Thursday, June 19, 2014

My 1st Colonoscopy Screening

Photo by Merfam.
This post is part of a three-part series on my first colonoscopy.  See this post about the risks and this post about the preparation stage

I know these are detailed posts, but some people have anxiety if they don't know what to expect. 

I took good notes so that I could be a tour guide.  

After people turn 50, they are encouraged to get a colonoscopy screening every 10 years.

Because I am in my early 50s, my general practitioner encouraged me to get a colonoscopy. People who have blazed the trail before me have talked about the discomfort and oddity of this procedure.

I am here to report that my experience was not that bad.

Sure, it was a bit unpleasant, and it was all consuming. But I read a great deal before, and I talked with a few friends.  Being prepared made it less of an ordeal for me. Plus I had no complication.  More importantly, the results told me that the screening found no polyps, no diverticulosis and no diverticulitis. Hooray!

The procedure itself only lasted 10-15 minutes, but I was in the surgical center for about 90 minutes before it was my turn. Here are the details from the day of my screening:

4:00 am: I woke up and had about 3 ounces of Gatorade before I remembered that I wasn't supposed to have any food or liquids after midnight. Oops.  I stayed quiet until my ride came to get me. I am hypoglycemic, so I had been quite anxious about emptying my system of nutrients since I can experience severe symptoms. Surprisingly, I was not lightheaded, no headache, no vertigo, no blurry vision, no crankiness. I could walk unassisted, but I grabbed furniture and the walls when making trips to the bathroom that morning as a precaution.

8:30 am: My husband was supervising our children, so I asked a gal pal if she would drive me and sit in the waiting room. Her husband had experienced a colonscopy before, and she accompanied him, so she knew what to expect. She brought a book to pass the time.  I had packed my bag the day before. I only needed my driver's license and my insurance card. I also brought a generic version of Boost / Ensure to drink after my procedure.

9:00 am: This was my check in time at the surgical center attached to the large physicians' offices where my GP practices. I went to the desk and presented my documents. The receptionists asked me to confirm that I had ingested all of the prep solution and followed the guidelines for clear fluids Sunday and no food or fluids Monday. I was assured that the 3 oz at 4 am were long gone. (The printed screening instructions do allow those who are taking certain meds to go ahead and take those meds in the morning with a small amount of water.)

9:20 am: A nurse took me into a small room off the waiting room and asked me to fill out some consent forms. She also had more specific information about the nature of the screening and about discharge orders. They also had a diagram on the wall and she pointed out the pathway of the screening as it would move through my large intestine and just over the border into the small intestine.

9:30 am: The paperwork nurse escorted me into a room lined with rolling beds separated by curtains. There were probably 12 bays along one wall, and they all appeared to be occupied, except the one waiting for me. I asked to go to the bathroom before I got hooked up to anything. When I finished a nurse working in the bay area hooked me up to a heart monitor and a blood pressure cuff. My BP was 98/74 and my pulse was 70.
Photo by lyzadanger.
The nurse also put me on an IV for glucose / saline.  I have small veins anyway, but because I had very little food and fluid in my system which flattened my veins a bit, she had to use a child's needle.

The photo on the left is not of my hand, but it's very similar. The main difference was that that the needle was inserted in a vein that was a little closer to my wrist and more directly over my thumb.

I have a high threshold for pain, so it didn't bother me when the nurse inserted it. That area had a small, brown bruise under the skin for the next 24 hours after the needle was removed, but it never hurt at all.

I talked with the nurse a little about her education and her career goals (since I'm an educator). She wants to be a nurse anesthetist.  I told her about the master's program in nurse anasthesia at Newman University. She was very nice.  We also talked about her kids, and she asked me more questions and left.

Through the curtains, I could hear a lot of heart monitors. I could also hear conversations around on the left about the virtue of gas elimination after the procedure for that patient.  In fact, a nurse pressed down on his diaphram in an effort to encourage elimination. On my right, I heard that patient meeting the anesthesiologist and the colorectal surgeon.  So I got a preview of what I would experience next.

10:00 am: The anesthesiologists supervising the nurse anesthetists came in and asked me some questions.  He let me know that the sedation is not very deep, which would allow me to breath on my own. Shortly after, the colorectal surgeon, Dr. J. A. Reed, came in to ask me a few questions.

