Colonoscopy: There’s no pretty way to say it

I am so proud of myself for crossing ‘have a colonoscopy’ off my to-do list. With a strong family history of bowel cancer (my dad was diagnosed at 60, died at 63), I have been surfing on a gentle wave of unscreened guilt for a few years now. I did tell myself that doing extra blood screening could fill that gap, but the further I move into my fifties, the more I know that it isn’t enough.

As it happened, the specialist told me that I was only a borderline case for using a colonoscopy as screening, because family history isn’t as much a predictor of contracting bowel cancer as I had assumed it to be. But I live in a time and a place where a borderline case for screening does lead to screening so screened I was.

The preparation was a disgusting as everyone says it is, and even now, three days later, the thought of that drink is still making me gag. But as for the procedure itself, well all I can say is that weirdly it was the best sleep I’ve had for months.

As I came out of that sleep I found myself in a strange place emotionally, and feeling extraordinarily sad. But as you probably know if you are human, sadness has many nuances. This was a very pure, uncomplicated sadness, and this is the loveliest of all sadnesses to experience because it is the sadness that rubs so closely alongside love. I’m sure this sounds incredibly cheesy, and I hope one day to come back and write this more fully. But for now, I simply want to record it so that I don’t forget it.

The nurses kept asking, ‘Are you okay?’ until the one who was a little older than the rest said, ‘Is it because of hospitals?’ And that seemed to be the most complete explanation I could give for now and I was grateful to her for giving it words.

I tried hard to take in the physical surroundings so that I could write more completely. Obviously I didn’t have a notebook, and I probably didn’t have the strength in my hands yet to write anyway. And I didn’t want to ask for my phone, which felt like something of an intrusion into the experience anyway. I thought I would try to remember things by going through the alphabet and assigning something to each letter. Firstly though I even had trouble fighting through the fog to think of a word that matched each letter. A for anesthetic was okay; b for blue because goodness me everything in that room really is blue; c for ceiling … then I would lose my place and when I went back over it, I’d lost half the words anyway.

So in the end, I let myself lie there, taking notice of where I was, but not berating myself for what I couldn’t do. The best part of the day was, of course, the white-bread sandwich and the cup of tea. Such comfort in such food, I did cry again.

As it happens the screening was justified because he did find, and remove, a polyp which was of medium size. (I was disappointed to read in the report, however, that the bowel prep was only judged as ‘good’ and given how carefully I followed the instructions I feel slightly aggrieved that it was not judged as ‘excellent’ or even ‘outstanding’.)

On discharge I was reminded once again that for the next 24 hours I should not drive, drink alcohol or make big decisions. So the next day as I was taking this as permission to take it very easy, I was processing this, that and the other and the profound impact of this procedure began to dawn on me.

Leading up to the day and the procedure I had felt a sense of sadness that my dad had not done the screening which meant that by the time the tumour was discovered it had had too much time to not only seed itself, but also to sprout and to send its runners through his body.

I felt like I had actually changed one potential outcome of my life. Not in a sliding doors or a road less taken kind of way, but in a much more concrete and tangible way. I am not overstating it to say that it felt profound.

So that’s a big tick on my to-do list. Unfortunately the results mean that I have to go back again in three years and not in the five or even ten that I was hoping for. But on the plus side, that sleep is something to look forward to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *