I try to keep posts light and funny, but some not-so-fun topics are too important to gloss over. This is one of them. I hope my experience helps those of you who may be on the fence about making an appointment for this important screening…
Turning 50 can do a lot of crazy things to your head. When you’re active and healthy the date on your driver’s license feels like a lie. How can this be?
Then it all becomes stark reality when you visit the doctor for your annual check-up and she tells you you’re due for that right-of-passage screening test. You know the one: colonoscopy.
If you’re like me, you fight it for a while. No, there’s no history of colon cancer in my family. I promise I’ll do it next year. And so on. But eventually you know it’s time to get this thing over with, which is exactly what I finally did. I turn 55 this upcoming week and I promised myself I’d do it before then.
Here’s the thing with colon cancer: by the time you have symptoms, you’re probably a goner. My GI doc said, “If you experience bleeding, you’re likely in the late stages of the disease and have about a 10 percent chance of survival.” Even if you stink at math like me, it’s obvious the odds are not in your favor.
In other words, this test could literally save your life.
So here’s the deal, the reality of “how bad is it really?”
Like any good reporter, I did my due diligence and looked for other peoples’ experiences on the matter and, like Amazon reviews, found some good and some not-so-good.
I watched Katie Couric’s videos on the procedure and found them comforting. I also read reviews from people who said positive things about the prep solution (MoviPrep) and printed them out. In short, I ignored any negative press and focused on the job at hand.
The worst part of the whole thing is the anticipation. The day of the prep you can have only clear liquids. I’m used to nibbling throughout the day while I work, so this took great conscious effort on my part. I made lemon Jell-O the night before so I had something to “eat.” I stocked up on every clear liquid (“You must be clear enough to read a newspaper through it,” the nurse told me), Sprite, apple juice and a bunch of other stuff I never normally drink. For me, this part was the worst of the entire thing.
Then 5:00 rolled around, time for my first dose of the preparation liquid. It tasted like salty lemonade. Oh, yum. I made it earlier in the day and refrigerated it so it was ice cold and I also drank it with a straw, advice I found on the Internet.
Four doses, eight ounces each. I tried to imagine being outdoors on a hot summer day and chugging this stuff. It helped, actually. So did rinsing and gargling with clear water between each cup (separated by 15 minutes). Then I had to drink an additional 16 ounces of any clear beverage. I chose water. I felt shaky (a symptom I did not research) but otherwise alright.
Since the next round started in another hour, all I could do was wait. About 1-1/2 hours into it (this varies greatly with people, the nurse told me), it kicked in. With a fury. No cramps, though, which was a concern of mine. You just GO.
The second round wasn’t quite so easy (this stuff tastes nasty!) but doable. I did the same routine: drink, rinse, wait 15 minutes (and run to the bathroom!).
By 11:00 the worst was over. Aside from sleep deprivation (I’m usually in bed by 9:00), that part wasn’t so bad
Anxiety prevented me from getting great sleep but I was up by about 6, showered and on my way for my 8:15 check-in.
My doc works out of an outpatient clinic, which put me much more at ease than had it been in a hospital. The nurses were great. I was ushered into a small back room and prepped and put on a gurney where one of the nurses started in IV drip to hydrate me. (At this point I was dying of thirst but was not allowed to drink anything until after the procedure.) My blood pressure was sky high. The nurse said it’s to be expected since the process is dehydrating and full of sodium. No kidding.
Finally the doctor came in, asked me a few questions and I was wheeled into a private room. I heard him instruct a nurse to start the other IV to put me to sleep and… that’s all I remember until I woke up.
I vaguely recall seeing images on the TV screen of the procedure. The doctor said I asked a lot of questions when I was “under,” but I don’t remember any of it. I only hope I asked a bunch of nerdy questions and didn’t say anything embarrassing, but I’ll never know.
The best news: no polyps and no need for another exam for at least seven to 10 years. Ya!
If you’re over 50 and have not yet had this important screening, please for your own sake and the sake of your loved ones, get it done. The thought of it is scarier than the actual procedure, trust me.
As an added bonus: you end up with photos suitable for posting on Facebook.
Although I don’t recommend that unless your friends are a little freaky.
Questions? Feel free to fire away!