10:25 am: I was wheeled into a surgery room where I met the nurse anesthetist and talked to him about his training. My husband is an administrator at a local university that has a degree program in that field (Newman University). The nurse anesthetist did his training at another university (KU? KS?), but he did his undergraduate degree at Newman, so that was a fun connection.  He asked me some questions.

A female nurse asked me to lie on my left side with my right knee raised towards my chest. She put an oxygen mask on me, and I was out one second later. They must have put the Propofol right into my line.

Photo by Judy Baxter.
10:45 am: I woke up back in the same bay I was in before. I immediately started posing questions to the nurse within earshot (who was a different nurse than the one who hooked me up to monitors).  I could tell that I was slurring my speech. My vision was a bit blurry. But I was intent on shaking that off.

I asked the nurse to write the name of the sedative (Propofol) on my discharge orders. I wanted to read more about side effects later. I already knew that I was prohibited from driving or signing legal documents for the day.

She told me that the screening did not find any polyps. Hooray! As an added bonus, I did not have diverticulitis or its precursor diverticulosis. Hooray!

The nurse asked me if I had passed any gas. (I had.) I don't think they let you go home until you do that. The photo above at the right is of a different person after her colonoscopy screening. She experienced painful gas. I didn't have that problem.  (She posted other photos to Creative Commons (a Flikr subset) of her eating lunch at a fancy restaurant later that day, so she did perk up. I'm happy to observe that. Complications are unfun.)

I think because I was so chatty and relatively perky, the nurses let me go before other patients who had their colonoscopy screenings before I did. (I was one of the youngest people there, so maybe that made complications less severe for me. Or I was annoying them with all my questions?)   The nurse escorted me first to the bathroom and then to the waiting room, but I walked unassisted.  I did use the grab bar in the bathroom as a precaution.

When my driver and friend, Molly, gave me my bag, I drank the 8 oz. booster drink (40 grams of carbs, 9 grams of protein) that I had brought with me. Anybody would need to eat something given the preparation requires people to empty their bowels. As a hypoglycemic, I was particularly attuned to the possibility of vertigo, falling, or losing consciousness.  I drank all of that in fewer than 5 minutes.

BTW, I love this tee from Threadless.
I actually bought two of them. 
On the drive home, I talked to my friend Molly a lot, but I still was slurring my speech. (I'm chatty by nature if you haven't figured that out.) We talked in the driveway for a few minutes, and then she walked me to my door.

11:00 am: By about this time, I was home and in bed.  I thought I was doing great, if a bit fuzzy around the edges. I took this selfie here on the left to post on Facebook so that my support team could see I was OK.

Looking at this selfie told me that I was down a notch lower than I initially thought.  I decided to take it easy for the rest of the day--which was part of my discharge orders anyway.

I hydrated, read, napped, talked to my kids, posted to Facebook, talked on the phone calls, and ate a little.

I was told that I could eat whatever I wanted, but I wanted to ease back into solid foods. I had milk, yogurt, scrambled eggs to start. I drank a lot of fluids.

My daughter spent 30 minutes on my toes.
My 13 year old daughter was pleased to see me more stationary than usual, so she used that opportunity to give me a pedicure--for a fee. I was happy to pay her. She did a very good job.

Over the next couple of days, I eased into higher fiber foods such as raw vegetables and whole grains. I also waited a couple of days before eating denser proteins such as beef.

My celebratory food was a small bag of chocolate covered fresh-roasted nuts purchased at the Nifty Nut House.

On Tuesday, the surgical center called to ask me if I was doing OK. They had just left a message. On Wednesday, I called them back to ask them how long it takes to get the bowels moving again. They told me that most people have a bowel movement within 24 hours after their screening. It took me about 72 hours--until Thursday.

I think because I slowly dialed down my eating and my exercise starting Friday, AND I slowly increased my eating and my exercise over the days after the screening, it took my GI track a while to return to normal levels, too.

Unless I experience abdominal pain in the area of my intestines or other signs of bowel trouble, I can wait 10 years before my next screening. I plan on rereading this post as a reminder that screenings are manageable.


Why Get a Colonoscopy?
The Prep Not the Colonoscopy


  1. Thanks for this and your prep post. I have my first colonoscopy scheduled for October. I'm bookmarking these so I can come back to them!

  2. All my best to you, Joy. I hope that everything goes smoothly for you. I was a bit nervous, but I read a bit before (and took notes during). I found it wasn't really horrible--but being prepared and informed helped me manage better. If I lived closer, I'd come over with an array of clear liquids for you. Gentle hugs to you when it's time to check out your colon's health this fall.