Medical Testing

A guide for those moments when you need to do a test and you think to yourself, “Huh?”

Personally, I believe one of the hardest parts of living with digestive inflammation is the diagnosis process. Particularly, all of the tests you have to go through in order for your doctor and/or specialist can determine what is going on. Even though my doctor and specialists always told me what I was getting and why, I would sometimes forget due to a pain flare or medication issue or just being human.

So here I wanted to compile some resources in case you are curious about the kinds of tests that you may or may not have to complete. These resources are NOT to replace your doctor’s or specialist’s instructions – they are for informative purposes only. (I know that most of you know this, but it needs to be said.)

Throughout my entire diagnosis, I’ve had the following tests done: abdominal CT scan, allergy tests (skin and blood), blood panels, colonoscopy, endoscopy (with biopsy), HIDA scan (with cholecystokinin), lab work (with all the sample types), ultrasound (abdominal), upper GI series. Why so many? Remember that a lot of digestive problems cannot be determined by one test. Also, I didn’t have all of these done at once. 😀

In my personal opinion, the hardest test to endure was the HIDA since it included a cholecystokinin injection. Worst. Pain. Ever. But it did prove that my gallbladder needed to come out. (This was a HUGE victory since I tested negative on the typical gallbladder tests because it never produced gallstones.)

Other than that, it’s just a matter of how you feel about needles. Frankly, once I’ve had the blood drawn and/or IV placed in then everything else is easy. Sometimes I’ve had a sore throat after an endoscopy, but it’s easily soothed with chamomile tea and honey. Want more tips? Here’s a list of tips and tricks that have helped me deal with medical testing:

