Dear friends, I have been sick. Not “sick and tired,” but really, truly physically sick.
It is hard for me to write and not give every single disgusting detail. This former Peace Corps Volunteer wants to overshare. Badly. The past two months have not been pretty. Suffice it to say, I have been having some rather severe tummy troubles.
Last week I had a colonoscopy.
I have dreaded this procedure ever since I became aware that everyone who is not at high risk for colorectal cancer, must, starting at age 50, undergo a colorectal exam every ten years. Colonoscopies check for colorectal cancer and they are an essential tool in maintaining health and preventing disease. As a firm believer in preventative health measures, I knew I would be getting a colonoscopy one day. I just thought it would be later on. In the remote and distant future. At age 50. Not last week. No, definitely not last week. I’m only 40! This is too soon!
But my loss (and experience) is your gain! Since I like to be ahead of the curve, and enjoy fun things like colonoscopies 10 years in advance, I thought it would be useful to share my perspective, and let you all know what you have to look forward to. I am not a medical professional, and am certainly no expert in colonoscopies. I’ve had a single colonoscopy. My hope is that just one person will read this post, decide that this screening doesn’t sound too terrible, and get checked. Colorectal cancer is found in men and women, is the third most common form of cancer, and is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. But up to 80% of colon cancer deaths can be prevented through regular screening. I am sharing my experience so that the fear of having a colonoscopy doesn’t keep you from taking care of your health.
This is how it went down:
1} My primary care doctor referred me to Vermont Gastroenterology.
Everyone I encountered there, from the receptionist, to the schedulers, the nurses, and the doctors, was extraordinarily kind and compassionate. And really good humored, as you might hope someone in that particular field would be. When I started this process, I never expected to be entertained, reassured, and cared for to the extent I experienced at Vermont Gastroenterology. I even brought my daughter to an appointment, because what else can a single mom do? My daughter was also treated with so much genuine care and respect.
2} In order to have a colonoscopy, your intestines must be entirely clear.
Your doctor instructs you how to prepare for your test the afternoon before it occurs. You are only allowed to have clear liquids proceeding the test, and absolutely no dairy or solids. Jell-O is allowed (no red, blue, or purple), as are broth, and juice (clear or light-colored.) You get hungry, and clear broths with protein (chicken broth, pho broth, etc) really help. I took laxatives, as directed by my doctor, and then several hours later, drank some stuff that was kindly described to me as “garbage water.” My “garbage water” was a mixture of Miralax and Gatorade, so it truly wasn’t too horrible.
3} The “garbage water” makes you poop. Violently.
I had been quite ill prior to my colonoscopy, and not able to eat much, and I found that consequently, my experience with the bowel-clearing “garbage water” wasn’t particularly bad. I had diarrhea every 15 minutes for about 90 minutes, then occasionally following that. I’m no doctor, but I would think that eating lightly (low fiber, small quantity) a couple of days before you begin the colonoscopy prep might make the prep a little easier.
4} The morning of the test, you repeat the “garbage water” regime.
To be honest, I had diarrhea several times for an hour, and then it stopped. Not a big deal. I was starving too, but that’s just mind over matter.
5} I went to the hospital.
It is freezing cold in the Gastroenterology area at UVM Medical Center, and I was comfortable in sweats on a 75 degree day.
6} It is important to know that you will need someone to accompany you to your appointment.
You won’t be able to drive home. My mom came with me, and I was really grateful to have her there.
7} After being checked in at the hospital, I was brought into a large room with multiple screened off beds.
My mom came with me. I changed into a hospital robe, and the nurse brought me warm blankets and swaddled me like a baby. If I hadn’t been so nervous, it would have been delightful. I’m pretty sure a blanket-warmer is something I will need in the future.
8} Then Dr. Schwartz chatted with my mom and I, and explained what would happen during the colonoscopy.
I was very nervous, but Dr. Schwartz immediately put me at ease with his frank openness and incredible sense of humor. He had me cracking up when I thought I would be terrified. And he let me pick music to listen to during the procedure. How cool is that?!? Tom Petty isn’t even ruined forever!
9} When I had the procedure, I received conscious sedation.
What does this mean? I had medicine that made me relax, completely, and made it so I felt absolutely no pain or discomfort. I asked Dr. Schwartz to make it so I wouldn’t feel anything or be alert during the procedure. I remember nothing, too.
10} Then it was done!
No pain, no discomfort, no embarrassment, NOTHING! I felt like I had a pleasant nap. Weird, right? All the worry, all the prep… and a few minutes of conscious sedation, and the next thing I know, I’m waking up and happily chatting with my mom. According to Dr. Schwartz, I did a bit of “back-seat diagnosing” and discussed what appeared on the computer screen with him (images from my intestines). Anyone who knows me will not be surprised to hear that I kept chatting throughout my exam. Of course I did.
Honestly, other than my own fear and dread, the worst part of the whole colonoscopy (other than the mildly unpleasant prep) was the quick sting I felt when I got the IV inserted into the back on my hand. This procedure is nothing to fear or dread. If I did it, you can too! Please remember to talk to your doctor about scheduling your own colonoscopy.