March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Always one to stay on top of the trends, I commemorated the big occasion with my first colonoscopy experience! They say it’s a necessary evil, and I’m not here to tell you any differently. Unfortunately, for those with a genetic predisposition or of a certain age, it’s just a part of life. A bizarre reality to which we subject ourselves once every five to ten years depending on our hereditary propensities.
2022 was my year. With relatives on both sides of my family who succumbed to colon cancer, my risk is greater. So, it was important that I get my plumbing inspected at my earliest convenience. After all, my parents, my husband and many of my friends have already undergone the procedure. And they’ve all survived and lived to talk about it. “The prep is the worst part!” says everyone. And, while I knew that was probably accurate, I still wasn’t looking forward to the physician
ramming … shoving … inserting a camera into … well, I don’t really need to finish this sentence, do I?
So being the neurotic, rule follower that I am, I made and attended the consultation appointment immediately with a recommended local practice. And just like that, my procedure was scheduled for Monday, March 7 …. a day that will go down in history as a contender for my least favorite first milestone.
Following that initial meeting, I got a call from the online pharmacy. They were requesting payment for my prep medication … a whopping $75. (Talk about flushing money down the toilet!) Unlike the Amazon packages I anxiously anticipate, this package arrived very quickly. I opened the box, scanned the directions and set it aside.
Cut to March 6 … PREP Day. Which I’m pretty sure stands for Partake – Rest – EXPLODE – Procedure. But I’m just guessing. From the moment I woke that morning, I was supposed to drink 8 ounces of water every hour on the hour. “I’ve got this,” I thought. “I LOVE water.” How naïve I was.
In anticipation of the big event, I had originally planned to go light for a few days. Then I got invited to a party Saturday night. Chips & queso, crawfish pie, spinach & artichoke dip, cake … if it was served, it found its way to my mouth. “Why should I begin starving myself early?” I rationalized. At least, I had the good sense to be the designated driver that evening and pass on the adult beverages. Dehydration was not an added complication I needed the next day. What I hadn’t thought about was the fact that every time I indulge to that degree, I actually wake up hungrier the next day.
So, I was two minutes into PREP Day and already behind the eight ball … and famished. Go, me.
For those not in the know, your dietary intake is very limited the day before the procedure. My Sunday menu consisted of industrial-sized rain barrels of water as well as the gustatorial delicacies of yellow jello, yellow popsicles and broth. Color me satiated. And by color, I mean yellow.
But all of that simplified “eating” was mere prelude to the excitement that awaited me at 5pm.
Did You Know? … In the United States, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women.American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org
I reached nervously in the package that I had set aside days earlier. There were two bottles of “cranberry-flavored” liquid with my name on them. Literally. (Thanksgiving is now forever ruined for me, by the way.) My job was to down one of them and chase it with five 8-oz. glasses of water over the next few hours.
I cracked the seal on bottle number one, sniffed the contents and took a tiny sip to taste it. Salty and medicine-y … just as I suspected. I held my nose, scrunched up my face (which, for some reason, helps when consuming something unsavory) and downed the entire thing in a manner that would’ve made a fraternity boy proud. And to make sure it stayed down, I chased it with two of my eight-ounce water requirements.
Worried that I could be incapacitated for hours (or even days … or weeks! Did I already mention I was neurotic?), I got busy cleaning up the kitchen, throwing a load of laundry in, feeding the cats and generally just distracting myself from the impending doom befalling me any minute. It wasn’t until one of my cats (the nice one) sat beside me and put her paw on my hand that I stopped. It was as if she was trying to say “Calm down. It’s coming. You know and I know it. And no amount of busy work you take on right now is going to change anything.” Or at least I think that’s what she meant when she meowed.
She and I put on a Netflix movie and waited. And waited. And I felt a rumble or two. And then we waited some more. Until it was time. Not since I gave birth to my last child was I as aware of the ticking bomb that was my body.
Armed with the best bathroom tissue money can buy and some flushable wipes, I boarded the train just as it was leaving the station. There were bells. There were whistles. There were several stops along the way. At some point, I think we almost ran off the tracks. But we stayed the course and eventually reached our destination. Or so I thought. After five hours of sleep, I was awakened when the engine suddenly and without warning started up again, accelerating to full speed for a short time then coming to an abrupt stop. It was only an hour and a half until I was supposed to drink bottle two, but bottle one was still operating on all cylinders. Slightly concerned, I attempted to sleep until that alarm went off.
Colon cancer is expected to cause 52,580 deaths in 2022.American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org
At 5am, I got out of bed and went to the kitchen. I don’t think I’ve ever been less excited to walk into a place that usually provides me such joy. I re-read the directions to make sure I remembered everything correctly. I had to drink the whole bottle followed by three 8-oz. glasses of water within one hour … because after that hour, I could consume nothing until after the procedure.
