Finding my way, sharing my finds
When I went to my primary care doctor in July, she thought it might be a stomach virus.
But when it didn’t go away after a couple of months, I went to my gynecologist who wondered if it might be an ovarian cyst. I ended up getting an ultrasound to find out but there was no evidence of a cyst.
He thought it might be endometriosis but said I didn’t completely fit the profile. So he referred me to a gastroenterologist first.
I went to that doctor in January and, after describing my symptoms, the doctor suggested I get a colonoscopy.
“Huh? But I’m only 26. What do you even think I have?” I asked.
“Maybe colitis or Crohn’s Disease. But with the symptoms you have, you definitely want to get it checked out,” she said.
I was shaking when I was talking to her about the procedure but I totally started bawling as soon as I was alone in my car.
It wasn’t the procedure that freaked me out. It wasn’t even the fear of what they might find. I was just terrified of going under general anesthesia. I don’t know why, but add “not waking up while under general anesthesia” to my list of things that immediately ignite visceral fear in my gut. (Dying in a fire and choking are at the top of that list).
In fact, it freaked me out so much that I just put off the procedure all together. But then, after a while, I knew I couldn’t afford to wait any longer to get the procedure. Literally – my insurance is ending in May. I knew I needed to just get ‘er done, as it was.
I ended up getting my colonoscopy done on March 6 and here’s the bottom line: What everyone told me about colonoscopies was true: “The prep is the worst part.”
And even the prep went a lot better than I expected.
I guess Franklin D. Roosevelt was right: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Because honestly, for weeks leading up to the procedure, I was a wreck. I didn’t want to die from something so stupid as a colonoscopy, especially at such a young age. I mean, who does that?!
But in the end, my worst case scenario never happened. (In fact, my sponsor researched it and apparently you’re twice has likely to have a complication from an oral surgery than colonoscopy. And the risk of death in a colonoscopy is something like 200ths of a percent).
So now that I’ve lived to tell the tale, I’m going to share with you what to expect from your first colonoscopy, based on my experience.
Of course, every doctor is going to have slightly different set of instructions for preparing their patients for their procedure but here’s what I received from my doctor:
I was hyper vigilant about not eating red and purple foods, even a week out from my procedure. That was probably overkill but I’d heard of at least one woman who went under, only to wake up and be told the doctor couldn’t perform the procedure because she wasn’t cleaned out all the way and I didn’t want that to be me.
I guess the red and the purple make it hard for doctors to see what they’re looking for.
At day three, I had to start a low fiber diet, which sounds a lot less fun than what it really is: “Eat all the junk food you want” Because really, that’s what it is. I enjoy quesadillas and cereal, bagels and cream cheese and cookies – it was all carbs, all the time.
And it was nice to have that built in excuse of “Well, the doctor said I can’t eat foods high in fiber.”
At two days prior, you’re not supposed to eat any solid foods after midnight. So I gorged on junk food at 11:45 p.m. But my stupid stomach was hungry the next morning at 7!
I think it was my boyfriend who made the point that you always want what you can’t have. I probably wasn’t physically hungry, I just knew that I couldn’t have any solid food so it made me want it even more.
I expected the day before my procedure to be the hardest day. That’s when you have to begin your clear liquid diet.
I spent the whole day at my parents’ house and even spent the night. I wanted to be around people for support but also for help. And besides, they were holding me accountable. Maybe I would have been tempted to sneak a morsal of food if I had done it alone at my own house.
My parents were so wonderful. My mom made me three big bowls of jello and stocked up on low-fat beef bullion and green/yellow popsicles (remember, no red or purple!). And my dad kept me company by watching television with me and joking with me about the prep work.
I’d pretty much decided that day was going to be rather slothlike and that’s what it ended up being. I mean heck, I didn’t have any food in my system and I was going to spend the latter half of the day in the bathroom so really, what hope did I have of accomplishing anything significant?
So I just watched Friends on Netflix, read my Bible and took naps. I was actually really sleepy about halfway through the day.
But the miraculous thing is that I really wasn’t as hungry as I thought I was going to be. The liquid really fills you up and the semi-solid texture of jello helps you to not miss chewing on food as much.
Actually, the jello was the most delicious stuff ever. I don’t know when’s the last time I had it before this procedure but man- it’s good. If you haven’t had it in years, you should take a walk down memory lane and make some. So simple yet so delicious.
At 5 p.m., it was time to do my first prep. Now, I had been prescribed Suprep, which ended up being really expensive given that it just makes you sh*t your brains out. Seriously – wow! WITH my insurance it was $80, without it would have been around $110.
My dad had gotten the generic version a few years back though and it seems like it might be worth the investment to get the more expensive stuff.
Evidently, he had to drink a gallon of the stuff over several hours. All told, I only had to drink two 16-ounce containers, split across 12 hours.
And believe me – that was enough! Although the 6-ounces of liquid were clear – and you even got to mix it with 10-ounces of water – it was thick as cough syrup. I don’t even know how that’s possible but it was THICK!
And it tasted like grape cough syrup too.
My gag reflex definitely kicked in as I was trying to drink the prep as quickly as I could. Not so much because of the taste but because of the thickness in my mouth. It was gross.
But with my dad’s help (we set a timer for me to drink a big gulp or two every 60 seconds to get it down) and chasers like apple juice and sprite, I had it down in 40 minutes. I honestly thought I was going to be able to chug the whole thing straight but – that wasn’t going to happen.
Okay I’ll spare you the details of what happened next. I’m sure you can guess.
I will say, however, that the events that transpired were not accompanied by as strong of stomach pains as I thought there would be. And also, aloe baby wipes are your friend!
So about three hours in, things quieted down. I had a few more servings of jello since I wasn’t able to “eat” anything after midnight (including jell-o) and then I went to bed.
I was actually able to sleep through the night before I had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. for my second dose.
That second dose was easier to go down since I now knew what to expect.
The first dose really does all the work, the second one is just there to make sure everything is truly cleaned out.
That prep and the two glasses of water that would follow would be my last thing to drink until after my procedure. Seriously, don’t drink anything a few hours before your procedure – you risk asphyxiation while you’re under general anesthesia.
So we get to the doctor’s office at 8:30 for a 9:30 procedure. I was shaking like a leaf I was so scared. But I had come this far and I knew that there was only one thing left to do.
So they took me in and got me hooked up to an IV and then the anesthesiologist came to talk with me. I really appreciate the time Dr. Voss took to talk me through my fears.
I told him I was worried about the fact that they were using propofol.
He said the drug was very safe and in his decades as an anesthesiologist, no one had died from using it.
He said there’s many benefits to the drug, including that you wake up quickly afterward and it has a short half life, meaning it’s out of your system quickly. In other forms of sedation, you might feel groggy and nauseous the rest of the day.
Still, I told him, if he’s never had a patient with a fatal reaction to propofol, the law of averages would dictate that a bad outcome was just around the corner. (Ha, I know, I’m a bit of a special patient). Just look at what happened to Michael Jackson, I said.
Then he laid out a really great argument for why the law of averages doesn’t apply to Michael Jackson:
Ha. Touche. I love people who can appeal to my intellectual side.
Feeling confident in Dr. Voss’s abilities, I was ready to face the procedure.
They rolled me back to the procedure room (I had just a gown that opened to the back, socks and a bra on) and met the doctor who would be performing the procedure, Dr. Ferris.
I looked at the time just beforehand. It was 9:40 a.m.
My fear had been that unconsciousness would be sudden and it would hit me like a truck but actually, I more so faded into black.
They put a little oxygen tube under my nose (known as a nasal cannula) and had me role on my left side.
I closed my eyes as Dr. Voss gave me propofol and I almost started hearing a buzzing in my ears. I was hyper aware of light and sound (but not in a scary way). Then I was out.
I woke up feeling slightly tipsy and really happy. I think I even had dreams while I was knocked out, which was nice because it felt more like sleep than general anesthesia.
It was 10:20 a.m. Just 40 minutes later! And in that time, they’d pumped my colon with air, inserted a scope and traveled all the way to the end of my colon.
Like I said, I was feeling a little buzzed when I woke up and even told the nurse to high five me since I’d survived my colonoscopy. Ha. I also had the giggles and told them I was going to right a rave review about them. I was honestly feeling really silly. It was nice to feel that care free after all the stress I’d put myself through.
It was funny too because the nurse played along. When I asked her if they’d found anything, she said no, that my colon was completely normal. I groaned because that means I still don’t know what’s causing my lower stomach pains and she playfully responded, “There’s no pleasing you!”
Ha, good times.
The nurse said that I should try to pass gas and that that would continue for several hours. I was able to and so they took me to meet my boyfriend at his car and handed me my discharge papers, which said I didn’t need another colonoscopy until I was 50. Then we went home.
The rest of the day, I spent lounging around and watching television. I also took a lot of naps.
There was only one bad side effect that I experienced, and honestly I don’t know if it was as a result of the procedure of if it was just psychosomatic.
Basically, shortly after we left the medical facility, I started feeling a tightness in my chest. There was discomfort and I almost felt like I wasn’t getting as much oxygen as I was supposed to.
I also felt very winded when I would speak and just generally weak.
Looking back, I could contribute that to a number of things. One, I have had panic attacks in the past and that might have been what this was. Two, I had all this gas floating around inside of me and so that might have been causing chest aches. Three, since I’d been hooked up to pure oxygen, maybe my body had gotten used to the good stuff and it was taking a while to get used to regular air again.
Of course, I looked up online and there are risks of having heart attacks/strokes and other horrible things after being under anesthesia and so I let myself run away with those fears.
Since I’d rather be safe then sorry, I did end up calling the doctor’s office back, who suggested that I go to the Emergency Room. The lady didn’t seem that concerned and it seemed more like she was just trying to cover her own hide so I put it off for a day.
But then I really started getting up in my head and so I did go to the emergency room just to make sure everything was okay. Three hours, an EKG, and a doctor’s visit later, I got a clean bill of health.
Yeah, that bill is probably going to smart but hey – you can’t put a price on peace of mind.
Two weeks later, I’m glad the whole experience is in life’s rearview mirror. But I’m grateful to have braved it to begin with. Your health is nothing to take lightly and it’s always better to know than not know.