A week ago I had my 52nd birthday. And some time in the past year I read through a copy of Fifty Things to Do When You Turn Fifty. One of the things on that list that I’d been putting off was a colonoscopy. So, last week, two years late, I met with the specialist and scheduled the procedure. That happened today, and I’m pleased to say it’s all, ahem, behind me now.
I should probably mention that I really don’t have much of a history of medical procedures. I’ve never been hospitalized, never broken any bones. I’ve only a single allergy, and it’s to an antibiotic that rarely gets used any more. Other than the very infrequent request to turn my head and cough or discover just how big my primary physician’s index finger is, I’ve never had anything more invasive than the occasional injection or blood draw. I’m reminded of these particulars because I had to recount them several times this morning for various nurses and a doctor of anesthesiology.
When preparing for your first colonoscopy, you can’t help but hear all sorts of horror stories. But then, well-intentioned friends will explain that — imagery aside — the actual procedure itself isn’t a problem, it’s the “cleansing” the day before that is utter hell.
This was not my experience. At. All.
Yesterday’s regimin involved not taking my usual morning medications (I’m a Type II diabetic, in case you didn’t know) and having only “a very light breakfast.” The rest of my intake for the day consisted of water, apple juice, white grape juice, and some sugar-free jello. That was it, other than the dreaded cleansing prep.
This is a solution of sodium phosphate that you mix up at home using a series of prescribed powder packets and 32 oz. of water or other beverage (I went with the recommended Orange Gatorade™). The plan is that you drink 8 oz. of the stuff, wait 15 to 30 minutes, and drink another 8 oz., continuing in this fashion until you’ve consumed it all. Then you drink another 16 oz. of water. Somewhere in the middle of that consumption your innards wake up, and you begin the task of flushing out your system. This, presumably, is the hellish part, as you can spend more than an hour constantly running back and forth to the toilet.
But wait, there’s more. You get to do this procedure twice. In my case, once at six o’clock yesterday afternoon, and then again at three o’clock this morning (that’s right, I had to set an alarm to wake up and make myself crap for an hour)!
All in all, the prep day was inconvenient, but it wasn’t hell. I didn’t miss having my meals all that much (which surprised me), and my experience with the cleansing elixir was less annoying than dozens of other things I’ve done. The stuff didn’t taste too vile (yay, Gatorade™) and it was something that had to be done, so, I did it. As for the sitting around on the toilet part, I took a book with me, and the time passed.
And so we arrived at the hospital this morning about nine o’clock. Lots of paperwork (which pleased the Compliance Officer in me) to get me registered, and then more paperwork when they took me back to Endoscopy. Kudos to nurse Debbie for finding me a hospital gown that fit. In short order I was on a gurney with a blood pressure cuff on one arm and an IV in the other, lying back and waiting to be taken into the procedure room. All of this prep took a bit over an hour. Everyone I met, from the nurses to the doctors was professional, courteous, and cheerful. Quite impressive.
Eventually they took me off to the procedure room, wheeling me through a couple hallways just like I’d seen on television any number of times (remember, I’ve never done anything like this before). My specialist was there and we exchanged some friendly banter (I insisted that I had only signed up for a full body tan). Someone dimmed the lights, and a friendly nurse anesthetist connected my IV and had me roll over onto my left side, and then instructed me to take a couple deep breaths.
And then suddenly I was in a different room and someone else was telling me to rollover onto my back. Either the stress of the procedure had caused my mutant ability to jump me forward in time to save myself, or the sedative had kicked in and kicked in hard. Either way, I was in the recovery room. Over the next half hour I was fed some apple juice, had my vitals checked, sat up, and met with the specialist (Dr. Hughes) who told me that everything had gone very well, no polyps, no anything, and that I was good to go for another five to seven years.
A nurse told my wife I’d be coming out soon and to bring the car around, and then I got dressed. A nurse wheeled me out to the exit, with warnings to not operate any heavy machinery for the next 24 hours and that I could expect some flatulence as my body went about expelling the air that had been used to inflate my colon so they could get their nice pictures.
Speaking of pictures, yes, Dr. Hughes was kind enough to provide me with a lovely set. I thought seriously about including one or more of them here for your viewing pleasure, but in the end (ahem) I demurred. The pictures reveal such a clean and trouble-free colon that were I to share them with you, it would only be used against me, as proof of what a perfect asshole I am. And so you are spared.
And that, boys and girls, is the story of Lawrence’s Adventure in Colonoscopyland. What did we learn? Well, first, that it was stupid to have waited two years, so if you’re just turning fifty or have already passed that mark and haven’t gone in for this procedure, go do so now. And second, really, it wasn’t a big deal at all, and at least at Chestnut Hill Hospital, the staff are incredible and really make a socially uncomfortable procedure a thing of ease.
I’ll be back for another one in five years.