Your First Colonoscopy – Experience From a Male Perspective

This is my account of what I went through to get ready for my first colonoscopy procedure. There are lots of references and instructions listing what needs to be done, but I also wanted to include what it was like to actually go through the process. I hope this information will be of use to others who are getting ready to undergo this examination for the first time. Also, I will include my personal description of experiencing the examination without sedation. As a 50 year old male who has an avid interest in maintaining my health, it is my hope that this information will benefit others at a similar point in life who are getting ready to have this examination. Sometime after moving to California following my separation from the military, I was at the doctor’s office for a routine checkup. He suggested that since I had passed my 40th birthday that I should have a colonoscopy due to a family history of colon cancer. My father was diagnosed with colon cancer and ended up having surgery. The treatment was successful and the doctors were later able to reverse the colostomy. The thought of having to go through life with a bag attached to my body was never something that appealed to me. I went ahead and got scheduled but once I realized what the overall process entailed, I quickly cancelled my appointment and never bothered rescheduling. “Who the heck would want to go through all that?” I thought. At some point later I did have a fecal occult test and the results were negative which did give me a measure of self-assurance.

Years had passed and as I was steadily progressing through my “forties,” I met with more and more men who had undergone the colonoscopy procedure. I heard various comments concerning their experiences and nothing seemed too graphic in detail. There were no horror stories to share about what the whole event entailed. Katie Couric of the Today Show even gave her account of what it was like to undergo the procedure. Since the loss of her husband at the age of 42 to colon cancer, she became a big proponent of people getting themselves examined at an early stage while any necessary treatment would still be possible. The National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be 51,370 deaths in 2010 from colon and rectal cancer combined.

Along comes the year 2010 and with that a major milestone: I turned 50. During another routine checkup my doctor asked me about getting scheduled for an examination and I agreed. I figured that since I was not getting any younger I had best go ahead and see how things were on the inside. Serving 20 years in the Navy taught me that preventive maintenance was always better than corrective maintenance. A notice arrived in the mail informing that I was to attend a presentation that outlined the colonoscopy procedure. There were about 40-50 attendees and the person giving the presentation emphasized the need for having these examinations done since colon cancer was described as one of the more preventable cancers.

A few weeks later I received my appointment notice as well as the box of “goodies” that is provided. This consisted of detailed instructions as well as a gallon sized plastic container that held electrolyte powder and a pill container with six laxative tablets. The instruction sheet mentioned some of the risks involved such as bowel puncture and adverse affects from anesthesia. Oh boy, just what everyone wants for Christmas. Seeing polyethylene glycol (similar to antifreeze) listed as on of the ingredients listed on the container for the electrolyte powder did not thrill me at all. Aspartame (an additive determined to be a possible cancer causing agent) was also on the ingredient list for the lemonade powder that I would be adding to make the electrolyte solution taste better. Swell! My original appointment was scheduled for 1 PM in the afternoon but I was later able to get it moved up to 11 AM. Whew! Less time to wait.

Also included with the instructions were some things to do and not to do at various days prior to the examination. Some of this involved stopping the taking of certain medications and right now at the time this article is being written I am following the “low fiber – low residue” diet two days prior to the actual exam. The diet itself is not too bad. There are some things mentioned on a list as foods to avoid (red meat, corn, nuts) as well as a list of suggested foods such as chicken, white rice and white bread. Today I helped myself to plenty of chicken! But at least I did not have the feeling that I was starving. Thank goodness!

One Day Prior To The Exam

Well the “party pills” (laxative tablets) I took last night kicked in. Not too bad actually. At 9 am I took the last 3 tablets that were provided and later on I get to start drinking the electrolyte solution. One gallon of something yummy I’m sure! A big concern of mine is wondering how to get through the day with not having anything solid to eat. So far I am doing okay and I am sure that I will remain so. A lot of it has to do with my whole outlook in general. I have to admit, it is nice being able to take a day off from work. My coworkers would not want to have me there anyway if they knew what was going on!

7:30 PM: I was able to drink the first half-gallon of the electrolyte solution. It took a little bit longer than expected. Good thing I had the lemonade powder to add for some more agreeable flavoring. Now I am in the process of drinking the second half-gallon. Good times! All in all the experience has not been as bad as I thought it could have been. My mother-in-law was not much help when she was telling my wife that I would have to place newspapers on the floor between my bed and the restroom. Granted, there have been a record number of visits to the facilities followed by a record number of hand washings (you’re welcome, soap companies!) but nothing that has gotten me to the point of elevated discomfort.

