"Poor Prep," Or How I Failed My First Colonoscopy

“It’s kind of like drinking the beach,” a friend of mine told me.

“Sounds awesome,” I said.

My boss told me it wasn’t THAT bad (Clearly, I have the kind of relationship with my colleagues where we can stand around and talk about our colons.)

For about twelve years I’ve had these random, double-me-over stomach cramps that come out of nowhere. I can feel them coming on slowly and then within about 3 hours, they hit full force and I literally can’t stand upright because of the intensity of the pain.  I used to have them about 3 times a year, but they’ve become a bit more regular now. The one upside to this is that I get to walk around with prescription painkillers (one being valium because my doctor is the best doctor EVER) in a wonderful little case that a dear friend gave me that says “Happy Pills” on the front. I’m slightly in love with my “Happy Pills” case.

After 12 years of stumping my primary care physician we figured it was time to go see a specialist. He’s such a lovely man, which I suppose helps in his line of work. I remember when doctors used to say “You’re WAY too young to have such and such,” but now they say “Well, you’re getting closer to the age when…” Fuck you, lovely colon doctor.

I left his office with a scheduled colonoscopy for two months later and a packet of information about what and what not to eat 24 hours in advance with urgent and asterisked sentences about having a ride home and the usual hideous side effects that would scare the hell out of anyone. My packet soon became part of the detritus on my dining room table that when not looking, my husband would put in a box along with an entire week’s worth of mail, magazines, catalogues and bills.

A few days before the procedure my doctor’s assistant called to confirm my appointment and to make sure that I had everything under control. “Yep,” I said, willing the paperwork to be among the piles in that box. 2 days before the appointment I found it and also discovered my first mistake: “No seeds or nuts within 7 days of the procedure.” Oops.

The clear liquid diet that begins 24-hours before the procedure, includes about 7 things. No matter how hard I stared at it, the list didn’t get any longer. Jello (NOT RED!), broth, popsicles, clear grape juice, clear soda, coffee with COFFEEMATE (probably the WORST sacrifice of the entire ordeal), tea. What I couldn’t understand is why I couldn’t drink white wine since it’s basically white grape juice gone bad. Vodka is about as clear a liquid that exists, but nope. No vodka or wine on the list.

I filled my prescription for my jug of “the beach” and tried to make eye contact with the young pharmacist so he would acknowledge the pure HELL I was about to go through. He didn’t take the bait but I’m sure as I was leaving the counter I heard he and his co-workers break out into hysterical laughter, falling to the floor while clutching their stomachs.

At 9 am the morning before, you have to drink a small bottle of what tastes like flat Alka-Seltzer mixed with Sprite. I know not ONE human being who hates Alka-Seltzer more than I. According to the many testimonials I googled, something was supposed to “happen” within an hour.My sweet husband just kept on looking at me saying, “I’m so sorry honey,” as I waited, like waiting for your water to break, but without the mind numbing pain.10:00, nothing.11:00, nothing.I decided to try to take a nap, which I managed to do rather well.Many more hours of nothing while I sucked on tangerine fruit bars and choked down a mug of chicken broth.

At 5:30 I confronted the beast—the jug of HELL!The instructions say to drink an 8 oz glass every 15 minutes putting the last sip approximately 4 hours after you start.You’re provided with flavor packets to choose from which do NOTHING to disguise the fact that you have to drink an endless amount of slimy, salty water FOREVER!Again, within an hour, all hell is supposed to break loose (no pun intended).I set up camp in our bathroom—Sunday paper, crossword puzzle, candles, the jug and my 8 oz glass by my side.That jug taunted me like a character that keeps appearing in the scenes of a horror movie.It didn’t get any emptier and neither did I.Nothing.Hours and hours of NOTHING.

I’m a mutant freak. I’m broken. This is practically impossible. All the people on online message boards said that they had become limp rags, chained to their bathrooms. And me? Nothing. I settled in to watch tv miserable, a cleansing failure, and went to sleep.

At 2:30 there was a breakthrough—the skies opened up and assured me that noone noticed that I had poured about 24 oz down the drain. I was forgiven! The sign I had to look for was “clear effluence.” I was going to do it!

