I started my week by concluding a day and a half of not eating any solid food, then getting knocked out and having a camera boldly go where no camera had gone before. By which I mean I finally had a colonoscopy–a medical procedure that was a mystery to me until a few months ago.
I don’t want it to be a mystery to you, so I’ll try to explain it here.
The reason to go through this ritual is because colorectal cancer is both common–the fourth most common kind of cancer in the U.S., and have I mentioned how much I hate cancer?–and relatively easy to prevent with proper screening.
An overdue physical exam last year reminded me that I was overdue for this check-up. After an unproductive round of phone calls (the first office suggested proved itself incapable of returning a call), I had a screening scheduled. For several months later.
Fortunately, that screening yielded a colonoscopy date just two weeks away. Which, after a health-insurance glitch that briefly saw the insurance company appear to question my existence, led me to boarding the gastrointestinal roller coaster of colonoscopy prep.
“Prep” here means preparing your colon for its close-up: The camera that a doctor will send into your large intestine by the shortest possible path–that’s right, up your butt–works best with a view devoid of any food remnants. Prep routines vary, but the people at this office instructed me to have a light dinner Saturday and then stick to a clear liquid diet Sunday.
The directions for that fasting diet had some inequities: Black coffee, tea without milk, non-red Gatorade and ginger ale were fine, but vodka was not. I made do with a cup of coffee in the morning, a ginger ale in mid-afternoon, and then nothing but water. Somehow, the hunger stopped bothering me as much halfway through the day.
The fun really started in the afternoon, when I had to start drinking the diarrhea-inducing prescription medicine that would leave that part of my innards unobstructed. In my case, the beverage was something called Clenpiq, which made me think of “clean pig,” which made me think of the “cleaning pig” machines used to clean pipelines–as in, the task of this concoction.
The two roughly 6-oz. bottles I got were labeled as “cranberry flavor,” and I think the American Cranberry Growers Association might have grounds for a lawsuit here. A bit under two hours after making my way through the first bottle, I made the first of a great many visits to a bathroom. I won’t get into the details, but I will confirm that the descriptions offered by Anne Helen Petersen and Dave Barry aren’t that far off.
The second bottle was harder to get through, mainly because I knew what was coming. But after additional bathroom time, drinking a lot of water, and much more Sunday-newspaper reading than usual, I finally went to bed.
The rest was easy. After my wife dropped me off at the hospital Monday morning, I got checked in, changed into a dressing gown, had my vitals taken and saline administered to counteract my dehydration, waited a bit, and got wheeled into the room where it would happen. I wondered which beeps I heard corresponded to which of my vital signs, was told to turn on my side, and the anesthesia started.
As I was trying to decide if I felt anything from that drug, I clicked out. I woke up feeling like nothing had happened, then had my first solid food since Saturday night: graham crackers.
The report I got afterward informed me that they’d found and removed one benign polyp–good for coral but not for colons–and removed it for later examination, the important part being the removal ensuring that it could not grow into a tumor. I also got a printout of the images taken inside the tail end of my digestive tract, some of which evoked Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io and others that suggested I was pregnant with some alien life form.
The last chapter of this medical adventure was one I hadn’t quite been read into: not being able to poop for two days, then having trouble doing just that before the plumbing involved gradually resumed its usual operation.
And now I know what to expect the next time I go through this. In addition to hoping the next colonoscopy also finds nothing serious, I hope somebody can come up with a prep drink that’s a little less gag-inducing.