Earlier in the afternoon I was able to enjoy some coffee and just having jello for a somewhat solid substance to eat so far has been doable. I am really looking forward to having some real food after the procedure tomorrow morning. In addition to the clear liquid diet regimen that was outlined for me to follow, I took a couple of capsules containing South African hoodia for an appetite suppressant. It was not listed as a “no-no” on the instruction list so since there was no red food coloring involved I decided to go ahead and risk it. Why ask the question from the doctor. if there is a chance I would not like the answer? I should be able to finish the remaining electrolyte solution in a few hours. After that, I will shower and hopefully be tired enough for bed. In the past, I have undergone fasting for 10-12 hours for cholesterol checks but this episode is a new record for me. It’s amazing to find out what you are capable of.

10:30 PM: Well I am finally on the last glass of the electrolyte solution and I will be oh so happy to be done with it. I will also need to have a couple of more glasses of water and then I will be off to bed (I have really been waiting for the moment where I could finally get some sleep). Now that the time for the actual exam is approaching, I have been wondering about what the examination results will be. It’s sort of strange preparing for something not knowing the final outcome. At least I am getting things looked at upon the recommendation of the doctor and not waiting until sometime later on. I have been noticing a mild feeling of lightheadedness for the last couple of hours but I am confident that it will go away once everything is finished up procedure wise. Right now I just need to finish off the last of the electrolyte solution. Well, I think that this will be all for tonight and I will continue writing in the morning. I am picturing a big cheeseburger with fries and chocolate shake waiting for me tomorrow when this is all finished!

11:45 PM: It’s almost midnight. After that I am not supposed to have any water until the exam so I am just finishing up whatever I can. It was nice being able to take a shower and after getting some sleep I will be 8 hours closer to getting this over with. 

Exam day

I made it to this point! I finally ended up getting to sleep at about 12:30 in the morning and woke up about 7 hours later. I called the hospital to see if I could get in early but was informed that everyone was showing up to their appointments on time. It was nice that I got my appointment moved up by two hours. The main thing right now is to make sure I don’t drink anything but I have been swooshing some water around so I don’t have the dried out feeling in my mouth. I am feeling okay but was a bit hungry at first. Everything will be fine.

7:30 PM: It has turned out to be a long day. I can’t remember a time when I so looked forward to getting to the hospital! Once there, I checked in and was promptly told to have a seat. A nurse came to speak with me and ask me some preliminary questions about my health history. Afterwards I was once again directed to go take a seat. Later on I was called in again to answer some more health related questions and to sign a bunch of paperwork since I agreed to take part in a research study since I was not going to have sedation. The study involved the use of water instead of air during the colonoscopy examination process. The doctors were surveying patients’ comments regarding any pain or discomfort that was experienced. Eventually I got to change into a robe, get hooked up to an IV along with various monitors and was wheeled into the operating room. Going through the procedure itself was not bad but I was very much aware of what was going on! The doctor even allowed me to see the video on the screen showing the condition of the intestinal wall. A small, non-cancerous polyp was found and was easily removed. Yes, I did pass a fair amount of air during the procedure. This is probably the only time in your life where someone encourages you to do this! Except for a few small spots of diverticulosis, everything else looked excellent. Diverticulosis is a condition where portions of intestinal wall can become weak and inflamed due to bacteria or the stool.  Foods that contain nuts and seeds can be a potential cause of diverticulosis since they are difficult for the body to digest. Overall, I was pleased with the exam results. After having gone through that, my recommendation for anyone who can is to take the sedation! Following the completion of the examination I was returned to the recovery room where the attending nurse told me that I would have to pass some more gas prior to being released. This was due to the bloating that was caused by inflation of the colon in order to facilitate the examination. I subsequently made some noise, the nurses clapped and I was given the go ahead to change into my regular clothes. Once inside the changing room, I noticed that I was bleeding from the IV attachment that was removed from my arm and making a noticeable mess on the floor. The bandage was quickly replaced.

Prior to leaving I had to answer some more questions from the nurse concerning my experience while at the hospital. I provided positive feedback regarding my treatment. She also gave me a list of recommended food items that would help promote overall colonic health such as foods with fiber and fruits along with vegetables. I was advised to avoid eating nuts as well as fruits containing seeds in an attempt to prevent any conditions that would cause further diverticulosis. As per the doctor’s recommendations, I am to get a colonoscopy every five years due to having a family history of colon cancer.

After leaving the hospital I went to my favorite hot dog place to get something solid to eat. Absolutely delicious! My recommendation to everyone is that they get a colonoscopy done upon receiving recommendation from their doctor and to follow a diet that includes foods with a high fiber content.