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Your First Colonoscopy: Experience from a Male Perspective

This is my account of what I went through to prepare for my first colonoscopy procedure. There are many references and instructions that list what needs to be done, but I also wanted to include what it was really like to go through the process. I hope this information is helpful to others who are preparing to take this test for the first time. In addition, I will include my personal description of experiencing the exam without sedation. As a 50-year-old man with a keen interest in maintaining my health, I hope this information will benefit others at a similar time in life who are preparing for this exam. Some time after moving to California after my separation from the military, I was at the doctor’s office for a routine checkup. He suggested that since I had turned 40, 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 then 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 managed to schedule, but once I realized what the overall process involved, I quickly canceled my appointment and never bothered to reschedule. “Who the hell would want to go through all that?” I thought. At some point later I had a hidden stool test and the results came back negative, which gave me a measure of self-confidence.

Years had passed and as I progressed steadily through my “forties,” I came across more and more men who had undergone the colonoscopy procedure. I heard various comments about their experiences and nothing seemed too graphic in detail. There were no horror stories to share about what the whole event involved. Katie Couric of the Today Show even gave her account of what it was like to undergo the procedure. Since losing her husband at the age of 42 to colon cancer, she became a strong advocate for getting people screened 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.

The year 2010 arrives and with that an important milestone: I turned 50 years old. During another routine checkup, my doctor asked me about scheduling an exam and I agreed. I thought that since I was not younger, it was best to go ahead and see how things were inside. Serving 20 years in the Navy taught me that preventive maintenance was always better than corrective maintenance. A notice came in the mail informing me that I was going to attend a presentation describing the colonoscopy procedure. There were around 40 to 50 attendees and the person who gave the presentation emphasized the need for these tests as colon cancer was described as one of the most preventable cancers.

A few weeks later I received the notice of my appointment, as well as the box of “goodies” that is provided. This consisted of detailed instructions, as well as a gallon-size plastic container containing electrolyte powder and a pill container with six laxative tablets. The instruction sheet mentioned some of the risks involved, such as bowel puncture and the adverse effects of anesthesia. Oh boy, just what everyone wants for Christmas. Seeing the polyethylene glycol (similar to antifreeze) listed as one of the ingredients listed on the electrolyte powder container didn’t thrill me at all. Aspartame (an additive that has been determined to be a possible carcinogen) was also on the ingredient list for the powdered lemonade that I would add to make the electrolyte solution taste better. Puff up! My original appointment was scheduled for 1 p.m. M. In the afternoon, but then I was able to transfer her to 11 a.m. M. Ugh! Less time to wait.

Also included with the instructions were some dos and don’ts several days before the exam. Some of this involved stopping certain medications and right now, at the time this article is being written, I am on the “low fiber, low residue” diet two days before the actual exam. The diet itself is not that bad. There are a few things that are mentioned on a list as foods to avoid (red meat, corn, nuts), as well as a list of suggested foods like chicken, white rice, and white bread. I had a lot of chicken today! But at least I didn’t feel like I was starving. Thank God!

One day before the exam

Well, the “party pills” (laxative pills) that I took last night kicked in. Actually, it’s not that bad. At 9am I took the last 3 tablets they gave me and later I start taking the electrolyte solution. A gallon of something delicious, I’m sure! A big concern of mine is wondering how to get through the day without having anything solid to eat. So far I’m fine and I’m sure I will continue to be. A lot has to do with my whole perspective in general. I have to admit, it’s nice to be able to take a day off from work. My coworkers wouldn’t want to have me there anyway if they knew what’s going on!

7:30 PM: I was able to drink the first half gallon of the electrolyte solution. It took a little longer than expected. Good thing I had powdered lemonade to add a more pleasant flavor. I am now in the process of drinking the second half gallon. Good times! Overall the experience has not been as bad as I thought it could have been. My mother-in-law was not very helpful when she told my wife that I would have to put newspapers on the floor between my bed and the bathroom. Of course, there have been a record number of visits to the facility followed by a record number of hand washes (you’re welcome, soap companies!) But nothing that has brought me to the point of great discomfort.

