If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that since May last year, I’ve been waiting for a colonoscopy due to some ongoing stomach issues. While I’m totally grateful that we have such an amazing organisation like the NHS, waiting times for stuff like this are bullshit. I was referred in May, I saw a consultant in October, and I finally had the procedure done in February. Bearing in mind, I was initially told that the whole thing would be done in 4-6 weeks. Anyway, I mentioned in my February review that I’ve finally had it done, and that I was planning a post on the whole thing, and this is it. Some of you may be thinking “why is she even writing an essay on having a camera shoved up her butt?” To be fair, I thought that myself, and I debated whether or not to even write about it. However, if I’ve learned anything from blogging is that my best posts are often the ones that are overly honest, and talking about things I don’t normally talk about. Plus, I feel as though there aren’t enough honest accounts of this sort of thing out there – all I read was basic guides from health websites that let’s face it, sugar coated a lot of it.
Obviously, there are of course medical procedures that are ten million times worse than this, but I don’t agree with some of said sugar-coated literature that’s out there on having a colonoscopy. Especially when it comes to the prep. So, I decided, as a public service, to share my account and give a more realistic view on what happens. I don’t want to put anyone off, but I would much rather share my honest experience than sit here and tell you that the whole thing was painless and it literally only took a couple of hours out of my day. So, here’s what happened when they shoved a camera up my butt.
I’m sure it goes without saying that there’s talk of poo and butts in this post, and on occasion there may be a few bits that can be triggering if you have emetophobia. I’ve tried to avoid getting too graphic, but of course I don’t really have a filter anymore when it comes to these things, so apologies if things get a bit too gross. But you know, we all poo so…
I should also mention that I am not a medical professional, and I am simply sharing my experience of the procedure rather than general advice on it. If you are due to have a similar procedure done you should always follow the advice given to you by your doctor.
What is a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a test that allows doctors to examine the inside of your bowels. It can be carried out if you’re suffering symptoms such as:
- Blood in your poo
- Weight loss and fatigue for no reason
The test can be used to potentially diagnose problems that could be causing these symptoms, and it’s done by inserting a long, flexible tube with a camera on the end of it – you guessed it – up your butt. It can generally be used to diagnose conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease), bowel cancer, or diverticulitis.
(Information from NHS, 2020)
I won’t go into too much detail on my symptoms, however the main reason behind why I was having a colonoscopy was because I have two immediate family members who have Ulcerative Colitis, so this was the main thing they were looking out for.
The Joys of Colonoscopy Prep
I’ll be honest with you – colonoscopy prep is NOT fun. Being a sucker for following instructions, I wanted to make sure I followed the advice I was given exactly to the letter, which meant making changes to my diet two days beforehand. I was sent a whole list of foods to avoid, which mainly consisted of red meat and foods that were high in fibre. Basically, it had to be plain, bland AF food. Two days before. Of course no alcohol either. I was not a happy bunny.
My procedure was on Friday afternoon, which meant from Thursday at 3pm, I was no longer allowed to eat anything. For breakfast I was allowed white toast with a bit of butter, and a light, plain lunch (I had a chicken sandwich). As for drinks, I was allowed clear fluids, but no dairy, which meant no milk in tea. Absolute hell. Leaving work at 5.30pm, I was bloody starving, but I tried to take solace in the fact that in a few hours time, eating would be the last thing I wanted.
If you’re not familiar with colonoscopy prep, it’s a lot more than just switching to bland AF foods for a couple of days. It involves drinking two litres of pure misery. They send you a very strong laxative to take the day before your procedure, to make sure that your bowel is empty and that they can get a clear view of it.
“But that’s surely just a couple of tablets, right?” No. It’s powder. Disgusting powder that tastes like hate. I’ve heard of different people being sent different brands of laxative, but for me, I was given Moviprep. I was sent two doses, one to be taken in the evening, and one to be taken in the morning. Each dose had two sachets which needed to be mixed together with a litre of water. The general advice was to drink 250ml every 15 minutes or so. Easy right?
