The Colonoscopy: The Final Frontier
It seemed too much. A little unnecessary. Undignified. But then I asked some people and got the overwhelming response to write the post that I was too scared to publish. Because to quote my friend Andrew, “poop is funny.”
Let’s hope he’s right. Because this post is all about poop.
Have you ever seen the show, “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant?” For a young woman of child-bearing age, who is not trying to have a baby, that show is scarier than Stephen King’s nightmares. It’s tale after tale of clueless women getting accidentally knocked up, all ending with the re-enactment actress writhing in pain, sweat pouring down her face, crying out for help from atop a toilet. It was about the third time I got woken up at 2am with piercing lower abdominal pains that sent me to the bathroom, that I thought, “oh shit. I don’t want to be on that show. If I pop out a baby, is the hospital going to tell TLC’s producers?”
Turns out I wasn’t pregnant. It just felt like labor. At least I imagine.
I’ve always had a “sensitive” stomach. By that I mean, I have to go to the bathroom, a lot. If most people “go” once or twice a day, growing up, I’d “go” 3-4 times. It was never a big deal though, just a slight inconvenience.
About four years ago, things changed. I started having to go 5-6 times a day, then, as the years passed, 7-8, and eventually, close to 10 times a day. It was no longer a slight inconvenience. I started getting anxious about leaving the house for extended periods of time. Vacations became less something to look forward to, and more something to worry about. Would the beach have a bathroom? How long would the road trip be? How many rest stops? You get the idea.
Then the pain started. And the “attacks.”
The whole time this was going on, I resisted going to the doctor. Not because I was afraid of what they might say, but because I was afraid of what they might make me do. When you have issues going to the bathroom, the tests they run all have to do with what you use to go to the bathroom. The idea of walking into an office and discussing my bowel movements with some nice young doctor, was just as horrifying as the pains that woke me up bi-weekly.
Then it got worse.
I started throwing up in the middle of the attacks. I’d have a “bad” bout, and if I ate something other than bland food for the next three days, I’d end up throwing up again. Plans got cancelled. Foods I loved had to be avoided. And I started to get scared. The embarrassment over having to poop a lot no longer seemed important. My health did.
So I scheduled the appointments. Talked to some doctors. An older Chinese specialist I saw told me, without looking at me, that I was too fat and would die of breast cancer if I didn’t lose weight. He recommended the South Beach diet. No advice for how to deal with my symptoms. The second doctor seemed half asleep the entire visit, and barely looked at my chart before suggesting that maybe I was lactose intolerant.
The third doctor I saw was a godsend. Friendly, helpful, and willing to do whatever it took to help me figure out my issues. After 30 minutes of discussing my symptoms, he prescribed the two very tests I’d been dreading ever since my attacks first started.
A fecal test and a colonoscopy.
Let’s talk fecal test first. Yes, it is as horrible as it sounds. The beginning of the horror is when the nice young technician hands you the kit, and shows you what you are to do with it.
“OK, so you take this thing here,” the smiling petite brunette woman said, “and place it on the toilet, towards the back.”
I smiled, trying not to cringe, and she lifted up a white plastic Tupperware container attached to a tray.
Oh great, now Tupperware is ruined for me forever. No more leftovers.
“Then” she said, “you scoop out the…matter…using the spoon attached to the lid of these three vials, seal them, and place them in the plastic bag.”
And spoons are ruined too.
I took the kit, shoved it into my purse and ran off to the bathroom, saying, “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god” the whole time.
Only, once I got there, nothing. It figured, the one time I actually needed to go, I couldn’t. So I took it home, shoved it under the sink, and forgot about it, focusing instead on test number two.
Known as one of the most dreaded preventive tests. The one that involves getting knocked unconscious so that a camera can be shoved up your bum. Doctors usually do this test to check for pre-cancerous polyps, on patients over the age of 50. For me, they were looking for signs of Colitis or Chron’s disease.
“The prep” as they call it, is the worst part of a colonoscopy. For reasons that don’t need a lot of explaining, doctors want your colon to be empty before they go exlorin’ in it. So that means you’re responsible to clean it.
