My First Colonoscopy

Earlier this week, I had my first colonoscopy. The procedure was scheduled several months ago, and I spent much of that time experiencing a high degree of anticipatory anxiety. I mainly worried about the dreaded “prep”, but the whole thing stressed me out. Although I’m very happy that I don’t need another one for five years, overall the experience was much less onerous than I expected.

If you’re unfamiliar with a colonoscopy, here’s how the Mayo Clinic defines it:

“A colonoscopy is an exam used to detect changes or abnormalities in the large intestine (colon) and rectum. During a colonoscopy, a long, flexible tube (colonoscope) is inserted into the rectum. A tiny video camera at the tip of the tube allows the doctor to view the inside of the entire colon. If necessary, polyps or other types of abnormal tissue can be removed through the scope during a colonoscopy. Tissue samples (biopsies) can be taken during a colonoscopy as well.”

Sounds like a real party, right?

Why I Had a Colonoscopy

I’m 42, a bit lot younger than 50, the age at which this procedure is recommended for most people. However, I have a family history of colon cancer. Neither of my parents have had it, but my maternal grandmother died of it at the age of 57, and my paternal grandfather was treated for it in his early nineties. The guideline for someone with my family history isn’t straightforward, so my primary physician had me meet with a colorectal surgeon for advice. Because I had some general stomach complaints last fall, he recommended I schedule my first colonoscopy to take a look.

What I Feared Most

There are many things I found concerning about a colonoscopy, but without question, the prep terrified me the most. Apparently different doctors prescribe different prep variations, but the basic formula is: consume only clear liquids the day before the procedure, and at some point that day, ingest large quantities of medication to “cleanse” your digestive tract. My prep instructions were to take four Dulcolax tablets at 3pm the day before my procedure, then, at 5pm, to mix an entire 238 gram bottle of Miralax with 64 ounces of Gatorade (or the clear liquid of my choice), and drink an eight ounce glass every 15 minutes, until it was finished.

Because I was so anxious, I basically told anyone who would listen that I was having my first colonoscopy, and was terrified of the prep. As a result, I heard lots of people’s experiences and advice. Here are some of them:

  • Start on a clear liquid diet a couple of days in advance, to help make the prep go more smoothly. (I like eating too much to do this.)
  • The prep might still be working on the way to the procedure, so bring a change of clothes and a towel to sit on in the car. (I heard this from two people, which really scared me.)
  • Once the prep starts to kick in, don’t bother leaving the bathroom for a few hours. (I prepped lots of reading material.)
  • You will want to throw up after forcing down all that liquid in such a short period of time. (That sounded totally plausible to me.)

How It Actually Went

After several months of anxiously anticipating this event, I can honestly say that it wasn’t as bad as I expected. The prep wasn’t much fun, but I guess I had built it up as being so horrible in my mind, I could only be pleasantly surprised. Since I was locked alone in my room all evening and night, I actually got a lot of reading done. (I read about half of The Dry, which now seems a little ironic.)

As most people told me, I don’t remember a thing about the procedure, itself, for which I’m extremely grateful.

A Couple of Surprises

Despite all of my worry and conversations with people who had already had a colonoscopy, there were a couple of things that surprised me that day:

  1. As I was getting ready for the procedure, I asked the nurse if I would be okay eating anything I wanted, immediately afterwards. When I met with the doctor to discuss whether I should have a colonoscopy, he told me that I could eat a cheeseburger on the way home, if I wanted to. The nurse said this was technically true, but he recommended taking it a bit easy with my first couple of meals, since the prep would still be working most of the day. NO ONE else had mentioned this to me, and I’m so glad that he did. (He was right.)
  2. As happy as I am that the only thing I remember from the procedure room is the ceiling getting really blurry as the sedative kicked in, I did not expect it to have such a profound effect on me, or that it would take so long to wear off. My husband said he found me in recovery, dressed, clutching my water bottle, and looking passed out. I have absolutely no memory of getting dressed after the procedure, being given my water bottle, or of walking to our car to return home. I slept the whole ride home, and passed out again on the couch when we arrived. I then spent about an hour gardening, and took another hour-plus nap after that.

It wasn’t until the next day, that I finally felt human again, and all effects of the prep and the sedative had worn off.

My polyps are being biopsied, and I should have the results in another week. My understanding is that they were so tiny, there’s likely nothing to worry about. And I now have five more years before I’ll need to have another colonoscopy.

Have you had a colonoscopy yet? How was your experience?

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