I survived my colonoscopy

Colonoscopy is the new root canal; everyone who hasn’t had one yet fears it, and everyone who has had one has a horror story. The people who haven’t had a colonoscopy are afraid of the procedure itself. The people who have had one can tell you that the colonoscopy is a cakewalk. It’s the preparation that’ll test your mettle.

At the appointed hour for my colonoscopy, as I lay on the gurney, a nurse explained the procedure to me. She pointed to a high-definition monitor on which I’d be able to view the inside of my colon. She told me that during the procedure they pump in air and that I’d need to expel it and I shouldn’t feel self-conscious. I can’t imagine why she bothered with all that information, because the one thing she neglected to tell me was that as soon as they started the valium-like drip I’d be out like a light. I did not get to watch my colon on TV, and I was not aware of the need to expel air. For all I know, while I was out they removed a few organs. No matter, I had a great nap.

The preparation is to flush your system so the gastroenterologist can see what they’re doing. A couple of days before my procedure I had to drink ten ounces of magnesium citrate, a saline-based laxative. The day before, I went on a ‘clear liquid’ diet. These things were no big deal. The night before was when things got hairy. If you’re not already familiar with Dave Barry’s piece about his colonoscopy, and you want a good laugh, you should read it. He focuses less on what he had to drink and more on what the end result was. I was more traumatized by what I had to take in than what ultimately came out.

In fifteen minute intervals, I was supposed to drink ninety-six ounces of a solution that was mostly water, had an off-putting, but bearable, taste, and a strange viscosity. After an hour and fifteen minutes, and five glasses of this stuff, it all came up again. I called my father (a doctor) for advice and he said, “Keep going. If you’re not cleaned out the scope won’t work and you’ll have to start over again.” Over my dead body, I thought. I apprehensively drank three more glasses and then took the prescribed hour off. I could only force myself to drink two more glasses after that; sixteen ounces shy of the total. If someone had held a gun to my head and said, “Drink more or die,” I would have said, “Shoot me.”

At the hospital the next morning, I told everyone who would listen that I had not completed the preparation and was scared that I would ‘fail’ as a result. No one seemed too concerned. On my discharge notes, the doctor wrote, “Excellent prep!” I felt like a school girl who’d gotten an unexpected A. Maybe gastroenterologists aren’t sadists after all. Maybe they know that if you’re busy focusing on the horror of the preparation, you won’t worry about the reason you’re doing it. Oh yeah, turns out I don’t have cancer.

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9 responses to “I survived my colonoscopy

  1. Thanks for the link to the Dave Barry article. Having already been through this process, I found it very amusing!

  2. That is the nastiest concoction they want you to drink. My ever so thoughtful husband asked me if I wanted him to move the TV into the bathroom for the evening before.

  3. I have actually survived two colonoscopies. The amnesia that sets in after the first one allows you to have a second one with exactly the same trepadations as the original one. Only after the procedure when the nurse exclaimed” Neat As A Pin” did I recollect that five years earlier I had been commended as ” Clean As A Whistle.” Was the former assessment better than the latter?
    She would not tell me.

  4. My friend Jean reported that she read a scroll under MSNBC newscast:
    “Dog can sniff out colorectal cancer as well or better than colonoscopy.”
    Jean conjured up a landscape of hilarious situations that would do well on a Monty Python show . As an animal lover she is concerned that the dog’s reward be commensurate with current medical rates.
    Perhaps dogs’ olfactory powers might make colonoscopies and possibly other expensive procedures such as CAT scans and MRIs obsolete . Maybe this a solution to the whole health care controversy.

    • My sister shared this joke with me some time ago. I saved it because I thought it was so funny. Please share it with Jean.