I opened the second bottle, held my nose and started to drink. This one didn’t go down so easily. Before I even reached the halfway mark, my body rebelled. I put the bottle down and stepped away from it to collect himself. Despite the fact that my stomach was growling, it literally rejected the idea of me taking even one more sip. But I knew I had to get it down. I drank one of the three water glasses to wash away the offensive flavor. That helped and gave me the courage to try again, now armed with the knowledge that I needed to act fast before my stomach knew what was happening.
I filled two 8-oz. glasses so I wouldn’t have to stop for even a second. Sweating … and I am not exaggerating here … I uncapped the bottle and drank the remaining contents as though my children’s lives depended on it. And then immediately chased it with the two glasses of water in rapid succession. I couldn’t have done it faster if I was using a funnel. When I was finished, I braced myself for a minute to make sure everything was okay then took a deep breath. It was over.
I crawled back into bed, this time bringing a bucket with me just in case. I closed my eyes in a futile attempt to doze off. Sadly, that never happened as my stomach, nerves and hyperactive cats worked together to create a perfect storm united against sleep. I stayed there afraid to move until my phone rang. It was my dad calling to tell me he was in the driveway. He was my ride for the appointment because, mercifully, you are anesthetized for the whole thing. And I looked forward to that anesthesia with the wonderment of a child at Christmas.
After a quick shower (because … colonoscopy), we were on our way. “Please don’t hit any bumps,” I pleaded quietly, and worried I should’ve brought a plastic bag. Although I don’t know what I thought I’d see. I was more empty than a Kardashian. At this point, I would expect the necklace I swallowed at age five to surface.
We made it to the doctor’s office where I filled out the paperwork I failed to complete earlier. (Oops.) A few minutes passed and I was called to the back where I was assigned a bed and handed a hospital gown. “Take off everything except your mask,” she said, “and keep the gown untied and to the back.” Which was fine, until I had to pee.
They were running a little behind (no pun intended) and I didn’t think I could wait. So, I flagged down a nurse and asked to use the bathroom. She was very understanding … which was especially appreciated considering she needed to help me fashion some kind of modest covering over my backside and help me with all of the cuffs, IVs and wires already attached to my person.
I focused intently as I nervously emptied my bladder. I had to make sure that peeing was my only activity. I’d already showered, and I didn’t want anything to change. Mission accomplished. I rolled my equipment with me back to the bed and lost myself in TikTok.
Headed into the procedure laughing was a good decision on my part. My stomach was still pretty queasy. I had already sent all of my I-love-you-and-wanted-to-let-you-know-just-in-case texts to my family. And my phone battery was dying. I just wanted to get it over with. As 80s music played overhead, the nurses readied me for the doctor. Nobody was really talking to me, so I had no choice but to eavesdrop on their conversation. Restaurants, kids, weekend plans … nothing too exciting. (Boo.) The anesthetist entered to put me to sleep. I felt a burning sensation in my hand and then my throat. I mentioned it to her, and she said it was normal. That’s the last thing I remember.
When I woke up in recovery, the doctor was there telling me everything looked just fine. With my family history and my body’s propensity to cry wolf over the years, I was relieved. Then he added that I should return in five years rather than the usual ten. (Thanks, dearly departed relatives.) As my dad was being brought back to sit with me, another nurse I hadn’t met yet came in to tell me, minus any pleasantries, that I needed to wake up. Now. Then she abruptly cranked my bed to an upright position so I couldn’t sneak in any sleep. My dad and I exchanged a knowing look of “Geez, lady. Lighten up.” (Actually, it was a little worse, but this is a family blog.)
My dad stepped out of the curtained area, and I dressed awkwardly in a reclined position as per my instructions. A different nurse came in to help me get out of bed and send me on my way. Still loopy from the anesthesia as we walked through the parking lot, I started ranting nonsensically about the disagreeable nurse while my dad guided me to the car. “Seriously, what was her problem with me?!!? That WAITRESS was so mean!”
“Well, I think we solved THAT mystery,” my dad muttered under his breath. I panicked a little, picturing my drug-addled self trying to send a salad back with this poor woman. “I said dressing on the SIDE!” … Respect your nurses, people.
On the way home, I was so hungry that all I could think about was food. I excitedly debated every vendor on every street along the way to make a selection. “Eat anything you want after the procedure,” they say. Ha! “Anything” clearly does not include fried chicken tenders and French fries with special sauce. Of that I am certain. That choice was a poor one, and I would not recommend it to my worst enemy. For a few options that will be easier on your recovering digestive system, click here.
Why am I (over)sharing my first colonoscopy experience with you? Because, in the end (pun intended), my procedure was a success. Like all the others who went before me, I lived to tell about it and now know I have a clean bill of health. Join me, won’t you? Schedule your (likely overdue) colonoscopy appointment today.
-Michele Robert Poche