Modern Medicine: Swallowing a camera


I had one of those great procedures where you swallow a camera. That wonderful diagnostic procedure where, by the wonders of modern technology, your friendly gastroenterologist can actually send a camera down your oesophagus (esophagus if you come from the left hand side of the Atlantic Ocean, or the right side of the Pacific Ocean), into your stomach and then a sharp right and into your duodenum. In this case, my duodenum.

Now this was not a procedure that I decided to have upon a whim, or having nothing better to do one Friday morning. On the Thursday evening I had eaten some wonderfully spicy Spanish prawns, but before I had finished the main course, I had this intense burning feeling in the area we doctors describe as the epigastrium, but you would probably know as the ‘solar plexus’.

I excused myself and went to the toilet where I spat out what seemed like liters of mucous that were coming up my oesophagus as the burning pain continued unabated. I tried drinking some cold water, but not only would it not go down, but it came straight up again. Resorting to the finger down the throat, I was again unsuccessful, other than renewing the mucous tsunami.

Now I know my own body reasonably well (I’ve had it a long time), and I was fairly confident in my diagnosis of oesophagitis, but since the symptoms were still there the next morning, it was time to talk to the gastroenterologist.

The time was set and I was told to change into the hospital gown and taken through to the procedure room. There I had the choice of sedation or local anaesthetic. I chose the local, preferring to know exactly what is happening to my body at all times.

The actual procedure isn’t too bad. A little uncomfortable perhaps, but with the local anaesthetic in the throat, the flexible tube and camera slips over relatively easily. Dr Thitima kept up a running commentary on the state of my never before viewed anatomical insides, and I was relieved to hear that my problem was only an ulcer where my oesephagus went into the stomach. It could have been worse. Ulcers are fixable.

Procedure over, you go to the recovery area where you are then monitored to make sure everything is right before you get dressed. It was during this 10 minute wait that the problem with the ferret began.

For those who are not knowledgeable on ferrets, they are a domesticated animal originally used for hunting rabbits. The California State Bird and Mammal Conservation Program found that by 1996, approximately 800,000 or so domestic ferrets were likely being kept as pets in the US. Goodness knows how many pets there are in the world now, though some states in Australia prohibit ferret keeping, along with public nudity and selling deep-fried prawns on the beaches.

But back to my ferret. As opposed to poor old coyote, who never quite manages to nail Road Runner, a ferret will pursue and catch his rabbit, running through the rabbit warren. While lying on the stretcher, a strange gurgling effect began happening in my insides. This is known as ‘borborygmi’ (that’s why my medical course took six years – it was learning to spell the big words for the first four years) and I could follow the gurgles as they ran through my small intestines. Like a ferret after a rabbit, they turned left and hopped around the spleen, encircled the kidneys, turned hard right at the bladder, sidestepped the appendix and bolted into the large bowel, where it all seemed to go quiet.

I dressed and went to meet a patient, when suddenly I knew I had to break wind. Or the ferret had caught the rabbit, or something similar. I excused myself, and hastened to the toilet, anal sphincter at maximum closure, and in the confines of the stall was able to let the gas go. I was in fear of flying round the room backwards. As (Sir) Mick Jagger sang in ‘Jumping Jack Flash,’ “It’s a gas, gas, gas!” It certainly was.

So that’s what to expect if a gastroscopy is ordered for you. Some discomfort, a quick diagnosis and a gaseous ferret unleashed. You have been warned.