      A woman brought a very limp duck into a veterinary surgeon. As she laid her pet on the table, the vet pulled out his stethoscope and listened to the bird’s chest. After a moment or two, the vet shook his head sadly and said, “I’m sorry, your duck, Cuddles, has passed away.”
      The distressed woman wailed, “Are you sure?”
      “Yes, I am sure. The duck is dead,” replied the vet.
      “How can you be so sure?” she protested. “I mean you haven’t done any testing on him or anything. He might just be in a coma or something.”
      The vet rolled his eyes, turned around and left the room. He returned a few minutes later with a black Labrador Retriever. As the duck’s owner looked on in amazement, the dog stood on his hind legs, put his front paws on the examination table and sniffed the duck from top to bottom. He then looked up at the vet with sad eyes and shook his head. The vet patted the dog on the head and took it out of the room. A few minutes later he returned with a cat. The cat jumped on the table and also delicately sniffed the bird from head to foot. The cat sat back on its haunches, shook its head, meowed softly and strolled out of the room..
      The vet looked at the woman and said, “I’m sorry, but as I said, this is most definitely, 100% certifiably, a dead duck.”The vet turned to his computer terminal, hit a few keys and produced a bill, which he handed to the woman. The duck’s owner, still in shock, took the bill…. “$150!” she cried, “$150 just to tell me my duck is dead!”
      The vet shrugged, “I’m sorry. If you had just taken my word for it, the bill would have been $20, But with the Lab Report and the Cat Scan, it’s now $150.”

  5. How cruel is that just when paps go to once every three years, the mammograms begin, with the colonoscopies soon to follow? My mother-in-law dreads it every year, and has similar gross stories about prepping.

    I think I’ll just assume my colon will be okay.

    Congratulations on your A.

  6. Well, here is an un-sedated colonoscopy experience significantly different than any other I have read anywhere on-line.

    Let me just say three things up front: First, while I don’t consider myself a control freak (that would be my boss) when it comes to my body & health I have the final say on everything. Period.
    Secondly, I would consider myself to have a relatively high tolerance for pain – although after witnessing my wife go through 2 natural child births and 1 C-section delivering our 3 daughters, I think she may have me beat. Ouch.
    Thirdly, I don’t like needles. Don’t know anyone that does, but my wife doesn’t seem to mind them. I don’t have any tattoos (never saw one I liked on anyone else either). For the record I do take an Enbrel Pen once a week for a skin condition and that doesn’t bother me. While considered an injection, it is not actually a syringe or IV needle. Those bother me.

    Ok, so my wife and I turned 56 this past year. My wife gets a new doctor as her previous doctor left our health-care plan and her new doctor talks her into a colonoscopy. So she goes ahead and books her colonoscopy for January 30th 2015.

    As usual she does no homework prior to the procedure and agrees to full anesthesia VIA Propofol. I drop her off at 9:15 am as I am her driver. I am called in at just after noon time to collect her and I can tell she is still trying to shake out the cob-webs. She is happy and talkative and says she can’t tell if it’s because she’s just so happy because the procedure is over or due to the drug effects. I bring her home and she naps the rest of the afternoon. Her only real complaint except for being cold on the gurney was the severe burn of the injection at the injection site. For her to complain that had to be painful. Afterwards I read on-line about how this is very common complaint with Propofol and how different anesthetists are hitting patients with Lidocaine, etc… in advance of the Propofol to help alleviate this issue. Yup, using one drug so injecting you with a different drug won’t hurt so much…OMG. Anyway I digress…

    So you know what that means, unfortunately for me, since she did “hers” now it is my turn. However, as I previously mentioned being a little controlling when it comes to what people want to do (intrusively) to my body, I do a little homework first.

    So I go online and am reading all kinds of stories about good experiences and bad experiences regarding colonoscopies. I read about so called “Twilight Sleep”, partial anesthesia, full anesthesia, and I stumble across (very few) non-anesthesia colonoscopy stories. However, I do come across a You-Tube video from someone at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington MA (found it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jF8UttOBHCo) mentioning un-sedated colonoscopy as a viable option to anesthesia colonoscopies. I find it very interesting that an actual health care professional is recommending this as a viable option. So I start doing more digging and discover that in Europe, non-anesthesia colonoscopies are the norm. I find out that on the East coast of the US, full anesthesia is used 3-1 more often than any other region in the US. The explanations seem to be that healthcare coverage overall is better in this region? This doesn’t make sense to me and I would love to know the real reason so if anyone knows please respond to this blog). I dig more and discover that “most” health care professionals have “their” colonoscopies without sedation. I am intrigued.

    So I call my local health care clinic (where my wife just had her colonoscopy less than a month earlier) asking about colonoscopy choices there and they don’t even mention non-anesthesia as an option. Until I ask.

    Once I question them as to if this is indeed an option they say “yes but you must have an IV in the event you need drugs to be administered due to pain” – which is fine with me. But I can tell by the tone and other comments (everybody wants drugs) that they don’t recommend it.

