My first colonoscopy: A tale of tiramisu and disappointment

Being a patient makes me a better doctor. But being a doctor does not make me a better patient.

For my 60th birthday, my family guilted me into booking a screening colonoscopy. My first, ever. Don’t judge me. Yes, I should’ve done it earlier, like when I was 45 as the guideline recommends. Because a colonoscopy is as much fun as filing back taxes, all I can say is – better late than never.

I picked colonoscopy instead of the easier annual stool cards, every-5-year sigmoidoscopy or colon scan, not for its excellent cancer detection rate but for its long interval between tests – 10 years.

Three months before the colonoscopy:

I called scheduling. The lady apologized that the next first-in-the-morning appointment was months away and scheduled it right after my birthday.

The next day, I picked up my gallon-jar bowel prep from the pharmacy and conveniently blocked it out of my mind.  

Two days before the colonoscopy:

First fall Sunday, it rained. I’d been getting emails from the hospital. There’s a video to watch. I was getting nervous about the procedure. Maybe it’s time I figured out what they wanted from me. I logged into MyChart. Then things got funny.

Apparently, the prep started a week ago. “Stop iron supplements,” the instruction said in a, I thought, rather snooty, unfriendly tone. Fine, I don’t take iron.

Then it said that three days before the test, “Stop eating corn, dried beans, tomatoes, nuts or seeds.” But that was all I ate yesterday. In my defense, corn was on sale, four for a dollar. I bought 16. Ate four all by myself. Then I had a stir-fry with peanuts, and a bean salad with tomatoes.

But nobody needs to know, right?

Instead, they wanted me to indulge a low-fiber diet. So I ate tiramisu and ice cream all day. One must do what one must do to be a good patient.

The day before the colonoscopy:

Today, a day of fasting except clear liquid.

As I looked at the humorless ginger ale forlornly, a friend’s helpful text cracked me up. “Hi, beer is considered a clear liquid.” (True, but alcohol can worsen dehydration. So … no.)

At 4 p.m., I started the bowel prep. I lined up eight cups of salt-gargle-tasting liquid, chucked one cup every 10 minutes, and finished in a little over an hour. The cold water made me shiver. In another hour, I was a toilet fixture. At 9 p.m., I started the process again.   

In retrospect, the worst part was being hungry. I distracted myself by watching TV. But commercials were pizza, cheese fries, burritos; I’d never noticed how much movie plots are moved along by meals and restaurant meetings. The leftover tiramisu in the refrigerator telepathed me.

The day of the colonoscopy:

Got there early. I thought I’d be the first, but there were people in the waiting room. The nurse took me in. We passed a full recovery room. I forgot how hard hospital staff work.

I entered a large room that soon filled with staff. A parade of doctors and nurses smiled, introduced themselves, all moving at dizzying speed. All I did was repeat my name and birthday. My biggest fear was the IV, and the nurse got it in seconds.

The young anesthesiologist, who was busy slapping monitors on me, said, “Happy birthday. This second drug might …”  And I was out.

My big disappointment:

I woke up in the recovery room. I had no pain, passed no gas (to minimize abdominal pain, they now use CO2, which is readily absorbed into the body). I felt, unfortunately, absolutely like myself. 

Now I’ll come clean with my biggest disappointment: I’ve been looking forward to my IV cocktail of fentanyl, Versed, and propofol for decades. I’ve been curious since I saw my taciturn husband coming out of his colonoscopy, chatting like a happy, carefree soul after a full-pardon confession. I wanted that. Except for some funky double vision, I felt nothing. Yup, I felt cheated.

Now, to my loving family, my birthday gift to y’all: Everything is normal.

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Volume 14, Issue 19, Posted 11:27 AM, 10.04.2022