"Just sign here," the doctor said curtly. "It means if we find any polyps, we'll throw a snare around them and burn them out."
Hang on, hang on. I'd thought I was signing up for a routine colonoscopy, not feral pest management and fire hazard reduction.
Turns out a colonoscopy can get a little bit Wild West these days. But in the interest of HEALTH, it was time for Girl Clumsy to saddle up and face her high noon.
In writing this tale, I am acutely aware of the worried lecture my parents gave me on the way into the day hospital. "Oh you're NOT going to put this on the internet, are you?" and "You CAN'T mention the family history!". If you'll excuse the context, they were figuratively threatening to throw something at a fan.
Well, I have to produce CONTENT, parents. And frankly, you've brought it on yourselves. You're the ones who encouraged me to "study" and "write" and "get an education". NOT LAUGHING NOW ARE YOU. No, you're thinking you should've bought me a pony after all. Illiterate horsy people don't cause nearly as much trouble as middle class white girls with an overinflated sense of their own voice.
|Except this guy.|
But fine, for my parents' sake, I shall refrain from mentioning specifics. Let's just simply say that I have a strong family history of bowel cancer; hence the scheduling of a colonoscopy, for general peace of mind (or should that be peace of ass?).
My bowel and I have always had an informal yet professional relationship. I try to eat fibre, it tries not to evacuate itself at inappropriate moments. Granted, there was that time in Morocco where all systems failed despite the fact the only available toilet was a squat, but that's OK. These things happen. Thigh muscles recover. By and large, it's been a productive, functional partnership.
So I was relatively confident of tackling the infamous "prep" required to undergo an anus horribilis. I attended my pre-procedure meeting on the Thursday, four days before Operation: Probe-U-Want. I was fitted out with the requisite pills and powders, and sent off to obey a strict "low fibre" diet.
I was ordered to stick to primarily white foods - rice, pasta, bread (no wholegrain!). Fruit and veges were out of the question. That's right, for four days I got to wander around avoid bananas and broccoli FOR MY HEALTH. "Sorry, can't eat that delicious-looking salad - FOR MY HEALTH!" Sure, informing my friends of this over dinner at a flash Japanese restaurant on the Friday night did somewhat lower the conversational tone, but NOTHING'S MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR HEALTH, YOU GUYS, SO I CAN'T HAVE EDAMAME BECAUSE IT WILL REMAIN STUCK IN MY COLON.
Sunday rolled around and after a final midday meal of plain cooked rice, it was time for The Great Emptying. Now, I saw evergreen Scottish comedian Billy Connolly live a few years ago discuss his own experiences with this elimination process; I've also read humourist Dave Barry's take on it.
Neither of these men are lying. The preparation drink is about as appetising as marriage to Tom Cruise. It's delightfully labelled "lemon flavour", which only served to further intimidate me. I HATE lemon flavour. That fake, super-sugary citrus tang. Ugh. I once threw up after eating a lemon Chupa-Chup. It was after 16 hours on a bus trip for ski camp. I'm sure it was the Chupa-Chup.
My instructions were to consume two litres of the stuff between 6 and 9pm, with a half hour break in between. You make up the solution in hot water, then let it cool, at which time it becomes more like a Final Solution.
|Bottoms up. Or, as the case may be, down.|
|The gods are angry today.|
Thankfully I had been prepared for this situation by one of my parents, who shall remain nameless and genderless. They had thoughtfully equipped me with a colonscopy prep survival kit, the likes of which Bear Grylls would be proud:
|Or was this from that day I wandered onto a porn set?|
Anyway, I spent the rest of the night pacing the apartment, watching non-committal TV and making more rest stop visits than a meth-addled truckie. But it wasn't.... unbearable, because I had an end goal in sight: a general anesthetic.
I had to rise at 5:30 the morning of C-Day to drink the final litre of stuff. I got through three-quarters of it, then started to feel queasy. I decided to stop before I threw it all up. But it was too late. I threw it all up. There was nothing else in my digestive system to give, so the lemon prep came back up, looking much the same as it had going down.
If you don't do your prep properly it can affect the ability of the doctor to carry out the procedure properly. However, sleep-deprived, nauseous and hungry, I was over it. I decided I'd apologise in advance for not having my house totally in order, and leave them to stumble around the unfolded laundry and computer cables of my bowel as best they could.
Meeting the doctor was interesting. First of all, he wasn't the doctor I had been told I'd be seeing. When I asked what happened to that doctor, he replied somewhat tersely, "I don't know". He then asked what I was there for.
Me: Err, a colonoscopy.
Me: It's a kink thing.
OK, I DIDN'T say that, but GOSH I wish I had. The lemon prep had knocked my witty wordplay ability for six. I actually replied "family history" which makes me the most BORING colonoscopy patient ever. He made me sign the consent forms for polyp removal (it costs extra, so it must be good!), and then vanished.
A few moments later, a jolly looking fellow in a green operating gown wandered in and announced my name to himself. Then he did a double take, and uttered the one phrase that I really didn't want to hear from someone who within half an hour was destined to be in the same room as my exposed posterior:
"Are YOU on the RADIO?"
OH GOD HE'S RECOGNISED MY NAME.
He grinned, knowingly. "I THOUGHT so."
It turns out Jolly Man was my anesthe... anisthetis.... anehthises.... the guy who knocks you out with the drugs. Oh God, I thought, he's going to take pictures of me and post them on the internet. Well - ha! I showed him! I've written about it on the internet! I win! Yeah, I win... yeah... wooo... oh God my parents are going to read this, aren't they?
Anyway, after wandering into the operating theatre, I was asked to remove my... *gulp* pants, and hop up under a sheet on the table. Jolly Man barrelled over and stuck a needle in the back of my hand. He told me that I would have a nice sleep, and then ....
....I woke up.
It was about 45 minutes or so later, and I was in some sort of recovery bed. I still didn't have pants on, and I was a bit woozy. Insert your sport-appropriate jokes right there, friends.
After about half an hour of slipping in and out of consciousness, my senses restored themselves enough to sit upright, and eventually, to dress myself.
Nurses then helped move me to an easy chair, where they fetched me a lemonade and handed me a ham and cheese sandwich. It was my first solid food in 24 hours, and the first decent in 36. It was also quite possibly the greatest sandwich ever created.
|"I am Ozy-sanger-dias; look upon, ye mighty, and despair!"|
Apparently they passed a camera tube all the way up to my caecum. I didn't even know I HAD a caecum, let alone that it was open for filming. But they didn't find any polyps, and no sign of anything resembling pre-cancer, cancer, or oops-bother-it's-too-late cancer. So, hoorah!
They recommended I return in four years, given the family history. That's fine - it gives me some time to steel myself again for the prep procedure... and to adopt some sort of assumed name to use in these situations. I'm thinking Busty St Bulge.
But enough about me. Have you thought about YOUR bowel lately? It's particularly important if you're over 40, and/or, like me, you have a family history. Bowel cancer is very common, but it's also incredibly treatable, especially if you're proactive and get screening early.
For more information, head on over to Bowel Cancer Australia. You can request a home testing kit (an easy first step before a colonoscopy), make a donation, and even "Join the Bowel Movement". That is absolutely an awareness thing they're doing to demystify our bottoms a bit. And I like to think my own story has helped in some little way. Either that, or I'm out of the will for making an ass of myself.