My First Colonoscopy

It sounds like baby’s first Christmas but way less cute. November 2019 marks one year since my first colonoscopy and consequent diagnosis with Crohn’s Disease.

In honour of this momentous occasion, I have dug up and published the notes I made on my experience. Whether it will actually reassure anyone preparing for their first colonoscopy, I’m unsure, but please feel free to reach out with any questions on parts I didn’t cover. I’m no expert, but happy to help if I can.

 

‘What’s your threshold for bad jokes?’, he asked as he pushed the camera up my rectum.

I know what you’re thinking – I’ve thought the same thing. Moonlighting as an erotic writer à la Anäis Nin would be a marvellous use of my time and talent. For now though, let’s stick to the question at hand – how do I survive my first colonoscopy?

This guide is for the tentative and nervous. I suffer from OCD which means that my desire to become an expert in any experience BEFORE actually experiencing it (or in case I ever experience it? Oh gosh, I don’t have time to sleep(!!)) is very strong – obsessive if you will.

I read at least the first 5 pages of Google multiple times in the lead-up to my butt photoshoot (my cute nickname for a colonoscopy). Here is a round-up of everything I learned, what actually happened and how to calm down if you’re agonising about an imminent butt photoshoot, too.

Preparation

Depending on the extent of your examination, you might be asked to fast and take a strong laxative, or fasting followed by a pre-examination enema at the hospital may suffice. I’m not a doctor or anything – I just talk to a lot of people about colonoscopies and this is how it seems to go down in my limited experience.

I found the 1.5 days of prep way worse than the actual 30 minute procedure. For some people this will be reassuring… for others perhaps not.

I like my food, I get hangry within a few hours of not eating and I have anaemia, vitamin D and folate deficiency which all contribute to making me pretty tired when I haven’t eaten.

Chances are you may be experiencing similar deficiencies if you’ve made it to the colonoscopy stage and they are trying to figure out why your body can’t absorb certain things.

My procedure was scheduled for 5.15pm and I had to stop eating at 1pm the previous day. They also recommended that I eat a low fibre diet in the days leading up to the procedure but I really struggled with this – I always thought brown, whole-wheat food was best and I love lentils, low fibre wasn’t in my vocab at this point.

After a sad final supper of leftover veggie lasagne (avoiding the lentils) in a Tupperware on my desk, the fasting began. I had a good moan, got plenty of sympathy, all was well. That evening was when the fun really started – it was time to take my first dose of super-laxative movicol.

I didn’t realise how much I was going to hate the taste of movicol. I had a good catch up with my beloved 80yr old granny (miss you, granny G)  a few days later and she confirmed that yes, movicol is the worst tasting thing ever and it isn’t just me.

It is a vaguely lemon-flavoured salty liquid that you have to drink a litre at a time, over a period of an hour or so. I mixed mine up in a measuring jug, added ice and left it in the fridge. In hindsight, I won’t bother with the ice next time. It’s odd, but it’s slightly less horrible lukewarm – makes it easier to chug when you’re literally holding your nose to get it down.

With plenty of complaining and a hot water bottle, I settled in to drink, and waited for the show to start.

I was expecting Bridesmaids. You know that scene where one’s shitting in the street, two in the toilet, one in the sink? I thought that would be my life but I waited, my stomach gurgled a bit, I needed to wee a lot… and nothing happened.

The weird thing was that this lack of poop was way more disconcerting than if it had been just like Bridesmaids. By the time I went to bed 2 litres down, I was imagining horrific things happening in my body because I hadn’t pooped.

The next morning I went (and went and went) and it was all fine so if this happens to you, try not to worry.

The Day of the Colonoscopy

I had planned to work from home the day of the colonoscopy but I felt completely drained. In hindsight this makes sense when you are empty apart from strong laxatives, but I hadn’t anticipated this. I ended up changing it to a sick day and tried to watch TV to distract myself from the fatigue.

By the time I got to the hospital I was ten minutes late and hysterical. I’d accidentally ordered the taxi to the wrong place and had power walked half a mile to get there – this combined with the hangriness and the prospect of a tube up my bum did it.

Once I had stopped awkwardly sobbing, I changed into my gown and fashionable paper pants and waited.

When my consultant turned up so I could sign a document explaining that I understand that I might die (tiny chances, but still gotta sign) I wasted no time in blurting out that I was unexpectedly on my period and wearing a mooncup and would that be alright? My (male) consultant looked bemused.

 

Consultant – A mooncup? I have never heard of that in my life.

