Years ago, The Miami Herald’s hysterically funny syndicated columnist, the great Dave Barry, reached the age where he was due his first colonoscopy. He agreed with the doctor and several relatives that he needed to schedule it – then put it off for another 10 years. When he finally gave in he decided to write about the experience from beginning to end (no pun intended) and the result was a very humorous description of this unfunny and very distasteful medical procedure. I say distasteful because while I know people who don’t mind having it done, I don’t know anyone who looks forward to it. I certainly don’t.
So, in the spirit of Mr. Barry, I would like to tell my own tale and hope it turns out even half as funny as his. I have included the link to his column just in case my story is a failure…
I’m 54 and this is my second colonoscopy. My mother died of colon cancer in 1992 and I should have had my first one at 50, without fail, but I put it off for about a year. It was really easy to put off – anything took precedence over having a doctor stick an eight foot long tube up my butt. I mean, come on! And because of my mother’s history - my siblings and I are very lucky to get to have this done every three years instead of every five, even if each one of them is clear. How’s that for fortunate?
I finally scheduled it and they gave me my prescription for some stuff called “Go Lightly,” which was the most misleading name they could have given it. The late, great George Carlin once did a bit about laxatives and said “I don’t want a gentle, overnight laxative when I’m constipated. I want a bomb!” Go Lightly is that bomb. It should be called “Go Until Your Colon Falls Into The Toilet And Then Go Some More!” It came in a gallon bottle. All you do is add water and flavoring. (I added two flavor packets because I knew it was going to be awful. And it was.)
You begin drinking this stuff at about 5pm the day before your procedure. You’re instructed to drink it all. I don’t think I drink a gallon of anything in one day, let alone in a few hours, but I gave it my best shot. I think it began working about an hour after the first dose. (I had loaded up the bathroom with magazines and matches just for the occasion.) Unfortunately, once it begins to work you are still required to keep drinking it.
The one thing that worked out in my favor was that I had followed the instructions they gave me. Two days out I began eating nothing but vegetables and salad and the day before I religiously stuck to the recommended clear liquid diet. So the cleaning out process wasn’t as painful and debilitating as it could have been. It was all over around midnight, or maybe 1am. Oh - and the “Go Lightly” container is great. It’s a heavy duty, plastic, one gallon jug with a handle on it and I currently use it as a reservoir for my spare change. If I fill it up I think I can take a cruise…!
I must say the best part of the actual procedure was the medication they give you to help you relax. They told me I’d most likely sleep through the entire thing and that didn’t happen, but by the time they wheeled me into the room they could have had their way with me. I was feeling pretty good. (Katie Couric had hers done on national TV a few years ago to promote colon cancer awareness after it killed her husband. After the drugs they gave me I would have volunteered to do the same.)
They set up the video monitor next to the gurney I was on so I could watch. (They actually told me I could watch if I wanted to.) I do remember the entire procedure and the only part that hurt at all was when they were removing the scope. As it exited my transverse colon I cramped up for a few seconds – very painfully. But it passed quickly.
They wheeled me back to the recovery area where my sister greeted me pleasantly. I informed her I was awake for the entire thing and that it wasn’t terrible but I didn’t really want to do it again. The doctor came in to give us a report (now I know why they wear masks) and that’s the last thing I remember until they told me I could get dressed. I slept through the entire report the doctor (fortunately) gave my sister. No polyps, no masses, no lesions – see you in three years. Or so my sister tells me, anyway.
Fast forward three years…
I’ve now had my second experience with the ongoing cycle of colon invasions. As I was scheduling it on the phone, I told the nurse on the other end (in response to her question) that yes, I had one three years ago but because of my mother’s history they wanted me to do it every three years. She understood and said, in response to my noted apprehension, “Don’t worry. Everything will work out fine in the end.” I couldn’t believe she actually said it and she didn’t even realize what she said. When I brought it to her attention she said “Oh, no pun intended.” I have to admit – it was kinda funny.
They went over a few things with me on the phone and mailed me a prescription and instructions. Things have changed. I got a prescription for “Movi-Prep” – which is the newest and latest stuff they use to clean you out. Movi-Prep comes in two 1 liter bottles, which means I have much less to choke down.
Unfortunately, rather than drink it all the night before and get it over with I now had to drink the first bottle starting at 5pm, let it work overnight, and then drink the second one at 5am the morning of the procedure. So it’s not bad enough I have to be cleaned out the night before – they make you go through the whole thing again the next morning!
Just how much more fun can they make it??!! Just for laughs I decided to find out. I asked the nurse on the phone if I could mix the Movi-Prep with vodka, just to make it more interesting. She said “No. Alcohol thins your blood and you would have an increased risk of bleeding.” Sure – be practical. That’s why she’s the nurse giving instructions and I’m the one who had to choke down two liters of Movi-Prep, straight up. But at least it’s only 2 liters now and I got a break in between each one. Then again, it’s two liters and I had to take a break between each one instead of getting it over with in one shot. I wonder how they’ll change it for next time? Oh, the joy of getting older…
I went to the grocery store and stocked up on chicken and beef broth, apple juice and even got some Jello. I hate Jello but when your stomach is empty and you can’t have anything but liquids, at least it’s something. And you can almost chew it. But I couldn’t have anything red so my choices were limited. And the lime flavor and lemon flavor I hate worse than the others. So I settled for peach. It was peach color and tasted fairly good.
