Jul 3, 2012

Bowel Me Over: Clumsy's First Colonoscopy

"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.
I was warned the evacuation would begin about an hour into it. Sure enough, it was like May 1940 down there, with English kiddies getting the hell out of London. "Blitz" is a suitable word; although to be frank with you (and hey, why stop now), I felt like it wasn't as .... explosive as the comedians had led me to believe. It wasn't so much Mt Vesuvius as a continually lava-spouting Mt Etna. Of course, had anyone else been caught in it, I'm sure they too would've been frozen in horror for all time.

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?
Much of this is hopefully self-explanatory, because I think I'm sharing enough already. I will however take a moment to as... WTF is going on with Bonox? It tastes like a hot wet steak. Really. It's meat in a paste. You're restricted to clear fluids and simple broths by the last stages of the prep, so I tried to force some down as an alternative to the lemon monstrosity. It was only by the tiniest of margins more palatable. Maybe you had to grow up with it. Maybe it's a British thing, like Marmite or indentured classism.

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.

Him: Why?

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?"


"Errr, yes?"

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!"
I didn't see the doctor or Jolly Man again. I guess they'd moved on. They didn't even leave a number. I did, however, get taken into a small cubicle and briefed by a nurse on the outcome.


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.


  1. There are those who are squeamish about reading blog entries about the blogger's colonoscopy experiences. For most, such things are an example of what is wrong with the Internet. For those who deride such personal accounts argue that blogging about a colonoscopy is akin to describing a bout of chronic explosive diarrhea. "Too much information" some say.

    Not me. I can't get enough of such intimate details that probe deeply into the human condition.

    Nevertheless, I am disappointed in your entry, Natalie. Most other blog entries come with high resolution photos of what the procedure reveals. You omit such photos. Why? I why retain such photos? Why not release them in into the receptacle the that is the World Wide Web?

  2. That was brilliant to read Nat, doesn't make me want to front up for one, but still briliant.

  3. I'm glad you inevitably did this write up and I hope your 'olds' aren't too upset. Shining a light on these sort of procedures is important. Too many people only start to ask questions when it's too late.

    I've written about a similar experience from my youth on my blog. http://www.planet-dan.com/2010/09/fingered.html

  4. As someone who has undergo this procedure on a regular (three yearly) I can Identify with all you have written (revealed???).
    There are tablets which can be taken in place of the citrus? three litres. However, apparently they are not as good as the citrus... My last report stated (Baldly) " On entry faecal matter was found and further flushing was required
    Could this be regarded as toilet humour
    The Ancient Man

  5. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA well done, Nat!!!!

    You had me...cracking...up! (I'm sorry, had to do it)

  6. Cam's dad's a gastro-intestinal surgeon. Interesting to hear about colonoscopies from the perspective of the patient for a change.

    Also this exchange:
    > He then asked what I was there for.
    > Me: Err, a colonoscopy.
    > Him: Why?
    > Me: It's a kink thing.
    Would have been freaking hilarious if you had've, so to speak, got it out.

  7. I had one of these last year. Having read my American namesake's story, I was suitably horrified and apprehensive at the preparation procedure. Too apprehensive, as it happened - I started to feel faint soon after the laxatives started to kick in. Now I've fainted many times before and I'm comfortable with it, but sitting on the toilet mid-colonoscopy-prep is about the worst possible time to have the urge to just lie down....

    Luckily I recovered soon enough and the rest of the evening passed (that was accidental!) without incident. I didn't find the drinks as horrible tasting as had been promised. I spent a lot of time on the toilet, of course, but I was never nauseous.

    It was also quite possibly the greatest sandwich ever created.
    Yes! I don't actually remember eating the sandwich - most of my memory from the hour or two after waking up vanished, and I can only recall the sensation of having a sandwich to eat.

  8. Thanks for your comments, guys!

    I hope maybe somebody, somewhere, is buoyed enough to book themselves in for a bum scope. ;)

  9. I should probably get one given my mum's mum died of bowel cancer. I might even reuse your untold joke.

  10. I love that our stories essentially read exactly the same. Awesome!

    Nobody should be worried about this procedure and now we're living proof!

    Get a camera up ya!

  11. "peace of ass" ROFL. Well done that woman!

  12. Always intrepid Nat, shining a light into dark places and all that. Well done!

    I particularly appreciate the sandwich shot near the end. My own experience involved falling upon the Hungry Jack's drive-through, and inhaling an unfeasible amount of food in scant seconds.

  13. Nat, my husband's mother died of bowel cancer and my husband (43 this year) has been putting off his colonoscopy. I will now give him a boot up the bum, so to speak. Thanks for the giggle!

  14. Felicity,
    Unless the boot is fitted with a camera, a light and a wire lasso, it won,t be much use.
    However, I agree that your husband should be made (forced?) to have a colonoscopy sooner rather than later
    The Ancient Man

  15. I think if I was in your place, and recognized, I'd have died of embarrassment on the spot!

  16. Stumbled across this on Google - I am due next week to pop my colonoscopy cherry at 30, also thanks to family history!
    I absolutely loved this article! Not only do I love your style and think you ate totally hilarious, but you also put me at ease. So thank you!