#5: Say Cheese... And Fart!
“Colonoscopy is a safe procedure but there can be a risk of the following:
A perforation (a small tear) in the wall of the bowel; risk about 1 in every 1,000. If this happens you will be aware of significant pain after the procedure and will need to stay in hospital and may need an operation.
Bleeding, which occurs rarely following a biopsy and frequently if a polyp is removed. The risk is about 1 in 500. If it occurs and does not stop then you will need to come back into hospital.
Sedation lowers blood pressure and can cause breathing to stop, and so it may be associated with heart and/or lung problems, particularly in the elderly and those with existing problems. The risk is very rare but can be serious; and great care is taken to prevent it.”
Despite the best interests of the colonoscopy department’s booklet, I now felt more panicked over what could happen, rather than blindly speculating about what might happen.
Most of those eventualities are, of course, worst-case scenarios - but it doesn’t make for comfortable reading. Statistically, you’ve got a better chance of having your bowel torn to ribbons on multiple occasions before winning the Lotto, and I do not like those odds.
However, as much as I wanted to run into the corner and hide until the procedure date went away, I knew I had to do it. At the time, my life was becoming an ever more confusing and humiliating place to be, and I’d be a colossal idiot to ignore a chance to get it sorted. If it was something awful, then I’d deal with what options I had. If it was something that required daily medicine forever, I’d get to know my local chemist on a first-name basis. In that moment, having any life was a better option than having none at all.*
* I am aware of the potential absurdity of that statement.
Plus, at the request of the NHS, it also gave me a reason to buy a dressing gown and some natty slippers to wear on the big day. Every cloud…
Just So We All Know:
A polyp is an abnormal tissue growth commonly found in the mucus membrane of either the colon, stomach, ear, nose, sinus(es), bladder or uterus. Most polyps are benign, but there is a risk of them becoming cancerous. This is why a polyp may be removed during a colonoscopy.
Read more about bowel/colon polyps on NHS Choices by clicking here.
The Fast(ing) and the Furious(ly Hungry)
The earliest (and pretty much the only) available colonoscopy place left in 2015 was in early December, so I quickly booked my place online and started the six week countdown. There was no way I was prepared to put this off until 2016*, so after confirming the date, it was time to focus on the fast and the flush.
* Also: if I was to receive bad news, at least I could give myself a meaningful New Years’ resolution for once. Good thinking or what?!
As the natty phrase* suggests, the fast and the flush comes in two parts**. The fast starts two days before the colonoscopy and insists on you eating a very constricted, bland diet for the first day, and then eating nothing at all on the second.
* Read: Totally made up phrase.
** Actually, it’s three parts, but as I didn’t need to stop any iron tablets or constipating agents, I was able to pass ‘Go’ and collect my imaginary £200…
My 24-hour menu consisted of: eggs, cheese, white bread, butter/margarine, rich tea biscuits, potatoes (no skins), white fish and skinless chicken, black tea, black coffee, water, fruit squash (not blackcurrant*), carbonated water, clear soup, Bovril and Oxo. It’s not appalling, but it’s not something to get excited about - unless the idea of eating nothing but rich tea biscuits for a whole day sounds like fun (and if it does, you and I already have too much in common; and if you also thought about dyeing the biscuits different colours and seeing how quickly they could be flushed through your system in a twisted variation of Poohsticks, I’d suggest seeking help immediately).
* Blackcurrant makes you wee more.
The flush begins a day before the colonoscopy, and merely consists of drinking a number of laxative sachets during the day (or night) and frequently sprinting to the toilet: a skill that I was already becoming pretty adept at without the use of performance enhancers.
And what name did this laxative go by? Klean-Prep, of course: a name that simultaneously reads like an industrial kitchen cleaner and a product endorsed by Krusty the Clown. So far, so ominous.
I’m not one to judge a bowel cleanser by its cover, though, so I gamely prepared the packs of suspicious looking powder and got ready to taste. Naively, I thought that it might be okay, but what greeted my tongue upon first taste was a swill of cheap, plastic “vanilla flavoured” Play-Doh with a ‘fresh sweat’ aftertaste. Adding orange squash did nothing but confuse the concoction furthermore.
Still, it’s not like I had 4 litres of the stuff to drink or anything, was it?
Minutes progressively turned into hours, as the sweaty Play-Doh built up within my bowels and showed no sign of movement. Of all the things I’d consumed in the last year, it appeared that this was the thing that my large intestine was most comfortable with holding onto. For me, bitter irony came laced with aspartame.
With more than two hours clocked up, things steadily got going, before momentum, medicine and gravity fully took hold. I began to feel like I was on a cleansing purge to find my spirit animal, but there was no ayahuasca or shaman to be found - the nearest I got to a spiritual enlightening was the introduction of zinc and castor oil after a particularly powerful ‘purge’.
