Sunday, 23 March 2014

Adventures in my lower intestine [TMI warning]

So I've decided to write a slightly unusual blog, which isn't especially creative (I was going to try and illustrate it, but after googling 'colonoscopy' I decided to mostly let google image search illustrate it instead) but believe it or not, I think this is a subject which the internet doesn't have enough of.

And that subject? Positive experiences of having a colonoscopy.

Miley Cyrus is having a GREAT time!

Uh OH! Too much information alert! If you're not into stories about me pooing out everything inside me and then getting a camera shoved up my bum in the name of medicine, you'd do well to stop reading now… but honestly? I actually think you should carry on, because you never know when one day it might be you who needs to go under the… um… pokey camera stick? And you'll google it to try and reassure yourself (always a bad idea), and all you'll find is horror stories.

Because that's how the internet works. People rarely come back to write about things when their experience could be summed up as 'fairly tolerable, actually' - they come back when they want to rant to the world about what a nightmare they had. As a result, when you go on the internet to find out a bit more about what you might be in for, you'll scare yourself silly.

I was motivated to finally get round to writing this after a friend of mine very bravely asked on Facebook whether anyone could reassure her before she goes for the procedure this week. A couple of years ago when it was my turn, I was too scared/embarrassed to actually talk to anyone I knew (apart from a few close friends), and I wish I could have had some reassurance about the whole thing.

Back to the beginning of the story - about 23 years ago.

When I was a toddler, I made the bold decision that I didn't like pooing, and wasn't going to do it any more. So I didn't. For two weeks. In the end, my parents had to take me to hospital to be 'unclogged'. I have nearly no recollection of this - all I remember was crying on the toilet, and then sitting in a hospital bed eating green jelly.

 Breakfast of (3 year old, constipated) champions

But it was the beginning of a not-so-great relationship with my digestive system… I still hate pooing, and poo, but have come to accept them as a necessary evil in life. And for most of the rest of my childhood, things went along ok. I had to take laxatives every so often, but no biggie.

However, gradually, throughout my late teens, my digestive system started misbehaving. Never terrible, but just enough to be annoying. Anyway, I eventually went to the doctor, and told her all my symptoms, and she asked for a stool sample. Not long after, I got a letter informing me I would need to attend the hospital for a preliminary appointment before having a colonoscopy.

 My friendlier version of the Bristol Stool Scale. If you experience all of the poop varieties on a regular basis, you got problems. 

So, as you do, I googled it. This might be how you've got here. Unfortunately for me, there weren't any happy colonoscopy stories on the internet, and I proceeded to get absolutely terrified.

This was not eased at my preliminary appointment, where it was explained to me that BEFORE they put the camera up my behind, I would have to poo out everything inside me. Oh, and I might puke a bit too. As someone who dislikes pooing and is actively phobic of vomiting, I had a cry right there and then, and the doctor awkwardly summoned a nurse to hand me tissues and gently pat me on the back.

In the weeks running up to the procedure I was filled with dread, but here I am to tell you, you shouldn't be scared! It's absolutely FINE!

When the time came, I had my mum stay with me to look after me in case things got scary, and she helped me prepare the 'evacuation' medicine… all 4 litres of it.
Basically, you stop eating the night before the night before the procedure. The next morning, you start drinking the solution - a small glassful, sipped slowly, each 15 minutes. Don't just chug each one at the start of each 15 minutes… it's salty and vanilla flavoured (which remarkably isn't quite as horrific as it sounds), and the internet is full of horror stories of people just vomiting it straight back up again. Sip it, slowly. You're going to be doing a lot of slow sipping (4 litres worth), but it could be worse. It's especially helpful if you have supportive company to just hand you a glass of the stuff every 15 minutes so you don't have to think about it too much.

After a couple of hours, you'll start pooing. Make sure you're at home for this bit, and with exclusive access to a toilet. Got company with you who need to poop? Tough. Send them to the nearest public toilet, your need is greater than theirs.

But honestly, it's really not that bad. Diarrhoea has always distressed me, but this felt very controlled somehow, as it was medically induced. It's didn't come with the aggression and discomfort of a genuine upset stomach. For the first few hours it kind of has some resemblance to normal poops, but by the end - and this is the aim - you're literally pooing water. It's strange, and disconcerting, but not by any means horrific.

Once you've drunk all of the solution and done all the poops, you will be SO HUNGRY. I think I went to bed at about 9 that night, just because I was so miserable about missing dinner. I was also, however, quite relieved that I hadn't vomited, died, or pooed myself inside out. All viable irrational scary thought processes beforehand.

The next morning, it was time to head to the hospital, and I was scared again. Not helped by a trainee nurse who tried and failed to put a canula into my arm three times. By the time a fully trained nurse came to do it, I was clearly very shaky and a bit tearful, and perhaps that explains the rather generous use of whatever drugs they put into me next.

A few minutes later, I was lying on a hospital trolley, being wheeled into the theatre, feeling high as a kite. My main thought process at that point, was 'wheeeeee! trolley!' which I vaguely remember actually saying out loud.
This is not necessarily the most reassuring diagram.
The doctor probably won't be pulling that face, and the
thing they put inside you is NOT THAT BIG.
You might be smiling that much though, if you
have the same reaction to the sedatives that I did

I gormlessly smiled while the doctor who was to perform the procedure introduced himself - I have no idea what he was called but he looked a bit like Jay Rayner.

He instructed me to lie on my side in the foetal position, and asked if I wanted to watch. Hell yes I did! The world is a beautiful and fascinating place! I want to see inside of me!

I dreamily stared at the monitor beside me as the camera explored the fleshy pink wonderland that is my lower intestine. At one point, some remaining fluid caught the light, and refracted rainbows across the screen. I remember faintly saying "It's like a disco in there" and the nurse gently patting me on my shoulder. I also remember the doctor carrying out the procedure complimenting me on how well I'd managed to 'clear myself out'.

There weren't any polyps or people inside my lower intestines, thankfully.

They warn that you might experience discomfort as the camera thing blows air inside you to inflate the intestine for a better view. I don't really remember discomfort… there may have been some, as I do remember making vague 'errr' and 'aaah' noises, but quite what relation they bore to my physical sensations, I wasn't entirely sure at the time, and have no idea of now.

Once he was done, I was briskly wheeled into a ward and told I might want to have a nap for a while.

No napping for me! I was suddenly buzzing! I lay rigid on the bed, staring at the ceiling and experiencing an immense feeling of warmth, comfort and wellbeing. After a while, I sat up, and was given a cup of tea. I was told to take it easy, but within about half an hour I felt ready to go home, and so that's exactly what I did.

None the worse for wear, and having done some fairly spectacularly enjoyable farts to get out all the air they'd inflated me with.

I was so terrified of the procedure itself that I'd barely thought about what the result of it might be — turns out… there was nothing to be worried about, as a letter which arrived in the post a couple of weeks later informed me. Final diagnosis? Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Final conclusion? The NHS is bloody brilliant, and colonoscopies are nothing to be scared of.

Oh, and if they offer you drugs, take all they'll give you, because I'm pretty sure that being high as a kite throughout the procedure definitely made the whole experience ALMOST fun.

(I hope that wasn't all TMI. But if this helps even one person who was freaking out like I was, it will have been a worthwhile exercise)

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