Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Parking at rear ...

"Where would you like to go?" I was asked, as I curled into the foetal position.

"Samoa," I said, without hesitation.

"Wow, you've got a destination ready," my anaesthetist said.

"Okay, well I'm going to give you a nice little cocktail that is going to take you to Samoa. You're relaxing by the pool, watching the sunset, and ..."

With that, I drifted off.

Sadly, it wasn't really off to a tropical beach in Samoa, but a twilight sedation on a theatre bed in a day hospital in Brisbane, where I was having a colonoscopy.

Anyone who has not had a colonoscopy are fascinated by the things. And I've been bombarded with questions from friends, family and colleagues, in 'real life' and online.

What's it really like? Does it hurt? Do you poo yourself on the way to the hospital?

Oh yes, dear reader, I've been asked them all.

So in the interests of public health, I'm going to share my experience. Please click away if you're not keen on overshares.

I'm not going to go into the boring, but necessary, medical ins and outs (ahem), of a colonoscopy. That's easy enough to learn from your GP and/or specialist, or via the magic of google.

What you want to know is what it is really like.

Well, I'll be honest: It is gross.

But the alternative - bowel cancer or some other nasty disease - is far worse. Which makes the discomfort and occasional pain of a colonoscopy nothing compared to NOT having one, and perhaps being diagnosed too late.

And trust me: I have experienced loved ones dying, painfully and quickly, from bowel cancer.

Happily, I have seen loved ones are still alive and healthy because colonoscopies have discovered their conditions early.

Sadly, I have friends who were diagnosed via colonosopy but are still fighting this insidious, nasty, shitty disease. (Pun totally intended).

So every single moment attached to the toilet, fighting the urge to throw up, or the indignity of presenting your barely-draped arse to a specialist so that he can insert a tiny camera into it, is totally worth it!

But still. I can think of a million things I would rather do.

This was my second colonoscopy. The first was a 40th birthday present of sorts, mainly because bowel disease runs in my family. I'd developed a few #OVERSHARE ALERT# haemmorroids while pushing out two human beings  a few years earlier.

Mostly they settled down, but occasionally flared up. That, and the incidence of bowel disease in my family - and the experience of a very dear friend whose life was saved when a colonoscopy found a tumour - led me to have the procedure, kind of like an insurance policy.

It was yucky, but fine. No nasties were found and I was sent home to sleep it off. I was up and preparing dinner for the kids that same evening.

And I forgot all about it until a few weeks ago, when I started exhibiting a few of the obvious symptoms of bowel cancer.

Bleeding, not just a little, but a lot. (#OVERSHARE# Yes, when pooing). Plus, there was constant stomach pain, numerous tummy upsets, urgency, diarrhoea, change of bowel habits, the lot.

But the bleeding. Hell, the bleeding. That scared the crap out of me. (Literally. Sorry).

There were other symptoms too, that didn't necessarily mix with the bowel stuff. Really high blood pressure. Really high pulse rate. Vertigo and dizziness. Headaches. And my blood tests were not great.

So a colonoscopy, as well as a raft of other tests (brain scan anyone?), were ordered.

The test I feared the most was the colonoscopy.

There are all sorts of ways and places to have one, but I go to a no-frills place that just does gastro things. So they are experts at it.

They also charge a minimum - mine was $140 out of pocket after private health cover - and you're in and out in a few hours. Unless there are complications obviously.

A few days before C-Day, you go in and have a chat to a nurse who takes your history and makes sure you know what's going on.

You agree to go on a horrid low fibre diet, which is the opposite of the way we're taught to eat. White bread only. Stewed fruit. No grains. None of the good stuff.

You take home a couple of bottles of the Devil's Own Armpit Sweat Fleet preparation, which you must start to drink the night before the procedure.  The idea of this is to clean out your bowel and stomach so the specialist can see clearly inside it. Right to the end.

