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.