This column isn’t for everyone – there’s a definite ‘ewww…’ factor

Reckonings column by Della Mallette, Grand Forks Gazette

Colonoscopy videos are “trending” and have been for for a decade and a half. Apparently it was Katie Couric who led the way with a colonscopy (though not a live on) on the Today show in 2000.

There was much publicity surrounding Dr. Oz when in 2010 he was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous polyp in the colon during a routine colonsocopy—which was performed as part of his show. He apparently did not properly cleanse his colon prior to the operation, leading to several online posts starting with “EWWWWW…!” I did not watch the video.

TV news anchor Harry Smith televised his colonscopy. This one at least ended with a few laughs when late-night talk show host David Letterman made up a top 10 list of the thoughts going through Smith’s mind during the procedure. (“For those watching in high definition, you’re welcome,” “Found my car keys,” and “I thought I was signing up for a live interview with Colin Powell”)

According to online tabloid sources, Oprah Winfrey explained that she was on percocet and valium after having a colonoscopy, and only stumbled into a meeting she never usually attends because she was so out of it.

Percocet and valium? She must not have had the same colonoscopy I did earlier this month. I didn’t get either of those drugs.

I have no video, nor do you want to see it, but I have a “described video” version. All laughs or expressions of disgust aside, colon screening is important.

Colonoscopy referrals for Grand Forks residents are usually sent to the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital in Trail. But this whole process will often start with a FIT test.

Sounds like an easy test, right? Maybe hop on the treadmill for a few laps, do a few push ups to show you’re active and agile and couldn’t possibly have anything wrong with your colon. No, no, no. FIT stands for fecal immunochemical test and is used to screen the stool for blood that can not be seen with the naked eye (called occult blood).

It’s not difficult, but it is rather gross. The local hospital lab gives you a little kit to take home, and somehow and anyhow—never the quick and easy way the instructions make it sound—you collect a sample and take it back to the hospital (no waiting in that dreary hallway for this one, just waltz up to the lab door and deposit your sample in the bin straight ahead).

You may then be recommended for a full colonoscopy. If you’ve never had one before, don’t worry! It’s an easy procedure that takes more waiting time than it does actual procedural time. It doesn’t hurt at all.

It’s the preparation that’s the painful part!

The preparation is a five-day thing counting down to zero, THE day of your colonoscopy. Five days before, said my instruction sheet, start eating low-fibre: no whole grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, raw fruits or vegetables, or popcorn. Popcorn and nuts are my favourite snack foods, but I know it’s important to have a clean colon to get clear results, so on day four, I cut out my popcorn and nuts.

I was good on day three but on day two, I broke down and snuck a nut.

Day one arrived, and what a day that is! This is the day you’re you can have clear liquids only. No food at all! Anyone who knows me knows I like food; I’m a little “fluffy” to prove it. I don’t look like I’ve missed too many meals.

So I drank lots of water and ginger ale to help fill me up and didn’t miss my morning Fibre One bar too much. At noon I warmed up my vegetable broth and drank my lunch. I wish I could say it was a martini.

That afternoon, I reread my instructions and realized I could have a light-coloured Jell-O. Right after work I raced over to the grocery store and got a package of Lemon Jell-O. I stopped quickly at my mom’s to tell her that bit of good news, and with some amusement she told me it would take a at least three hours to set! I hurried home, boiled the kettle and put the water in with the Jell-O powder in a Pyrex bowl. That went right into the freezer! It was still some time before it was ready, so it was dessert—after I drank my dinner.

As well as starting on Dulcolax laxative tablets the night before, this is the day you have to take two shots of Pico-Salax, an “oral purgative.” Altogether, you take about $20 worth of laxatives. I took my first Pico packet at 5 p.m. (I definitely waited until I got home), and it doesn’t taste that bad. It’s orange flavoured, you see. But, that last bit of crystals in the bottom of your glass? Don’t mix it with more water, you’re best to stir throughout and drink it all because the flavour totally changes when the powder-t0-water ration is messed with. Totally.

More Dulcolax, and it’s off to bed, setting the alarm for 4 a.m. for another Pico packet. No, I didn’t learn the first time—I had crystals on the bottom and added more water. The instructions say to drink lots of water afterwards, which wasn’t a problem. I had to get that taste out of my mouth.

You’re to stop drinking anything a few hours before your procedure time, and by then you’re glad to because you don’t want ANY MORE CLEANSING! Especially when you have to drive to Trail!

Day zero is a relief when it finally comes. The staff at the hospital were awesome. They even “hot-packed” me with a cozy, warm blanket because they couldn’t find a good vein for an IV, and the warmth helps. (This is apparently common because no matter how much water they tell you to drink, you never drink enough and when you’re dehydrated, your veins disappear.)

I met the doctor, the nurse gave me something in my IV to put me to sleep, and I woke up about an hour later. It did take a bit to shake off the effects of the sleepy-time drugs—it’s true you need a ride home. I was grateful to have my husband’s arm, and his speed in getting us to some FOOD!

I got a clean bill of health. I reckon the whole experience wasn’t really that bad—I’ll happily go through it again if it means catching colon cancer early enough to fight it. I will in fact go through it again in five years.

And I won’t forget to make Jell-O!


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