The preferred way to do this is by forcing patients to drink a football team Gatorade cooler sized amount of liquid that tastes like lemon flavored battery acid. Why I wondered, while gulping down the first of ten glasses, does this have to taste so bad. Why does it have to have a taste at all?
I was only able to take half of my prescribed dosage, Ryan gently and lovingly coaching me along, before it all came back up. I spent the rest of the night feeling sicker than the time I did freshman year of college when I mixed cheap tequila with cosmo mix. I hung my head in the toilet crying, convinced that all that prep was for nothing.
The next morning, we went to the doctor’s office not feeling hopeful they’d be able to do the procedure, seeing as I’d not gotten down even half the prep. They decided to go for it anyway. Waving goodbye to Ryan, I followed the nice petite nurse to the weird pre-prep locker room for patients. She opened a cabinet and, after quickly looking me up and down, discreetly grabbed two gowns from the second-to-bottom shelf.
“Pick any room you like and remove all your clothing.”
“All of it?” I asked.
“Yep! Oh,” she said, handing me a small plastic wrapped bag, “here’s some hospital socks for your feet.”
When I say that I looked ridiculous in my two (one on front, and one on back, so my butt didn’t hang out) gowns, I’m being too kind. I looked like mumu-sheathed Homer Simpson in the episode where he gains 100 lbs to get on disability.
The gray hospital socks didn’t help my confidence. Or the fact that I was about 40 years younger than every person I saw in the waiting room.
Finally, a nurse came and collected me from the “behind the scenes” waiting room. She led me into a room fitted with more machines and screens than I had ever seen before, and instructed me to lay down on a hospital bed, surrounded by weird surgical contraptions.
After two tries she got the IV in and told me that soon I’d drift off to sleep. The doctor, in total annoyed hurried doctor mode came in then, right as I was starting to feel super relaxed and not at all worried about the camera about to invade my nether regions.
“So it says here you were only able to finish half your prep?” he said, not wasting time with introductions.
“Uhm yes” I said, happily too drugged to feel guilty, “I hope this won’t be a waste of time or anything, I tried really hard.”
My eyes started to shut and the nurse helped me roll on my side, and, just like everyone said, the next thing I knew she was waking me up, telling me it was all over.
“WasIOKCouldHeDoTheProcedure…….?” I said out of the side of my mouth, my eyes still shut.
“Sure did!” she said happily, “He said it was the cleanest colon he’s seen today!”
“Yaaaaaaaaaaaay” I tried to raise my hands in triumph, but was still too groggy.
From there they led me to the infamous, “post” room. Legend had it that this was the “farting room.” My grandfather terrified me by telling me that the hospital doesn’t let you leave after a colonoscopy until you pass gass, right in front of the nurse, to make sure you’re colon didn’t explode during the procedure or something. This was the part I was most uncomfortable with. I mean, I’m no priss, but just letting loose in front of a stranger? That was too much for me.
But here’s what everyone forgot to tell me. You’re still high when they wheel you in there! You don’t care! I was as obedient as could be, drifting in and out of sleep, tooting along with everyone else in the bed’s next to me, who were in similar states of half-consciousness.
After about 15 minutes or 15 hours, I really have no idea, the drugs wore off and I sat up, feeling like I’d just had the best nap of my life. I was told to get dressed, have some water, and then, after proving to the nurse’s I could walk just fine and have an amazing tolerance for narcotics, walked back into the waiting room. When I saw Ryan I raised my hands above my head, Rocky on the steps style, eliciting laughs from some of the people in the waiting room. I’d done it!
It wasn’t all laughs a few weeks later though, when I got up the nerve to check on my results. Turns out I have Microscopic Lymphocytic Colitis, a disease which name really annoys me because it sounds so dainty and all, “no big deal.” But it was a diagnosis. And it wasn’t something really scary like cancer, or something that could end up being much more damaging, like Chron’s.
The next night, we went out to see the new Star Trek movie with some friends. While waiting for drinks, I turned to Ryan.
“Well, it looks like my doctor and Captain Kirk have something in common. They both get to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
And that friends, if the kind of joke that is worth getting a camera shoved up your bum for.