“Hey Elaine! Tell us about your colonoscopy” encouraged absolutely nobody. But I’m going to tell you about it any way, because I’m good at oversharing like that, plus it’s one of the taboos surrounding bowel cancer that needs to be spoken about and demystified. I think the thought of having one of these beauties puts many people off getting checked out – it shouldn’t. I mean, if i can get my act together to go and have one, then anyone can. Honestly.
With a colonoscopy, one must start at the very beginning a couple of days before the procedure. You’ll be sent a recipe card for a low residue diet with such delights as tinned pears and white bread for a day, followed by clear broth and squash (not red) for another day. As a fantastic chaser to these culinary treats, you’ll have 2 litres (1 the night before, 1 in the morning) of Industrial Strength Laxative which tastes like a Harpic Margarita. Well meaning advice from the forums will tell you to drink it really cold… perhaps with some squash… through a straw… however it will still taste like tramp sock juice. Needs must though, as it’ll Really clear you out so the docs can get some lovely pictures of your insides, so bottoms up and get it down your neck. Now I realise I’m not painting a particularly pretty picture here, but this really is the worst bit, the rest is a doddle by comparison.
At this point, get your running shoes on, and do not leave the vacinity of the lav – you’re not going to be leaving the smallest room for some time. Take sudocreme, you’re welcome. You will be empty, I’ve never had a feeling quite like it. Totally drained, absolutely nothing left in your system what so ever. Nada. Emptier than a deflated balloon or Bojo’s cabinet.
The next morning, after prising your fingers from the bowl of the pan, and maybe getting a couple of minutes sleep, you’ll head to the hospital for the procedure. It’s a terrifying journey, your bowels are as empty as the loo roll isle during a covid pandemic panic buying spree, however the fear of letting loose over the upholstery in a relatively new car was real. We made it without incident although I was sat on eleventy billion towels just to be on the safe side. I also took a change of clothes, I looked like I was arriving for a mini break at a boutique hotel rather than to an appointment to have a camera inserted up where the sun don’t shine at the Heath. And yes, I waxed.
Upon check-in at the hospital I was ushered into an examination room to have a canular fitted, “Yes I would like a sedative, thank you” and was asked to change into a rather fetching pair of disposable navy blue Bermuda shorts with a flappy panel at the back for access, accessorised with 2 gowns, one on the front, one on the back. You might feel like a berk, to be honest, you look like one, but as you are escorted to the waiting area you realise everyone is in the same boat. The only thing that makes you look truely ridiculous is the footwear. This little ensemble is not accesorised well with high heels, Oxford brogues, or DMs. I took slippers (see above about mini break).
The actual colonoscopy then takes place, and please belive me when I say it’s not that bad. There are 4 people present. 2 nurses and 2 doctors. 1 nurse stays at the head end and looks after you, reassuring pats on the hand, asking you to move to one side or the other and is the loveliest person I’ve met. Everyone else is at the business end.
This is where the flappy panel in the shorts come into its own. Your derrier is modestly exposed and the camera is inserted. It doesn’t hurt and isn’t painful. They will pump your bowel with gas so they can have a good look around, to be honest this is uncomfortable, and the camera going around the bends isn’t the best, but not painful. The doctors will constantly monitor you and are looking out for your well being at all times. You can also see what the camera is doing on the screen so that offers a distraction, although it would have been more soothing with a David Attenborough narration. It was then at the age of 40, I got my first tattoo – on the inside! Kind of an ‘I was ‘ere’ by the doctor so they know which bit to chop out if you’re a candidate for surgery. As an aside, there are no nerve endings in the bowel, so there’s no pain when they do this. They can also remove polyps at this point too and do biopsies, all completely painless.
Now, this is the really hilarious bit, all that gas that’s gone in. Well, it’s gotta come out. I realised this when I tried to stand up. Oh my days I did the loudest longest fart I’ve ever done in my entire life, and it didn’t stop there. I should have worn roller skates, I could have propelled myself with wind power down the corridor. Every step was a new fart, I was so apologetic to the nurse, but she was brilliant and encouraged me to keep moving and let it all out. I carried on farting all the way to the recovery area and then the loo where I changed back into normal clothes. I farted intermittently and indiscriminately for the rest of the day too.
The nurse gave me the obligatory machine cuppa and a pack of biscuits (“I found the chocolate ones for you”) and called David, my husband, in to go through the results of the scan. They know pretty much straight away what’s what and while they don’t exactly use words of one syllable, they use straight forward language and make sure you understand the outcome and next steps.
Then you will have the best meal of your life. Mind you at this point I think I would have eaten the arse off a scabby horse, a couple of on date bourbon biscuits quite frankly did not cut the mustard. David understood the assignment and we had lunch by way of a Mcdonald’s on the way home followed by a Chinese take away for dinner – I didn’t say healthiest meal, but by gum it filled my tummy and had just the right amount of decadance to make the whole thing almost worth while.
And that’s it. If you’ve got this far, thank you for reading this and I hope the main thing you’ll take away is that if you have any change in your bowel habit or any other symptoms, go and get checked out, and go for the colonoscopy. They’re really not that bad.
Contributed by Elaine McCutcheon