Writing about one’s own colon is a sensitive subject. It’s not the scoping of the colon since the anesthesia makes it a dreamy experience. It’s TMI. Too much information. If the subject of the inner sanctum of my large intestine makes you a little queasy consider reading on for these two reasons: (1) I want to be reassuring about the preparation and procedure for a colonoscopy and (2) shake any complacency that colon cancer won’t happen if one just ignores it. Colonoscopies are used to screen for colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US and the fourth most common cancer in men and women.
But let’s begin with what, until lately, has been the worst part of the colonoscopy. Think back, what is the worst thing you’ve ever drunk? If you are over 50, I bet it is Go Lightly. Go Lightly is that nasty, seawatery, nausea-inducing, foul-tasting drink that has been used for generations to clean out your system the day before a colonoscopy.
Fortunately since my last colonoscopy five years, alternatives have emerged. You can take 32 pills or a Gatorade mixture. The Gatorade cocktail it will be and I’m hoping for the best.
My family has a history of polyps (abnormal growths in the colon) so, rather than this procedure every ten years, I must have a colonoscopy every five years. Before the scoping begins, I sign the pre-consent form that begins This exam, while generally considered quite safe, does have the potential for some unanticipated or adverse outcomes. Bleeding…perforation (a puncture of the colon). Further, it states that the operation is 95% successful. I’ll take those odds.
On Sunday before my Wednesday colonoscopy, let the cleansing begin. The first two of my three days of prep are easy. I can have no corn, popcorn, foods with seeds or nuts, salads, or any raw veggies. By Monday night, I have had my last meal, spaghetti with a glass of wine; I’ll not eat solid food again for 36 hours.
Tuesday gets serious as my clear liquid diet begins. For breakfast I have a cup of black decaf coffee, and that’s it. My choices for the day are limited to broth, Jell-O, green or yellow Popsicles, water, black coffee or tea with no milk or cream, hard candy, or more Gatorade. There’s a reason it’s called a clear liquid diet.
At 10A I begin drinking a large glass of liquid every hour on the hour. By noon I tire of the water so I opt for white grape juice. Lunch is lime Jell-O chased by two Dulcolax tablets. (If the lax in Dulcolax clued you in that this is a laxative, go to the head of the class.) Let the carnival of the colon begin.
Did you know laxatives don’t work immediately? In fact, it’s hours before the first subterranean rumbling occurs. TMI?
Keeping busy and passing the time is my challenge for this day before. I distract myself by grocery shopping at Hannaford’s. No one knows my little secret. I hope it doesn’t slip out (That’s gross I know). I stop at the library for the DVD of The Sun Also Rises, the Ernest Hemingway classic. That’s worth a good two to three hours of distraction. Throughout the afternoon it’s just a lot of liquid and regular unhurried trips to the bathroom.
Then at five, it’s the Gatorade cocktail. Eureka. It doesn’t make me wretch and want to die like the Go Lightly did. Over the next hour I drink 8 to 10 ounces every 10 to 15 minutes til the 32 ounces of liquid is gone. Waterlogged, I endure this hydration extravaganza. And I am happy to report, I’ve not yet sprinted to the bathroom; the laxatives still have not done their dirty work.
Throughout the evening I force down more glasses of white grape juice. Wisely Hannah opts for the upstairs guest bedroom since there is no reason that she doesn’t get some sleep tonight. I hope to catch 30 minutes here, 60 minutes there. The laxatives will not be denied, but at 9P I still have no rumbles and down two more Dulcolax tablets. Mount Vesuvius of the posterior will erupt soon enough. Indelicate phrasing?
At 2A I awake to my phone alarm knowing that my next hour is forcing down 32 more ounces of Gatorade with Miralax. The Gatorade taste is tolerable, I’m just so waterlogged. I get on the computer, play some Scrabble and fill most of my time on the Huffington Post comedy link watching Jimmy Fallon and Jon Stewart. And all of sudden it’s 3A and I head back to bed. The gastrointestinal action has begun. I zip purposefully to the bathroom every twenty to thirty minutes or less. It’s the running of the bowels.
Surprised when I awake at 540A just before my 6A alarm, I’m ready to go. (Puns come easy under the circumstances.) It’s a warm and cleansing shower that has me clean as a whistle, ready for surgery at York Hospital.
Once in the treatment room, I am asked to go into the bathroom to remove my clothes and don the fine YH bathrobe.
The nurse places a warm full length towel over me as she then hooks up the IV drip of Demerol (anesthesia) and wraps the blood pressure cuff. My doctor will soon insert a lubricated six foot long, flexible, lighted tube with a video camera into my rectum and slowly guide it through my large intestines. The scope will transmit an image of the inside of the colon (in previous years I have been able to watch the video monitor as the tube explores my colon). If anything abnormal is seen, like a polyp or inflamed tissue, my doc will remove it using tiny instruments passed through the scope.
When the good doctor comes in, he smiles and has me lean on my left side. He says the anesthesia works very quickly. I turn to watch the nurse push the anesthesia into the IV port. And that’s the last thing I remember.
I awake to the voice that the procedure is complete. The doc says he removed one polyp, but he doesn’t seem concerned. I figure nipping the polyp is a good thing. I do hear that the polyp will be biopsied (examination of the tissue). Under sedation, I am in a happy place and won’t borrow trouble by worrying about the biopsy. (It turns out the polyp was benign, but precancerous. It’s the kind of polyp that could potentially develop into being cancerous. Three cheers for my doctor and nurses doing their jobs. My colonoscopy did just what it was supposed to do. As I have been in the past, I will have another colonoscopy in five years.)
A little wobbly after the procedure, I have the nurse to guide me to a waiting Hannah for the drive home. Coffee and homemade bread are my first orders of business. Later a three hour nap makes all things right with the world.
- There are alternatives to the nasty Go Lightly laxative of the past. Pills or Gatorade.
- Get your colonoscopy if you are overdue. Thanks to Obamacare, preventive procedures are incorporated into health plans and have no charge.
- Get an early morning appointment. It gives you 36 hours for cleaning out the plumbing. You then have the day to relax and snooze.
- Do not be alarmed if the floodgates don’t open after taking the laxatives. It was thirteen hours later for me. The deluge will come.
- Be a nag. Don’t be afraid to ask the question “Have you had a colonoscopy?” to any man or woman over 50 you know. Fear immobilizes us all and makes us cowards.