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Your First Colonoscopy - Experience From a Male Perspective

Here is my account of what I went through to get my first colonoscopy procedure. There are many references and instructions that list what to do, but I also want to include what it is like to continue the process. I hope this information will be used for others who are preparing for this exam for the first time. Also, I will include my personal description for the examination without sedation. As a 50-year-old man with enough interest to maintain my health, I hope this information will benefit others at the same stage in life as they prepare for this exam. Shortly after moving to California following my separation from the army, I was at the doctor's office for routine examination. He suggested that since I passed my 40th birthday that I should have a colonoscopy because of my family history of colon cancer. My father was diagnosed with colon cancer and eventually had surgery. The treatment was successful and the doctor was able to reverse the colostomy. The thought of having to live with the bag that was attached to my body has never been something that appealed to me. I went ahead and scheduled but once I realized the whole process, I quickly canceled my appointment and never interfered with the rescheduling. "Who wants to go through all that?" I think. At one point I had a cult test and a negative result gave me self-assurance.

Years passed and as I progressed through my "forties," I met more men who had undergone colonoscopy procedures. I've heard a lot of comments about their experiences and nothing seems too graphic in detail. There are no scary stories to share about what the whole event needs. Katie Couric of the Today Show even told her what she wanted to go through with the procedure. Since losing her husband at the age of 42 to colon cancer, she has been a huge supporter of people who get themselves diagnosed early, while the necessary treatment is still possible. The National Cancer Institute estimates that there were 51,370 deaths in 2010 from colon and rectal cancer combined.

During 2010 and thus an important milestone: I turned 50. During another routine checkup my doctor asked me to get a schedule for the examination and I agreed. I think that since I didn't get anything younger I better go ahead and see how things are going. Serving 20 years in the Navy taught me that preventative maintenance is always better than corrective maintenance. The notice came in the letter informing me that I would be attending a presentation outlining the procedure for colonoscopy. There were about 40-50 attendees and the person giving the presentation emphasized the need to conduct this examination since colon cancer was described as one of the more easily preventable cancers.

A few weeks later I received my appointment notice and the "goods" box provided. It consists of detailed instructions as well as a gallon-sized plastic container holding electrolyte powder and a six-pill pill holder. The referral sheet mentions some of the risks involved such as bowel swelling and anesthesia. Oh boy, what does everyone want for Christmas. Seeing the polyethylene glycol (similar to antifreeze) listed as the ingredient listed in the container for electrolyte powder did not please me at all. Aspartame (an additive determined to be a cancer-causing agent) is also on the list of ingredients for lime powder that I will add to make the electrolyte solution taste better. Swollen! My original appointment was scheduled for 1pm in the evening but I was able to move it until 11am. Whew! Less time waiting.

Also included in the instructions are some things to do and not to do in the days before the exam. Part of this involves stopping the use of certain drugs and now at the time of writing this article I am on a "low-fiber - low residue" diet two days before the actual exam. The diet itself isn't too bad. There are a few things that are mentioned in the list of foods to avoid (red meat, corn, beans) as well as recommended food lists like chicken, white rice and white bread. Today I helped myself with a lot of chickens! But at least I didn't have the feeling that I was starving. What a relief!

One Day Before the Exam

Well the "party pill" (laxative tablet) I took last night was kicked. Not too bad actually. At 9am I took the last 3 tablets prepared and then started drinking electrolyte solution. One gallon of something I am sure of! My biggest concern was wondering how to get through the day without having anything healthy to eat. So far I've done okay and I'm sure I will. Much related to my overall view in general. I have to admit, it's good to take a day off. My co-workers don't want me there if they know what's going on!

7:30 pm: I can drink the first half gallon of electrolyte solution. It took longer than expected. Good thing I have lime powder to add a bit more flavor. I'm in the process of drinking the second half gallon. Good time! Everything in all the experience wasn't as bad as I thought it might have been. My mother-in-law didn't help much when she told my wife that I needed to put the newspaper on the floor between my bed and the toilet. Granted, there is a record number of visits to facilities followed by a hand washing record number (you're welcome, soap companies!) But nothing has taken me to such a high level of discomfort.

