The Colonoscopy Chronicles, Part II: Enter the Scope

in which I pass out as a rubber hose approaches my rear.

Previously, in Part I: An intestinal germ and some nauseating pharmaceuticals team up to flush out the inside of my gut.

8:09 a.m.:, Tuesday (September 1). I’m awake, I’m exceptionally hungry, and I’m scheduled to be at the outpatient center for my colonoscopy in a little less than an hour. Also, my insides are as clean as a whistle — that is, a whistle that’s been soaked, scrubbed, and sandblasted from the inside out.

In Part I, I mentioned that I’d only been eating clear fluids like chicken broth and Jell-O, but I neglected to say why — though you may have figured it out already. The clear fluids are another part of the prep for the colonoscopy. In essence, the docs want the only stuff left in my intestine to be transparent; otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to see much of anything with the fiber-optic camera they plan to insert into my southern end.

But as of midnight, even my intake of clear fluids was cut off; from the docs’ perspective, having my intestines completely empty is preferable to having them filled with lime Jell-O. I’m not even allowed to drink water, so I’m really quite thirsty; swishing water around in my mouth helps a little bit, even if I have to spit it out.

Thankfully, there’s a bit of good news: My wife, Stacey, learned yesterday that they’ve had a cancellation at the outpatient center, which means my appointment has been bumped up from noon to 9 a.m. So at least I don’t have to sit around all morning feeling hungry.

Interestingly, I’m not all that worried about the procedure itself. For some reason, rather than thinking about what’s about to happen to my rear, my mind is keeping itself busy by worrying about whether this is all going to be billed correctly to my insurance.

8:41 a.m. “How are you feeling, Dad?” asked Tom, my 4-year-old son, when I came downstairs this morning. He’s been asking conscientious questions like that throughout my ordeal. It’s never failed to make me feel at least slightly better.

Tom and 2-year-old Seth are behind me in the car now, and we’re off to the outpatient center. Because of the kind of anesthesia the docs will be using, I can’t drive myself — so Stacey and the boys are going to drop me off and pick me up.

Stacey is on her cell phone now with a friend, apologizing that my appointment will keep her from getting to a meeting of her mom’s group. In response to the friend’s sympathetic questioning, Stacey observes that the prep seems worse to me than the actual colonoscopy.

“My poor husband has been dealing with that all day yesterday,” she tells her friend. “He’s ready for this to be done.”


8:57 a.m. “Good luck, Daddy!” Stacey calls after me as I walk into the outpatient center.

“Good luck, Daddy!” Tom echoes.

“Goo luk, Daddeh!” Seth adds.

9:01 a.m. In the waiting room. One fellow patient, a woman, is knitting what looks to be a baby blanket; one guy is reading an outdated magazine; another is working on his smartphone. The rest of us are watching whatever’s on the waiting room TV — which happens to be an infomercial for Turbo Jam.

This will get old very quickly.

9:12 a.m. The wait wasn’t so bad after all. I’m all checked into the system here at the outpatient center; now it’s time for the hospital gown.

“You can leave your undershirt and your socks on,” the nurse tells me helpfully.

I think I see my doctor milling around in here somewhere.

I’m too nervous to write much.

9:26 a.m. The IV is in. Here we go.

10:39 a.m. It’s done. And I’m back among the conscious — barely. I think I came to around 10:30; I’ve been munching cautiously on crackers since then. The doctor has been here to say that things went well. I’ll recap in more detail when my head’s a bit less fuzzy.

11:13 a.m. Back home, back in my own bed. I’m still quite woozy. My discharge instructions note that I am not to “drive a car or operate machinery, or sign legal documents for 12 hours.” Stacey helpfully adds that I probably also shouldn’t send e-mails, blog, or post status updates on the Web until then either. I believe this is sage advice.

But let’s see if I’m together enough to start recounting my experience.

A wonderfully personable nurse named Sheila helped me through all my final preparations; she had the endearing quirk of referring to everyone as “friend.” While she took my vital signs, the nurse anesthetist got me hooked up to an IV. Even though the only stuff going into my veins at first was a salt water solution, the placebo effect was apparently quite strong — I started feeling slightly woozy as soon as it started flowing.

