By Steve Newton
Normally I just use this site to write about guitar-rock and horror movies and good stuff like that, but I recently had a colonoscopy, so figured I should write about that too, because, you know–what’s more hilarious than the thought of somebody pokin’ around in your butt, tryna see stuff?
And besides, it’s like a public service for all the other middle-aged music freaks out there who may be in line for a colonoscopy, and wondering what it’s like. Plus, I’m sure this story will be repeatedly quoted in all the most distinguished medical journals for eons to come, so there’s that.
It all started a few months ago when I was takin’ a crap–or “having a bowel movement”, as the hoity-toity types like to say–and I saw red. Literally. The toilet bowl was bright red, and that’s never a good thing. “ASS CANCER!” was the first thought that registered in that part of my brain formally known as the “medial neocortex chickenshit lobe”. I hightailed it to my doc, all the way thinking that my days were numbered, and worrying about all the Drive-By Truckers concerts I’ll never get to see.
Luckily, my doctor was not so convinced that “ASS CANCER!” was my problem, so he took a look and declared that it was just hemorrhoids. But to be on the safe side he lined me up to get a FIT, or Fecal Immunochemical Test. That’s when you visit the nearest medical lab and score yourself a handy-dandy little kit that includes a piece of paper to poop on (in the toilet) and a small plastic container with a lid that is also the little stick you poke your poop with to get a sample. You only need a tiny bit of poop–for some reason they don’t want a lot of your crap–and once you get it secured in the container you hightail it back to the lab and drop it off.
Either that or you have to refrigerate it, and the wife’s not big on me keeping poo next to the milk.
Then you wait two or three working days to hear from your doc about the results, listening to as many Drive-By Truckers albums as humanly possible because, hey–you never know.
They say that no news is good news, but I didn’t get no news. I got news in the form of a call from my doctor’s office asking me to come in because the test had come back positive for “fecal occult blood”. I wasn’t sure how they’d found out I was into Black Sabbath, but the doc told me I should get a colonoscopy to rule out the existence of any potentially cancerous growths, or polyps, up my ass.
I usually do what the doctor says–unless it has to do with exercising or cutting back on the Baileys in my morning coffee. So I drove out to Richmond to the offices of the guy who was gonna do the “procedure”, and they filled me in on what it was and how you’re supposed to prepare for it.
“A colonoscopy is a procedure that allows a doctor to examine the lining of your colon (large intestine) for ulcers, inflammation, polyps (small growths, usually benign [non-cancerous] or cancer,” reads the patient info sheet they gave me. “In order for your doctor see the colon lining clearly, your colon must be completely empty. To prepare for the procedure you will have to take a powerful laxative to clean the colon.”
Here’s the fun part.
First off, you gotta go the pharmacy and buy a Bi-PegLyte Bowel Prep Kit, which includes two packages of powdery, Tang-like stuff that you’ll mix with water and 3 Bisacodyl tablets. They also tell you that a low-fibre diet for three days before the colonoscopy will make the cleansing easier and more complete. “It is OK to avoid fruits and vegetables for 3 days prior to your colonoscopy,” said the info, and I had no big problem with that.
But one day before the colonoscopy you’re supposed to have a “clear fluid diet only”, which means you’re limited to “water, clear sports drinks (Gatorade/Powerade), light coffee or tea (no milk), clear juice or pop (e.g. apple juice or ginger ale).” So get ready to starve. The day before The Big Poke you also take the 3 laxative tablets at noon and the first 1-liter package of Bi-PegLyte mixture at 6 pm.
“If you enjoy cool beverages, try refrigerating the mixture prior to drinking,” reads Tip #1 in the handout, but I tell ya–it still tastes like crap. And you’ve gotta drink a glassful every 10 minutes until it’s finished. About this time you start to think that maybe owning a polyp or two wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Then a little while later you start shittin’ liquid like it was your first trip to Puerto Vallarta.
On the day of your colonoscopy, four hours before your appointment, you guzzle the second liter of Bi-PegLyte, and it doesn’t taste any better. But once that’s through your system, believe it or not, the worst is over.
When it’s time to actually head to the hospital for the colonoscopy–I had mine at Vancouver’s Mount Saint Joseph Hospital–don’t try driving yourself. “You must arrange for someone to take you to and from the appointment,” reads the info sheet in bold so you can’t miss it, “as you will be drowsy following the procedure.”
See what I mean about the worst being over? They ply you with sedatives to help you deal with the fact that there’s somebody pokin’ around in your butt, tryna see stuff.
“Many patients are uneasy about the procedure, so medications can be given through the intravenous to help you relax. You will not be asleep (like during surgery) but so relaxed that you might not remember the procedure.”
