Wednesday, December 24, 2014
How to Have a Colonoscopy
So I celebrated Christmas Eve with a colonoscopy, not exactly the way most people would want to spend the day. It was just for a colon cancer screening, something I do every 7 years. Since it’s the holidays and lots of people are out of Qatar on vacation this is when the hospitals have space for bookings.
Normally something like this wouldn't be the kind of thing I would be blogging about but I realized that many people are reluctant to get themselves checked for colon cancer. It’s a really important thing, colon cancer is one of the most common cancers, and if detected early the odds of getting through it are very, very good. Colon cancer is definitely one of those things you don't want to have detected after it is in the later stages. So I figured I would blog about the entire process in the hopes that it helps others to not be too nervous about getting a colonoscopy, and then talk to their doctor about whether they should have one.
The toughest part about a colonoscopy is not actually getting it done at the hospital, the annoying part is the preparation. The colon needs to be clean so the doctor can use a small camera to look inside. So to get clean you have to go on a 48-hour strict diet of clear fluids only. Just clear fluids -- no soups with a little bit of vegetables in it, no juices that have pulp in it, no milk, just completely clear fluids. You should also avoid too much red and purple liquids, lest it stain the sides of the colon and make your doctor think it might be cancer.
Here’s pretty much what I had for two days:
Weak tea (no milk, milk makes it cloudy)
Kiwi & lime juice
Lemon juice that I would put in some of the drinks
some clear, hard candies that you can suck on
Yep, not the most impressive things to be “eating” for two days. I think what annoyed me the most about it was that pretty much everything was sugar, sugar, sugar. I've been spending the last six months really cutting back on sugar so I wasn't too happy to be having almost nothing but sugar as my only nutrients. And of course by the second day you're quite tired and lethargic since you haven't eaten any solid food. Caffeine, as well as energy drinks, helped a lot. After a while your stomach goes into starvation mode and you cease even feeling too hungry. I figured by the second night I'd be biting my arm for sustenance but in truth my body was not even craving the sugary drinks.
Some websites mentioned you can do things like a weak chicken broth that's clear. I agree something like that would've been nice to have and would've made a great change from all the sugary drinks. Next time I'll try to make some in advance.
The doctor will also prescribe some type of substance for you to ingest that will really flush out the colon. In my case it was a powder called Movicol, which I had to take 48 hours and 24 hours before the colonoscopy. You stir a whole bunch of this powder into some water and drink it. While the taste was nothing to write home about I didn't have any problems drinking the stuff, just chug it down. Then 1-3 hours later you will need to go to the bathroom as the stuff essentially finishes going through your digestive system. This is no joke, you need to be close to the bathroom at all times after drinking the powder as you will have only a little time to get to the bathroom. After that you should always try to be relatively close to a bathroom, now that your colon is empty all of the drinks you have after that will go through you pretty quickly. At some points I was going to the bathroom every hour or so, especially after my second dose of Movicol the next day.
For the final eight hours before the procedure you must completely fast. No more liquids, not even water. I didn't find that too troublesome, the procedure was at 11:30am so I just went to bed around midnight, slept as long as I could, then woke up and went straight to the hospital.
At the hospital they checked my blood pressure then I was shown to a room where I undressed and put on a hospital gown, then was led to the procedure room. I laid down on my side, the nurse put one of those little oxygen tubes by my nostrils, and then the doctor and the anesthesiologist came in. The anesthesiologist had to put a small needle in my hand for the anesthetic -- this was the only needle I had during the whole procedure. Once he started injecting the anesthetic I think I was asleep in less than 10 seconds.
[This is the only evidence of my colonoscopy]
And then I woke up 25 minutes later and everything was done. Just like that. I don't think it was a strong general anesthetic, I remember dreaming, and given I was only out for less than a half-hour I'm wondering if they also gave me something to wake up but I forgot to ask. I laid there on my side for another 10-15 minutes and then the nurse came by to see if I was feeling dizzy. I wasn't, just a bit lightheaded but I was like that even before the procedure started thanks to the 48-hours without solid food. So she helped me stand up and there was no dizziness. I changed back into my clothes, the doctor told me my results, gave me copies of the pictures, and wished me a Merry Christmas. That’s it. All told from entering the front door of the hospital to leaving it was maybe 90 minutes.
I immediately went to a restaurant to get myself a nice solid lunch. I wasn't feeling that hungry but the moment I started eating my stomach immediately switched back on and I was ravenous. Going to a restaurant was probably a bit of a mistake, because your stomach and colon are empty the liquids still go through you quickly. I was lucky because after lunch I immediately found a taxi to take me home (because of the anesthetic you shouldn't drive for the rest of the day) and it wasn’t until I'd been home for about 10 minutes that I needed to go to the bathroom. I'd hate to think what would have happened if the taxi had been stuck in traffic. My advice to you is after the procedure go home and eat there.
That was it, the colonoscopy was done (and yes, the results were fine). Trust me, the diet is more annoying than the procedure itself. Just prepare yourself for a couple of hungry days and the rest of it is fine.
Please, please consider talking to your doctor about whether you should have a screening for colon cancer. It could save your life.