My procedure is due to commence shortly after midday, so I decide to (literally) get my purging out of the way the night before and wake up a cleansed – and puzzled – man. Having no breakfast (or accompanying medicine sachets) to wake up for is an alien concept for me, and by 10am I was bumbling around the house aimlessly like a balding Ozzy Osbourne, as I had to stop drinking liquids, too.
Time stumbled by until the taxi arrived to take me to hospital. After a while, the conversation lead on to the reason for my early-afternoon NHS sojourn, and my driver asks if I’m being sedated or not. I’d elected to avoid sedation and stick to gas and air only, because my anxiety rocketed whenever I thought about (potentially) not being able to tell the nurses if anything’s going wrong. My driver had had a colonoscopy before, but his response was less than comforting:
“Oh no, don’t do that!” He said. “Take the sedation - it bloody hurts!”
How to Lose Stool and Alienate People
The waiting room is a usual mix of pale and worried patients with restless, magazine-flicking relatives. A small wall-mounted TV near the door begins to show the muted afternoon news. Today’s top subtitled story? “Many NHS targets in England - including ambulances, A&E and cancer care – have been missed, with delays discharging vulnerable people hitting record levels.”
According to the BBC report, “The position on many of the measures is worse than it was this time last year, which ended up being the most difficult winter for a generation.”
“That bodes well,” jokes a guy to my left. He’s called Ben, a forty-something builder. In unrelated, breaking news, my stomach announced that it’ll start eating itself pretty soon unless sustenance is provided.
A light dose of gallows humour continues to carry us through the next 30 minutes, as our waiting times fall further and further back (thankfully, the news told us this would probably happen…), until Ben gets a bit racist about a story regarding immigration and the conversation dries up*.
* Inb4: “SNOWFLAAAAAAAAAKE!”
Mercifully, I get called through for the pre-colonoscopy check-up soon afterwards and trudge through to a smaller, even more innocuous room nearby to recite my personal details and sign the unnerving declaration forms. It should be relatively easy, but trying to recall specific, accurate information about yourself is pretty exasperating when you’re overtired with a cavernous hole in your stomach and you’re thinking about the many ways you would eat your own hands and just how much is this thing going to hurt. Even writing my own signature required maximum concentration.
The next test of concentration and sanity came down another set of nondescript corridors and even smaller rooms. I’m given a gown and a pair of ‘dignity shorts’ to wear, which are like papery boxer shorts with a massive flap in the back that instantly erase their ‘dignity’ title if you have to suddenly bend over to pick any of your stuff off the floor. I tie some of ties on the rear of the gown together, shrug, and hope for the best, before wondering for a few seconds as to which way around my shorts should go (duh…) and slipping into my brand new slipper and gown combo to finish off my ‘Unwell Creepy Flasher’ look.
Outside of the tiny broom cupboard that operated as a changing room, the dimly lit waiting area is deserted. I stand around aimlessly and hold my bag of belongings to my chest while I wait for someone to tell me what to do next. This waiting area is different to the previous waiting room. This silent, windowless corner of yet another small, non-descript room sits next to a door that takes you through to two endoscopy rooms on either side of a short corridor that ushers you back to reception. In front of me, a small gathering of sofas and a dormant TV sit invitingly in an unlit corner. From behind, a familiar voice greets me:
“You all done yet?” asks a newly gowned-up Ben.
“Erm, no… I haven’t been in yet,” I respond quizzically. How quick does he think this thing takes?! It’s only been about fifteen minutes since I was last talking to him, and the procedure itself usually takes a good twenty minutes if everything runs smoothly. Thankfully, this newfound hangry bewilderment is cut short by a nurse, who calls Ben into one of the endoscopy rooms.
Moments later, a nurse is heard walking down the nearby corridor shouting, “WHERE ARE ALL THE STAFF?”, which the news report from earlier said could happen. Such a proclamation leaves me on edge in more ways than one, as I also elect to perch on the sofa and think about nipping off to the loo.
A second nurse arrives, asks if I’ve been called through yet, turns on the TV for me to watch, and flicks through the channels for me to find something worth watching. I decide that now is probably the best time to go to the loo to make sure that I’m 100% ready for when they call me throu-
“Would you like to come through now, please?”
THE SOng SUPPOSITORY
Popping up in this weeks’ Song Suppository tracklist are:
Foo Fighters (The Feast And The Famine), a dark dose of Everything Everything (Spring / Sun / Winter / Dread), and classic cuts from Chase & Status (Against All Odds, featuring Kano), Eric B. & Rakim (Don’t Sweat The Technique) and The Crimea (Lottery Winners On Acid) – remember them?
Get clicking below to immerse yourself in the full Stool mini-soundtrack experience!