Earlier in the evening I was enjoying coffee and only had jelly for something compact enough to eat so far. I'm really looking forward to having a real meal after tomorrow's procedure. In addition to the clear liquid diet regimen I was prescribed to follow, I took several capsules containing South African hoodia for appetite suppression. It was not listed as a "no-no" in the directories so no red food coloring was involved so I decided to go ahead and harm it. Why ask a doctor a question. Is there a chance I don't want to answer it? I should be able to complete the electrolyte solution that remains within a few hours. After that, I will take a shower and hopefully be tired enough to sleep. In the past, I've been fasting for 10-12 hours for cholesterol checks but this episode is a new record for me. It's amazing to know what you're capable of.

10:30 pm: Well I'm finally on the last glass of the electrolyte solution and I'll be very happy with it. I also need to have more glasses of water and then I'm going to sleep (I'm really waiting for me to finally get some sleep). Now that the real exam time is approaching, I wonder what the exam results will be. It's kind of a weird setup for something that doesn't know the end result. At least I was attentive to the doctor's advice and didn't wait until sometimes. I have noticed mild feelings of lightness for the last few hours but I am confident that they will disappear once everything is done cleverly. Now I just need to finish the last electrolyte solution. Alright, I think this is all going to happen tonight and I'll keep writing in the morning. I imagine a big cook with fries and chocolate shake waiting for me tomorrow when it's all over!

11:45 PM: It's almost midnight. After that I didn't have to have any water until the exam so I just finished whatever I could. It's great for bathing and after bedtime, I'll be 8 hours closer to getting this.

Exam day

I managed to get to this point! I finally got up at 12:30 am and got up about 7 hours later. I called the hospital to see if I could come in early but was informed that everyone had indicated their appointment on time. It's good that I got my appointment for two hours. The main thing now is to make sure I don't drink anything but I've been fishing some water around so I don't have a dry feeling in my mouth. I felt fine but was a bit hungry at first. Everything will be fine.

7:30 pm: It's been a long day. I can't remember a time when I really wanted to go to the hospital! Once there, I checked in and was notified of the seat. The nurse came to talk to me and asked me some preliminary questions about my health history. After that I was again directed to take a seat. Then I was called in again to answer a few health-related questions and sign many documents since I agreed to participate in the research because I would not experience sedation. This study involved the use of water instead of air during the colonoscopy examination. The doctors review the patient's comments about any pain or discomfort. Eventually I turned into a robe, connected to the IV along with various monitors and had wheeled into the operating room. Through the procedure itself is not bad but I am very aware of what is happening! The doctor even let me see a video on the screen showing the condition of the intestinal wall. Small, non-cancerous polyps are found and easily removed. Yes, I approved a sufficient amount of air during the procedure. This may be the only time in your life where someone encourages you to do this! With the exception of a few small diverticulosis spots, everything looks very good. Diverticulosis is a condition in which the walls of the intestine can become weak and inflamed due to bacteria or impurities. Foods containing nuts and seeds can cause diverticulosis because they are difficult to digest by the body. Overall, I'm happy with the results of the exam. After that, my recommendation is for anyone who can take sedation! Following the completion of the examination I was returned to the recovery room where the attending nurse informed me that I needed to pass more gas before release. This is due to the infusion caused by colon inflation to facilitate the examination. I then made a noise, the nurses clapped and I was given up to change my usual clothes. Once in a changing room, I noticed that I was bleeding from an IV sheet that had been removed from my arm and created a real mess on the floor. Fasteners are quickly replaced.

Before leaving I had to answer a few questions from the nurse about my experience in the hospital. I give positive feedback on my treatment. He also gave me a list of recommended foods that will help promote overall colon health such as fiber and fruits and vegetables. I am advised to avoid eating nuts and fruits that contain seeds in an attempt to prevent any condition that may cause further diverticulosis. At the doctor's suggestion, I get a colonoscopy every five years because of my family history of colon cancer.

After leaving the hospital, I went to my favorite place to find something healthy to eat. Really delicious! My recommendation to everyone is to get a colonoscopy after receiving a recommendation from their doctor and following a diet that includes foods with high fiber content.


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