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My Colonoscopy

Just do it!

Written by Patricia I. James**

I had a colonoscopy and thought that I would tell you about the experience. So, this post is about medical practice, not medical malpractice.

I started going to my primary care physician a short time after I returned from Colorado in 2004. Among other things, she advised that I should get a colonoscopy by the time I turned 60. About once a year, she would bring it up and I would dutifully nod. Finally, last July, she asked about it again and I said, “you told me I just needed to do it by the time I turned 60.” She then replied something like, “YOU’RE GOING TO WAIT UNTIL YOU’RE 60?” Lovely woman but a bit of a temper. Anyway, I assured her that I would get it done. However, I kept putting it off, dragging my feet, taking my time, until I realized that the big SIX O was looming. By the time I called to make an appointment, I could not get one until eleven days past my birthday. Close enough.

The medical group sent me instructions about the procedure well in advance. Basically, they tell you what to do the day prior to the procedure and make it very clear, IN CAPITAL LETTERS AND IN AT LEAST THREE PLACES that you have to have someone to drive you home after the procedure and to be there the entire time during the procedure. Otherwise, they will cancel the appointment (and charge you $100) and will only reschedule when you can comply with these instructions. Based on my experience, don’t even THINK of driving for the rest of the day. You will be given general anesthesia so you are going to be in Groggy City until the anesthesia wears off.

As for the day before, as instructed, I only had clear liquids. What I mean by that is that it does not have to be see-through but it cannot have anything in it like, for example, pulp or noodles or meatballs. It also cannot be purple or red since I guess that might coat the colon and the doctor could mistake it for blood.

Therefore, and I counted, I had nine popsicles, banana (my favorite), root beer and lime. I had six little jellos, four lime and two orange. They came in a six pack. I felt a little cheated since I only got two orange instead of three but I got over it. I drank one half quart of ginger ale. During all of that, I began to think that I was already sick and tired of all of the sweet taste. Thankfully, I had two cans of Swanson chicken broth in the cupboard. The first can I drank tasted like the best thing I had ever had. So, trust me, when you have the procedure done, not if, make sure you have the variety.

Now comes the best part. (Note the sarcasm here). I had to drink two liters of MoviPrep. I will now acknowledge one of my favorite writers, humorist Dave Barry, who wrote a column for the Miami Herald. (They still republish prior columns). He published a column on February 22, 2008 entitled, “A journey into my colon — and yours.”  The link is http://www.miamiherald.com/2009/02/11/427603/dave-barry-a-journey-into-my-colon.html. Incredibly funny. Anyway, in that column, he says, “(For those unfamiliar with the metric system, a liter is about 32 gallons.)” Believe me, when you start drinking this stuff, you WILL think that it is 32 gallons.

Barry also writes that “MoviPrep tastes — and here I am being kind — like a mixture of goat spit and urinal cleanser, with just a hint of lemon.” He’s right but I would also add that there is about a tablespoon of salt. I know what’s going through your mind: “Salt, lemon, think margarita.” (Allright, it would actually be lime but, again, close enough). However, you are forgetting about the goat spit and urinal cleanser. The problem is that the liquid is kind of thick, ergo, spit. What did help is that I used a straw and placed it about half way back on my tongue. Nonetheless, it seemed to take forever to drink the eight ounces. Did I forget to tell you that, for a morning procedure, you start drinking this at 3:00 p.m. the day before and you drink eight ounces every fifteen minutes until you finish the liter? So, you are finished with the first liter at 3:45. You are then instructed to drink 16 ounces of a clear liquid of your choice. I was thinking gin but I was afraid that it might be contraindicated with the anesthesia. Anyway, you then get to do it all again at 7:00 p.m.! Yes, I did say two liters.

Probably around 5:00 or so, you will start becoming very familiar with your bathroom, particularly your toilet. Of course, the point of all of this is to clean out your colon so the doctor can put this tube with a light on it up your rear, going all the way around to your appendix, or where your appendix was, to make sure there are no polyps and no cancer. Thus, you have to keep going to the bathroom “until you run clear.” Believe me, this does it.

So, it is now the next morning. Erin, one of my paralegals, comes over to drive me to the procedure. (Laura, the other paralegal, is holding down the fort at work). I check in and the receptionist asks whether I have done the prep and whether I have a ride home. Yes on both counts. Thus, I don’t get sent home. The nurse then calls me, asks the same questions (I TOLD you they were serious about this), explains the procedure and gives me a gown but tells me I can leave my socks on. She then comes in with a heated blanket (pure heaven), and then I am wheeled into the surgical room or whatever they call it. They start an IV of the anesthesia (Versed and Demerol). The gastroenterologist (very nice man), again explains the procedure and asks if I have any questions. I am told to turn on my left side. I look at a monitor and ask if the numbers are my blood pressure and heart rate. They say yes, my vision gets glassy and, the next thing I know, I am waking up in the recovery room.

Erin is sitting there patiently. I am feeling rather out of it and slightly nauseous. There are only curtains up in the recovery room which separate the individual “rooms.” Therefore, I am treated to the sounds around me which include a nurse, and then the patient’s husband, saying, “Sylvia, wake up. Wake up, Sylvia. Sylvia, wake up,” ad nauseam, (no pun intended) ad infinitum. Apparently, I was starting to get fed up with it because Erin told me that I moaned, “Wake up, Sylvia.”

Anyway, the gastroenterologist comes in for about 2.5 seconds and tells me that there are no polyps and no cancer. Yay!!! I am told I can get dressed. Erin, bless her heart, helps me get dressed, tying my shoes, etc. A nurse then comes in and says that (1) the nausea will lessen if (I am going to be somewhat indelicate here) I pass gas; and (2) I should not eat anything greasy or spicy.

With regard to the former, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I, who am somewhat demure, was not embarrassed by it. And, blessedly, since I was completely empty, there was no threat of odor.

With regard to the latter, I did not hear that and my instruction sheet said that, unless I was told otherwise, I should eat normally. Even if I had heard it, I just would not have thought that a double-double with grilled onions and fries at In-N-Out Burger would count as greasy or spicy. (I know, I should have thought that onions are spicy but, when I think of spicy, I think “hot.”)

So, after lunch, Erin drives me home and offers to stay for a while but I say that I think I’ll just lie down. I did lie down and slept HARD for two hours. Honestly, if it were not for the cost, and the fact that I think that they have procedures lined up one after the other, they should keep you in the hospital for a little longer to recover from the anesthesia. However, Sylvia and I needed to get going and we did. Well, at least I did. She could still be there for all I know.

There was no soreness at all. The worst that happened, other than the MoviPrep, was that I was nauseous for about three days. This was something I brought on myself since it was due to the heavy meal I had following the colonoscopy. A nurse as well as the gastroenterologist called me the following Monday morning and afternoon, respectively, to make sure that I was okay. They both agreed that I should have just had a light, bland meal after the procedure but, since I did not, I just needed to drink more liquid. That actually cured it.

All in all, it was not the big, bad event I had allowed to balloon in my mind. The colonoscopy itself wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen. Since the nausea was basically my fault, I would have to say that it was just the two liters of goop that was the worst. Therefore, you don’t have any reason to not have a colonoscopy. If I knew then what I know now, I would not have waited.

There are two results: either you don’t have cancer and you have that peace of mind or, you do have cancer and, hopefully, they have caught it soon enough that it is treatable. By waiting, you run the risk of being told, “You have cancer. If only we had been able to detect it earlier.” Again, just do it!

**No portion of this Post is intended to constitute legal or medical advice. The views expressed are solely those of the author.