In theory, yes. What I didn’t mention though, is I made the incredibly stupid mistake of Googling Moviprep the night before. I didn’t mean to, I was just trying to find out tips for taking it. Unfortunately, I ended up reading A LOT of bad reviews about how disgusting it was and how it made a number of people throw up. Obviously, having emetophobia, that sent my anxiety soaring.
However, this alleged ‘lemon flavour’ drink clearly hasn’t been designed to be taken as quickly as it stated. It tasted VILE and smelt like toilet cleaner. The instruction leaflet said that it would take an hour or two to work, and given that our only bathroom is upstairs in our house, I decided not to take any chances. I set myself up in bed with my laptop, a load of magazines and my notebooks, with every intention of getting a load of blogging done as well as catching up on some TV and reading the massive stack of magazines I’ve accumulated. Unfortunately, given the fact I had a horrific headache thanks to the shit ton of anxiety I was feeling (combined with major caffeine withdrawal), I ended up just watching Dancing on Ice on catch-up.
The Night Before
I won’t go into full details of the colonoscopy prep, but I will say that it was fucking horrific. The constant gurgling of your stomach, the urgency, and the general…act itself is not only revolting, but as someone whose emetophobia-driven mind is programmed to think I have a stomach bug at any sign of a less than normal bowel movement, it produced a (excuse the pun) shit ton of anxiety.
The most difficult thing was knowing whether or not to stay in the bathroom or go back to bed each time. Once the Moviprep has kicked in, it’s pretty much every 5 minutes that you need to run to the toilet. However, as mentioned, you have a litre of it to get through. Where it was so disgusting there was no way I was able to drink a glass every 15 minutes as the instructions recommended (especially given what I’d read about people opting to drink it quickly), so all in all it took me over 3 hours to finish it. Obviously, contamination based OCD and all that prevented me from taking my new favourite drink into the bathroom with me, so it meant I was up and down quite a bit for a few hours. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the loo over ten times in the course of a couple of hours, but if you have, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that things get a bit painful. Not ideal considering the upcoming events of the next day. Anyway, things finally stopped just after 1am and I managed to fall asleep while low key praying that I didn’t shit the bed.
Given that my appointment wasn’t until 2.45, it meant I could get a lovely, long lie in at least right? Bullshit mate. Had to be up at 6 to take the next dose, didn’t I? Again, I was faced with a similar dilemma – do I go back to sleep, or do I just sit up and neck this (even more vile the second time around) big glass of misery? I decided to sort of get the best of both – setting my alarm for five minute intervals and dozing in between. Each time the alarm went off I had to down a good gulp of Moviprep. As someone who can’t even stand a nicely cooked slice of buttered toast at 8 in the morning, downing a glass of sugary disgusting laxative at 6am was not the easiest of tasks.
My plan worked, and I was able to finish the final glass just before 10, but by this time, I was feeling horrendous. I had no energy, I was feeling rather nauseous, I hadn’t eaten in over 18 hours, and I was getting more and more anxious over the idea that I would shit myself on the way to the hospital. Again, my plan of chilling in bed with books and blogging was foiled by the fact that I just wanted to sleep.
Trigger warning: Emetophobia.
I managed to get an hour or so’s sleep for a bit, but I woke up feeling even worse. I waddled to the toilet yet again and I genuinely felt as though I was going to pass out. Despite being utterly freezing the entire time I was taking the prep, I instantly broke out into a cold sweat, I was shaking, I felt sick, and my vision started going black. To top it off, I had to dry heave into the bin when the nausea got a bit much. Definitely not my most glamorous moment. By this point, my Mum had arrived to take me to the hospital. When I eventually crawled out of the toilet, I had to climb back into bed to calm down.
At the Hospital
It eventually got to the point where I needed to get up, and I was feeling a little better by this point so I managed to crawl out of bed and get dressed. Happy to report that I didn’t shit myself in the car either, so that was a win. Anyway, for starters, not much happened. I was called into a room where I had to confirm all my details and have my blood pressure taken, and then I had to sign a consent form. After that it was a pretty long AF wait. Despite my appointment being at 2.45, I wasn’t actually called through for the procedure until 4pm. Needless to say, I was bloody starving.