They wheeled me into the procedure room, where (thankfully) I didn’t spot anybody getting ready to fire up the scope. My doctor greeted me and then gave me a brief moment of alarm when he noticed he had some other patient’s chart up on the computer for my procedure. Apparently, it was the chart for the person who’d originally been scheduled at 9 a.m. but canceled. Fortunately, my doctor recognized me and quickly solved the problem. The outpatient center’s “facial recognition” system had worked just fine, he joked.

By this point, the nurse anesthetist had put an oxygen tube up to my nose, and I already felt like I’d had about two doses of NyQuil. Then he noted he’d be sending me off to sleep, popped a syringe of medication into my IV, and …

I came to about an hour later, groggy but aware enough to realize I was back in the curtained alcove where I had undressed and gotten ready for the procedure. I’m happy to report that my bottom didn’t feel any worse for wear.

Sheila noticed I was awake a few minutes later and asked if I wanted something to drink; recognizing that clear fluids would probably still shoot right through me, I asked for a few crackers as well.

Around 10:40, the doctor came by to give me a quick overview of the results. It turns out there’s still some inflammation at the start of my colon, but he’s not too concerned. In fact, he was able to get the scope all the way through my large intestine and into the end of my small intestine (I really don’t want to think about the length of that scope …); that end of my small intestine is where I used to have my worst inflammation from the Crohn’s, and he said even that’s looking okay. He wants to follow up with me, but he’s evidently not too worried about anything he saw in there, because he said I can wait another 6 months before I come in.

Anyway, Tommy has brought me up a dish of graham crackers, and Stacey has given me a tall glass of ginger ale, so I’m going to put down the computer and start working on getting my gut back to normal.

11:36 a.m. “Too much computer is bad for your brain, Dad,” Tom has informed me. Good point. It’s about time for a nap anyway.

September 16 (9:20 p.m.) It’s been more than three weeks since my procedure, and my bowels have been pretty much back to normal for quite some time now.

On the afternoon after I got home from the outpatient center back on September 1, I had planned on writing up some sort of an epilogue while I convalesced — but that never happened. Instead, I just stayed in bed, gradually recovered from my grogginess and generally felt miserable. Up until that point, the exercise of writing had kept my mind focused — it had allowed me to create some sort of higher purpose for my intestinal ordeal. I wasn’t merely powerwashing my gut; I was powerwashing my gut for the sake of art!

But the big finish for my narrative never came. I’m happy about the results of the test, of course — the inflammation is mild, and I shouldn’t need to have a scope inserted into that part of my body for another five years. (Five years! My toddler and preschooler will be halfway through elementary school by then!)

Still, I think I was frustrated back on September 1 because some part of me was irrationally hoping there’d be an even happier ending to this story. Congratulations! the fantasy doctor would say. All of the inflammation has miraculously vanished! This scope will never need come near your bottom again!

Instead, he was already planning my next visit — which was the last thing I want to think about, even at five years away.

On the other hand, there have been some surprising upshots from this experience. I’m writing this nearly a week after I published the first half of my experience here on Crunchable, and since then it’s led to several conversations about my disease. One coworker even stopped by my desk to mention he has Ulcerative Collitis, a disease very closely related to Crohn’s. We commiserated for several minutes about the evil that is magnesium citrate. This is a very new experience for me, considering I’ve shared very little about my disease with anyone since high school. To have so many people respond positively feels pretty good.

Unfortunately, as nice as all that is, it’s not a very dramatic ending to this piece. So I’m going to create one.

On the floor behind me is a plastic jug that once contained two whole liters of Half-Lytely ,the nauseating bowel preparation solution I described at such length in Part I. Also behind me are a baseball bat, a saw, and a power drill.

See, over the years, I’ve developed a sort of ritual finish to my colonoscopy ordeals — but I’ve been putting it off until this evening. So, if you’ll excuse me, I have some frustrations to work out. I’ll feel a whole lot better in a few minutes …

Article © 2009 by Michael Duck