The real deal on colonoscopies – What a colonoscopies are really like – Colonoscopy prep, the procedure, and the recovery.
Today I am going somewhere I have never gone before. I am talking about colonoscopies. Yup, brace yourself.
March is National Colorectal Cancer month. I have 2 very good friends going through chemo and radiation this week and early detection has been key. They have excellent chances for long and healthy lives because they were screened early. If they can go through that, then I can talk about this.
A colonoscopy is an cancer screening exam that sounds a lot worse than it actually is.
The jist – you have to completely empty your bowels (the prep) and then a gastroenterologist uses a camera to check your large intestine (colon and rectum) for polyps, lesions, bleeding, and inflammation. Yes, the camera goes where you think that it does.
I get it. Believe me. These tests are not always fun, and more than a little bit embarrassing. But they can save your life.
I have some GI issues, nothing major, and I going to leave it at that. (No need to really go there.) But enough to warrant a colonoscopy. I am 37, so a little on the young side to have this as a standard screening procedure. My doctor felt that it was necessary, so I did it. Typically, you start being screened at 50.
Truth be told, the actual procedure wasn’t what was freaking me out, it was the prep.
There is something that you need to know about me. I am totally modest about this area of my life. I don’t talk about it. I pretend it doesn’t exist. And it completely makes me blush. In fact, in almost 11 years of marriage I have never tooted in front of my husband. This is just a frame of reference.
Anyway, my GI doctor sent me home with detailed instructions and a script for some serious cleansing solution.
2 days before the procedure I had to cut out fruits, seeds, and nuts. No biggie.
The day before is a little more challenging. Clear liquids only. I wasn’t really hungry, but because I couldn’t eat, all I could think about was pizza. And doughnuts. And ice cream.
My procedure was scheduled for 9am the following day, so at 5pm, I had to drink the first solution.
If you have ever had a baby, you know how gross the glucose tolerance drink is right? Imagine that, but salty instead of sweet. It doesn’t taste good. You mix the solution in a big glass of water and then you need to chug a ton more water in the next hour. (TIP – make sure the water is really cold, it goes down easier.)
The warnings on the box and the paperwork from the doctor are pretty specific. Once you drink the solution make sure you are close to the bathroom. Heed this warning. They aren’t kidding.
About 10 minutes after I drank the salty stuff, I felt the first tummy rumble. You have about 14 seconds after that to get to the toilet. Once you sit down, don’t plan on getting up anytime soon. The solution triggers bowel-clearing diarrhea. And it is no joke.
The purpose is that you need to have a completely clean colon so that the doctor can see everything. If there is residual poop or food particles still there, they might not be able to get a clear picture and miss polyps and lesions. You really don’t want to have to do this again, so do it as instructed the first time.
After about an hour, I felt better. Keep drinking fluids. This solution works by flushing liquid through the bowel forcing out anything in there. You can get dehydrated, so make sure that you drink a ton. It will really help after the procedure too. I ate popsicles, drank lots of fancy water, and ginger ale.
I went to bed early, because 4 hours before I needed to leave for the hospital I had to do it again.
I woke up at 3am, drank the second gross drink, and did it all over again. I really was shocked that there was anything left after the first round, but lo and behold, there was.
Here is where it gets TMI – you know you did a good job when straight up clear water comes out.
I slept for an hour or two, got up, showered and headed to the hospital. I felt kind of groggy. At this point, I hadn’t eaten anything in 24 hours and have absolutely not a thing in my system. You can’t even drink water until after, so I was feeling weak and cranky.
My husband had to come with me because they put you out so you can’t drive for the rest of the day. They checked me in and got me started right away. They took me back, changed me into a gown, and got me ready for anesthesia. They started an IV and covered me in warm blankets. The nurses were great and made me feel really comfortable and at ease.
They wheeled me back into the procedure room and got going.