(Unfortunately, the day before the colonoscopy I was helping out at the school fete. Oh, how hard it was to ignore the delights of the Samoan food stall, and the Asian noodles and spring rolls.)

And then, to go home exhausted, knowing I had to drink the yucky Fleet solution.

It's supposed to taste like ginger apple, but it tasted like sweaty armpits. (Do not ask how I know this, I just do).

You mix it with your choice of 'clear fluid'. Clear fluid means un-pithy juice, soft drink, tea, water.

I chose diet ginger ale.

On this occasion, I had to drink the devil's brew in half an hour, than follow through with a few other glasses of more clear fluid.

I started the night before at the time I'd been instructed to drink it. (Actually I started 15 minutes earlier, because I knew I'd have problems).

I gagged immediately. I tried to take my mind off it by watching Dancing With The Stars and tweeting. But it was really difficult. I swallowed again. And then the chills started.

Within about 20 minutes I was perched on the loo, doubled up with tummy pains and well #OVERSHARE ALERT# the worst, most violent, diarrheoa you could imagine.

Eventually, I felt too ill for even telly and tweeting, so I turned off the computer and TV and concentrated at the task at hand, before falling into a fitful sleep.

My alarm rang at 3.15 am - I'd been told to set it for 3.30 am, but again, I knew I'd need a bit more time. This time it was even harder to drink the solution. I was shaky and I began to throw up a little in my mouth. Yes, whilst attached to the loo.

It took all my Mindfulness training and breathing not to throw up. (If you throw up the solution, you generally have to go in and be assessed, and quite possibly, get sent home and made to do it again. I really didn't want to go through all this again. Thankfully, I did not throw it all up.).

I crawled back to bed again, dying for a drink of water or tea - but I was now Nil By Mouth - before getting up a bit later for a shower.

I dressed in loose clothes as instructed - leggings and a comfy top - and tried desperately to ignore my need for tea or water. Anything.  My mouth was so dry I moistened it with ice a few times, hoping it wasn't against the rules.

You're not allowed to drive yourself into the day surgery hospital, so my lovely sister-in-law arrived to take me in.

I was worried about pooing on the way to the hospital - we'd joked about me getting adult nappies - but the solution and the timing seems to have been refined so that by the time you're in the car, you don't need to poo anymore.

I didn't even need to go when we got to the hospital. (Which was great, because if you go, you're not allowed to flush and have to fetch a nurse to look at your poo to make sure it's watery enough. Cringe).

My doctor was a nice man, and my anaesthetist a friendly woman. I knew I'd be under twilight sedation, but because of my anxiety, I asked her to promise I wouldn't wake up or be aware of what was happening at any time. She reassured me: I would know nothing.

Then I was wheeled into theatre, draped with a sheet and asked to pull my knickers down to my knees. Then I told to put my knees up to my chest, presenting my bare butt to the doctor. (It was loosely covered with the sheet.)

And then the anesthetist sent me to Samoa.

Except that the next thing I knew I was in agony, experiencing the worst bloating and pain since giving birth. I screamed and moaned, and the anaesthetist quickly gave me more drugs.

And then a smily nurse was waking me up. My butt and tummy really hurt. One of the recovery nurses said she'd get me a hot water bottle, but was too busy and forgot. I think she gave me some pain relief.

Recovery was over-run, so we were encouraged to get up as soon as we could. I didn't really feel up to it, but I was dying for a drink, so eventually I pulled up my knickers and shakily got to my feet.

A nice nurse held my hand and walked me into a sitting room. There, I was given the best cup of tea I'd ever had in my life. Seriously, I could have drunk endless pots of it. Plus some crackers and cheese. My first proper food in ages.

The specialist told me everything had gone well, and he'd had to tie up a few internal haemmorroids (who knew?) and remove a couple of polyps that had probably caused the bleeding.