The day before the procedure I had coffee for breakfast, Gatorade, beef broth and apple juice for lunch, and chicken broth and Jello for dinner. Arden asked if I wanted anything else and I couldn’t resist telling her “No, thank you. I’m full.”
I started the wonderful Movi-Prep at 5pm, as instructed. It tasted like a sweet, citrusy, flat soda – that’s the best way I can describe it. It wasn’t as terrible as I expected it to be. I think part of the dread of drinking it is knowing what it’s going to do to you. I waited. I waited some more. It took almost two hours for it to do anything but then, when it did - kaboom! I spent almost six hours dealing with the results of the first bottle and I still had a second one to drink in the morning! I decided to get up at 4am instead of 5 so I could get it over with.
I got a little sleep but was awake before 4. Dutifully, I got up and started drinking my liquid gold, hoping it would work quickly since I should have been completely empty by then. It still took almost 2 hours to do anything and my appointment was for 8:30am. The Movi-Prep was still working when I left the house so I had to go to the bathroom as soon as I walked in the door to the clinic. There was the needed room, at the end of the waiting room, with a big sign on it that said “OUT OF ORDER”.
I went to the desk to check in and informed them, very politely, that giving a patient Movi-Prep for breakfast and having a bathroom out of order was really not a good thing. She asked if I needed to go and said she had a bathroom she could let me use. As you can imagine, I was ever so grateful.
When I came back out of the bathroom I had to fill out the usual forms – the same ones you fill out every time you see a new doctor. (I honestly think the first doctor’s office should simply give you copies of everything that you can hand carry to each new doctor.) Then I had to wait a few minutes before they came and got me for my adventure. They told Arden she could come back and sit with me after they did everything they needed to do. They led me to a gurney behind a curtain and gave me the ever popular hospital gown to put on. (They actually told me to put it on with the opening in the back but I think I’d have figured that out on my own considering what I was having done.) Then three different staff members descended on me. One began hooking up ECG leads to my chest. Another was applying identification bands to my right wrist while a third was sticking an IV needle in my left.
When that was done it was time for another trip to the bathroom, IV and all. Nothing like walking down the hallway trying to hold your gown shut while also trying to keep some dignity.
Once back to my little gurney, the anesthesiologist arrived to ask me some questions and give me some medication to relax me. He stood up by my head and had me roll over on my left side. I warned him that the Movi-Prep wasn’t finished working and he said “That’s why I work on this end.” I couldn’t help but smile. The guy giving me drugs was a comedian.
Arden came in and then the doctor arrived a few minutes later. He introduced himself and said he does about 300 of these procedures a month and that if there are any polyps he’ll remove them. He reminded me of the old actor, Red Buttons, and said he trained under the man who invented the colonoscopy. So I knew I was in good hands.
Then it was time to get it done. I said my goodbyes to Arden and they wheeled me down the hall and around the corner. The medication they gave me was working – I was calm and enjoying the ride. When we got into the room the anesthesiologist said he was going to give me some more medication to put me to sleep. That’s the last thing I remember until I woke up back in the room where I started.
Once I started waking up I felt great. I had a buzz like nothing I’ve ever experienced before – except I couldn’t move. I tried to sit up and my body would not move off the gurney. I mentioned that and someone said “Now you know what Michael Jackson was trying to achieve. You got the same medication he did.” I just decided to enjoy it while it lasted. Arden says I was a bit talkative. I thought I was just being social.
The doctor came in and said everything was fine. He said he found one polyp and took it but he’s 100% sure it will test benign so not to worry. “See you in three years.”
Eventually the medication wore off enough that they let me get dressed. I literally staggered to the car being escorted by one of the nurses and we headed toward lunch. The only real problem was that my colon was so full of gas I felt like a hot air balloon. If someone had put a fire under me I think I’d have flown into the sky! Arden said “Just let ‘em rip, Baby” but I wasn’t going to do that. I suffered in silence until we got to the restaurant. At least their bathroom wasn’t out of order! I made several trips back and forth during the 40 minutes we were there. If anyone was paying attention they would have wondered what was going on.
As hungry as I thought I was, I could barely eat anything. I ordered breakfast – all the good things – eggs, potatoes, biscuits and sausage gravy, but took about 5 bites and had to quit. Arden had an omelet with spinach and Feta cheese. She was the sensible one. We took mine home in a container so I could eat it later if I felt like it. Once we got home I laid on the bed and fell asleep almost immediately. I napped for most of the afternoon, waking up when Arden came in but going right back to sleep when she left. It was a light but very pleasant slumber. And apparently I “let ‘em rip” while I was sleeping because the gas was gone when I woke up a few hours later. It was time to eat again and this time I ate it all. It was great!
So that’s my story. Not nearly as funny as Dave Barry’s but interesting, I hope. Once again the worst part of the entire things was the prep. I wish they could just give you a pill that you take the night before, it works gently overnight as you sleep and then, just before you go to appointment you explode. Is that too much to ask? I’m thinking it probably is but I’ll see what happens in three years.
Follow the link to Mr. Barry’s column. His is much more fun to read than mine. Enjoy.