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A somewhat-graphic account of my first colonoscopy: a tale told in 5 parts

Face it. Many of us are at the age where these things are now part of our healthcare rituals. Mammograms (the boob-sandwich) are already enough to add to the preventative health to-do list. And now there’s this delight.

Wait… you’re too young, you’re probably all thinking. I thought so too. The CDC says 50 to 75 year olds should get screened for colorectal cancer.

You can’t be 50…. you’re all thinking. You’re hardly 30… you’re all probably (not) thinking. OK, enough of that. I’m 46. Which means sorta-kinda old. Old enough.

Thing is, my maternal grandmother, our rock, our rockstar, the family matriarch, Scrabble champion, Jeopardy genius, super-snarky so-awesome Teta Salma died of colon cancer. So now we all gotta go in for the probe…

So I now chronicle these events in hopes of demystifying the experience for those who are just as uncomfortable with it as I am.

There’s a term we use in the field: desludging. The sweet weekly process of removing the… sludge from our latrines. I remember this well: every Saturday morning in Camp Charlie, Port au Prince, Haiti. The truck comes rolling in, hooks up a gigantic tube to one end of the row of latrines (I never checked exactly where) and chug, chug, chug… off goes one week’s worth of poop. The poop of 300 people all sharing 10 toilets in Camp Charlie in early 2010. Many of you reading this blog now have in some way contributed to that weekly ritual. You’re welcome.

So now I chronicle my own desludging. Here we go:

PART I: The Consultation

I could have turned back the minute I walked in. Here’s a brief summary of my conversation with the doctor:

Me: I am not fond of these kinds of things. I have a panic attack for every pap smear!

Doc: Understandable. That’s TOTALLY invasive. This is different… not half as bad.

Me: (wondering how poking up my bum is less invasive than any other orifices…)

PART II: The COVID Test

Not an interesting part, per se, but noteworthy in that this is now becoming part of our “preparation” for just about anything we want to do – medical, social, professional, whatever. Insert qtip up nose. Another day, another orifice. Sigh.

PART III: The Prep

I was given a 3-page instruction sheet of what I can/cannot eat, starting one week out. Three days before, quit the fiber and start popping the laxatives.

Consumption record: rice, chicken, yogurt, diet Ginger Ale, white bread, chicken broth, more rice. Never has my food been so monochrome. Or so bland.

On the day before the blessed event, no solids. And only “clear liquids” – like water. And other watery stuff. I was dizzy, grouchy, hangry, fed-up, and rumbly-tummied. Stupidly, I lined up a full day of work thinking Oh yeah totally, I can function with zero food and lots of laxatives. It will be completely fine!

This is 20-year old logic. Public service announcement: DO NOT DO THIS.

Take the whole damn day off. Sit around like a walrus on your sofa. Take many naps. Complain to anyone who will listen. Trust me: don’t do shit. Well, not figuratively, I mean. Because your job is, literally, to do nothing.but.shit.

At 5pm on the night before, it’s time to start drinking the desludging sludge. I was given a one gallon plastic jug with instructions to mix the solution with water and drink one glass every 30 minutes. Take your time… No need to rush! the guidance sheet said. I could not wait to finish that foul stuff.

For the first glass, I thought This is not so bad! I’ve got this! And then by glass two I was practically puking it up in the sink. Not pretty. 3000 glasses later, I was on the brink of collapse, bloated like an aquarium, and wishing something would hurry up and happen so I could just go to sleep.

Then I remembered I had to walk the pupper. This was done by literally hanging on to the wall of the building for about 5 minutes while his highness wanted to take a tour of every trash pile in the hood. And, the weather was gorgeous and the streets were packed.

When I moved into my building, I swore to never allow myself to look like a schlump in the lobby. Well, that went out the window during COVID, for sure. And even further out the window on this fine night, where I walked the Z wearing PJ pants and a furry, hooded robe. I looked like a terrycloth criminal.

So the night passed. And I did not sleep. Don’t even try to get to bed – you won’t make it there and back to the toilet in time. I need to apologize to my neighbors for the number of times I flushed the toilet between 9pm and 8am. Like, one gazillion times.

PART IV: The Event

I stumbled into the doctors office thinking that they’d better knock me out fast. At this point, I was not only dizzy, I was now deflated and dehydrated and well and truly desludged. I could not handle one more minute. I was put on a cot, given an IV, wheeled into the procedure room for my very-first general anesthetic of my very-first colonoscopy (so many firsts these days!).

The lights were dim, and “Heart and Soul” by Huey Lewis and the News was playing. Really – I could not make this shit up. I was given the anesthetic and told to take a big, deep breath. In that moment, I thought of Huey Lewis, 80s night at BO18 in Beirut, the big screen showing my very-white butt like two giant mozzarella cheese blobs… and then poof! I was out.

When I woke up, I was told I did very well (by lying there and doing nothing, clearly) and that I should not have spicy food or alcohol all day (two things I happen to be rather fond of!). I was given a report that included pictures (yes – pictures) of my insides that I never ever wanted to see, and now I can never un-see. I have – wait, let me count them – 41 photos of inner-me. Colon-close-ups. I don’t know what to do with them… do I keep them? Use them for a dating profile?! They are now in a can’t-throw-can’t-keep pile of mystery stuff that someone will unearth when I die. Enjoy!

PART V: The Aftermath

Now armed with my good-bill-of-colon-health, I’m happy it’s over.

Come back in 5 years! they beckoned as I was leaving the doctor’s office. I hope my bad memory manages to purge all record of this experience so I can manage it again in 5 years. But then again, I still have the photos.

Meanwhile, 24 hours later, I’m back to eating (phew) and normal trips to the bathroom. But I’m still singing “Heart and Soul”…

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