At a certain age, you’re supposed to get a colonoscopy.
For me, that certain age came and went a couple of years ago, but in my procrastinating defense, it didn’t seem wise to take up valuable healthcare resources for a purely preventive issue during the early days of a pandemic.
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For me, I had lots of questions that didn’t seem to have any good answers, so what follows is a personal journey through the process of going from wanting a colonoscopy to a few days after having the exam.
Navigating healthcare isn’t easy. It is complicated by design and prone to frustration, but having a trusted provider will help tremendously. In my case, I didn’t.
A colonoscopy is, for those with insurance, a covered preventive procedure, akin to having your teeth cleaned. Any cost associated with the exam is minimal compared to what it costs to treat the gut cancers.
So, with that in mind, now is the time to navigate your insurance provider’s coverage portal to determine what clinic is covered. Your employer’s human resources office can also be extremely helpful in this situation, or you can ask your doctor, or their nurse, at an exam. Again, if you have hit 50, and don’t have any family health history, you’re the right age for one, and it is very likely your doctor will suggest it then.
My insurance provider said GastroArkansas was the clinic for me. I scheduled my initial appointment online, and they followed up with a call to confirm.
The office visit itself was very basic. They take your blood pressure and run through your medical history. The colonoscopy generally follows in a few days. In my case, due to a medical allergy, that was a couple of weeks later.
They also do their best to answer your questions. Here’s some important ones to ask:
What time will the appointment be?
What are the dietary restrictions on the day before and day of?
Will the day-before prep medication be over-the-counter or prescription?
What are the most likely complications or issues that could happen before or after the procedure?
As to the first question, if you have a choice on time, pick as early as possible. Like most other procedures, you won’t be able to have anything to eat or drink after midnight preceding the colonoscopy.
As to the second, you’ll be on a soft foods/liquid diet the day before. You can also have hard candy. There are some limitations on what color Jell-O you can have, so no red, no purple. That’s also true for the Gatorade that some prep regimens will have you drink the day before.
The over-the-counter vs. prescription prep is really, really important and will vary by provider as well as your family medical history.
In my case, my prep was OTC and all things that could be purchased at Kroger, specifically, a 238 gram bottle of Miralax, a laxative powder that is mixed with Gatorade, and Dulcolax, a laxative pill.
Both are in the pharmacy section at Kroger. You can also purchase both at Walgreens or Walmart or your local pharmacy.
I bought a big bag of Jolly Ranchers, Gatorade, ginger ale, and orange Jell-O, and from the pantry got bouillon cubes. Also, coffee. Black coffee.
Prep is pretty awful and the worst part of getting a colonoscopy. Because I thought it would be funny, I had also scheduled a dental appointment the morning of prep with the hope the colonoscopy would be that afternoon, but the actual procedure was the next day. It worked out though, in a weird way, because getting a filling replaced meant my mouth and jaw were pretty sore, and I wasn’t much interested in eating the morning of the prep. Not that I could have any real food to eat anyway.
Part 1 of prep was taking four Dulcolax pills at noon. That’s when I discovered I had mistakenly purchased suppositories instead of tablets, which meant an extremely quick trip to Walgreens, so the pills were taken at 12:15 p.m. instead.
(Also, for sale: four suppositories, never used.)
Things were fine, and being blessed with a work-from-home job meant I had easy access to a bathroom. That’s important!
If you have an office job or work really anywhere, I’d highly encourage you to take half a sick day for prep and go home at lunch and not come back that day or the next day.
Pro tip: If you feel like you need to go to the bathroom, go to the bathroom. Don’t hesitate. Just go.
For the purposes of reporting, I logged my first bathroom trip at 1:30 p.m. last Thursday. What followed was a hazy blur of bathroom visits that continued through the afternoon and into the night. They were only broken up by 32 ounces of Gatorade mixed with half a bottle of the Miralax at 4 p.m., followed by the same cocktail at 8 p.m.
The Miralax mixes up smoothly with the Gatorade, unlike, say, Metamucil.
I gave up on logging the individual times, but from the first visit to the last trip before bed, I made a total of 15 bathroom visits in roughly nine hours.
Again, it was awful. But a small bowl of ice cream before going to bed made the day better.
Friday morning came early for a 7 a.m. check-in at St. Vincent’s in Little Rock. I made another trip to the bathroom, none during the night though, then had a shower and got dressed. You can’t
have anything to eat or drink at this point, and you’ll need someone to drive you to the clinic or hospital as you won’t be able to drive home since you’re sedated during the procedure.
For the curious, I weighed the morning of prep and the morning of, and I dropped not quite six pounds of, umm, waste.
Dropped at the door, I checked in, then did more paperwork that morning and got wristbanded up along with a sticker to wear. You can pretty much wear whatever you want the day of because you’ll change into a gown for the actual exam.
You’ll check in at the GI lab next, and then do more paperwork – take a pen – and wait some more to be called back. My appointment was at 9 a.m., and that’s roughly when I was called back to put my things in a bag and change into a gown.
Then the future comes and hits you in the face as you get on a gurney, with nothing but a snapped-together gown on, and you begin getting hooked up to various things: EKG stickers along your chest for the heart monitor, then an IV stick for a blood draw in your hand. When that’s not successful, you get an IV stick in your other hand for a blood draw and a bag of fluids. Then you wait some more.
Then the anesthesiologist makes an appearance, runs through some questions, and then you get wheeled across the hall to an exam room. There the anesthetist riddles you with more questions, and in my case, genuine curiosity about my medical allergy. Then the gastroenterologist comes in, says hello, makes small talk about the prep, and asks you to roll on to your side. The anesthetist says he’s about to push the drugs and that you might feel a slight burn. I quickly checked my watch, and that’s it. What happened next I do not have any notion of because I was sedated and unconscious.
A short 15 minutes later, I woke up with a start, similar to the one you get when you fall asleep at the airport and don’t understand where you are or why it is so noisy, then you remember where you are. The nurse brought me a Diet Shasta to drink from a straw while waiting the 30 minutes to make sure I had no ill effects from being sedated.
At some point, the doctor called my wife to give her a report that “he has the colon of a 20-year-old” and there were no polyps and nothing to biopsy. Then the doctor came and told me the same thing as well and I wouldn’t need to come back for a decade.
I didn’t feel sore. I didn’t really feel anything besides being very hungry. I waited for my wife to pick me up and take me to get something to eat and then back home for the day.
I did make what felt like a couple extra bathroom trips that afternoon and evening. They were similar to the bathroom trips of prep day. But things were back to normal on Saturday morning.
The only real consequence was I had some swelling and bruising on the hand that had the IV in it, and I covered my hand with an extra-large Band-Aid.
That was it.
I wasn’t sore anywhere else. And I’m grateful for that but also for the fact that I got a clean bill of health.
If you have any hesitations about getting a colonoscopy because of post-procedure issues, you shouldn’t. If still concerned, talk to your doctor. Or the nurse who does all the work for the doctor.
As a brief aside, as I was writing this Wednesday afternoon, I got a text message from my doctor, Doug Stokes, just following up with me.