If Arthritis Doesn’t Make You Feel Old, A Colonoscopy Will

Leslie Rott Health Guide
  • Last week, I had my second colonoscopy in about three years.


    Colonoscopies are recommended starting at age 50 for the majority of people, but this can occur at earlier ages if there are gastrointestinal problems or a personal or family history that would suggest the need for the test.


    I personally find the colonoscopy to be a pretty antiquated procedure. With all the medical technology that we have these days, still the only way to conduct this test is to liquify your shit, and then have a camera stuck up your ass. Yes, this is a shitty subject, I know.


    And having to have a test that is normally recommended for people two and a half times my age makes me feel rather…well…abnormal…and old. For me, it seems that this test, along with so many others – which most people can avoid for most of their lives and have only occasionally – has become “normal maintenance” for me.

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    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that I’m too young for this, for having lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, for needing colonoscopies, the whole bit. And the response that I give in my head is that I’m clearly not too young since it’s happening to me.


    One of the biggest misconceptions of arthritis in general, and rheumatoid arthritis in particular, is that it is a disease of old people. That was my thinking until I got diagnosed with the disease. But this is absolutely not true. Rheumatoid arthritis, while most common during middle age, can occur at any age.


    On the other hand, osteoarthritis is a disease that is primarily related to age, sometimes occurring before age 55, but mostly occurring after that age. It is thought that after the age of 70, most people have some signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis.


    It is sort of hard to argue with the age argument, especially when there are some days where I literally feel like what I imagine it feels like to be 80 years old. But the bottom line is that this line of thinking has been pervasive, and has come to embody the mythology around this disease.


    I’ve gotten used to being the youngest in the waiting room at all of my specialist appointments. I’ve even gotten used to the looks from hospital workers and personnel, when I tell them my age and diagnoses.


    I’ve also gotten used to them using the pediatric blood pressure cuff, the pediatric scope from my colonoscopy (sorry if that’s TMI), getting a pediatric nurse to draw blood and insert IVs, and getting prescribed the pediatric doses of my medications. This is an interesting contrast to feeling like I have a disease of old people when I have to fight to be treated my age.


    While age is just a number, it certainly impacts the way people are treated within the medical realm. And that’s the other thing that makes me feel old. From a sociological perspective, I’m a drain on scarce resources, especially when compared to my healthy counterparts. And it makes me wonder what the future will hold, and how much more resources I will need as I age, and deal with the normal declines that tend to come with getting older.


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    One scary thing about changes in healthcare is the oft discussed idea of letting old people die and rationing scarce resources for the younger age cohorts. Older people tend to need a disproportionate amount of resources, especially near the end of life (see Fries 2005 [1983]).


    So for those of us who are young and chronically ill – even though we might have diseases considered common in “old people” – we are going to be using medical resources for an extended period of time, meaning that our medical care will more closely approximate that of older adults as opposed to people our own age.


    Leslie Rott is the author of the blog Getting Closer to Myself and the organizer of the patient-centered blog carnival Patients for a Moment.

Published On: August 02, 2011