Me – omg they’re amazing, so much less wasteful than tampons and you can actually measure your blood loss if you’re into that kind of thing?

Consultant – … is it  … in your rectum??

Me – no, it’s in the other hole. 

Consultant – I’ll let the nurses know, maybe they know what it is. But your menstruation shouldn’t affect the procedure at all.

Me – Sweet, I was just worried in case I accidentally bled everywhere

Consultant – (smiling awkwardly) okay well, see you in there! 

 

There is always an odd moment pre-op where, despite walking independently into your ward, you have to be wheeled out to go to surgery in a robe and blanket and you sit there thinking oh gosh, this is it, and I’ll never be the same again. I think it’s nerves. But I still always remember it.

I needed a sedative for the procedure – not general anaesthetic but enough to relax me for, well, you know.

Even after multiple day visits, a stay in a high dependency ward and more blood tests than I care to count, I still panic and collapse at the prospect of a needle. I’ve given up resisting and now I just explain that I will need to lie down, I’ll probably start shaking, and I’ll try and keep my hand/arm as still as possible for the canula.

Administration is never fun, but the doctor said ‘here’s one g&t, and here’s the 10th’ as the chemicals entered my bloodstream and it made me giggle stupidly because it did feel just like going from 0 to smashed in ten seconds. I was awake and aware – I can remember the procedure, but as though I was detached from my body and perhaps dreaming. I don’t remember pain.

In the room were my consultant (male) and two surgical nurses (female). I wore an oxygen mask and could see the screen soon to project mysterious images of my innards. I was definitely too drunk to worry too much any more.

I had to lie on my side to get the tube up there, but by this point I was just feeling too chilled out to care. It felt weird, don’t get me wrong, but kind of like the weird when it’s 3am and you’re in a shit club but you’re actually kind of enjoying it all despite yourself? Maybe it was the nurses being so kind to me, maybe it was the realisation that I would be able to eat again so soon. I was quite content to just lie there and gaze stupidly at the weird pink and yellow blobs of my large intestine dancing on a hi res screen.

Impossible lengths of camera tube later, I was lying on my back and one of the nurses was literally pushing on my stomach to help the tubing ‘make the bend’ in my colon and as gross as this is, imagining my insides as a bizarre grand prix racetrack was also making me snort into the oxygen mask.

‘This looks interesting, perhaps it was worth doing this after all’, said the consultant.

I assume that he thought I wasn’t paying any attention to him, I was probably making car noises, but I was listening.

‘We’ll take photos of these sections, it looks like Crohn’s’

and a distant corner of my brain knew that I knew that word and it meant something other than tiny imaginary racecars in my ascending colon. Glasses-less, my vision was poor and I squinted at the white, paving-stone-like texture adorning the pink flesh where my large and small intestines meet.

‘I’m taking biopsies, you’re going to see a bit of blood but it’s actually tiny, the camera is zoomed in lots and you don’t have pain receptors in your intestines so you won’t feel it’.

I watched in horror and fascination as a little metal arm protruded from behind the camera line of vision, and punched me in the actual guts. I felt a tiny nudge deep inside to correspond, but no pain, despite the flowering blood cloud filling the screen. I felt like a total badass but also uncomfortable about the whole punched in the gut thing. I tried to think about being drunk again.

Multiple tiny punches were made on the return journey, and with dazzling speed (or maybe that was a trick of the sedative) the tube was extracted from my rectum with no embarrassing noises, nor did I shit myself. All in all, I felt like I had done rather well.

I think I managed a 30 second nap on the way back to my room but was awoken by a halloumi salad and my concerned-looking boyfriend.

I had survived my first colonoscopy!

If you’re preparing for your first, or just haven’t had one in a while and have been researching preparation techniques, I suppose my tips would be as follows:

  • If you can take a little time off work around the procedure, then do so. I totally underestimated how exhausted I would be on the day of the op after fasting and laxatives, so even if, like me, your procedure is quite late in the day, you probably won’t be fit to do much apart from lie around the place. By the next day I felt reasonably okay, back to my ‘normal’ tiredness and toilet problem levels!
  • Bring your own slippers and gown to the hospital, and perhaps a good mag or a book. You might find that procedures are delayed and it’s nice to have something to take your mind off things, and to have a little comfort waiting for you.
  • Get someone to meet you and help you home afterwards. The anaesthetic might take a few hours to wear off, so the hospital might not even let you leave by yourself if you’re still woozy.
  • Best of luck! It’s scary and uncomfortable but you will be okay. I hope you get the support and answers that you need and deserve x