He was surprised I remembered waking up: 'You needed a lot of medicine,' he said, putting it down to my body's resistence due to the crapload of stuff I take for depression, anxiety, ankylosing spondylitis and fibromyalgia. (Which thankfully, I've managed to recently cut back quite a lot, under medical supervision of course.).

You'll be pleased to know the doctor said my preparation was 'excellant'. (I always was a swot).

I was sent home with a prescription for pain relief and steroid suppositories. I know! And we had to go to three pharmacies before we found one which stocked them.

I was feeling sleepy by then, so sis-in-law drove me back to her place, gave me another cup of tea, and put me to bed in her lovely spare room. Complete with clean flanelette sheets.

My sis-in-law and brother both wanted me to stay for dinner or even overnight, but I was ready for pain relief, which I knew would make me sleepy, and I was thinking about the pets.

I slept surprisingly that night, though days later, I'm still not fully recovered. (Unlike last time, where I was back to normal the very next day).

Possibly that's because my insides have been poked and prodded, and I was a little freaked out by waking up during the procedure.

I'm tired, possibly because of the extra drugs I required. (They take a while to move through your system.) And when I move, my tummy feels like there are shards of glass in there.

Housework and other chores have been ignored, and I've spent the past two days propped up - or planking - in bed.

Where are the kids, you ask? Now that I'm a single Mum, I scheduled the colonoscopy for a week when they were with their Dad.

Which means I've been able to take it easy, and will hopefully be fully recovered by the time they get back.

The main thing is I'm cancer- free! And the bleeding should be well and truly over in a couple of days.

So would I want to have a colonoscopy again? No! But I'll have to - probably in two to three years, depending on my health.

And will I go through it all again? Totally.

Colonoscopies? Because we're worth it!

The kids came with me to pick up my prep, and thought the sign was hilarious.

I so didn't go here ... And the doctor could have totally have bought me a drink first!


Fox in the City said...

Well now, that all sounds rather unpleasant. However, the thing with being an adult is sometimes we have to do unpleasant things because they are the best thing for us.

Good to know that you are slowly recovering and hopefully by the time you read this you are feeling even better.

As for Samoa, I am so there with you. One day, one day I will be able to see Margaret Meads words in reality . . . okay, maybe not but I will be able to see Samoa!

Nikki @ Styling You said...

Oh Bron, what an ordeal?! Needed to be done but hope you bounce back soon.

Ms_MotorbikeNut said...

It's worth getting it done, hope you get better soon.

(((( Hugs )))) XXXX Kisses XXXX

Rebekah said...

Far out sounds pretty traumatic :(
I've been told I need to get one to rule out IBS but now I'm petrified at the thought. I have to have spinal surgery later this year and I think the colonoscopy is scarier lol.
I hope you're feeling better soon x

Mrs Woog said...

Great post Bron. Was mesmerized. So honest. You SIL sounds like a freaking legend. Glad you gotbthe all clear xx

vegemitevix said...

Kudos to you my friend, you see you've gone where I haven't been able to. The night before I got married I filled the toilet bowl with blood. I continued to bleed, badly on and off for the next month or so (a period of time that also included an appearance at the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal). I was terrified to have the colonoscopy but like you, not having it was not an option! Unlike you I've never been able to share this part of my story.. until now. Why? Embarrassment mainly, yet it was such a painful scary thing I wish I'd been brave and shared, as you've done. After all, I've no doubt your post has raised the issue and helped avert tragic consequences.

LIfe In A Pink Fibro said...

Wow. My mum had one of these recently. When I asked how it was she said "awful". But now I have more insight. Thanks!

Lady Estrogen said...

Parking at rear, indeed! I also think it'd be good if there was an "Exit Only" sign somewhere around there.

That was just not pleasant, in the damn slightest! ;(

Be A Fun Mum said...

My husband does these most days...and while he is a very nice man and lovely to patients, I should get him to read's always good to be reminded that patients are individual people. Sorry for such a crap (no pun intended) day. I'm happy for the good outcome, and I'm reminded that I'm overdue for a papsmear (overshare) and feel prompted to get it done--it's worth it--true.

