Colonoscopy: Seriously, It’s No Big Deal!
Written by: Nancy Boudreau
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know that colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the US? That is crazy, especially considering it’s one of the most preventable cancers there is. Screening helps find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening can also find colorectal cancer early, when treatment is most effective.
Plain and simple, colonoscopy screenings save lives.
A colonoscopy may be embarrassing to talk about, but I went for my first one this year and really, folks, it’s no big deal. As a matter of fact, I’d like to give a shout out Dr. Lam and his incredible staff at the Fairfield County Endoscopy Center. They were professional, kind and considerate and made an otherwise embarrassing and awkward procedure bearable.
So, where do you start?
1. Schedule Your Initial Consult
Schedule a consultation with a gastroenterologist – Your primary care physician can refer you to one. The examination consists of the nurse taking your vitals (temperature, blood pressure and weight) and asking you general questions about your health. When you meet with the doctor, he or she will explain the procedure and perform a brief physical exam (during which you are fully clothed), which primarily consists of examining your abdominal area. The doctor will explain the procedure and answer any questions you have. When the exam is completed, you will then schedule the procedure and be given instructions on what to do to prepare.
TIP: Schedule an early morning procedure. Since you can’t eat anything the day before, the earlier you schedule the procedure, the sooner you can go get something to eat. I scheduled mine for 7:30 A.M. and was enjoying a hot breakfast and coffee by 8:45 A.M.
2. Preparing For The Procedure
You will be asked to stop taking certain medications and supplements 5 days before the procedure. Follow your doctor’s instructions.
The biggest inconvenience is the time commitment. Full preparation takes you two days – the day before the procedure to prepare (and you definitely need to be home for this part) and then the day of the procedure.
You will also need to make arrangements for someone to drive you to and from the procedure because of the sedation that is administered.
3. The Day Before The Procedure
Everyone will tell you – the preparation is the worse part. You are not allowed to eat any solid foods for 24 hours before the procedure. You are only allowed to consume clear liquids (nothing red or purple) like water, tea, coffee (no cream or milk added), soda, broth, popsicles and clear juices like apple and white grape juice.
Not eating for a full day can be a bit of a challenge, but it’s doable. I drank lots of decaffeinated green tea and had a couple of mugs of warm chicken broth for lunch. While I never drink soda, I made an exception that day and had a can of 7UP, which helped quell my hunger pangs.
The key is to consume clear liquids all day and keep busy. This is not the day to binge watch the Food Network.
If you have a job where you can work from home, you will definitely be able to get work done on the prep day, but you’ll need to stay close to a bathroom. I worked from home that day and participated in two conference calls with no incident.
Your doctor will prescribe a bowel prep solution and give you specific instructions on how to take it. My doctor prescribed a solution called Supprep and told me to take it at 8 A.M. and 8 P.M. the day before the procedure. The box contained 2 bottles of the solution and a large plastic cup. Per the instructions, I poured the solution into the 16 ounce plastic cup and filled the rest of the cup with cold water. I guzzled it down as quickly as I could and then followed it with two 16 ounce glasses of water within the hour.
I’m not going to lie, the solution does not taste good. It had a salty, sweet taste, kind of like someone poured a bunch of table salt and a packet of artificial sweetener into a glass of water. Not good. The first dose went down fairly easily, but the second dose was a bit more of a challenge. I felt a little nauseous, but managed to muscle it down, again chasing it with two more 16 ounce glasses of water.
So what happens after you drink this prep solution? Well, nothing much at first. I drank lots of liquids during the day and went to the bathroom often. It starts out as a mild case of diarrhea and by the end of the day, it was mostly liquid. I’ve heard prep horror stories of diarrhea, nausea and extreme burning sensations, but honestly, that wasn’t my experience. I became a little uncomfortable after taking the second dose of the solution, but my last visit to the bathroom was at about 1:30 in the morning, which I didn’t think was too bad.
TIP: Drink lots of clear fluids and stay busy. Make sure you have plenty of soft toilet paper – blot and wipe gently and have a soothing ointment on hand in case of skin irritation.
4. The Procedure
Brace yourself: This sounds scarier than it actually is. A long flexible tube with a camera and light on the end called a colonoscope is inserted into the rectum and steered through the entire colon. The doctor looks for and removes any polyps. Seriously, the procedure is the easiest part of this whole process. It takes about 20 minutes to complete and you’re sedated the whole time.
I was asked to arrive at least 1 hour before the scheduled procedure to complete some paperwork and change clothes. During the intake process, I undressed and put on a surgical gown. The nurse asked me a series of health history questions and explained the entire procedure to me, step by step. She inserted an IV in my right arm which was hooked up to a saline solution bag. During the procedure, this is where they would administer the anesthesia. She explained how I would be in a “twilight sleep,” meaning I would be aware of the room but feel no pain and then if I felt ANYTHING during the procedure, I should let the doctor know and he would give me more medicine.
When the doctor was ready, the nurse walked me to the procedure room and I hopped up onto the bed. I was given oxygen via nasal cannula (nose tube). A blood pressure cuff was put on my arm and a heart rate monitor clip on my finger tip. I was covered with a sheet and asked to roll over on my left side. The anesthesiologist administered the drug into the IV. I started feeling a little woozy (in a good way) and my vision got blurry, so I closed my eyes. I was aware of being in the room, but didn’t feel anything – NOTHING. I don’t remember the actual procedure, rolling back onto my back or being moved to the recovery room at all. I woke up to a nurse asking me how I felt. I rested for a few minutes, the IV, oxygen, blood pressure cuff and heart rate monitor were removed and then I got dressed and was out of the office by 8:30 A.M.
After the procedure, you will feel a little bloated and gassy. Your colon is the cleanest it’s ever gonna be, so it’s basically just air. There’s no delicate way to put this – let it rip!
You will find out your results after you wake up in recovery. If they had to remove pulps, they will have to send them to a lab for analysis so you will find out those results a few days later. If everything was clear, you don’t have to do it for another 10 years – Yay!
After the procedure, whatever you eat will taste like the best meal of your life. Go home and climb back into bed for the best nap you’ve had since pre-school. Take the rest of the day and relax, knowing you have taken proactive action to safeguard your health.
So to all my friends of a certain age, I say this: Get your butt to the doctor’s and get it done already. It’s seriously not big deal!
About the Author
Nancy Boudreau is a Certified Health Coach and yoga enthusiast, who believes in progress, not perfection. She works with women who want to lose weight, manage stress and reclaim their vitality by making small, incremental changes to their diet and lifestyle that add up to big changes in weight, energy and overall health. Connect with Nancy on her website.
Image source: Irish Medical Times
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