In the early afternoon I was able to enjoy a coffee and until now it has been possible for me to take gelatin as a somewhat solid substance to eat. I really want to eat something real after the procedure tomorrow morning. In addition to the clear liquid diet regimen that was described for me, I took a couple of capsules containing South African hoodia as an appetite suppressant. It wasn’t listed as “no-no” on the instruction list, so since there was no red dye involved, I decided to go ahead and take a chance. Why ask the doctor’s question? if there is a possibility that i wouldnt like the answer? You should be able to finish the remaining electrolyte solution in a few hours. After that, I’ll take a shower and hopefully be tired enough to go to bed. In the past, I went on a 10-12 hour fast to control my cholesterol, but this episode is a new record for me. It is amazing to find out what you are capable of.

10:30 PM: Well I’m finally on the last glass of the electrolyte solution and I’ll be very happy to be done with it. I’ll also need to have a couple more glasses of water and then go to bed (I’ve really been waiting for the moment when I can finally get some sleep). Now that the actual exam time is approaching, I have been wondering what the exam results will be. It’s a bit strange preparing for something without knowing the end result. At least I’m getting things checked on the doctor’s recommendation and I don’t wait until some time later. I have noticed a slight feeling of dizziness for the last two hours, but I am sure it will go away once everything is done with the procedure. Right now I just need to finish the last of the electrolyte solution. Well, I think this will be it for tonight and I’ll continue writing in the morning. I’m picturing a great cheeseburger with fries and chocolate shake waiting for me tomorrow when it’s all over!

11:45 PM: It is almost midnight. After that, I’m not supposed to drink any water until the test, so I’m finishing as much as I can. It was nice to be able to take a shower and after getting some sleep I’ll be 8 hours closer to finishing this.

Exam day

I got to this point! I finally ended up sleeping around 12:30 in the morning and woke up about 7 hours later. I called the hospital to see if I could get there early, but they informed me that everyone was arriving for their appointments on time. It was nice that my date was two hours early. The main thing right now is to make sure I don’t drink anything, but I’ve been pouring in a little water so I don’t get a dry mouth feeling. I feel good, but at first I was a little hungry. Everything will be fine.

7:30 PM: It has turned out to be a long day. I can’t remember a time when I was so eager to get to the hospital! Once there, I checked in and was immediately told to take a seat. A nurse came to speak with me and asked me some preliminary questions about my medical history. Then once again they ordered me to take a seat. Later they called me again to answer some more health related questions and sign a ton of paperwork as I agreed to participate in a research study as I was not going to receive sedation. The study involved the use of water instead of air during the colonoscopy examination process. Doctors were surveying patient feedback regarding any pain or discomfort that was experienced. Finally, I put on a gown, they hooked me up to an IV along with several monitors, and they took me to the operating room. Going through the procedure itself wasn’t bad, but I was very aware of what was going on! The doctor even allowed me to see the video on the screen showing the state of the intestinal wall. A small, non-cancerous polyp was found, which was easily removed. Yes, I blew a good amount of air during the procedure. This is probably the only time in your life that someone encourages you to do this! Except for a few small patches of diverticulosis, everything else looked great. Diverticulosis is a condition in which parts of the intestinal wall can become weak and inflamed due to bacteria or feces. Foods that contain nuts and seeds can be a potential cause of diverticulosis, as they are difficult for the body to digest. Overall, I was satisfied with the results of the exam. Having been through that, my recommendation to anyone who can is to take sedation! After completing the exam, I returned to the recovery room, where the nurse who treated me told me that I would have to expel a little more gas before I was released. This was due to the swelling caused by the inflation of the colon to facilitate the examination. Later I made some noise, the nurses clapped and gave me the go-ahead to change into my usual clothes. Once inside the locker room, I noticed that I was bleeding from the IV accessory that was removed from my arm and was making a noticeable mess on the floor. The bandage was quickly replaced.

Before I left, I had to answer a few more questions from the nurse about my hospital experience. I provided positive feedback on my treatment. He also gave me a list of recommended foods that would help promote overall colon health, such as foods with fiber and fruits along with vegetables. I was advised to avoid eating nuts and fruits that contain seeds in an attempt to prevent any conditions that could cause more diverticulosis. Based on the doctor’s recommendations, I should have a colonoscopy every five years because I have a family history of colon cancer.

After getting out of the hospital, I went to my favorite hot dog spot for a solid meal. Absolutely delicious! My recommendation to everyone is that they have a colonoscopy on the recommendation of their doctor and that they follow a diet that includes foods that are high in fiber.

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