fbpx See You in 10 Years: A Colonoscopy Gone Right

See You in 10 Years: A Colonoscopy Gone Right

Don't put off this easier-than-you-think procedure that could save your life.
Written by

Mike Werling

I'm two years late for my appointment, but the medical team is ready when I arrive. Score one for our healthcare system.

OK, to be accurate, I'm not two years late for this particular appointment; I was two years late to schedule this appointment. I'm on time today, but I'm 52 years old and only now getting my first colonoscopy. It's a happy coincidence my appointment is in March, which just happens to be Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

I have my reasons (aka excuses) for putting this screening off—moving to a new state right as I turned 50, then the COVID-19 pandemic, then starting a new job—but any of those would have been easy enough to overcome.

And anyway, I was feeling fine.

But that's a stupid reason to not get screened at the appropriate time, especially since screening doubles as prevention when it comes to colorectal cancer.

FYI, speaking of the appropriate time, yours may already be here. In 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered its recommended age for colorectal cancer screening from 50 to 45. So any 45-year-old who waits until they're my age to get screened will be seven years late to their appointment. That's not quite as late as the Guns N' Roses album "Chinese Democracy" was, but it's really late. Talk to your doctor. ASAP.

But I'm here now. Late, yes, but ready to go. Clothes off. Hospital gown on. (Has anything with less elegance ever been given a more swanky name?) Vitals taken. Blood drawn. IV placed. Anesthesiologist questions answered. Doctor preprocedure visit complete. Chauffeured hospital-bed ride to the operating room done. Anesthesia started.

Let me tell you: The procedure? Nothing to it. For me, anyway. I'm sure the doctor was busy.

Let me tell you something else: The prep? It's not nothing.

The long hall

I can't tell you what polyethylene glycol 3350, sodium ascorbate or ascorbic acid are. I can't tell you where they come from. I can't tell you why anybody ever thought to combine them. But I can tell you what they do when they're mixed with sodium chloride and potassium chloride and dissolved in clear liquid—sports drinks for me—and consumed in two doses over the course of 30 minutes per dose. I can tell you, but nobody needs to read that.

The instructions from my doctor's office recommended having a stash of wipes on hand—baby wipes, specifically—for comfort. I, without reservation, can second that. Cooling. Soothing. A security blanket for your bum.

I have a long 19 hours ahead of me—dozens of trips down a hallway that once seemed short.

But let's start at the beginning. At 2 p.m. the day before the colonoscopy, 16 hours after my last morsel of food, I take the four laxative tablets as instructed. At 4:15, I wonder if they sent me the wrong stuff. By 4:30, I no longer wonder. The process is…in motion.

It's now 6 p.m. I mix the contents of Dose 1, a pouch full of mystery powder, with a ridiculously named sports drink flavor—we'll call it white—and sip it for the next 30 minutes. This time, the results don't take as long to manifest. Not nearly as long. My advice: Don't make plans. You'll have to see your child's next piano recital. And that movie will still be at the theater in a couple of days.

Later that night, an alarm intrudes on my fitful sleep. Why in the hell is it going off at…checks phone…3 a.m.? Oh, yeah. I mix the powdery contents of Dose 2 Pouch A and Dose 2 Pouch B with a less-ridiculously named sports drink flavor—we'll call it nuclear yellow—and start sipping. I drink it between trips down the hall while sitting on the sofa because I figure lying down in bed is going to be a fool's errand. I am correct.

My advice: Don't get too comfortable on any seat that isn't directly attached to the municipal sewer system.

Let's get to it

Between the middle-of-the-night dose and the procedure—it is scheduled for 9 a.m., but I'm supposed to arrive by 7:30—I enjoy no sleep thanks to a steady stream of visits to the bathroom. The guest bathroom that is, so as not to annoy my wife and driver. I'm hungry, cranky, empty. I need her to be happy and rested.

If you can get an earlier appointment and move all of the dosings forward a couple of hours, do it. You might get some sleep, although your arrival time might be ridiculously early.

Just like that, I wake up as they're rolling me into the recovery area, groggy and a little high. Could be hours later. Could be the next day. It has been 20 minutes. They tell me not to drive, not to exert myself too much, not to eat a huge meal rife with spicy food and some other stuff. All I hear, though, is this: "See you in 10 years." No polyps. No areas of concern.

My wife drives me home—you must have a driver—and I spend the ride thinking about the scrambled eggs I'm going to eat. Hot, fluffy, cheesy, savory, seasoned, creamy, salty…it's been roughly 36 hours since I last ate. Food is kind of all I can think about.

Put simply, they are the finest scrambled eggs I have ever eaten. I can only hope they taste this good again in a decade.