April 25, 2012
Yesterday I got a belated 50th birthday present from my health insurer: a screening colonoscopy. I know it’s a good idea to get one at my age. I know colon cancer is nothing to mess around with. Still, I was not delighted by the idea of having a camera up my butt. After I got the 17-page packet of information from the gastroenterologist’s, it seemed like the camera was going to be easy part. I’d be semi-conscious at most for that segment of the program, but fully aware for the two days of prep leading up to it. Day One of prep wasn’t too bad; I just needed to stop eating whole categories of foods, which I’ve done on diets plenty of times before. This go ’round it was no nuts, seeds, salads, whole grains, fruits and vegetables with peels—basically most of the foods Prevention magazine is usually encouraging me to eat were off the menu. The hardest part of this day was the craving I had for popcorn; I don’t eat it often, but I spotted some in our kitchen and wanted it so very much.
Day Two of prep was the annoying one. After breakfast on the low fiber no nuts plan from Day One, I had to start a clear liquid diet. Hello, vegetable bullion and Jell-O (but not red or purple; those dyes can stain the colon and make it hard for the doctor to see). Again, I’ve been on diets nearly as restrictive, so this part didn’t seem too crazy. However, the laxative-palooza portion of the program did seem rather extreme. That started with a double dose of pills around 1 p.m. Four hours after that, it was time to start drinking a mixture of Powerade and Miralax, eight ounces every fifteen minutes for two hours. I’d chosen White Cherry flavor Powerade (not red!) and didnâ€™t really mind drinking the mixture; at no point did I feel queasy. Six glasses into the bottle, I made my first of many trips to the bathroom to start jettisoning the contents of my digestive tract. About eight p.m., I took two more laxative pills per instructions. Three hours after that, production of things out my butt had slowed to the point where I was able to go to bed (I put a couple towels down just in case there was some unexpected leakage; turned out there was not). I got up once during the night to basically pee out of my butt, since solids had long since been eliminated. Since I had a morning appointment, I had to get up very early to drink the last two servings of the Powerade mixture so I could be done with them (and all other liquids) no later than four hours before my procedure. I was happy to find I was able to go back to sleep after that for nearly an hour and a half. Once I did get up, I fit in a shower between toilet visits, and then it was time to leave for the hospital complex.
Because the procedure is done under sedation, one has to have a driver, so Mr. Karen got to come along for a couple of hours of sitting in the waiting room. I checked in and had time to flip through about half of a People magazine before I got called back. I got taken to a cubicle with a rolling bed in it where the nurse asked me some questions about my prep and my medical history, then left me to undress (I got to keep on my socks and bra). She came back with a heated blanket, had me lay back on the bed, and got a saline IV started and a heart monitor attached while an anesthesiologist asked more questions about my medical history before explaining how the drug they were going to use worked. (It was Propofol, which I’ve never had before.) Then there was a bit of wait before the doctor appeared to introduce himself and explain the risks of the procedure. Then he went away and there was a bit more waiting before a nurse came to wheel me to one of the colonoscopy rooms, where I met the nurse anesthetist who’d be administering the drug and monitoring me. It seemed like not even 10 seconds passed between the time I saw him inject the drug into my IV line and the time my consciousness slipped away. I felt like there were a couple times during the procedure when I opened my eyes and could see the screen that the camera images were on but now I’m not sure if that actually happened or if my mind constructed those images from having seen the screen beforehand and enough medical dramas on tv to come up with something that looked real. I don’t remember being wheeled to the recovery room, but I do remember the doctor coming in and telling me they had found and removed a polyp and the results of the lab work on that would determine when I needed to come back. Mr. Karen was walked into the room by a nurse shortly after that conversation. After some monitoring of my vital signs and such, the nurse helped me sit up, and I was free to get dressed and go. I had a bandage on my hand over the IV site and bubbles of air in my belly leftover from the inflation they did to get the scope through more easily, but that was it. No pain, no memory of pain, no nausea. I was free to start eating again, and as soon as we got home, I did. I was evidently not as alert in the recovery room as I’d perceived myself to be, as it wasn’t until late afternoon that I discovered I still had three of the stickers for the heart monitor attached to my skin under my sweater.
All in all, I wouldn’t call it fun, but the prep was the worst part by far, and even that wasn’t so terrible, just tedious. Also, mammograms from now on are going to seem like a breezeâ€”no prep at all, no driver needed, no time off work that I can’t make up the same day.