So this is WAY off-topic, but I’m writing this post as a public service. A colonoscopy, if you don’t know, is a procedure where a doctor takes a look at the insides of your colon to check for cancer and other problems. The doctor does this by, well, sticking a camera up your backside.
Generally speaking, doctors want you to get a colonoscopy when you hit 50. I managed to dodge the procedure for a few years because it just sounded so horrific, but after I spent 3 days in the hospital from a bout of diverticulitis I figured it was time to buck up and get it done.
I’ve gone from someone who faced the idea with abject fear to “Hey, a colonoscopy is no big deal!” in the past few days and I wanted to share the experience with you so that you don’t have to go through that whole fear thing.
So here we go. Obviously this isn’t medical advice and if you’re on some kind of blood thinner the prep is a bit more complicated. Ditto if you have Diabetes, mostly due to 1 day of fasting before the process. Talk to your doctor!
I’m not holding anything back and I’m gonna try to be as honest as I possibly can be.
7 days before your procedure you’ll have to stop taking aspirin and aspirin-like medicines, and lay off iron supplements. You can take Tylenol or acetaminophen but any anti-inflammatorys are a no-go.
3 days before, you have to stop eating legumes, peas, carrots, corn, tomatoes, watermelon and nuts.
So far easy, right?
The day before the process is the worst part of the whole ordeal, and it’s really not that bad.
You can’t eat for a day. Only clear liquids (broth, apple juice, ginger ale etc.) I got by on Ginger Ale and Iced Tea for a day.
Now I’m going to get specific. I assume this is typical but again, you’re doctor will give you instructions. I got a very detailed hand-out.
At 3 pm I took 4 Dulcolax tablets. This is an overnight laxative and 4 tables is 1.5-2 doses.
At 5 pm I dissolved 238 grams of Miralax into 64 ounces of Gatorade. I had to drink an 8 oz glass every 10-15 minutes. 238 grams of Miralax (another laxative) is 14 daily doses!! I used plastic cups and filled them all so I could see my progress.
I got through 4 glasses before all those laxatives started to work. Once they kicked in, I was in the bathroom for a few hours with very short breaks. You definitely want to be home for this and if you share a bathroom you should coordinate. At times I’d get up, wash my hands, leave the bathroom and get about 5 feet from the door before I had to run back in!
So let’s be blunt here: you’ll have diarrhea. It’s gross. But it doesn’t hurt. It isn’t like when you’re sick and have diarrhea and all kinds of cramping and stuff. Your belly is full of liquid and nothing else and, pardon the graphic imagery, but after the first couple of times liquid is what’s coming out. The worst part of the whole situation was that 2nd set of 4 glass of solution since I knew I was drinking more laxative.
Best advice is leave a stack of magazines in the bathroom and just let nature take its course. Again, it’s gross but it isn’t painful.
Once you get those 8 glasses of solution down, you need to drink at least 3 more glasses of clear liquid before midnight. The diarrhea will continue but it’ll be much more intermittent and by the end you’re just passing clear liquid.
I know that sounds gross but that’s the whole idea… to clean out your colon so the doc can get a good look.
After midnight, you stop drinking and eating completely. By that time your belly and your intestines are all empty and the worst of the process is over.
So finally, the big day is here!
The day of the procedure you’ll need someone to drive you home. My clinic actually insisted I list the cell number of the person who would drive me home. Even if you take a cab, you need an adult to escort you.
After hanging out in the waiting room I was taken into the clinic proper. I was told to take off all my clothes and put on a hospital “Johnny.” I answered a bunch of questions about my health history.. nothing weird. “Do I have high blood pressure?” “Do I have any metal pins or plates in my body?” and stuff like that.
I laid down in a bed and was given an I/V to help rehydrate me (it’s likely you’re at least somewhat dehydrated by this point… I had a nasty headache from not eating or drinking). I met the sedationist (I don’t know the official term!) and the doctor. The nurse talked me through what was going to happen and told me they’d inflate my colon with some air to help them see and after the procedure I’d have to expel it and that I shouldn’t be embarrassed or hold it in. She emphasized that they hear this going on all day and aren’t bothered by it, and that it’s important to get that air out to prevent cramps or whatever. So that was a little awkward and a little funny. My nurse was pretty cute.
Finally it was time for the big procedure. The bed was wheeled into the procedure room. A nurse and the sedationist were there. The doctor came to the door and asked me my name, what I was there for and my date of birth. I guess this is now standard practice just to ensure they’re not doing the wrong procedure on you!
The nurse asked me to roll over on my left side while the sedationist warned me that the sedative can cause a burning feeling where the I/V enters your skin. I never felt that. The nurse said “I have to uncover your bum.” as the sedationist administered the sedative and….
Next thing I know I’m in recovery. Things are a little foggy here. The doc told me everything was OK. She’d removed a few polyps (which are very common) and would send them off for biopsy. The nurse asked me if I’d passed gas and in my addled state I quipped “Yes, and I’m proud of it!” — that was the most embarrassing part of the whole process! I’m guessing she’s heard worse.
I was told to take it easy. Not to drive or exercise. Not to sign any legal documents because “whether it feels like it or not, you’re under the influence and anything you sign won’t be binding.” I was given a printed summary of what was done, including color pictures of the inside of my colon. Sparkling clean it was, thanks to the ordeal from the day before!
After a few minutes they had me sit on the edge of the bed. Then I got dressed, carefully, and wobbled out to the waiting room where Angela waited to collect me. We went home and I slept for a lot of the rest of the day.
In the evening I took the dog for a walk and that was a bit too much; I had to call Angela to come pick us up. I felt fine before I set out but I got really tired really fast. So my advice is just to lay around the house for the rest of the day.
I never had any pain. I was warned “You may notice blood tinged discharge on your underwear or toilet tissue.” and I did experience this. I wouldn’t wear white pants to the procedure.
Post-procedure, if you had any biopsies taken you’re told to continue to avoid aspirin for a week. No alcohol the day of the procedure. You should avoid raw veggies and crazy spicy food. Basically go easy on your belly for a day. Remember at this point its been close to 48 hours since you had solid food. I had some pasta and sauce…figured that would be easy to handle and it was.
And that, really, is it.
TL;DR: The prep the day before is going to have you sitting on the toilet for about 2 hours almost non-stop and that is by far the worst part of the procedure.
I’d like to thank the staff of Charles River Endoscopy and Dr. Greta Taitelbaum and her staff for taking such good care of me.
Looking back on how I freaked out I’d been about this procedure, I feel silly. It was the least painful medical procedure I can recall…much less painful than a trip to the dentist! And when you get to the clinic or hospital and you see 10 or 12 other people waiting for the same thing to happen to them, the whole embarrassment factor just goes away.
Every polyp they find and painlessly remove is one less chance you’ll get cancer. So when you hit 50 and your doctor says “Time for a colonoscopy.” you should just agree and get it done. It’s really no big deal and it can save your life.