Camera Up the Butt Time
Mum had been taking my mind off things while we sat in the waiting area, but when I was called onto the ward I had to go on my own. Not ideal when my overly tired brain was screaming out “THIS IS IT. THIS IS WHERE THEY TELL YOU YOU’RE DYING!” Thankfully, they pretty much get on with it once you’re there. I had to put on a hospital gown, which was a puzzle all in itself, and while I waited I witnessed a lady come back from her procedure who was told by the nurse to “get all of that wind out.” Let’s just say, sitting in a hospital cubicle listening to someone else farting their brains out definitely eases the tension.
A few minutes later, a lovely nurse came to take me into theatre, and she was amazing at taking my mind off of everything. In that short space of time we covered holidays, my Powerpuff Girl socks, and fluffy dogs. I had a cannula put in the back of my hand where they gave me a generous dose of pain relief and sedation (sedation FTW…it was HEAVEN), and they put an oxygen tube in my nose. That’s when the fun began.
Things didn’t feel too bad to start with, until I experienced what was probably the worst stomach pain of my life. Desperate to stop me whining, the nurse gave me gas and air, which I highly recommend. I’ll be honest, it didn’t take the pain away, but it definitely made me give less of a shit. Apparently, the pain was down to them turning corners – bearing in mind, the tube goes like this:
The doctor doing the procedure gave another painkiller injection, and at this point, I was the equivalent of a few glasses of wine. Which meant that when they told me I had to break wind I replied with “but I don’t want to poo on you.” Classy.
It was weird, because at one point it felt like they’d given up and taken the endoscope out, but when the doctor said she was going to turn another corner, my response was “Shit, are you still inside me?!” I was told to have another toke on the gas and air while they made me change positions (apparently that was to make it less painful for me). Meanwhile, the nurse politely asked me if I could stop blowing the gas and air in her face because “as nice as it is, I can’t do my job if I’m drunk.” I had no idea I’d been doing this, but I’m assuming the part of my brain that usually deals with anxiety had been telling me to breathe out after taking in the deep breaths of the gas and air. No, the idea is to breathe it in and keep it in. Not blow it in the face of the nurse whose sole job is to look after you during the procedure.
Things ended up getting painful again, so I switched positions a second time, after being told that apparently I have a very twisty colon (is there anything about me that’s actually normal?). I apologised for my twisty AF colon to which the doctor responded “it’s fine, you’ll be my Friday challenge.” She then said she’d seen everything she needed to see, and she took some biopsies before telling me to dose up on more gas as it was likely to be painful again while she made her way out. It wasn’t long after that it was all over, and I was wheeled back to the ward while loudly saying to the doctor “I’m really sorry if I pooed on you.”
I was taken back to the ward where the nurse said I’d be left for about 40 minutes to let the sedation wear off. Despite feeling like crap, I was still bloody starving. The nurse asked me “what would you like for dinner tonight?” – I suddenly perked up, thinking I was going to be fed before going home, so I said I would just love some toast. “What about some scrambled eggs on toast with a bit of parsley on top?” she replied – oh my god, I was going to get fancy scrambled eggs. I said “yes please,” thinking I was genuinely going to be brought dinner, but instead the nurse just laughed and said “Oh my god, I’m always thinking about food!” and left.
I must have fallen asleep for a bit, because the next thing I knew one of the health care assistants woke me up asking if I wanted some water. She took my blood pressure and removed the cannula and said I was now allowed to go home, probably a relief to the rest of the staff there, given that me and another lady were now the only people left.
The health care assistant sat me in the same room as before and brought my Mum in, where I was told they found no signs of IBD, but they took some biopsies to be sent for testing anyway. I was a combination of exhausted and probably still drugged up to fuck, so I very tearfully asked why they’d taken biopsies when they thought I was fine, and did they think I had cancer. I know that’s extreme, but the health anxiety part of my brain, combined with severe drug fog and hunger, heard ‘biopsies’ and instantly thought of cancer. She explained that they were just done as standard, and given the reason for the procedure in the first place it could be that my symptoms were being caused by some sort of long term bug that wouldn’t be visible during the colonoscopy. I was told that I would get a letter of some sort in two to four weeks time saying whether or not I needed a follow up, depending on the biopsy results.
