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Post-Colonoscopy Scare Leads To Revised Post-Care

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(credit: CBS) Liz Collin
At 15 years old, Liz Collin made her broadcast debut covering...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It can be a scary test to screen for colon cancer, but a Twin Cities woman says she wasn’t prepared for what happened after her colonoscopy.

Peggy Kealy doesn’t think her doctors properly prepared her for what sent her to the hospital days after her procedure, one which is never described as pleasant.

“The preparation is daunting,” Kealy said. But at 68, Kealy had been through it before. “I was not worried about it at all.”

The doctor removed one polyp during her third colonoscopy this past October. She left with a one-page list of discharge instructions from Minnesota Gastroenterology.

“After your finished they give this to you before you go out the door,” Kealy explained.

For 30 hours after, Kealy felt fine. Then, while out to lunch with friends, she noticed a small amount of blood. She drove 15 minutes home and headed to her 21st-floor condo in search of that instruction sheet, not knowing just how much blood she was still losing.

“You do not realize what small amount of time you have to get anywhere,” Kealy said.

Luckily, a couple happened to catch Kealy’s elevator and knew she needed help.

Kealy spent two days in the hospital recovering from a severe hemorrhage. She’d lost about half of her body’s blood supply — so much, paramedics didn’t think she’d survive.

“Had the instructions been what they should have been, I would have called for an ambulance from the restaurant,” Kealy said.

Kealy’s discharge instructions said to “notify your doctor if you experience more than a small amount of bleeding.” Nowhere did it spell out when to call 911 for immediate help.

“I think they’re [just] meeting the minimum requirements here,” she said.

No one from Minnesota Gastroenterology would speak to WCCO on camera, but Dr. Ann Lowry with Colon and Rectal Surgery Associates said those instructions are similar to what most patients will go home with after a colonoscopy. She says it’s simply not possible for providers to cover everything.

“The reality is we can’t, because every patient’s different, every procedure is different, their medical conditions are different,” Lowry said.

Lowry calls what happened in Kealy’s case extremely rare. She says instead, doctors choose to warn patients about the most common risks.

“This is a safe procedure. All the risks are the order of maybe 1 or 2 percent,” Lowry said.

After pushing for months, Kealy convinced Minnesota Gastroenterology it needed stronger language. Instructions now say to “notify your doctor immediately if there’s more than a small amount of bleeding,” and that “bleeding may occur up to two weeks after a procedure.”

Kealy still doesn’t think the instructions go far enough.

“It’s about future patients that are going to go home with these instructions,” Kealy said.

Recognizing how crucial colonoscopies are in the cancer fight, Kealy will be back for another in a few years. She is still grateful for that chance encounter in the elevator that kept her from her condo.

“I would have never have gotten out of here,” Kealy said.

In a statement, Minnesota Gastroenterology said it welcomes patient feedback. Dr. Scott Ketover, president and CEO of Minnesota Gastroenterology, issued the following statement:

“Minnesota Gastroenterology’s top priority is patient care. We are constantly developing ways to communicate with our patients to make sure their health care needs are best served. We care about a patient’s health as much as they do.

“While we cannot comment about a specific patient or their care, we encourage all patients to communicate with their physician whenever questions arise.

“We welcome and are appreciative of feedback from our patients and incorporate suggestions into our communications, educational materials and post- procedure written materials. While our post-procedure information has always been in-line with or ahead of industry standards, we are always looking for ways to make our communications as clear as possible to all of the patients we serve.

“In addition to verbal and written follow-up instructions provided to our patients, Minnesota Gastroenterology also has on-call physicians available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for patients with questions or concerns related to their care.”

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