Colonoscopy – a procedure in which a flexible fiber-optic instrument is inserted through the anus in order to examine the colon. ~ Dictionary
It sounds horrible right? Let me tell you, it is not nearly as horrible as you are imagining in your head.
I had my first colonoscopy at Langley Air Force Base hospital when I was 24 years old. I was scared out of my mind. I heard horror stories about the prep being horrific and nobody really talked about the actual procedure, so my mind went crazy imagining how horrible it was going to be.
I’ll be honest with you, the prep is not a joy ride. Back in 1996, I was given a medication to take a couple times the day before to clean out the system. It was uncomfortable, caused a bit of cramping, but nothing as bad as say, food poisoning.
I don’t know if they didn’t believe in anesthesia for a colonoscopy back in 1996 or if that was a military base thing. Either way, my first colonoscopy was done with nothing more than a dose of valium. I watched the entire thing on the monitor and the doctor described what I was looking at every step of the way. It was quite interesting, I got to ask questions, and his explanations and guided tour distracted me from the discomfort, which felt like flatulence pushing inward, unable to escape. It was terribly uncomfortable, but not painful in any way.
I seriously don’t believe it can get any worse than being awake for the entire procedure, so let me tell you, IT WAS NOT THAT BAD.
My family has a history of colon cancer and polyps, so I get a colonoscopy every 5 years to monitor and catch anything early. The procedure continues to be modified and improved each time, especially since the addition of anesthesia!
Every 5 years sounds like a lot, but the good news is, according to The US Preventative Services Task Force’s “Screening for Colorectal Cancer” published in the Journal of (JAMA) the average-risk adult doesn’t have to worry about testing until around the age 50 and those with asymptomatic (nothing to see here) results, can go up to 10 years between check-ups. (Note I am writing this in November 2016, so things may change yet again.)
If you are in an at-risk group, you’ll want to talk to your doctor about starting preventative screenings sooner. According to the CDC, risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
- History of an inflammatory bowel disease
- Family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- A genetic syndrome
- Lifestyle factors which include things like: a lack of physical activity, a lack of fiber and fruits and vegetables in the diet, obesity, alcohol, and tobacco use.
Black men and women also have a higher incidence rate for colorectal cancer, so ask your doctor about getting checked sooner rather than later.
Colonoscopy Overview – My 2016 Edition
A lot of things in life seem scary because we don’t talk about them. I decided to outline my experience, so you can have a good guideline without any hidden surprises. Why worry about the terrible unknowns speculated in your mind when we can talk about what really happens and go from there!
This year’s colonoscopy began with a postcard reminder in the mail. Talk about excitement! If this is your first colonoscopy, you probably were given a referral from your doctor or if you are about 50 years of age, perhaps you spoke to your doctor about getting the preventative screen scheduled.
Give your health insurance provider a call to see if the doctor you wish to use is covered and what procedure items are/are not covered. Many health insurance providers fully cover preventative screenings.
Call the doctor you selected and schedule your appointment. You may need an office visit prior to the procedure. Being a frequent flyer, I only had to schedule an appointment for the procedure. Since I do not have a heart condition or any other issues, my procedures are done in the doctor’s “suite” rather than at a hospital. When you schedule, be sure you allow 5 days on your calendar for the prep. For example, I originally had this year’s colonoscopy procedure scheduled for the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. I had to reschedule because the prep had me taking magnesium citrate during my 9-hour car ride back home from visiting family. You don’t want to do that.
You’ll need to arrange to have your partner or a supportive friend go with you to the procedure because you will not be able to drive home due to the anesthesia. They’ll be able to wait in the waiting room or sometimes even sit with you in your sexy prep-attire prior to the procedure. Take someone who you feel alright hearing your results. It is good to have someone who is not coming out of anesthesia to be a second set of ears.
While your doing scheduling, plan to take off of work the day of the procedure AND the day before. You are likely to have prep to take and be on a clear liquid diet the day before. Do what you need to keep yourself comfortable and at ease.
The Colonoscopy Prep
You’ll receive a prep package in the mail or during your office visit. Depending on your doctor’s procedures, you may need to pick-up a prescription from your pharmacy, buy an over-the-counter item, such as lemon magnesium citrate (it will have to be clear or light in color rather than red or dark in color), and/or buy Low Fiber Diet foods and clear beverages for your prep days. (See: “What To Eat When Preparing For A Colonoscopy” for ideas.)
As I mentioned, the procedures and prep are improved each time around. This year my prep looks like:
- 5 days prior to the procedure – “stop all blood thinning medications, vitamins, and herbal supplements.” Okay, that was easy.
- 3 days prior to the procedure – “Begin Low Fiber Diet”
Let me be clear, the Low Fiber Diet sucks. It removes many healthy foods. It is pretty much most of the things you are supposed to avoid to prevent diabetes, heart disease, and colon issues.
