I sidled up to the door reticently about 15 minutes before my appointment time. I was buzzed in by a receptionist wearing far too much makeup, probably intended to mask age as much as deep-seated misanthropy. The waiting room was innocuous at first glance, pastel-coloured with slightly frumpy and outdated furniture, piles of old magazines and a coffee table with a frosted glass top – standard waiting room issue.
As I took in my surroundings, the place started to make me feel a little uncomfortable. I noticed the other people sitting around displaying various degrees of unhappiness on their faces. Some of them looked groggy. Others looked like they were in pain. All seemed to show a slight bit of apprehension of whatever was coming next.
I approached the painted gate keeper behind the counter and I shared my name, appointment time and the name of the Gastroenterologist I was supposed to see. She had me wait while she searched for my entry on the computer. I took note of a wall clock behind her, proudly sponsored by a brand of PPIs. A quick scan around the desk area revealed several more big pharma freebies helping to grease the wheels of medical commerce.
“Please fill this out.”
She handed me a bright pink clipboard, which also had a brand of PPIs emblazoned on the clip. At least my expectations were being clearly set.
I completed my form and handed it back.
“Gastroscopy or colonoscopy?”
“Gastroscopy”, I quick responded, very eager to ensure that there wasn’t any confusion about which orifice was going to be inspected on this particular visit.
“The doctor is running a little late. The traffic into town from [POSH SUBURBIA] is bad in the morning”
Given that my appointment was for the earliest available slot (of 10:00), I was a little surprised that traffic was a big issue, but I resolved to sit down and wait patiently. I cracked open my laptop, did some work and tried hard not to think about what was coming next.
As the time passed, not thinking about having a metal tube shoved down my throat became increasingly difficult. The receptionist seemed surprised that I was enquiring about the Gastro’s whereabouts again and again. Clearly this was a man that people waited for.
When he finally arrived, the Gastro had the air of a school boy caught doing something naughty, despite his enormous gut and floppy grey hair. He mumbled something that sounded like it might border on an apology, and walked straight into his office. Ten additional minutes later, he opened the door and indicated he was ready to see his first patient, an hour after his first appointment time. I walked in.
The Gastro asked me a couple of questions but didn’t seem to be particularly concerned with the response. The words “foregone conclusion’ kept rattling around in my head. He started to explain how the gastroscopy would work, but then his mobile phone rang. “Sorry,” he said, not particularly apologetically. “I have to take this.”
I didn’t really take note of what he was saying while on the phone, but when he hung up a minute later, he offered a brief explanation: “My Banker”. “Who’s side are they on anyway?” he added, smiling at the quality of his own banter. He proceeded to explain that my throat would be numbed and that they would send a camera through a tube into my stomach to snap photos and take samples like the Mars Rover. I was ready to get it over with.
I lay down in the small room I was shepherded into, and a pleasant lady let me know that the stuff she was about to spray my throat with was a bit strong, but banana-flavoured, so it wasn’t so bad. While I didn’t taste bananas, I couldn’t feel my mouth anymore, so I was satisfied that it had done the job. She gave me a mild sedative, that made the room seem a bit more pleasant.
The Gastro came in, and after a quick bit of small talk, he shoved a black metal flexible pipe down my throat. I couldn’t feel any pain, or any contact really, but I could feel the force required to jam it through the resistance that my oesophagus was providing. The next thing I knew, my insides were up on a TV screen attached to the walls. It looked like any short video clip of the inside of a stomach – could have been anyone’s.
They quickly inserted and removed several smaller tubes through the main one that was in my throat, taking samples and such. I could feel my entire oesaphagus contracting violently as my gag reflex kicked in. Before long, the larger tube was being removed, and I was invited to lie there and recuperate for a bit. A few minutes later, I was guided back to the waiting room and offered tea and sugary biscuits. I remember being amused that this is what they offer people with digestive issues.
The Gastro called me into his rooms and delivered his diagnosis:
- H. Pylori: Negative
- Mild gastritis
- Mild oesophagitis
- Hiatal Hernia: Negative
- Nothing else visibly wrong
He also offered his prescription:
- Take a PPI (the one that paid for the clipboards)
“Should I make any dietary changes?” I asked. “Is it necessary to go on the PPI right away? Could there be any underlying causes?”.
“Just take the PPI and you’ll feel much better” he said. And with that I was encouraged to leave.
I remember feeling a fair bit of relief. At least there was visual confirmation that none of my darkest fears of what was brewing in my stomach were proving true. I never took that PPI though…