Today's post is unusual for me. I don't normally share really personal things, but since colon cancer claims approximately 50,000 lives per year, I thought writing about my colonoscopy experience might prompt someone else to have the screening.
This will not be a graphic post.
It will be an honest post.
Why did I do it?
Like other routine exams, this procedure is recommended for people over fifty, younger if you have a family history of colon cancer or symptoms. If your doctor finds a polyp, he/she can zap said polyp with an electrical current, right there, on the spot, while you are having the best sleep of your life. I fell in the fifty-plus category.
Another reason I did it?
This procedure saves lives, no question about it. And I have children and a husband who love me. I want to be around for a good, long while. If not for me, for them. I want to be around for me, too, of course.
Because I'm one of those people who feels guilty and/or worries when I know there's something I should be doing that I'm not doing. Today, I officially crossed this guilty-worry off my guilty-worry list.
What to expect?
1. Quick doctor visit for the initial consultation and an exam that did not require undressing. I suppose this could be different with different docs, but this visit was easy and not at all yucky.
2. I was able to schedule the actual procedure for two weeks after the consultation. Was I tempted to push it farther into my future? Yep. But I also know there is no good time for a colonoscopy. Like, maybe I'll wake up in July and suddenly be in the mood for a colonoscopy? No way. Scheduling it sooner rather than later gave me less time to dread the procedure and possibly chicken out.
3. My procedure was scheduled for 11:00 AM, which meant I had to arrive at 10:00 AM. You start the bowel prep one day prior to the actual procedure. On the day of the colonoscopy, you'll need to take the whole day off. No cooking. No cleaning. No driving. No work.
4. Prep day began with a cup of yogurt. That's it. No toast or eggs. Nothing. Nada. An entire 24-hour- plus period of no food, unless you count ginger ale and chicken broth as food. Like I said, prep day is the worst part.
5. You have to take laxatives. A LOT of laxatives. My instructions said, "a 14-day supply of Miralax." And that pretty much means what you think. In the serious medical language of my doctor, "You're gonna poop your brains out."
6. On the positive side, I didn't feel like eating once the laxatives really kicked in. It was a little like the stomach flu, without the throwing up. Except, I threw up. In all my research, I read nothing about a person throwing up. Go figure. Anyway, you probably/hopefully will not throw up.
7. Like all surgical procedures, there was no food or drink after midnight before the procedure. I stopped eating and drinking even earlier for reasons explained in numbers 5 & 6.
The Big, Scary Day Was Not That Scary
I arrived on time. Waited for very little time. Was ushered back to the pre-op area, which was weirdly full of people, including one old guy right across from me who felt compelled to show off his full moon. I averted my eyes before he could show off anything else.
The nurse talked me through everything and did the usual history stuff, though I'd filled out the paperwork beforehand, so this was quick. While she talked, another nurse inserted the needle for the IV. Oh, boy, do I hate needles. Like, I have bad dreams about needles once in a while. This part made me woozy because I am a wimp. I've had three children. You'd think I'd be an old hand with a needle. I am not. The wooziness didn't last, thankfully.
They gave me "breakfast"in the form of IV fluids, and a few minutes later the doctors, a gastroenterologist and anesthesiologist, came to chat with me. They were nice guys. They were comforting. I felt safe.
The nurses wheeled me back to the room. I was asked to roll on my left side. They put the pulse oximeter on my finger, the oxygen thingy in my nose, those heart monitor tabs on my chest, and the anesthesiologist spoke to me while he pushed drugs into the IV.
And that's all I remember.
That's it. Seriously. I did not feel a thing. I was not embarrassed. I thought I would be embarrassed, but I wasn't. There was really nothing gross about the colonoscopy itself. At least it wasn't gross for me!
When I woke up, I couldn't believe it was over. I was done. And best of all, I passed with flying colors, not even a teeny polyp to zap. As a parting gift, they gave me pictures of my lovely colon.
What helped me get through this fifty-something, not-fun thing?
- Feeling determined to do this.
- Having nice and also highly skilled doctors, two of them, in fact.
- Having a gastroenterologist who is funny. Seriously, when he retires he should become a stand-up comic. But I guess if you do what he does for a living, a sense of humor is required.
- Good nurses helped, too.
- And so did my sweet husband. He waited with me till they wheeled me back, and was by my side when I woke up. According to my doc, some husbands run off to Home Depot to buy a chain saw while their wives get a colonoscopy.
What else helped me get through this fifty-something, not-fun thing?
Katie Couric videos. She lost her husband when he was only 42 to colon cancer, and she has spent a good deal of her life since trying to educate people about the importance of this procedure. It can save your life. Really, truly. Plus, watching these videos and reading a few candid explanations online, helped me understand that suffering through the prep was important AND that the procedure itself wasn't a big deal.
I promise not to write about a colonoscopy for 10 years (the next time I'm due to have one).
Here are Katie's videos if you're interested.