Tips & Tricks for Medical Testing

  1. Always ask questions. If you don’t understand a procedure or what to do afterwards, please ask! You don’t want to jeopardize your test results, and you need to understand why it’s being done. Sample questions:
    • What is this test for?
    • Will I need to fast before this test? For how long?
    • How long after the test can I eat or drink?
    • Will I need a ride after the test?
    • What are the side effects of this test?  What side effect requires emergency care?
    • When is your next available appointment after you get the test results back? (Trust me, it’s better to make it before you take the test.)
    • Does my primary doctor need to get the results of this test or will you forward them to him/her?
  2. Get a driver if it is recommended by your doctor. Some tests will require you to be put under anesthesia, and you will have to get a ride home. Call in favors or promise a free lunch or something – DO NOT drive yourself home if those are your instructions.
  3. Call your doctor before your test to confirm your pre-approval for your insurance company.  Things happen, and you don’t want to get stuck with an enormous bill because your insurance wasn’t notified properly.  Make sure you get a confirmation number as early as possible from your doctor so that you can dispute claim errors.  Trust me, it’s easier to do this now than retroactively.
  4. Leave your personal belongings at home. You will get a locker or a bag to put your stuff in, but honestly, you’re getting a medical test done. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people protest in the outpatient waiting room about removing jewelry. All you really need are comfy clothes (that you should already be wearing), identification, your insurance card, your lab or test paperwork, a driver if you need one, and a magazine to pass the time.
  5. Dress in comfy clothes. This is especially true if you’re doing an upper GI series or any kind of test that may put pressure on your already inflamed tract. Constriction only worsens your condition, so I would highly suggest wearing a regular tee-shirt with either yoga or sweat pants. You will be wearing a hospital gown during your tests, but after you need to feel comfortable. Besides, you’re going to a medical test, not fashion show.
  6. Breathe. Tests can be scary, especially when it’s your first time. Close your eyes if you have to and breathe. If the test requires you to hold your breath for a moment, try counting 1-10 slowly, and then 10 – 1. I would even suggest finding a calming mental exercise for your test before you go in. Believe me, freaking out only makes your test time longer and annoys the hospital staff.
  7. Don’t be embarrassed about your test. Again, you’re going to be at a hospital. Doctors and nurses are professionals, and the test they are performing are for your medical health. (And I say that as someone who’s had both colonoscopies and fecal occult blood tests done in her early 20’s!) If you’re really upset over what has to be done, ask your doctor or the lab technician questions to ease your mind. Also, you don’t have to tell your friends or post on Twitter/Google+/Facebook/etc. if you don’t want anyone to know about it. When it comes to my health, I really don’t care what people know about me, but that confidence came years after enduring procedures.
  8. Place reminders on your phone for necessary chores before your test. Anesthesia makes me woozy, so I can’t rely on myself to remember when to take my medicine. Be sure to have your reminders set for the rest of the day.
  9. Prepare your breakfast/lunch/dinner ahead of time. Depending on when you’re having the test done, it’s a good idea to have your next meal ready to consume. It makes things easier.
  10. Show up on time for your test. Nothing bugs me more than spending lots of time in an outpatient waiting room because somebody showed up late to their test. You have to plan enough time to check in and change for most of these tests. I do know that life happens sometimes, but try your best to arrive on time or even early.
  11. If you have to drink oral contrast liquid, ask for a straw. How do you stomach a whole bottle of thick, chalky liquid? Get a straw and stick it as far back as you can to your throat and chug. You want as little of that stuff on your taste buds as possible, even if you cannot drink it quickly.
  12. The CT contrast injections (into the IV) will make you feel like you have to pee, so keep reminding yourself that you are fine. If you’re worried about this at all, use the restroom before the test. Also, the people administering the test are in a hospital. They’ve seen it all.
  13. Give yourself the day off for your colonoscopy…and I mean from everything! You will have to drink something that will clean out your intestines and stick to a clear liquid diet before the actual test. It’s not pretty, and it requires immediate access to a toilet. For me, that was the worst part. The actual process involves a sedative or anesthetic, and afterwards you just have a bit of dull achy pain.  If I was able to do it, then you will be able to do it.  😀
  14. If you hate needles, find a point to focus on in the lab instead of your arm. I usually end up making inane chit-chat with the nurse about TV shows or movies. You basically just need to not think about the needle, whether it’s for blood work or putting in an IV.
  15. You can ask for another nurse if he or she isn’t putting in your IV correctly. I ended up with a smartphone-sized black bruise on my arm because I didn’t speak up when a nurse was poking around for a vein. I’ve also had a nurse massively fail to get an IV in me…which resulted in bandages for both arms and one hand. So please remember, that if he or she cannot seem to get it right, ask for someone else. Be polite, but be firm.
  16. Treat your hospital staff nicely. Doctors and nurses get a lot of crap from patients day in and day out. Show respect and you’ll get it in return. Even if #15 happens.
  17. If you don’t want a medical student watching or helping with a procedure, you have the right to say “no.” I know that some tests are more nerve-wracking than others, and that medical students need to learn, but your comfort level comes first. Personally, I never cared if they watched, but I wasn’t comfortable with them assisting tests during the initial diagnosis process. If I am undergoing a test that is meant to check up on my progress, however, I have no problem with them assisting. Again, it’s your personal preference.
  18. Drink water before getting lab work done, unless told otherwise. You know what’s more embarrassing than giving any sort of bodily sample? Hanging out in the waiting room for half an hour because you can’t give it. Water really helps, and not every lab has a water cooler.
  19. Bring a portable bottle of cranberry or orange juice for your blood tests, unless told otherwise. When I got super sick, I became slightly anemic. This made it hard to do blood work, so now I try to carry cranberry or orange juice in case I get dizzy in the lab. I’ve also had labs run out of juice when I was getting drawn and feeling lightheaded. Protip: If you know that you are slightly anemic, get someone else to take you to your appointment.
  20. Ask for copies of your test results during your follow-up. Your results should never be a mystery. Ask your doctor or specialist what it means and what will happen next.
  21. Reward yourself for being an awesome patient. 😀 Treat yourself to a dinner, dessert, video game, movie, new shirt, or whatever makes you happy a day after the test. That way you have something to look forward to once it’s over.

Whew! That was a lot of information, but I hope that it helps. Feel free to leave any questions and/or comments below!

Hilary

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About tmidigestion

Living life with my inflammation avatar, "Pesky." Current mantra: I may have TMI, but it does not have me.
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