Colonoscopy: It's not a torture mechanism, it's a lifesaver.

Ah, colonoscopy. Besides a root canal, I cannot think of another routine medical procedure that anyone dreads more.

Having issues with my digestive health as of late led me to finally seek out a gastroenterologist's opinion in regards to what had been happening. This was after the really official diagnosis I'd given myself from WebMd and MayoClinic Online. According to the interwebs, I possibly had a variety of ailments: dysentery that was only seen in the pioneer ages; a mass the size of a watermelon in my colon and a month left to live; or "toxic megacolon", a condition that is as horrible as the name sounds. However, the rational voice inside told me it was probably smarter to wait for a diagnosis from a professional.

Upon arrival at my doctor, I had to fill out a really fun, uh, "detailed" form that asked questions that made me turn a shade of red I never knew existed. Talk about leaving little to the imagination. I admit I giggled like a first grader at some of the questions. Dear God, I thought, if these questions are on here, someone HAS experienced these symptoms at some point. I was about three seconds from bolting out the door and claiming I was really looking for the chiropractor three suites down.

So, having such a strong family history of colon cancer, the doctor still considered me "at risk", even at 32 years old. He then uttered the words that no one wants to hear:

"Amy, we are going to need you to come in for a colonoscopy. Next week."

I laughed nervously and was hoping for him to look at me and say "Haha! Just kidding! You're fine! Colonoscopy, that's crazy talk. Just take a Tums or something." No such luck. He looked at me with a stern face and nodded.

Oh, isn't that special. Great. The nurse handed me a sheet that said "COLONOSCOPY PREP" in large letters. The list should have been titled "WHAT TO DO IF YOU DON'T WANT TO LEAVE THE HOUSE FOR A DAY". Instructions included "PURCHASE 238g BOTTLE OF MIRALAX: CONSUME ENTIRE BOTTLE. CONSUME ENTIRE BOTTLE OF MAGNESIUM CITRATE. NO SOLID FOODS. CHICKEN BROTH. YELLOW POPSICLES. ADULT DIAPERS." (Okay, no adult diapers, but the thought crossed my mind upon reading "consume entire bottle of anything-lax.")

Now that I knew what I needed to do to prepare, it was time to do my homework on colonoscopies. After more internet research (again, really reliable place to find medical information) I'd determined that I'd rather go get my eyelids sewn shut than proceed. According to Dr. Internet and the user "message boards", I was going to feel as if I was having a doctor basically fly a kite through my colon. A large, pointy kite. One woman said that a colonoscopy "made childbirth look easy." Party!

The day of the procedure finally rolled around, 26 banana-flavored popsicles later. I was incredibly nervous. I was lucky enough to have my family and fiance with me. My mom, who has been through surgeries that make a colonoscopy look like trimming a hangnail, was extremely helpful in giving me the kick in the behind to get over the fear I was feeling.

As I waited in the prep area, my fear was not eased. I'd always assumed this was done in a doctor's office, but I was actually in the area with others who were having various forms of outpatient surgery. However, after overhearing some of the other folks discuss what they were having done, I was thankful that I was preventing a problem before possibly needing surgery to fix it.

The nurse came over to give me an IV (which, by the way, turned out to be the most painful part of the day). "When do I get the sedation?" I asked anxiously.

"Oh, you're getting sedation? Some people elect not to. And, oh, believe me, you absolutely should have it," she said, shaking her head.

Who are these insane individuals? I thought. Are they sadists? "No, I DEFINITELY want it," I proclaimed, about ready to jump up in my hospital gown and bare feet and go find the anesthesiologist myself. I was in luck- a very nice anesthesiologist came over to me shortly after my declaration of wanting the equivalent of an elephant tranquilizer. "Don't worry," he assured me, "you won't even know what happened. We will give you a dose of propofol." (Didn't that kill Michael Jackson? I thought. Just dandy.) "Just sign these forms acknowledging the risks." Great. Oh well, I signed, and off I went.

They wheeled me back to the surgical suite which, quite frankly, scared me. I made the mistake of looking at the instrument used for the procedure. (My advice: don't do that.) No turning back now, I thought. My doctor told me in a very reassuring voice, "You are going to feel sleepy and drift off. We'll see you soon." Yeah, right, I thought. I will probably feel this whole thing and wake up like I did during my wisdom teeth removal.

However, he was right. The next thing I remember is waking up in the recovery area to a nice nurse gently tapping my arm. I also remember groggily saying "How ya doinnnn" to the nurse and asking where I was. Most importantly, though- I did not feel a SINGLE part of the procedure. Nothing. Additionally, I had an endoscopy performed, which is the examination of the esophagus and stomach with a tube inserted in your mouth. Also sounds like a delight, right? To my surprise, I felt NOTHING during that procedure, either.

My doctor came over and spoke to me while I was still in a bit of a stupor- luckily, they found no evidence of cancerous symptoms or any other serious disease. THANK GOD. I got my results which showed detailed pictures of my stomach and colon. I think I am better acquainted with my body than I have ever been. I was amazed at how I could see these that quickly- I think it takes longer for film to be developed at Walgreens.

I say this with complete sincerity- going to the dentist is more difficult than this was. Did it help that I had it done by great doctors at a wonderful hospital (Lutheran General, you've got my love)? Definitely. As one of the eloquent message board folks put it, "This isn't a drive-thru procedure." Uh, really, ya think? But, that actually makes some sense.

The amount of incorrect information on the internet that scares people away from doing this is astounding. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT take any of these accounts to be the ultimate deciding factor in going through with a colonoscopy. I almost fell victim to that. Rest assured this is not a torturous experience- I know I'll rest assured knowing that I took care of my health.

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