Colonoscopy jitters? A firsthand account of what to expect

Kayla Thomas' pre-procedure selfie

Generally speaking, if there is a big sister and a little sister, the big sister is the responsible one. It is most certainly that way in my family. My sister, almost two years older and way wiser, keeps up meticulously with her preventive screenings and our family health history. By the time I turned 45, she'd already undergone three colonoscopies due to our family history of colon cancer. I was still in "I'll get around to it" mode.

Once the age for screening officially dropped to 45, I finally took my sister's nagging (a.k.a. concern and caring) to heart and scheduled my first colonoscopy.

I was a little nervous, more so about the prep than the procedure itself. It's important to note, if you lack the ability to plan ahead, this is one circumstance where you will want to. You'll want to make a trip to the grocery store to have a few supplies on hand! It's also important to not eat any nuts, seeds, corn or popcorn for five days before the colonoscopy. 

The day before the procedure, it's required to follow a clear liquid diet. That, thankfully, doesn't mean just water. Black coffee is allowed, which helped me get through that first morning. You can also have popsicles, gelatin, broth, and even hard candy. One caveat is you can't consume anything blue, red or purple. I excitedly purchased a bag of hard candy but neglected to notice most of the flavors were the forbidden colors. At least I had lime, while my kids got to eat the rest! Following the clear liquid diet was the toughest part of the experience. It didn't take me long to miss chewing and also to determine I wouldn't make it long in the wilderness alone without food.  

My prep started with two laxative pills in the afternoon. Then the real action began around 6 p.m. the night before the procedure. That meant half of a container of powdered laxative (prescribed by my primary care doctor) the evening before the procedure and half the morning of. I wasn't scheduled for my appointment until 1:30 p.m. I have heard some people prefer early appointments to get it over with as soon as possible in the day, but that also entails getting up REALLY early to start the second day's cleanout. The preparation plan I followed entailed splitting a massive amount of powder equally among four servings of the sports drink flavor of my choice (assuming it wasn't blue, red or purple) and drinking those servings 30 minutes apart.

I didn't find the powder to be too gritty or to have a bad taste like I'd read online from some accounts. I've seen recommendations to use a straw. I think that does help to get the solution down more quickly and with less grittiness hitting your taste buds. This part of the process went about how I expected.

It was definitely necessary to stay close to the bathroom about 45 minutes into the process. I will say it provided a nice distraction from being hungry. And I was able to sleep through the night without interruption. I did wake up starving and enjoyed a 5 a.m. lime-flavored popsicle.

The second round of prep went exactly like the first. The instructions specified to make sure I was done with all the solution four hours before my appointment, and that was no problem. 

My sister drove me to Village Pointe Health Center. She had the option to stay in the room the whole time, or the staff would call her once I was taken to the procedure room so she'd be there when I woke up. The health care team called me back almost immediately after sitting in the waiting room. I brought a book but didn't even have time to read it! My team was running ahead of schedule, so the whole appointment went by in a blur! A nursing assistant took my vital health stats and showed me my room, which looked like a hospital room. There was a shared bathroom adjoining two exam rooms. I dressed in my glamorous hospital gown, and it wasn't long before the IV was in place for my anesthesia. The nurse anesthetist came in to meet me and go over what to expect. My doctor for the procedure was Timothy McCashland, MD. Dr. McCashland also came in before they wheeled me back to review all the potential risks and to make sure I was comfortable, ready, and didn't have any last-minute questions.

After that, it was go-time. I hadn't gone for a ride in a hospital bed since my last pregnancy more than 10 years ago. I hadn't been under anesthesia since I got my wisdom teeth out 20 years ago. It's always a strange experience to feel that level of helplessness. I have to say the team taking care of me did their best to make me feel comfortable. They quickly realized humor is my calming mechanism, and their jokes helped make it easier and even kind of fun. I trusted them immediately. Getting anesthesia is an odd sensation. A quick and tight pinching feeling on the back of my hand – and then – zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

I woke up to find my sister and a very friendly recovery nurse in the room. I felt like I'd been asleep for a week instead of 20 minutes. Things were foggy, but I quickly realized the nurse was offering to get me a drink. Diet soda sounded good! Wait! I hadn't had many calories in the last day and a half – so the full sugar, fully carbonated version it was. And it was delicious. 

Even better was learning my results. Completely polyp free and clear from repeating the procedure for 10 years! After putting it off for so long, the feeling of relief was invigorating. I was almost dumbfounded that it was over and that it had been that easy. My post-care instructions even included a picture of my nice, clean colon. At that moment, I kind of wanted to frame it. Don't worry; that feeling has passed.

My sister took me to lunch after. I've heard many people want a burger and fries or pizza. My craving was for mashed potatoes. I ordered them alongside a hot beef sandwich and savored every bite. It was one of the most satisfying meals I've eaten.

I'm certainly glad I have a decade before I need to go back. Still, I have plenty of friends and family members who need colonoscopies more regularly. Once you've been through the process, you understand that it really isn't all that bad! Especially the procedure itself. I'm so glad I finally did it! I'm especially grateful for the professional team who took great care of me, and I'm thankful for warm and buttery mashed potatoes. But most of all, my thanks go to my pushy big sister. Do you have one, too? Listen to her.