Friday, June 7, 2013


Warning: this post talks about colonoscopies. If that grosses you out, please move on. Here, go look at some cute cats. I'm sharing this because this is information I searched for but was unable to find. [Seriously, Blogger? You don't recognize the word "colonoscopy"?]

Colon Cancer Canada
(I'm pretty sure that butt has been Photoshopped.)
My aunt died of colon cancer; my mother and her sister have also battled colon cancer, so I take the risk seriously and have scheduled my second colonoscopy.

After my mother's diagnosis and surgery, I learned that I should start scheduling colonoscopies about ten years before the age at which my mother was diagnosed. By that dictum, I probably could wait a few years, but given my own digestive troubles, I started earlier.

My first one was done in Colorado, where I received the full benefit of cushy comfort with a comprehensive health plan.

For me, the preparation was the worst part.

The objective of the prep is that the colon will be sparkling clean, free of debris, stains, or, um, solid matter. The way they achieve that is by having the patient ingest a powerful laxative and then consume nothing but clear liquids for 24 hours before the procedure.

After I had booked my appointment, our family decided to go skiing on the day before my appointment. I called the nurse and asked whether it would be okay for me to go up to the ski hill with my family. She cautioned me that I should stay home - and close to a private toilet.

She was absolutely correct. While my family enjoyed the slopes, I spent my day miserably visiting the porcelain throne.

One of the miseries I hadn't anticipated was the simple rectal pain. Even if you've never had hemorrhoids, you probably will by the end of your prep. (Only afterwards did I read a tip that suggested using diaper wipes instead of toilet paper during the prep period.)

The procedure itself was rather unremarkable. I know that some people like to be awake so they can observe what the doctor sees. I am not one of those people. My priority was comfort.

As the nurse gave me the sedative, she assured me that I could always ask for more if I experienced any discomfort. And about 30 seconds into the procedure, I asked for more. That's the last thing I remember before waking up to the doctor telling me that everything looked fine, there was no visible inflammation and there were no polyps, and that he had taken a couple of biopsies.

[The biopsies indicated inflammation, indicative of IBS or colitis.]

When I spoke to my sister about the procedure, she cringed and said that she'd had one done and never wanted to go through that kind of pain again. This, from a woman who has endured debilitating endometriosis and subsequent hysterectomy: she is NOT a wimp. I can't remember whether she said they offered her anything, but I was appalled that she had not been offered sufficient medication.

So when I met with the gastroenterologist this time, I specifically asked about medication. He has assured me that he will do whatever he can to ensure my comfort.

So that's what I'll be doing on Friday. Yay! Actually, "yay" to having a family doctor who is proactive about taking care of my health. I would likely have procrastinated about this (I mean, seriously, who wants to have a colonoscopy?), but it really is in my best interest to stay on top of this risk.

Depending on how tomorrow's procedure goes, I may or may not do an update. (It'll be interesting to see the Canadian vs. American approach.) But, in the meantime, here are some "pro tips" on colonoscopies, based on my experience.
  1. Talk to your GE about pain medication/sedation. Don't assume that the procedure will be pain-free, and don't wait until you're lying on your side with tears streaming down your face.
  2. Book two days at home; one for prep and one for the procedure. You can tele-work the first day, but don't plan on doing anything the second day.
  3. When you buy the laxatives, also stock up on clear soda (Canada Dry brand ginger ale, especially, as it contains ginger which counteracts the potential nauseous effects of the purgative), bouillon or vegetable stock, Tucks pads, and diaper wipes.
  4. The laxatives take about an hour or so to kick in, but when they do . . . turn up the radio and light a candle or put some aromatic infusers in the room. Open a window.
  5. Do NOT eat copious amounts of beets the day before your prep. Or, if you do, do not panic when you glance into the toilet bowl.
  6. Do not glance into the toilet bowl. 
  7. If possible, reserve a bathroom for your own private use. 
  8. Pamper yourself a little. (I downloaded some videos to watch on the iPad while I camped out in the bedroom next to our en suite bathroom.)
  9. You may expect that your final visits to the bathroom will result in clear fluid; they will not. Your body will continue to produce bile, which is yellow in colour.
  10. It is likely that, with all the powerful laxatives, you will become slightly dehydrated. Try to consume as much salt-free liquid as possible. 
  11. You will need someone to drive you home after the procedure. Taxi/bus is not permitted, especially if you've had a sedative. 
  12. Sedatives ROCK. Oh, man, I would so be an addict if . . . 
Take care of yourselves.


  1. Wynn, my husband is having his colonoscopy in 3 weeks. I remembered I bookmarked this and sent it to him for information on the prep. Thank you for writing this (it will also come in handy for mine, but I can't even get my consult until December.)

    1. Wow -- surprised to get a comment on this old post. Hope all goes well for him.


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