Colonoscopies: Necessary, not so evil

By Scott Halasz

March 22, 2014

I opened my mail several weeks ago and found the invitation nobody really wants to receive. It was from my digestive specialist letting me know I was welcome to visit for a colonoscopy any time.

I groaned.

Who wants to be on a liquid diet for a day and sit on a toilet all night? I know, I know. Too much information. Normally I keep my colon to myself.

But since March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and screenings are recommended for anyone 50 and over and for anyone of any age with any type of colorectal symptoms, I thought I would share with you my experience.

It wasn’t my first. Won’t be my last.

If you have had one you already know. If you haven’t had one yet, you probably have been told. The prep is the worst part.

But it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. In the past, a little bottle of phospho-soda was poured into water or Gatorade and it had to be consumed. It was nasty. Salty. Yucky. And it worked quickly. Very quickly.

Had to take it twice. Once in the evening and once the next morning before the procedure.

But now it’s not so bad.

Most doctors have switched to Miralax. The powder is mixed into any clear liquid. It tastes exactly like whatever it’s being mixed into. In other words, it has no taste.

I mixed 17 grams (one cap full) into eight ounces of water and chugged it every 15 minutes seven times. That started at 6 p.m. the night before.

It didn’t work as quickly as the nasty stuff, which was fine with me. I sat on the couch and enjoyed some Power Rangers cartoons with my son. I think I made four or five trips to the restroom before I called it a night around 11 p.m.

The second dose came at 4 a.m. Same amount. Same intervals.

I’m glad we have cable and an Apple TV with Netflix. Kept me entertained when I wasn’t ya know.

By the time I got to the doctor for my 7:15 procedure I was pretty much empty … physically and mentally.

Let me back track for a second. The other part of the prep is the food you can or can not eat. Raw vegetables and high-fiber foods are out two to three days prior to the procedure. The day before I was on a clear liquid diet. Any liquid except for alcohol is allowed. No cream or milk in coffee or tea. Nothing red or purple because it could appear to be blood in the intestine. Most hard candies area allowed, such as lemon drops, etc. Any color gelatin is OK except the red and purple. Chicken and beef broth are fine too.

Any type of soda is fine as long as its not the forbidden colors. Fruit juice and sports drinks are OK too. Gatorade is recommended because apparently that will restore all the electrolytes and stuff you will soon be eliminating when you are well, uh, eliminating.

I wasn’t starving but it will be a while before I eat Jell-O again.

Once I got to the doctor, I waited maybe 30 minutes before the procedure started. I changed into the hospital uniform, got poked for an IV and spoke with the anesthesiologist. To me this was the most important part as I had to inform him about the nausea I usually have post-op and the fact that it takes me a loooooooooong time to come out of the conscious sedation. I don’t like general anesthetic. I prefer General Tso’s.

Even the anesthesia portion has changed for the better. Previously I received a combination of fentanyl and versed. One for pain, the other to basically knock me out and make me forget just about everything. It worked too well. Knocked me out so much that I argued, ad nauseam (pun intended), that I wasn’t ready to leave.

Most of the time now, my doctor uses propofol, which they call Milk of Amnesia because of it’s appearance.

After cracking a few jokes with my doctor, it was time for a nap. The worst part of the procedure itself was the injection of the drug. It hurt at the IV site, which is normal.

I was out within 15 seconds and the next thing I remember, I was in the recovery area, laying on my side. I was alert enough to roll on my back and tap my hands to the music playing in the background. My wife came in to see me and within a half hour I was dressed and ready to go.

No nausea. Nothing. I actually felt like I could have driven home.

Then the best news of all? No polyps. The second time in a row I was told I have a clean colon. Previously I have had polyps removed and on one occasion they were pre-cancerous. The next colonoscopy would be in seven years when I turn 50.

Everyone reacts differently from the prep and the procedure.

But I can guarantee it is not as bad as you may think.

And considering colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death, it’s something you have to do.