I’ve had tummy problems for as I long as I can remember – since before I started school, even. Finally I’d had enough, so I went to see a gastroenterologist. I tried to push it from my mind, the thought that she’d probably need to have a look inside my digestive tract. But sure enough, her recommendation came back – “we’ll need to do a colonoscopy,” she told me. Going through a brief check of this and that, she discovered that my mum had bowel cancer when she was 30 — making my risk of having bowel cancer even higher. Her insistence on undergoing the procedure increased ten-fold.
I didn’t have much of an idea of what was involved. Vague bits of information from other peoples’ stories came back to me – fasting, vile laxative drinks, an uncomfortable and potentially painful procedure. I was not enthusiastic. So I chatted to Mum, who of course has undergone this procedure many times. She put my mind at ease, explaining what I could expect with the procedure.
For me, the upside was that I’ve been trying to shift a few stubborn kilos this year and figured that a day of not eating, and the chance to completely empty my bowels, could only help that aim. I focused on that and managed to stay positive. After all, it was a necessary procedure if I was going to find any answers.
I arranged to stay at my mum’s house the day before the procedure, as it was closer to the hospital. Also, I found out I wasn’t allowed to drive after the procedure because of the anaesthetic. I hired some DVD’s, sorted out some uni work I wanted to get done, and settled in for the Preparation Day.
That morning I had a banana and a piece of chocolate for breakfast. That was the only solids I was allowed for the day. I bought plenty of apple juice and ginger beer, which fit into the “clear liquids” category. I also had tea (without milk), and flavoured iced tea. I found that after a while I started to feel nauseous from all the fluids I had to consume, but ginger beer helped this a lot.
Suprisingly I lasted pretty well on just my banana and chocolate. The biggest challenge was mental, rather than physical. I began to realise how much of our lives are structured around meals. The routine of eating, of buying and preparing, and sharing a meal with others was lost. I kept thinking, “Oh I’ll just got get this to eat…” and getting rather disappointed! By evening though I began to feel a bit drained and petulant.
The stuff I was given to drink was called Picolax. Surprisingly it was actually alright! It is a highly effervescent drink (a little bit of water – stir – a little bit of water – stir, is a good way to mix it without it fizzing right out of the glass!), with a pleasant citrus flavour. The hardest part when I started drinking that was trying to get another litre of clear fluids in over the hour after each glass!!
I woke feeling pretty alright, the day of the procedure. It was scheduled for 9:25 am, so I was cheered by the thought that I would soon be able to have something to eat and drink. I wasn’t allowed so much as a glass of water that morning, before the procedure!
When I got to the hospital there were some forms to fill out, and then I sat in the waiting area with Sean. We sat there for more than an hour! While I was starving and feeling tired and washed out! But at last we were called in, I was given a wristband and a bed, and waited slightly more comfortably for another hour. All this time I was rather nervous, and very glad for the company of my husband!
Then the anaesthetic guy came and wheeled me away. I stayed in the same bed, wearing just my gown and a singlet, a blanket covering all the important bits. Faces loomed around the sides of the bed and disappeared again. The anaesthetic guy chatted to me about what I was doing, the course I was studying, the usual. A needle went into my hand and he explained how the anaesthetic would work. Just by the way, that hand needle hurt!!
My gastroenterologist finally walked in, had a brief chat with me about what was going to happen, and then went away to prepare. I couldn’t help a few big fat tears sliding out of my eyes as I lay there, knowing that things would start happening at any moment, and I didn’t even have my husband there now.
Almost simultaneously, I was given a mouthpiece to bite down on for the endoscopy, and I felt the first effect of the anasthetic: a mild tingling/burning sensation in my hand, a bit like when the needle first went in. More tears oozed out as I lay there, not knowing what to expect but only to expect it soon.
Then it happened. A dizzy, floaty, room-is-gently-undulating kind of sensation. I had just enough time to think “here it comes!!” and then I felt the blackness descend. I don’t know how long before waking I started dreaming, and I don’t remember anything from those dreams. I just remember a voice saying “It’s all done now!,” and realising I needed to wake up.
It took me a while to get my bearings. I could have sworn it was the anaesthetic guy who had said that, but I was back in one of the cubicles, with a nurse filling out paperwork near the end of my bed. It was her that had said that! I never realised how lifelike those movie scenes are when a person is unconscious and all the voices come drifting in all deep and distorted.
She went to fetch Sean and I quickly worked out that I did not yet have the powers of movement or coherent speech. Apparently I sounded like a drunken sailor. Nonetheless, within twenty minutes I was polishing off a ribbon sandwich and a cup of tea, and preparing for my departure.
The only thing that brought a temporary halt to this situation was a sudden pain in my stomach, and in a band across that section of my middle. I attributed it to the sandwich – I often have a bad reaction to wheat. The nurses attributed it to the air which is pumped into your stomach and intestines during such procedures. I couldn’t convince them otherwise.
Turns out the gastroenterologist had a few of biopsies taken, so it was probably the wheat and the three small holes in my stomach causing the pain. The day after the procedure, it’s feeling much better!
All in all, it was not fun, but it wasn’t unbearable either. Prepare yourself mentally, have someone close to you stay with you, and get all the details on what’s happening beforehand, and you’ll be fine – that’s the lessons I learned from it all