Katherine said...

Hi Bron, I feel your pain! but not literally -- I had a colonoscopy back in March after some bleeding. The drink is indeed awful but my experience in day surgery was good until I woke up in recovery to hear them making me an appointment for an urgent CT scan. They'd found a THING and didn't know what it was, even after biopsy. Long story short, I had surgery a month later to remove a section of bowel plus lymph nodes in case it was cancer. Fortunately it wasn't! (It was endometriosis, which I never knew I had.) But those days of not knowing put the embarrassment and discomfort and the taste of that drink into complete perspective. I tell everyone who's curious whatever details they want to hear because this subject needs to be discussed more and people need not be afraid or embarrassed, and as you say, getting this done might just save your life.

Wanderlust said...

Ah, the joy of colonoscopies. Good on you for spelling it out. I did a similar post last year, but skipped the gory bits and focused on the jello (and posed in the Aussie flag). My mom died of cancer that began in her intestinal tract, so I get it. xx

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Wow that is very full on. My father has had them and he didn't want to talk about it at all (and honestly we probably didn't want to hear about it when we were teens). LOL I love how you've put these into the "poo" "overshares" and "Samoa" categories. Here's hoping someone whisks you to the real Samoa!

Pauline said...

I admire your courage, both in fronting up for that horrible procedure and then sharing your experience. Hope the 'real' visit to Samoa is longer and more enjoyable than that one.

Anonymous said...

You're a fine woman. I'm dreading the day I have to have one, but I will be brave. And also ask for lots of drugs. Hope you're right as rain now x

Unknown said...

Thank you all for your lovely comments. It's a bit of an overshare, but it is something that most people will need to have done at some stage or another. I wanted to share my experience warts, or should that be, piles and all!
I hope I haven't put anyone off, because if you have symptoms or a family history, this procedure could save your life. xo

Marita said...

Oh that first cup of tea post colonscopy is divine.

I had my first coloscopy when I was 17yo - to diagnose crohns disease.

Since then I've had roughly 6 or 7 more.

Once I was even offered partial sedation so I could watch the procedure. Ahhh no thanks.

Unknown said...

It sounds like such a horrible experience all round. Ugh.

But SOOOO happy to hear the good news - I'll bet you're relieved!!

Btw, since we're on the subject of health, Paul says you should probably follow up your gynae thing - just to check it out & make sure, that's all.


NessaKnits said...

I've had two colonoscopies and by far the worst for me was the one that used the mentioned solution. The second used another form of magnesium citrate without pretend sugars. I have a family history of bowel cancer (paternal uncle died at 40), and I dread my next colonoscopy. Get your kidney function checked before you indulge in colonoscopies, because the solutions can wreck havock with them.

NessaKnits said...

Oh and in my family, we refer to having colonoscopies as "having the rake". Fitting, huh? Family members who have had it include my sister, two brothers, 2 paternal aunts and father. Fun in our family ...

JennieT said...

I'm going in for my first colonoscopy this week and came across your blog while searching for info about it - and just wanted to say THANK YOU! This is exactly what I needed to know and although I'm still not looking forward to it, you managed to put it in such a perspective that makes it seem less daunting and even a bit funny! Loved reading that and am feeling prepared now (well, kind of!). I'll definitely be following your blog from now on :)

Unknown said...

This post came up in my memories today and I have had a few more since then. It is still gross but the have refined it even more so you don't have to drink quite so much solution, or wait quite so long. And I've never woken up during a procedure since! (They write me down as needing a little more anaesthetic!). The doctor usually finds a few polyps which are removed but could become cancerous if left - so it's such a life-saving procedure and worth the inconvenience and discomfort. I didn't mean to put anyone off by writing the post, just to be honest because people ALWAYS want to know what it is like!