Friday, January 30, 2009

Too Much Information

For reasons that you do not want to fully think about I happen to have recently developed a deep personal understanding of the words "colon" and "colonoscopy". By themselves they are a simply a punctuation mark and a spectrometer for punctuation marks. In the lives of middle aged men though they are the chill words that whisper "You know that whole dignity thing you have been working on since you became a professor? ... it's all over now".

Now, colonoscopy examinations are the cornerstone of preventative medicine for bowel cancer and it seems that women (who seem to be more reconciled the loss of dignity that the medical establishment demands) are just fine with the procedure. There have, however been some pretty spectacular accounts of men who have had colonoscopies in the popular press.

This is Dave Barry's account of a colonoscopy procedure (Danger, do not read this while eating or drinking unless someone familiar with the Heimlich maneuver is present)(LINK)

This is Peter King's account of preparing for a colonoscopy (LINK)

It is the preparation that prompts this posting gentle readers. In the good old days they treated you like a vet would treat a horse and made you slam down a glass of trisodium phosphate to empty the system. Yes, that is the same trisodium phosphate that you can buy by the kilo at the hardware store as TSP to remove wallpaper. It seems that this treatment was particularly effective but rather harsh on the lower bowel and dramatically lowered your electrolytes to a dangerous level if you were ill. So now they have these mixes that they give you. The one I am now familiar with is GoLytely.
Now the good people that make Golytely have a webpage (LINK) that declares that Golytely "Was the first bowel prep not contraindicated for cardiac and renal patients ". So, with that confidence you whip up a four litre batch of this stuff. Now, 4 L of anything is a lot to drink but it tastes as Dave Barry says "like a mixture of goat spit and urinal cleanser, with just a hint of lemon". What you are drinking has to empty the bowel without wrecking your electrolyte levels so the ingredients are interesting (at least they are if you are stuck in the bathroom with nothing to read for six hours).

Polyethylene glycol (LINK) (this is the primary active ingredient)
sodium sulfate (LINK) (this is also known as Glauber's Salt and is also an active ingredient)
Sodium bicarbonate, Sodium chloride and Potassium chloride are all present for electrolyte balance.

In any event I now have an excellent solution assignment for my first year students. What are the molarities, mole fractions and mass percentages of the different electrolytes in the prepared four litre solution of Golytely?

Just remember friends, do not golytely into that good night.

1 comment:

Chemgeek said...

The greatest words I ever heard in my life were during a doctor appointment. The nurse had gotten everything ready for the rectal exam.
The doctor came in and said, "he's too young for a rectal exam." Music to my ears.

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For a while it was all about research and then it was all about teaching and now it's all about trying to find a balance while teaching at a small liberal arts and science university.