When Having a Colonoscopy Feels Like a Vacation

(Photo: istockphoto.com)

Although I am seven years shy of the recommended age of 50 for getting a baseline colonoscopy, I scheduled the procedure for two reasons. One, I have a family history of rogue colon cells, and two, my college BFF was recently diagnosed with stage II colon cancer. (She now has a clean bill of health, I’m so happy to report.) So I took my cues from the universe — and my mother’s GI doctor — and made an appointment for a Friday in mid-August.

Don’t get me wrong. I was dreading my colonoscopy, for obvious reasons. But in the back of my mind I kept thinking, “How bad could it be? Katie Couric had one done on national TV!

Mom said she’d make me some Jello and that she’d just bought the second season of Homeland on DVD. Call me crazy, but it sounded a little bit like heaven.

It’s true — on a day when most Americans had planned either a vacation or at least a long weekend at the beach, I opted for an invasive — albeit out-patient — medical procedure. And while I wasn’t looking forward to the prep, part of me was secretly psyched to be out of commission for 24 hours.

I had care lined up for my two kids for the entire day of the procedure, which was scheduled for 9 a.m.. I’d be back home by 10:30 a.m., ensconced on the couch with some podcasts and trashy magazines, and no one to take care of for several hours.

My Mom had invited to me to spend the night at her house the night before (so I could use the bathroom to my bowels’ content without waking anyone up) and my husband readily agreed to take care of dinner and bedtime for the kids while I was gone. Mom said she’d make me some Jello and that she’d just bought the second season of Homeland on DVD. Call me crazy, but it sounded a little bit like heaven.

Note to self: Anytime you think, “How bad could it be?” admit that it could actually be not-that-great.

Some of the unpleasantness was my own damn fault. Although I was counseled by the nurse not eat anything solid for 24 hours before the procedure, as well as stay away from nuts or seeds for a full five days prior, I woke up the morning before the big day and, without thinking, ate a bowl of granola. With pepitas and walnuts. Whoops!

I called the nurse when I realized what I had done, and she said I could still undergo the procedure as scheduled, however I’d have to drink an extra bottle of the magnesium citrate to make sure my digestive tract was adequately cleaned out. Which meant canceling appointments and accounting for an extra five hours of mad dashes to the bathroom, since I’d have to drink my first bottle at noon instead of the initially advised time slot of 5 p.m. It also kept my stomach out of sorts for a full 24 hours after I swallowed my last sip of that salty, Sprite-like concoction.

But the second spike of suckiness came when I found out I’d have to have an IV. I hate needles. I can tolerate a shot or even giving blood, but a needle that’s inserted and then taped over so it remains in your body is my greatest fear. On the monitor I was strapped to, I watched my blood pressure rise 40 points while the nurse inserted it. This is so much more than I bargained for, I thought as I was lying flat on my back, being wheeled around on a gurney with the IV bag jiggling over my head.

Compared to all that, the procedure itself was nothing. I was unconscious, after all. I remember the nurse telling me to turn onto my side, and that I might feel dizzy as she administered the anesthesia. I remember thinking, “My IV is burning! My IV is burning!” and then I woke up, an hour later, to my husband asking me if I was ready to go home.

I didn’t anticipate how out of it I’d be in those hours on the couch after the colonoscopy. I did manage to get my ear buds in and push play on the podcasts, but I couldn’t tell you the first thing I heard. When I finally got up at 4:30 p.m. and prepped myself to go out in to the world to pick up my kids, I still wasn’t quite right. I put mascara on my eyebrow and wondered why I looked so weird before I figured out what I had done.

But I did learn some pretty important stuff along the way. For example, on the day before, when I wasn’t allowed to eat anything solid, I really saw how often I got the urge to eat simply because I was bored. I also realized how much time is taken up by thinking about meals, procuring them, consuming them and cleaning up after them. I love my food, but in the weeks since, I’ve make my breakfasts and lunches a little more rote, my snacks more rare and I’ve saved the production factor for dinner, when we’re unwinding together as a family, in addition to eating.

The experience also strengthened my resolve to eat right, exercise and tend to anything that causes me stress, simply because it will help me avoid more medical procedures that would rank way higher on the scale of unpleasantness.

Turns out a colonoscopy is an adventure, and an educational one at that.

But it ain’t no vacation.

“See you again in five to seven years,” the nurse said as I was leaving.

That’ll be seven, thank you very much.

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