The basic bitch chicken nuggets and chips I had when I got home genuinely is up there as one of the best meals of my life. I was however, pretty useless after that, so I went to bed and spent the next day on the sofa in my pyjamas, after being told that I wasn’t to lift a finger. I took that incredibly seriously, of course. I still felt like crap pretty much all day, but by Sunday evening I was feeling much better, and I was able to go back to work on the Monday.
For me, the worst part, hands down was the colonoscopy prep. The taste, the general side effects and the fact there’s so bloody much of it just ruins you. I don’t want to put anyone off of course, but I also wanted to be honest about it, as there’s an awful lot of bullshit about it on the internet. I guess at the same time though, you don’t want to be too honest, because as I found out through reading the reviews, it doesn’t really help your anxiety. I did however, pick up a few tips that I hope will be helpful to anyone else needing a colonoscopy in the future:
- Drink it with a straw. It doesn’t necessarily disguise the awful taste, but you can put it further back in your mouth making it quicker to swallow so you don’t have to endure it for as long.
- Store it in the fridge rather than at room temperature. It’s even more disgusting when it’s warm.
- Don’t drink it quickly – aim for the glass every 15-20 minutes if you can, but if it makes you feel sick there’s no harm in slowing down.
- Drink A LOT of water at the same time. Not only does it wash away the aftertaste, but it’s essential that you stay hydrated.
- Stay as close as you can to the bathroom. If you’re like me and your only bathroom is upstairs, you may as well sit in bed. You won’t have time for stairs.
- Likewise, if you only have one bathroom and you live with other people, get them to shower or do any long-term bathroom bits before you take the prep, or at least when you start taking it. If they’re not convinced, ask them if they’re happy for you to come in and explosively poo while they’re in the shower and they’ll more than likely cooperate.
- Wear underwear/clothing you don’t particularly like. Obvious reasons. Not that it will happen, but it’s always best to be on the safe side.
I personally don’t think the Moviprep had anything to do with the funny turn I had before I left for the hospital – at least not directly anyway. It was probably a combination of dehydration (despite the fact I kept drinking water), hunger, exhaustion and anxiety. Either way, they didn’t seem too concerned about it when I told them at the hospital, so I guess while it’s not pleasant, it’s nothing to worry about. Plus, even though I felt sick, I didn’t actually throw up because there was literally nothing in my stomach, so despite feeling horrendous, that knowledge definitely helped me feel better more quickly.
Anyway, I didn’t want to write this post until I had my letter back from the hospital. Just one day before the four week mark was up, I received a letter in the post saying the biopsies showed no signs of inflammation and that I did not need any further follow up. Given that nothing else was said, I’m assuming they didn’t show signs of anything else either. Of course my OCD stuck it’s nosy beak in by saying “but what if they missed something?” and “maybe you should call them just to double check they didn’t find anything on the biopsies?” but I’m trying to stay focused on the fact that they wouldn’t have discharged me if there was anything there that needed investigating further or any additional treatment. Plus, I really don’t want to waste anymore of the NHS’s time.
So there you have it, I’m okay. It took almost a year to find that out, but I’m definitely relieved. Slightly annoyed at the fact that all of these unpleasant stomach symptoms I’ve been having are indeed IBS, but also grateful that it’s nothing more than that. I would urge anyone who’s concerned about similar symptoms to see their GP of course – because despite the long ass wait, I got the reassurance that I needed and I feel much better for it. You probably won’t even need to go as far as a colonoscopy either – like I said, mine was more down to family history than particularly worrying symptoms.
Also, I feel I should shout out to my Mum for taking me to the appointment and for making me laugh during the long wait, and to Liam for looking after me for that whole weekend. Not that they’ll be reading this, but I also want to say a massive thank you to the endoscopy team at Royal United Hospital in Bath for looking after me so well that day too. And sorry if I did poo on anyone. X