    But again, they never mentioned this until I asked about it. Hummm…

    So at this point I am suspect of this (Major NH based Health Care System) clinic and call my doctor and cut a deal where I would (finally) agree to a colonoscopy only if he would refer me to the Lahey Clinic in Burlington MA (about 50 miles from where I live). He agrees and does so.

    So once referred, I call and speak to a very nice receptionist in the Lahey Endoscopy Center and she mentions that non-anesthesia is indeed an option there. So I ask her if she were to have one without anesthesia, whom would she request for a doctor – and she answers been-there-done-that and said hers was with Dr. Burns and highly recommended he. I said ok “book me”.

    So I drink the (Miralax) prep (combined with 4 Ducalax tablets) and it really is not that bad. I drink it straight over ice. Close to a gallon of it in 8 oz – 15 minute increments until it’s gone. At least 90% of the comments I have read on-line mention “that” as being the worst part. Frankly I have had worse diarrhea from my homemade 5-alarm chili! Seriously.

    Easily the worst part for me was the shear lack of privacy in the enormous endoscopy triage area at this particular clinic – which was setup remarkably similar to that where my wife had hers. Best way to describe it is that the curtains form small “bays” where gurneys are wheeled into and out of all day apparently.

    It begins when I am escorted from a very large waiting area into the endoscopy unit, dropped off in the middle of a very busy “open” area, partitioned by only a bunch of oversized shower curtains. This “endoscopy hostess” then pulls an oversized shower curtain 360 around us and instructs that I undress, hands me a jonnie to put on and says after I am in the jonnie to wait for the nurse and make myself comfortable on the gurney. She then partially closes the curtain upon leaving – to which I completely close. Honest to God. This shower or “privacy” curtain comes down to just above knee height and again this is a very bustling area so I know there are a bunch of folks that can see me “drop trow”, etc… Then, while patiently lying on the gurney, I am hearing folks on the left of me and to the right of me being asked personal questions about medical history, allergies, medications they are taking and other personal questions. Really? Do I need to hear the guy about 5 feet to my right mention that he is on erectile disjunction medication? So sure enough, minutes later my nurse comes in and starts asking me pretty much the same questions… at one point I ask that she please try to keep her voice down a little bit. I am trying to answer in my lowest audible voice possible but with the noise level reverberating in the large room it’s pretty difficult. Now (my wife will attest) I am not what I would consider to be a modest person (I sunbath nude in the privacy of my (relatively secluded) backyard regularly all summer, shower at the gym with other guys present a couple times a week, walk around the house in my birthday suit on weekends, etc…) but I am embarrassed and shocked by the lack of privacy during this rather personal Q&A interrogation process. They couldn’t bring you into a private room to ask you all this? OMG. It kind of reminded me of what I saw on TV of the 1970’s 4077 MASH unit! Ok, enough about this – but to me this was much, much worse than the mild discomfort and inconvenience of diarrhea-day (you have never had my chili).

    Once the questions from the nurse are complete the doctor arrives and does ask me to sign a consent form and doesn’t seem to have any problem with me being non-sedated. He even approves me not receiving an IV for “emergency medication”. Am I happy! I am then wheeled into the private room (thank God) and the process begins – without sedation.

    To be honest, there was one segment where there was a turn/bend (the doctor warned me that there would be this part) in the colon that there was some minor discomfort, but the nurse observing the monitors just asked that I take a few deep breaths and the discomfort passed quickly and within 20-25 minutes it was all over – and he stopped to remove 2 small polyps. I watched the whole thing on the monitor with the Doc. It was pretty cool actually. On a 1-10 pain scale, OVERALL it was about a 2-3 at worst. Honestly.

    They then wheeled me out of the room back into the same shower curtain semi-private area I started at. No more than 2 minutes later the nurse asked if I had passed gas, to which I answered yes (lied) got dressed and as I was leaving the doctor gave me a printout of the procedure results and as I was leaving couldn’t help but peak into erectile disjunction guys only partially closed curtain-room to see him still sleeping off the drugs he was apparently given.

    I was probably home 50 miles away before he got released (and I drove myself).

    To everyone reading this – YOU CAN DO IT TOO! Good luck.

  7. Mike, thanks for the encouraging story. If I ever get a colonoscopy I’ll have no choice but to do it unsedated. They won’t let you drive home or even take a cab or bus if you have sedation. For those of us with no one to drive us home that doesn’t leave us much choice. I don’t know if any doctors close to where I live will do unsedated colonoscopies but might look into it.

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