What to Expect When You Get a Colonoscopy
I have always heard about people having a colonoscopy, and I thought that had to be one of the most unpleasant things ever.
When my doctor told me that because of age, he was going to send me to have a screening colonoscopy done, I started to dread the idea. A local center advertises it on TV, and I swear every time it sounds like they are saying "screaming colonoscopy"! The whole idea sounds kind of demeaning and, above all, pretty painful. I mean, can you imagine what it would feel like to have that big scope shoved up your nether regions?
As it turns out, it's not quite as scary as you might think. This article will break down my experience with the procedure, including the preparation and after effects.
My Initial Appointment and Prescription
I was referred to the local hospital's digestive center, where they set me up with an appointment to see a doctor. When I went to that appointment, the doctor explained that I would need to take the day off before the procedure to prepare, and then also the day of the procedure.
He wrote me a prescription for the prep solution, which in my case was something called TriLyte. He also told me that there would be no discomfort associated with the procedure and that I should not be concerned about it. There was also a list of foods that should not be eaten the week before the procedure, such as foods with red, purple, or blue dye. I was also not allowed to take iron supplements or aspirin in the week prior.
Be Sure to Avoid Certain Foods and Supplements Beforehand, as Outlined by Your Doctor
Your doctor will likely provide a list of foods for you to avoid the week before the procedure. This may include foods with red, purple, or blue dye, as well as iron supplements or aspirin.
What My Preparation Day Was Like
My doctor said that I should not eat at any solid foods the day prior to the procedure, though other people said I could have some food in the morning prior. Obviously, follow your doctor's orders.
On the preparation day, you can drink things like:
- apple juice
- tea or coffee (honey, sugar, and sugar substitutes can be used, but no milk)
- Jell-O (no red or purple)
- diet soda
- popsicles (orange, lemon-lime)
- Gatorade (orange, lemon-lime)
- clear soup or broth
- white grape juice
- hard candy
My choices were apple juice and chicken broth.
At 2 pm that day, I started drinking the prep solution. In my case, the prep was a product called TriLyte, which is a gallon jug with some powder in it. It came with flavor packets: orange, pineapple, cherry, lemon lime, and citrus berry. A friend suggested that she found the orange most palatable, so I went with that. Once the solution is mixed up, you are to drink 8 ounces of the solution at timed intervals. This varies by your doctor's preference. My doctor suggested 8 ounces every 30 minutes until the jug was gone.
Many people call the taste of this product vile, but I was lucky that I was able to get it down without a problem. It helps if it is cold and you chase it immediately with something else. My choice was Diet Sprite.
I don't want to be too graphic about the results of drinking this product, but being within 10 steps of a toilet would be an excellent idea. It didn't hit me immediately, I think I was on my sixth glass of the stuff when I got results.
I was supposed to stop drinking anything at midnight, so I had my last Diet Sprite at 11:59 pm and headed for bed.
What the Day of the Colonoscopy Was Like
I got up at 5 am because the doctor wanted me to take my blood pressure medication at that time, with as little water as possible. After taking those, I went back to bed for another hour or so. My wife was going to drive me home. So at 6:45 am, I woke her and we trudged through the snow to our car. We arrived at the colonoscopy center, and they had several forms for us to read and sign. The receptionist offered my wife an iPod to use to pass the time.
My procedure was scheduled for 8:30 am, and a nurse came and got me at 7:45 or so took me back to my bed. There she gave me a gown, instructed me to strip naked except for socks, and get the gown on. Once I was gowned, she came back and had me lay down on the bed. She took my vitals and then inserted an IV. She explained that the anesthesiologist would use the IV to inject propofol to put me out, then inject something to bring me back when the procedure was over.
The doctor came to my bed and told me that they were ready to get started and wanted to know if I had any questions. After I said no, the anesthesiologist wheeled me into an operating room, and a nurse there asked me to roll onto my left side.
The anesthesiologist then took a syringe and told me she was ready to go. She injected the syringe into my IV port. In about 15 seconds, she asked me if I was groggy at all. I remember telling her no, then about 10 seconds later starting to say that it was working.
Next thing I remember, they told me that the procedure was done, and that they were taking me back to my room to recover. Once I got there, my wife was allowed back, and I was amazed at how alert I was. I didn't feel groggy at all.
The doctor came in and explained that they did find polyps and removed them, and that I would get a letter in a few weeks explaining the biopsy results and whether any further treatment was required.
They gave me the OK to get dressed. A nurse came in and reminded me that even though I felt fine, that I should not drive or do anything that required mental acuity, such as entering into legal agreements or purchases.
How I Felt After the Colonoscopy
My most pressing feeling was that of hunger. We left the clinic and ate immediately.
My only real after effect from the procedure is that I am just a tiny bit tender in part of my belly. I suspect that could be from the area where they removed the polyps, but I have no way of knowing if I am right.
The biggest feeling after the whole thing was how easy it was.
My Test Results and What They Meant
I got the results of my polyps biopsy, and it turns out that they were not malignant, but they were not benign either. They showed to be precancerous, so I guess what happens from here is I will have another colonoscopy at times set by my doctor.
The only big problem with that is my insurance will only pay for this procedure every 10 years.
Check With Your Insurance to Figure Out Your Options
My insurance was initially only willing to pay for colonoscopies every 10 years. But luckily, they changed that policy to once every five years, or whenever blood tests indicate an imminent necessity. So be sure to check with your insurance provider to see what your options are.
My Feelings About the Colonoscopy Process After a Few Years
In the time since I had this initial colonoscopy, my insurance company has adjusted their guidelines and now they will pay every five years—or if other tests determine that a colonoscopy is indicated. Four years after my initial colonoscopy, my annual blood tests indicated that another colonoscopy was needed.
My only real comment about this is that the solution the doctor prescribed to clean me out was not as harsh as the first go-around, and there were other options I was allowed to consume during prep. Yes, all were liquid based, but it seemed like preparation was not as restrictive as the first time around.
I had more precancerous polyps removed, and my current blood tests are trending towards having to repeat the colonoscopy this winter.
Did this article answer your questions about having a colonoscopy?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2009 Mitch Bolen