Oh, my favorite part is the recovery nurse came to meet me before we got started. She is a nun and was wearing a full habit. Can you imagine how freaked out you would be if you woke up and there was a nun in full habit standing over your bed? I would have thought that I was legit dying right then and there. But really, she was just there to let me know that she would be taking care of me afterwards.
The anesthesiologist came in, told me what to expect, and they made sure it was really me. The GI did the same thing. That is always reassuring.
They had me lay on my side, said goodnight, and the next thing I know I am waking up in the recovery room. There is nothing better than drug-induced sleep.
All said and done, I was there for an hour and a half.
The colonoscopy came back clean (yeah!) and they did not have to biopsy anything. I was given instructions to take it easy because of the anesthesia and that I couldn’t drive until the next day. I could eat light meals and was given full permission to get in bed and binge watch House of Cards all day.
We stopped on the way home for something to eat and I had some soup and toast. I came home, took a nap for a few hours and when I woke up I felt great.
So was my nervousness warranted?
Nope, not really.
Yeah, I spent more time in the bathroom than I probably have in a long, long time, but it wasn’t a big deal at all.
Colonoscopies save lives. Don’t let the prep or the idea of a camera up your bum scare you off. If I can do it (and talk about it no less) anyone can.
Just make sure that you block out some time for the prep, buy some new magazines or grab a really good book, and make sure everything you need is already in the bathroom. 🙂
All adults (male and female) over the age of 50 need to be screened for polyps and colon cancer. For more information head to the Fight Colorectal Cancer website.
Know anyone scared of having a colonoscopy? Share this post with them. If I can do it, so can they!
Tuesday 22nd of February 2022
I didn't see it mentioned but the name of a common laxative and electrolyte combination often taken to cleanse the colon is called ironically GoLytely. It should be here comes boomer.
Chicken Bone Broth - Chez Us
Monday 4th of March 2019
[…] friend Bree wrote a great post on colonoscopies which also help put my mind at […]
Wednesday 9th of May 2018
I appreciate that you shared your detailed experiences while preparing and undergoing colonoscopy. I like when you said that the procedure saves lives in detecting possible early cancer stages or polyps. This reminds me of my 60-year old neighbor who hardly gets a regular bowel movement. He's kind of stubborn, according to his sons but he is undeniably in need of a medical care for possible issues and complications. I can probably have a word with his sons and have him undergo this procedure. As I've said, this can save their father's life and can give answers to the issues he has.
Friday 11th of May 2018
Thank you! It really does save lives. :)
Monday 29th of February 2016
I know you posted this years ago and I'm not sure if you'll see this, but I'm glad I read this post. I just turned 50 and having my first colonoscopy next Monday. Even though my mind is at ease-somewhat- I'm basically worried about three things- 1. Being put under. That just really makes me nervous. I know this is done probably every minute of every day to someone, but then you hear horror stories.
2. Feeling something- When I had an endoscopy a few years back, I swear they started too soon. I felt it going on, I felt I was gagging. Then, I woke up. So unless I only dreamed that, I think I did feel something right at first before going into a deeper "sleep."
3. Worried about dry mouth the morning of the procedure. I always have water nearby and am constantly sipping. Just worried my mouth will be so dry and that I'll start obsessing over it. You know how you try not to pay attention or worry about something and that makes it worse? This is concerning.
Strangely, the prep doesn't really bother me. Not looking forward to it by any stretch, but it doesn't worry me like the procedure. I do have a friend of the family fighting colon cancer and he may not be winning. I do understand the importance of screening, which is why I'm doing it. Thanks for listening.
Thursday 3rd of March 2016
I hope that everything went well. It's scary, but worth having done. Prevention is key.
Wednesday 3rd of September 2014
Thank you so much for this. I'm only 23 and am having my first this Friday (only just found out today too). I was terrified but now feel much more at ease.
Sunday 7th of September 2014
You are very welcome. I promise that it is no big deal.