two day management offsite, in santa cruz, that managed to distract me pretty well. i got kinda panicky on friday night, flew to see my mom in idaho on saturday, and returned to work on wednesday. i spent the weekend reading research and all kinds of very chilling stats like “survival rates at 5 years for patients with intestinal metaplasia” and “morbidity rates in high volume photodynamic therapy for long segment barrett’s patients with low grade dysplasia”. this all left me with hundreds of questions that i didn’t know enough to ask my gi, on the phone. monday, i spent 10 minutes or so on the phone with my doc’s nurse. she calmly and very patiently (i know how busy this woman is, from watching her) answered my questions and explained a few details to me. armed with more information, i thanked her, dropped off the phone and resolved to relax a bit .
i have my followup appointment on tuesday. i have 50 or so questions for my doctor, laid out in three or four mental dichotomous trees that i’ll use to determine what my likely course of action is. i don’t anticipate actually making it through the full list of questions, but i feel better knowing that i’m as informed as i can be. i should come out of this next appointment with a date for the repair of my hiatal hernia and a “nissen fundiplication” (another wonderful word!) and a better idea about how i’m going to treat the barrett’s.
i’m currently leaning toward a procedure that’s licensed by a company with the same name: barrx. any proactive treatment of barrett’s, without the presence of carcinoma appears to be centered around destruction of the barrett’s cells and years of “surveillence” (read, “more scopes”). barrx uses high intensity rf emitted from a small catheter to destroy the barrett’s cells. there are probably 10’s of methods to ablate the tissue, most sound much less nasty than i’m sure they are; they’re all pretty ways of saying “burn it out.” barrx is really no different, just that the degree of control afforded by rf (over laser, electric, heat, high-intensity uv, or scalpel) appears to be much greater. we’ll see.
i’m writing this, mostly so i can get it all out of my head. i hope that others who find this through search engines, later, won’t hesitate to drop me mail and ask questions about my experiences. i’ll endeavor to keep this updated, as my situation progresses. i also have a huge pile of more fun experiences to share, but hadn’t had time to. i took a trip to greece and turkey, devised and attended a vodka tasting party (including activated carbon filtering of really really really cheap rotgut vodka), got hooked on robotics, and found alot of really good music. maybe i can bring myself to blog about some of those, too.