June 28, 2009

Colonoscopy survival guide

I had a colonoscopy done recently, it was something that needed to be done, but I was not too keen.. I didn't know what to expect, until the preparations got underway. They probably vary from one hospital/clinic to another, but in general it is all the same: clear the intestines. My friend told me to think about it as a free colonic irrigation.. Yeah.
According to Wikipedia, this is the definition of the procedure: "
Colonoscopy is the endoscopic examination of the large colon and the distal part of the small bowel with a CCD camera or a fiber optic camera on a flexible tube passed through the anus. It may provide a visual diagnosis (e.g. ulceration, polyps) and grants the opportunity for biopsy or removal of suspected lesions."

The day before I wasn't eating any solid foods, in fact I was dreading this cleansing procedure and had no appetite at all- at the end this was good, as nothing much "came out". GoLytely is the name of the awful foul tasting cocktail, that needs to be mixed with water and "flavoring". Adding orange flavor does not make it orange juice, but to make it 0.05% easier, store the cocktail in the fridge. According to the manufacturers, the solution is then more "palatable". 4 liters of palatable solution. I began drinking at 4pm and continued until after 6pm. After that no glass of that stuff went down however hard I tried, but by then I had already drank 3/4 of the contents and decided it MUST be enough. Yuck!
If one can find something distacting to do, such as watching a movie, Grey's anatomy, Facebook, it greatly helps in this task. If not, well, then it's staring at the plastic container, wondering what poison it contains.. potassium, NaCl, sodium bicarbonate, PEG..? But for sure it works! Be near the restroom, or if you cannot, if you are stuck in front of the computer screen playing Vapire Wars in Facebook, then ensure you are wearing a diaper or something similar. When it's time to go, then it really is. The goal is to get it all "clear", until no fecal matter is left in the intestines.
To be honest I thought I'd suffer more, but all I had was nausea, which got worse the more glasses I had emptied, and three quarters of the stuff had been consumed. During the evening and night restroom became my best friend. My previous every-day diarrhea episodes were even worse, so this time the challenge was to drink without throwing up. Such a bad taste! Apple juice/GoLyte and so on, drinking one sip of each, it was working for a while. On top of that, 3 Dulcolax tablets, laxatives, need I say more.

One the day itself I went to hospital feeling a bit weak and shaky. I didn't really sleep, and felt hungry and thirsty and just hmmm.. a bit nervous- isn't that normal..? At least I bravely made it to the hospital. Changed into a gown (leave the socks on), no fancy underwear needed. No high heels, no make up, because when you are upset and cry, make up won't last. No one's going to notice anyway, all attention is drawn to the long black endoscope (is that thing going to enter my body..? no way!!) and most of us look the same in a hospital gown anyway. Stay warm and ask for an extra blanket. I did. My blood pressure was high and heart was about to jump out of the chest (are you anxious..?), even more when they wheeled me into the "torture chamber". Sterile white walls, monitors, bright lights, all kinds of weird stuff that makes one wonder what it is for. Hospital in general make me nervous and this time was no exception. One of the technicians called me "sensitive"- well how would you like to swap places with me I asked, and she was quiet, what to reply to that question, both us knowing I am the patient, she is not.
During the procedure I was asleep and honestly did not remember anything! I don't know how long it lasted, what happened, if I was in pain, if I was restless.. I don't know. Sedation is the key thing, without that I wouldn't have lasted long. That's just me, maybe in some places they are not that generous with sedation, but my personal threshold for pain and discomfort is not that high and if sedation is offered, then Great. Yes please. Pre-procedure tension was definitely there, no matter what people say "relax, take it easy", it's just not going to happen. Post-procedure I felt I was anxious for nothing but as always when it is something unknown (and seeing the endoscope itself did nothing to lift my spirits..), that just to way it goes. I don't know if it gets easier if one needs to go for the 2nd or 3rd colonoscopy, for me, I think I'd be doing the exact same, getting anxious, upset etc. Funny enough, the thought of embarrassment was the least of my worries, probably because the staff received me so well, treated me professionally (apart from that tech who called me sensitive- well think about swapping places and HOW would you feel..?), with sense of humor too.

On a scale 1-10 (10 being the worst imaginable) this procedure lands in somewhere between 5-6. Pre-procedure anxiety and drinking the GoLytely achieved score 9. Sedation, which wiped an uncomfortable memory out of my mind scores 10. In fact, sedation made me feel colonoscopy never happened, therefore scoring the procedure does not feel justified, as if it never existed, it was never done.
There are always worse procedures, and easier ones, but each of us at the end react in a different way and that's just how it is. Had someone else written this, it could have, and would have been same in some parts, or not at all similar. If my writing might encourage someone, then great. But if you've gotta go for colonoscopy, go, don't leave it just because you read someone (=coward)'s story- it might not be the same at all, probably won't be.

La vida es corta..

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