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While I am working on very serious FIRE close calls for upcoming columns, I have to beg your understanding as I also beg you to read this month's column, even though it is not about a fire, a crash or a rescue gone wrong. But this is all about saving a firefighter's life -- perhaps your own or that of a firefighter you work with or love. For so many firefighters, this month's column is about one of our most common close calls, but unfortunately for many others, a not-that-unusual death. And like so many close calls, the horrific results of this can be avo ed by taking action ahead of time -- by managing the risk.
This month's close call, while my personal story, is also written with the assistance of Firefighter-Flight Paramedic Mike Dubron of the Los Angeles County, CA, Fire Department and founder and president of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. The Firefighter Cancer Support Network (www.FireFighterCancerSupport.org) is supported by both the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). The network is a mutual effort to educate all firefighters about the preventable risks of cancer as well as to support all firefighters and their families who are battling cancer.
A few weeks ago, I finally did what should be considered the right thing for my family and me. I scheduled and went for a colonoscopy.
I don't care what age you are -- keep reading. Please.
At 53, I am a few years late (for the usual lame reasons), but figure that if I push this stuff about firefighter safety, health and survival, I ought to practice what I preach. Fortunately, no practice is required for a colonoscopy. And, actually, I felt nothing.
Essentially, the worries most of us have and the reasons we avoid getting a colonoscopy are because:
- We don't want to drink that gross stuff the day before.
- We don't want anyone going there.
- We're worried about what the doctor may find.
So, for those of you still on the fence about going to get this done, here are my personal responses to these excuses:
- There are different things you can drink. Some of you get some kind of prescription powder and have to mix it in a big jug and drink it. I was lucky -- my doctor doesn't use that. I simply picked up some over-the-counter stuff he told me to buy, poured it into 7-Up, drank one at 5 P.M. and one at 9 P.M., and that was it. I also couldn't eat anything solid that day, but could have things like Jello and chicken broth. I also kept within 50 feet of the can. You will too.
I went to the Colon Oscopy World place at 7 A.M. The staff had me put on a tissue-paper gown and lie down, and then they asked the usual questions (Why don't you trim your mustache? How do you eat with that? Aren't you too old to go to fires? Why do you think you're always right?). They took my vitals, and a few minutes later, they wheeled me into "The Procedure Room" (warm sounding, no?). I hung out there for a few minutes while listening to their stereo playing Jimmy Buffet music. While I was enjoying the tunes, they started an IV. Then, the doctor came in, and while we were talking, I asked how long it would take, and he said, "We're done." What?
Yeah, no kidding. The IV ran, my brain was put on "pause" because of the drug they used and I missed about 30 minutes or so of my life -- like the "hold" button on a remote. That was it. Done. Finished. I got up and walked out to my waiting daughter, who drove me home.
- So what did they find? They found one small polyp that was removed 100% painlessly during the procedure. The polyp turned out to be non-cancerous and I have to go back for another routine colonoscopy in five years.
Why I am sharing these intimate details? Because, like a lot of other stuff we deal with as firefighters, colon cancer is one of the most common, yet preventable cancers. I have lost several very good friends to cancer over the last few years. Well-known fire service instructor Larry Davis recently passed away. Not so well known, but equally vitally important friends such as Chief Lee Strickland and Ex-Chief Lou Scida, both of the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department in New York, were young men who died of cancer. Odds are, you know a firefighter who has or has had cancer.