Before the buzz hits the brain, though, you’ve gotta check in at the hospital, and they want you there two hours before showtime, like it’s an international flight or something. A nurse takes your blood pressure and gives you a consent form to sign in case you don’t make it.
Just kidding, you’ll make it.
But there are risks, according to the literature.
“A colonoscopy is a safe procedure and has very low risk when performed by physicians who have been specially trained. However, possible complications are:
-Perforation (a tear) in the colon wall after the colonoscopy – about 1 in 1,500, or following removal of a polyp – about 1 in 500. It may require surgery to repair or be managed by antibiotics and intravenous fluids.
-Bleeding following a colonoscopy – about 1 in 2,000, following removal of a polyp – about 1 in 500.
-Allergic reactions to the intravenous medications (including rash, fever or breathing problems).
-A tender lump where the intravenous is placed in your arm may develop which may stay for up to several months but goes away. Apply heat packs or hot, moist towels to relieve the discomfort.
-Heart problems, or a stroke can occur in a patient with underlying medical problems, but are very rare.
-No test in medicine is perfect: rarely polyps and cancers are missed (2-6% missrate).”
(As you can see, the odds are in your favour that you’d survive a colonoscopy, so quit bein’ such a wuss about it.)
When the time came to actually have the damn thing they led me up to a room with a bed and gave me a hospital gown to put on and a couple of plastic bags to keep all my clothes and stuff in. Then I laid down and waited until a nurse came and tried to put a needle in my hand for the intravenous. Then tried again. And again. She couldn’t find a vein to her liking, and all my first-rate fist-clenching didn’t help a bit. She eventually gave up and went off to find someone else to do it, making me hope that whoever’s in charge later is a little more confident about where to poke.
When they finally got me rigged up with the intravenous it was time to get wheeled over to the room where they do the colonoscopies, and getting pushed down a hospital hallway in a bed is a weird feeling. It’s like you’re in a movie or something, but try not to think about Halloween II. They rolled me into a room where some swingin’ jazz was playing and right then I knew that the dude doing the procedure must be a pretty cool cat.
They stationed me next to a monitor and got me to lie on my side, and before long the doc showed up. He quickly went around behind me, though, so I wasn’t able to deliver one of those “Hey, no funny business” looks no doubt common to such predicaments. I did compliment him on his good taste in music, though, and he responded by penetrating my sphincter with something.
“A long flexible tube with a video camera is passed through the anus into the rectum and around the colon. The image of the lining of your colon is shown on a TV monitor in the same room so the doctor can look for causes of bleeding, polyps, any abnormalities or inflammation. If polyps are found, they are usually removed during this procedure. Very small tissue samples (biopsies) can be taken during the procedure if necessary.”
At first the discomfort was minimal. I didn’t feel much while I watched the procedure unfold on the monitor in front of me. It was kinda freaky to see the inside of my ass, and as the wee camera followed its circuitous route up my butt it seemed a bit like being an adventurous kid exploring a veiny, gelatinous cave or some weird shit. Speaking of shit, there appeared to be minor amounts of it here and there in the crevasses of that crazy-ass cave.
Guess I won’t be making it into the Bi-PegLyte Hall of Fame.
But while my colon may not have been immaculate–I stopped short of saying “Sweet-lookin’ tunnel, eh doc?”–I’ve definitely seen worse. I checked out some colonostomy videos on YouTube–including a nasty one where the patient totally botched the colon cleansing–and mine looked pretty impressive in comparison.
After a few minutes of lying there, painlessly taking in the sights, I started to experience some “discomfort”.
“It may be necessary for the doctor to add air into your colon to help with the examination. This may cause abdominal pressure or cramping, which will pass after your exam is finished.”
About this time I remember moaning now and again, and all the swingin’ jazz in the world wasn’t gonna soothe me. Maybe that’s when the doc decided, “Okay, I’ve heard quite enough from this joker,” and ramped up the sedative, because the next thing I knew I was back in the room I’d gotten changed in and my wife (the designated driver and bringer of support) was walking toward my bed.
I’d survived my first colonoscopy, and my butt didn’t even hurt. All praise the miracles of modern medicine!
A nurse left us a sheet of pink paper containing “post-operative information”, but of the six “discharge instructions” that were on there the one that really caught my eye was #5: “You may return to your usual diet for supper.”
Hell yeah! We made a beeline to the nearest coffee shop, where I hungrily devoured a turkey and cheese bun, not caring one lick about how it was gonna mess up my tidy colon.
Oh yeah. There was also a handwritten message at the bottom of the post-op info sheet, presumably scrawled by the doc, that read: “hemorrhoids only… no polyps”.
Hey, sorry if you’re not a fan of Hollywood endings.
PS: If you’re having a colonoscopy, good luck with it. I hope this blog doesn’t ruin it for ya.
P.S.S. I AM NOT A MEDICAL DOCTOR.