- 2 days prior to the procedure – “at 5 pm drink a 10z bottle of lemon or lime magnesium citrate mixed with 8 oz of clear liquid.” As it turns out, chilling the mixture in the refrigerator for an hour or two before taking it does make it a little bit better. It goes down slightly easier cold. The straw recommendation also helped a teeny tiny little bit. After taking the magnesium citrate, I had to consider the rest of the night a wash, because of unpredictable bathroom calls.
- 1 day before the procedure – “clear liquid diet ALL DAY, and 5 pm bowel prep.” This day was horrible. I was able to distract myself through lunch, but around 3 pm I started to feel weak. I took a nap until 5 pm after which things went south fast. The Suprep Kit was horrible. I got halfway through the 16oz liquid and began to gag. I walked away, had a sip of lemon flavor Gatorade and distracted myself for a few minutes. I tried again, only getting in a few more sips before I almost lost it all in the kitchen sink. I decided 80% was better than vomiting it all up and having 0%. The Suprep took a while to kick in. Between hunger and the nasty lingering aftertaste, I boiled some water and made a cup of chicken ramen noodle, which I strained to remove everything but the water. I really wish I bought bouillon because the flavored water really calmed my stomach down. I spent the rest of the evening binge-watching Jane the Virgin, running to the bathroom, and dreading the morning dose of Suprep. Frankly, according to the directions, my movements met “ready” criteria after the magnesium citrate, so I have no idea why they torture people with all of this.
- Day of the procedure – “bowel prep 5 hours before the procedure and nothing to eat or drink the 4 hours before the procedure.” Since it took the last dose of Suprep 4 hours to work most of its course, that puts the next dose still kicking my ass during the 30-minute drive to the doctor’s office. My thoughts were, “that ain’t happening in my new car.” I woke up at 5:30 am and took my final dose of hell. My stomach felt sick, my lower gut felt surprisingly calm with the exception of the occasional run to the bathroom. I considered allowing my stomach to have its way, since vomiting might help it feel better, but I was also getting an endoscopy that day (that’s right, a tube in both ends, but don’t worry, they do the top before the bottom) and didn’t think the irritation would be a great idea. On an up note, my skin looked great! My skin was amazingly smooth, slightly pale with delicate hints of rose, and my lips were a lovely ruby red. I looked just like a sexy vampire from Twilight.
The Colonoscopy Procedure
It was obvious the receptionist was having a bad day. She was sullen and said as little as possible. A sign on the desk next to her read, “If you can’t be positive, don’t say anything.” She seemed to not be saying anything. A lady from the back came up to grab something and cheerfully said, “good morning” and skip-i-doodled back from where she came. I sat down and strategically planned my bathroom breaks. About 15 minutes before the scheduled procedure time, my assigned nurse came. She had me set up with an IV and into the procedure room in under 15 minutes. I must say, she was sweet and a breath of fresh air the entire time. I reminded myself that this was the easy part, the prep was over with.
Inside the procedure room, the anesthesia nurse positioned me on my side, right knee over the left leg and resting on the table. Since I also had an endoscopy, another nurse put a bit piece in my mouth where the tube would be inserted. As she strapped it to my head, I wondered if horses hated the bits placed in their mouths.
The anesthesia nurse injected the knock out juice and I had just enough time to say, “see you soon” before I was out cold. The next thing I knew, I was waking up as they positioned my bed in the recovery room. Normally, I struggle to wake up from anesthesia, but not this time. The drug they used was amazing. About 5 minutes after surgery, I felt like I had 1 margarita and a lot of beans. Another 5 minutes went by and I felt great. Even the “bean” feeling began to pass. They pump air into you, so they can see around better. When the time comes, let it out. Don’t try to keep it in or you will cause yourself great pain.
It was not long before the doctor came in and went over my results. By the time the doctor was done reviewing the results, all the anesthesia had worn off. I could have walked out of the place, but their protocol involved taking patients to the curb in a wheelchair.
By this time, I was starving! Pro tip: do not flood your system with solid foods, especially fatty foods like cheese, because the “pipeline” will block up and it will hurt. Drink a lot of liquids and have small amounts of easy to digest food.
The Rest Of The Day
My sweet hubby sat and watched Ex Machina with me. I only got halfway through the movie when I gave in and declared it nap time. When I woke up, I felt a little dehydrated and scratchy in the throat, so I took a spoon full of honey to help my throat and drank lots of clear soda. Then, I finished this post. I hope knowing what goes on helps you. The prep truly is the worse part. Please, take this opportunity to take care of yourself and slow down for a couple of days.
A final note: Not all doctor’s offices send out delightful reminders, so mark your calendar according to your physician’s recommended follow-up.