You've been warned.
No one would guess it by looking at me but I'm officially old. I turned a certain age on my last birthday which triggered all manner of new tests and procedures that doctors deem necessary to ensure that old age is entered in a healthy way.
Last week it was a colonoscopy.
Of all the indignities that one can suffer, this one ranks right up there at the top. Having a camera snaked up your butt so that a doctor can check out your colon and large intestine is, by definition, crappy. (rimshot!) But, from what I've learned, it's also one of the most important tests anyone (male or female) can have done. Early detection of colon problems can mean the difference between a normal life and, either, a shortened one or one with some even more indignity-laden problems.
So, I thought it might be good to describe (not in too much detail) what I went through last week and what my feelings are about the process overall. If this convinces even one of you to make your appointment, I'll feel like I've contributed something to the health of our readers. :)
The process starts with a call from the nurse a week before the procedure. They're really big on setting expectations. I must have been given the same information about six times - either by phone or by mail. Reiteration of the time of the procedure and directions to the hospital happened a bunch of times. Also, reiteration of the "cleaning out" procedure and what I could expect throughout the day happened a lot.
The interesting information I gleaned from that early phone call was some dietary recommendations for the seven days prior. I was restricted from eating nuts, beans, peas, etc. (basically anything that might hang on in there for a long while) for a whole week. I was a bit taken aback because a LOT of what was on that list are things I eat regularly. And, of course, I suddenly couldn't imagine going a whole week without any of them! It was also recommended that I switch over to easily digestible foods for at least a couple of days before the procedure.
Because my appointment was in the afternoon, I had to "split" my cleaning-out procedure - half on Tuesday night and half on Wednesday morning. For those of you who do not know, the
- Before I left for work, I prepared the solution that I would need to drink that night so that I could refrigerate it. The solution was easy to mix and they provided a container with 8oz marks on it so I could measure my drinking. I could tell during the mixing that the solution would be a little thicker than water and slightly viscose. It also smelled nicely of lemon.
- Breakfast on Tuesday morning was restricted to a few, decent items. I picked bagel with cream cheese and a mocha latte because this seemed like the most filling option.
- After 10a on Tuesday, I was allowed nothing by mouth except for clear liquids (broth, certain juices, jello and Popsicles (only certain colors!), and tea) and no dairy at all. I went to the grocery and loaded up on broths and jello so that I had some items that felt like real food.
- At 6p on Tuesday, I had to start drinking my laxative. The process is to drink 8oz of solution every 15 minutes until the container is empty (takes an hour), and then drink 16oz of clear liquid to wash it through.I'd set a timer so I had a goal to meet and would gauge how much I'd consumed and how much time was left. I found it tough to get 8oz in me in 15 minutes but I'd come close. Also, the drink tasted pretty good.
- The laxative was said to take approximately two hours from the time you started drinking it to take effect and this was EXACTLY my experience. However, once it started, there was no leaving close proximity to the bathroom. So... imagine the worst diarrhea you've ever had (usually associated with a flu or something, right?) and then multiply that by, like, five and take away any other flu symptoms. SO WEIRD! After a number of hours (I started worrying about what time I'd be able to go to bed!) I finally felt like there was nothing left in there.
- I made the solution for the morning, refrigerated it, and went to bed. Whew!
- The next morning, I had to start my drink early because the entire process had to be done with no less than two hours before the procedure. So, at 7a, I started drinking the laxative again.
- This time, there was no delay. As soon as I'd drink anything, laxative or clear liquid, it would pass through me in minutes. In short order, everything that was coming out was nearly clear.
As I was finishing my second round of goo around 10a, I got a call from the hospital. They'd had a cancellation and wanted to know if I could (I kid you not), "hop in the car and come over to the hospital right now." Now, the instructions had been VERY clear - the morning routine had to be finished two hours prior to the procedure. Turns out that's not exactly true. If I immediately stopped consuming anything and could get there within 45 minutes, they could do my procedure at 11:30a instead of 1:30p, which sounded good to me. So, I called my driver (you're not allowed to drive yourself home) and confirmed that she could move up the schedule. Then I got cleaned up, changed, and headed out.
Because my "at the hospital" time was shortened by a technically-late arrival (40 minutes before instead of one hour before), I got whisked through the administrative and pre-procedure prep. I would highly recommend this. There was barely time to think so I couldn't get worked up about what was going to happen. Because of the 24-hour lack of food, I was really cold and they kept bringing me warm blankets and piling them on top of each other. I felt like a reverse Princess and the Pea, but it was really nice to be so warm and enveloped. Then a nurse came in and did all the "records" stuff (name, date of birth, instructions for my driver, etc.), then another nurse came in and put in an IV, then the doctor came in and explained what was going to happen (he was really cute which was kind of embarrassing), then the anesthesiologist came in and explained how I would be put to sleep. Through all of this, I kept having to get up and go to the bathroom. Not fun - especially when two, separate nurses told me, "don't worry... we have a suction so it won't matter." UGH!! So gross.
One point that everyone kept pounding on was that I would "have no memory" for hours. That I would repeat myself over and over.That I would forget that I'd done something or asked something. All because of this particular anesthesia. I'm not exaggerating when I say that at least four people brought this up. They insisted that my driver was going to have to "be my memory" for the rest of the day and that I couldn't be trusted to do/say anything normal for hours.
Finally, they wheeled me down the hall to the procedure room, shot some stuff in my IV, asked me to roll over onto my left side, and....that was it. A couple of hours later, someone was shaking me to wake up.
Now...here's the interesting thing. The anesthesia was hardcore. I, quite literally, had no memory of the procedure at all and it was brutal trying to wake up from it. All I wanted to do was sleep. However, I had no memory loss other than the muddled memory that a sleepy person would experience. I got home and ate some homemade mac & cheese (thanks to my thoughtful friend and driver) and promptly took a nap. And that was the rest of my day - up for a bit, asleep for a bit. By the time 5p rolled around, I was pretty functional. The only side effect that I experienced from the anesthesia was a weird issue with the language center of my brain. I would insert non sequitur words into the middle of sentences or I'd mash up two multi-syllable words to make two completely new, incomprehensible words. This went on for hours and, for a word nerd like me, was very embarrassing.
I had no physical side effects from the procedure at all. I was a little gassy but had been told to expect that. I had no soreness or weird feelings either inside or at the entry point. If I hadn't been told, I wouldn't have even known they'd done anything, honestly. When it was all said and done, the preparation (and anticipation) was the worst part of the whole process and, frankly, it wasn't really that bad. A bit unpleasant but nothing that I wasn't expecting.
So... if your doctor is suggesting you need to have a colonoscopy, just do it. Don't delay it because you've heard how "horrible" it is. It's not that bad. And, if nothing else, you get to have a day or so to lay around and sleep. :)