I don't know if it's possible for anyone to say "my colonoscopy was fun," unless they're a masochist. I've had three now, two regular's and a virtual, the most recent a few days ago.
None of them was enjoyable, except in this sense: I know that I'll feel much better getting colonoscopies rather than colon cancer. So like I said in a previous post, don't think twice about having the procedure if you're over 50 or otherwise in a high risk group.
Once you're scheduled for one, I've got some tips for making your colonoscopy more pleasant. Some of what I've learned may be peculiar to me, so take your doctor's advice a lot more seriously than mine. These are just some suggestions, based on my experience.
Shop around for a provider. I talked about this in my post where I advised people not to get a colonoscopy in Salem, Oregon, where I live. Again, that's my opinion, mostly based on the insistence of the one and only provider of the procedure in my town to make patients go through a two-day colonoscopy prep.
Recently a friend told me that Salem Gastroenterology Associates made her do this, even though her procedure was scheduled for the afternoon of the third day. So she couldn't eat solid food for over two and a half days. That's highly unusual, based on the research I cited.
Thus if you don't feel comfortable with a provider in your area, look farther afield. I drove to Tualatin, a suburb of Portland, for my two regular colonoscopies because I really like how the folks at Gastroenterology Associates of Oregon treat me -- as a human being, not just a patient.
Usually the doctor knows best. That said, once you've chosen who you want to perform a colonoscopy on you, trust them. It's fine to ask questions and do your own Internet research. But in the end, it's wise to assume that health care professionals are going to know more than you do.
After my first regular colonoscopy, the doctor found a benign polyp. He also said that the colon prep/cleansing wasn't very good in one area of my colon. That's why he wanted me to have a repeat procedure in two years, rather than the usual five or so. I thought of arguing with him, since I wasn't eager to have another colonoscopy so soon. I didn't, though.
Now I'm glad.
The gastroenterologist, Erik Van Kleet, found another polyp in the area that wasn't properly prepped last time. He removed it. Since it was flat, he couldn't see it during the first colonoscopy. I'm also glad that I didn't argue with the clinic's physican assistant when he told me that I should start the clear liquid diet at 5:00 pm, two days before the procedure.
That added eight hours or so of no-eating to my prep schedule. It was worth it, though, to get a clean colonoscopy this time. (I can understand why, in special circumstances, a more than one day prep is called for; my gripe with the Salem clinic is that they required a two day prep for all patients, since usually this isn't necessary.)
Follow the prep instructions, but don't deny yourself. Most people who have had colonoscopies find the prep period to be more distasteful than the procedure itself. I agree. Being a vegetarian, I'm used to grazing frequently. And getting rid of the colon contents by drinking a gallon of laxative stuff isn't my favorite thing to do.
However, when I told a friend I was getting a colonoscopy and angled for some no eating sympathy, he said, "I went on a 21-day fast once." That shut me up, especially since the photo above shows what I bought to get me through about a 1.5-day "fast" where I could consume clear liquids for most of that time.
Jello, vegetable broth (I bought way too much, but it was on sale), white grape juice. Adding up the calories in this stuff, I realized why I didn't lose much weight during my so-called fasting period. Plus, I tanked up in the two hours prior to the 5 pm "no more solid food" deadline on Wednesday (my colonoscopy was scheduled for 10 am on Friday).
At 2:30 I had a large slice of cheese pizza. At 4:00, after I exercised, I ate a peanut butter and apple butter sandwich on whole wheat bread that I'd taken to the athletic club. Then, at 4:20, I managed to stuff down another large slice of Straight From New York pizza before I went to my Tai Chi class. Not surprisingly, I wasn't very hungry all that evening, so starting my liquid diet at 5:00 pm on Wednesday rather than late that night wasn't a big sacrifice.
And as noted above, it worked better for me, according to my doctor. As did a split preparation schedule, in which I drank half of the laxative stuff early Thursday evening, and half early Friday morning (the day of the procedure). Even though I had to wake up at 4 am or so on Friday, I found that drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of the stuff at two different times was more pleasant than chugging the whole gallon all at one go.
Bliss out during the colonoscopy itself. Once it comes time for the actual procedure, relax. The worst is over. You're on the home stretch. Now comes the genuinely fun part. At least, that was my experience this time, which I wrote about on my other (more philosophical) blog.
As I was getting prepped for the colonoscopy, a nurse told me they were using propofol now. I could expect a much quicker recovery time, with few if any side effects. Once the propofol drip is stopped, the patient wakes up almost instantly.
The name of the drug sounded sort of familiar.
It should have, because this was one of the drugs that was being used by Michael Jackson when he died. It's white appearance leads it to be called "milk of amnesia" (for the benefit of some foreign blog readers, milk of magnesia is an over-the-counter drug commonly used in this country).
...After being wheeled across a hall into the endoscopy room, I was positioned on my side so I was facing a large monitor that soon would be showing my innards. The doctor would be looking at it as he performed the colonoscopy.
Some pleasantries were exchanged with the doctor and the nurses. Then the nurse anesthesiologist said she was starting to inject the propofol. For about fifteen seconds I felt completely normal. I was mildly concerned that the sedative wasn't working.
Next thing I knew, the nurse was telling me "We're all done."
My instant intuitive reaction was disappointment. I was disturbed to be back in everyday reality. It had been a lot more pleasant wherever I'd been, consciousness wise. I sort of felt like I'd jumped into ice water after basking on a warm beach.
Doing some Googling on propofol before writing this post, I learned this sort of reaction is why the drug is illicitly used non-medically.
There are reports of self-administration of propofol for recreational purposes. Short-term effects include mild euphoria, hallucinations, and disinhibition. Long-term use has been reported to result in addiction.
I felt completely alert and awake. The only side effect, so far as I could tell, was that feeling of I wish I could have stayed in that pleasant propofol place longer. My first words to the nurse were, "I had some nice dreams. Mostly of having a colonoscopy, but with absolutely no pain, as if it was happening to someone else."
I had a great time during the actual colonoscopy, mostly because I wasn't really there -- just a minimally aware blissed-out me was. Ask your colonoscopy provider if they use propofol as a sedative. And if not, why not? I liked it much better than what was used at my previous colonoscopy.
Bottom line: don't be afraid of getting a colonoscopy. As with most anxieties in life, our worries about what will happen almost always don't come to pass to the degree that we anticipate.
Some aspects of the procedure, like the sedative, may even make you say, give me more. So, enjoy, best you can.
And always keep in mind that no matter how unpleasant a colonoscopy procedure may be at times, it's a heck of a lot better than getting colon cancer.