By 6:30 am, I thought, ok, I can hold my head up high and walk in to experience, what my aforementioned co-worker said was like “having a huge hose with a camera stuck up your ass.” Good times!

I had to sit with a nurse before hand, the id tag already affixed to my wrist, presumably in case I died and they needed to identify my body. She asked me questions about my “prep” and I told her that it took a really long time to finally work. She asked me to describe the color it had gotten to and pointed to the laminated tan top of the table.

“Is it this color?” Silence.

“Is it more beige?” I felt pressured, interrogated, guilty, so I just said “Yeah, it’s more beige.”

She then proceeded to tell me what was about to happen and what I could expect.Noone told me that I was going to need OXYGEN.Noone told me that in recovery, I’d be surrounded by people, with partitions between us, who wouldn’t be allowed to go home until they “tooted” (her word, not mine.)She told me that I might experience short-term AMNESIA but assured me that I’d remember the conversation we were having.REALLY?I thought I was just going to be in a room with my lovely doctor, “consciously sedated” watching the whole thing on high-def tv!

I signed stuff, put on my gowns and slippers and was escorted into the room.I was immediately besieged by three nurses who started clipping, cuffing, sticking and shoving shit everywhere.The oxygen thing freaked me out and there was a snarky nurse barking questions at me.My doctor appeared all sweet and lovely, told me how to position myself, and stroked my head to assuage my nerves.He pushed a sedative through my iv and from that point on, I remember very little.I DO remember that something was amiss, that I might have been told that they couldn’t do the exam because I wasn’t “empty” enough.I knew I had let everyone down and was rolled into the recovery room.

Under the heated blankets and in and out of a deliciously deep state, I felt horribly guilty. I had wasted everyone’s time. I had endured 24 hours of torture for nothing. As I was taken out of recovery and told I could leave, I was handed a piece of paper that in big, bold capital letters said”POOR PREP.” It advised me that I needed to have a repeat colonoscopy within 2 months. I hung my head in shame.

I soothed myself with an enormous peanut butter and jelly sandwich, steak and mint chocolate ice cream. The following morning I waited for the office to open to find out exactly what had happened.

“I feel like I failed kindergarten” I wailed into the phone when the secretary answered.

She laughed and said, “Well, the doctor has a new “recipe” he wants you to try for next time.”

Was he going to send me to the fancy Colonics place in the desert that I had read about in The New Yorker?

“He wants you to be on the liquid diet for 48 hours, drink two bottles of the (stuff that tasted like Alka-Seltzer) and drink TWO JUGS of (the stuff that tastes like the beach.)

“HELL NO!” (and FUCK YOU secretary I used to really like!) I said rather emphatically.

“Well, you’re getting to the age when you have to do this anyway, ” she said back.

“Yeah, in FOUR more years!”

At that point, she got a bit frustrated with me and told me she was going to have the doctor call me back. I still haven’t heard from him and most of all, I hate that he thinks I didn’t follow the rules. I won’t tell him about the (36oz) of stuff I dumped down the sink. I will promise to be a better colon cleanser next time. I will promise to note the color, even take a picture with my i-phone, of my most recent “effluence.” I will tell him that his gentle stroke of my head did not go unnoticed. I will beg him, and the colonoscopy gods, for forgiveness.

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8 Comments

  1. "Effluence" sounds like a word that should be used in an elegant food review. I think I'll try.

  2. I never knew a colonoscopy could be this funny. Great story, Gayle.

  3. My fear is being told I did not prepare correctly and would have to do it all over again. Thank it has worked right both times!

  4. Dan Fuchs

    “Laughed so hard, I tooted!” — D. Fuchs

  5. Another banner day to look forward to!

    1. I fell madly in love with propofol, the delicious sedative that they pump into you during the procedure. It’s what Michael Jackson was hooked up to 24 hours a day. It’s the only thing that makes me look forward to my next one.

      I’m the best substance abuse counselor ever.

      1. Lol. If it makes you feel any better, when my husband threw his back out last year, they gave him an ENORMOUS bottle of really strong painkillers. He asked me if he needed to hide them and reluctantly, I answered yes. The worst part? He hid them in my lingerie drawer–a place, as he said, I never venture into. Bastard.

  6. […] This post was originally posted on My Life in the Middle Ages.  […]

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