• author
    • Maya Spier Stiles North

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • August 30, 2014 in Columnists

    Adventures in colonoscopyland

    Could you write a note to my wife telling her that my head is not up there?
    Actual quote from an unnamed colonoscopy patient

    It happens every day. Your doctor finally badgers you into remembering that yucky stool sample (oh, the indignity!) and so you do the dirty, stinky deed, pop the little swabby sticky sample thingy into its container, seal it into the envelope and off it goes – sending off a clue to your potential fate that leaves you with a little niggle in the back of your mind of what if it’s positive?

    But it never has been before. Always healthy. You ask yourself if you have ever felt some sort of premonition about your colon and no, actually, you never have. Other things, yeah, like blood sugar and the time it wasn’t a cold but it was pneumonia that knocked you down for two weeks – but not this.

    So you wait and because this is an HMO that sends out email notifications that you have mail on their patient portal online, you keep an eye out. When it arrives, you race to the website and seek your answer.

    Positive for occult blood.

    What? What? What? But – what?

    So, being the knowledgeable and proactive person you are, you get in touch and the colonoscopy is arranged. You don’t know much about it except you remember moaning heaps of patients from ten years ago, when you had your carpal tunnel fixed, in the same recovery room. Whatever had happened to them must’ve really hurt. You ask and are told, “they had colonoscopies.”

    All of them? Dear mercy. And they were moaning.

    So now you’re fretting. You’re fretting because this is someone sticking something up your tush and wending its way through avenues not meant for navigation. You’re fretting because you’ve been hearing rumors about the prep, generally accompanied by shudders.

    More than that, you’re grieving in advance. You know better, but still, you are. You think about telling your family – you are your ailing father’s last surviving child, your daughter’s main parent, your granddaughter’s main grandparent. You are the love of your spouse’s life and the reason for his easy joy. You think about leaving them forever and the liquid sadness rises and brims up and over and down your cheeks without warning. You think about what it is to be one moment and then, a breath later, to be nothing at all. Or something beyond your current comprehension. Or whatever. You have ideas about that, but you can’t actually prove them.

    You find that sad movies, touching moments with rescued pets and pictures of new babies make you burst into tears far more than they usually do, and you are a weeper.

    A month and a half after they find the blood, the week of the colonoscopy arrives. You have had many emails from the gastroenterology center, complete with instructions. You have the enormous jug with a little powder at the bottom and the two tiny pills. You have stared at them in between reading the prep instructions obsessively.

    The procedure is scheduled for a Friday. Wednesday, you consume only yogurt and lattes – this is not suffering. You love yogurt and lattes. Thursday – clear liquids only. Surprisingly, you are not hungry. Nine in the morning, you mix up the solution with the included flavor packet and three additional packets of Crystal Light lemon flavor. You have been advised to chill this stuff thoroughly and drink it with a straw.

    At noon, you pop the two tiny pills. They are laxatives. Oh boy. You are home from work, but actually probably could have gone in. You thought the pills were going to give you extreme gastrointestinal action, but actually, no. You do expel a larger than average amount of bodily waste, though.

    Six o’clock in the evening – that’s when the real ordeal begins. You retrieve the enormous jug of faintly yellowish liquid and eye it balefully. You have your cell phone, your Kindle Paperwhite, a cup of flavored water and a smaller cup with a straw.

    You pour.

    Think slightly sweet, oddly salty, somewhat viscous lemonade with an entirely unidentifiable undertaste. You woman up and drink. It’s only eight ounces. You can do this. You get it down, then gratefully guzzle some flavored water.

    Eight of these. You must drink eight. Six-thirty p.m. – another one. Seven p.m. – you close your eyes and gird your loins.

    You emit more former food. Seven-thirty – another one. You’re getting used to the taste. How????

    Eight o’clock and it’s getting dark outside. You are realizing that even padded toilet seats were not designed for hours of comfortable seating. It’s begun to be painful. You stand up, peeling the tender flesh of your tush and the backs of your legs from the plastic seat which is now clinging to you lovingly. Your screams of agony are not discreet. As you stand, you hear a gurgle.

    Suddenly, the routine changes. It’s not merely wait half an hour and imbibe another eight ounces. It’s imbibe, gurgle and – there is no tasteful way to describe this – expel pure liquid which, for some reason, you can tell is the same slimy texture as it was going down the hatch.

    Eight-thirty. Drink. Squirt. Stand up again and scream in pain as your tush and thighs are separated from what they are now convinced was an attached part of your body. Fill your drinking water cup again. Ease your now-shaky self back onto the throne.

    Nine o’clock comes and goes. You are beginning to see the light at the end of this tunnel – so to speak..

    And then it’s 9:30. The eighth glass. You are free of this tyranny until three the following morning. You drink. You sigh. You stare balefully at the jug again. The level has gone down considerably but it’s not done. Dear heaven.

    You’re freezing, too. Your doggies come visit, inviting you to exit the porcelain throne room and cuddle and play, then tear away grinning while you sit there, by now literally glued to the toilet seat. Five minutes pass.

    Ten minutes.

    Twenty and no further blasts. You stagger into the shower, praying that the bathroom carpet will be safe from you and stand in the warm water, moaning softly at how good it feels after being so damned cold for so many hours. Your thighs and tush are no longer on speaking terms with the rest of you.

    Three in the morning. You stagger back to the bathroom where the rest of your jug of slimy, salty, lemon goo lurks in wait for you. You are assuming that your body will behave just as it did before and allow you a few more hours of sleep. Muwahahahaha…

    Five in the morning. You have endured the last drop of the slime. You have expelled. You have taken another shower. You lie down on your puppy pee pad (they have so many uses). Sudden moment of horror. You get up quickly and dash for the bathroom, holding the puppy pad in front and back like a diaper. You dispose of that one, get two more, lie down again. Yet another moment of horror. You get up, holding the puppy pad as you dash again.

    You give up on sleep, put a new puppy pad on your chair and surf the web.

    Seven in the morning. The light has crept up on you. You’re freezing cold and miserable, but, surprisingly, nothing hurts. You think you’re safe. You’re safe as you get ready. You’re safe going down the stairs and outside.

    For a moment, you savor the feeling of the sun on your face and on the so-cold back of your neck. You smell the early-morning-late-summer gone-camping smell of the new day, absorb the sun’s rainbow shimmer on the threads of web that make up the spider highway in the grass. Today you will learn if you are healthy or if you will be fighting for your life – or if you’ll be gone by the holidays.

    You are safe the entire time you’re in the car, driving there. Hubby is pure sweetness; he’s scared for you and of losing you.

    You’re safe walking in the door. You’re safe walking past the bathrooms. Then, right as you get up to the desk – blast. Down your leg. You ask yourself why oh why you didn’t invest in a supply of Depends. You inform the sweet young man at the desk that you are in trouble. A kindly male LPN comes out with a Depends. You thank him for the diaper. He replies that it’s a Depends. Nope. It’s a diaper. You go into the bathroom and put it on, right after rinsing out your pants thoroughly.

    You subsequently require a second Depends. The kindly LPN, David, tells you he will try to get you in soon, but the scrubs he hopes he can lend you for going home only come up to a size medium and you wear an XL. You will be wearing your rinsed-out pants home.

    They take you back and offer you a third Depends. You accept it gratefully.

    And then it’s motion, smooth procedure. They’ve done this thousands of times and they have it down to a symphony. What’s your name and your date of birth and this will sting and yes you can bend your arm there’s no needle in there and you are wheeled into a dark room and they ask you the same questions all over again and they put stuff into your IV and… you… stop… shaking. Your… pulse… slows… down… and… your… blood… pressure… goes… down… and…

    You’re floating there, watching your nice, healthy pink colon with its loops and narrow and wide places – up up up inside and then down down down back and ooh, is that what I think it is? Yes, you’re done. No cancer. Not even a polyp. A hemorrhoid – okay, that’s manageable.

    Then you’re wafting off to another curtained cubicle where you are abjured to get dressed and oh-do-be-careful-you’re-still-awfully-stoned-there, ma’am. You’re walked out to the waiting room with the nice nurse keeping you balanced and handed off to your husband.

    And yes, we went to iHop against orders (I was careful what I ordered and blotted off any grease) and my body handled it just fine, thank you. And I slept in my chair in the middle of writing this and while watching Big Brother with hubby (with a chihuahua in my oversized sports bra, snoozing as blissfully as I was).

    Now, to you, a good night. You survived. You got through it. You’re healthy. Please accept that you will need to get one done by at least age 50, or if they find blood, or if you have that hinky feeling. It saves lives, this thing, and it’s relatively cheap for your insurance to cover. So don’t hesitate and don’t be afraid. It’s not exactly fun, but the alternative is far, far worse. You’re busy, y’know – far too busy to exit this planet any earlier than you have to.



    • Glad everything was okay. Unless they have changed their routine in the last few years, I only had two little bottles to swallow and I only needed one. Glad you got through it. The prep is the worse but the actual procedure is done within minutes. I also have an endoscopy at the same time to check the esophagus as I once has an issue. You are a terrific storyteller.


        • Maya North

        • August 30, 2014 at 4:08 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you so much, Madge. Yeah, the prep really was the bad part. I figured some of this was TMI, but it was far scarier when I didn’t know what to expect, so I thought perhaps demystifying it might make people less likely to avoid it, especially when it does so much good!



    • The prep is INFINITELY worse than the procedure. Glad everything came out OK. 😀


        • Maya North

        • August 30, 2014 at 4:08 pm
        • Reply

        And out and out and out. I’m buying stock in the company that manufactures Depends…


      • Carolyn Wyler

      • August 30, 2014 at 12:16 pm
      • Reply

      Agree the prep is the worst. The Gi doctor has no clue on how to wine and dine you. Glad I don’t have another date with him for another 10 years. So happy everything turned out well for you.


        • Maya North

        • August 30, 2014 at 4:09 pm
        • Reply

        The doc was nice, the staff solicitous and kindly, especially considering they had me drinking a gallon of toxic waste. And yeah, the relief (on ever level) was enormous!



    • No, not TMI. The people who have not had it yet have the fears anyway. I have opted to be ‘out’ when mine has been done; in fact, I don’t think the option of watching was given the last time. . .
      Thanks for the writing of this passage.


        • Maya North

        • August 30, 2014 at 11:20 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you, Beth! I did wonder if I’d gone a bit too far, but honestly, I was terrified and filled with dread for the entire month and a half I had to wait. If I’d had something like this to read, it would’ve been a lot less scary. I do recommend Depends for the trip in (and for safe sleeping!) and THEY should have recommended it, too. 😉



    Leave a Comment