This isn’t of course an ‘anti-ageing’ post – but it does have everything to do with ageing.
It’s a bit wordy so skip to the end for a checklist of tips. Obviously, the outcome was positive otherwise, this would be a very different post.
I wouldn’t normally write something so personal but I think this is something a 60-year-old would want to read especially if you have any hesitation when that NHS bowel cancer screening test kit you will be sent once you hit that 60 mark hits the doormat.
HOW IT BEGAN
When the NHS test kit popped through the door I duly did it and sent it off. By the way, it’s not as gruesome as you’d think. Mark had done the test a few months prior and I was expecting the same standard all-clear letter he received.
Instead, a thick letter arrived. A ‘thick’ letter from the NHS is never a good sign, you just know it contains the dreaded information booklet. I was given a telephone appointment for a nurse to call me to talk through and arrange a colonoscopy. It was certainly a shock to the system.
The wonderful nurse (I remember every single name of everyone who helped me) at the screening unit rang me and went through everything slowly and clearly. I was on the verge of tears throughout especially when she told me of the risks involved – low as they are.
There was a slot free the following week but I put it off for another two weeks.
HOW I FELT
I did cry a lot. Of course, my thoughts turned to the very courageous and inspiring late Dame Deborah James and others like her. There’s this sudden heaviness in your chest that doesn’t just ease.
I’m squeamish, particularly when it comes to needles (hence no Botox or other invasive beauty treatments) so I was very afraid of the procedure – of any procedure actually.
Also, couple my squeamishness with a very bad experience about eight years ago when a breast core biopsy (also negative in the end) went horribly wrong and a blood vessel was cut during the extremely painful procedure.
I wasn’t happy and I was very scared.
That week I rushed around putting my affairs in order, getting my passwords together and sorting out my paperwork.
Then I gave myself a talking-to and stopped all that nonsense. Of course, I wasn’t going to die! Also, I reasoned that it was better to know if something was wrong and get it treated, rather than let it fester away inside me.
Funnily enough, acting normal, made it feel normal.
TWO WEEKS BEFORE
A relative called me to let me know that another relative had undergone a colonoscopy. Vague details but something had ‘gone very wrong’ and they were now in intensive care and were being fed by a tube. This lasted for 10 days. Thankfully, they made a full recovery, but it was something I could have done not knowing. Only two people apart from Mark knew I was having a colonoscopy and she wasn’t one of them.
I’m going to assume that any family or friends reading this will not mention it to my family. They didn’t know and they will never know, it’s over, it was all fine, why worry people unnecessarily?
Of course, I had another cry.
PREPARATION THE WEEK BEFORE
This refers to the Moviprep solution I was sent via the post a couple of days after the telephone consultation. There are other packs that are sent out but this information is only relevant to Moviprep. I need to make that very clear. Obviously, I’m not a doctor and any medical advice you read here should be OK’d with a doctor first, but you know that.
We are always told not to search Google if we have any kind of medical issue – but we all do it anyway.
I searched for anything related to the colonoscopy procedure. I watched every YouTube video I could find showing how people coped and what exactly happens during a colonoscopy.
Then I came across a campaign in the US with various celebrities undergoing the procedure. I feel it wasn’t exactly representative of what really happened because they all seemed to skip over the awful prep for the night before. But I did see the aftermath of Ryan Reynolds’ procedure when the surgeon visited him and remarked on how clean his colon was. I became obsessed with having a spotlessly clean colon so my surgeon could see everything. Ryan did have a polyp removed, but it was all clear.
THE WHITE DIET
The week before you should stop taking iron tablets and multivitamins. Also, Ibuprofen and Nurofen are a complete no-no.
Three days before the colonoscopy you have to follow a ‘white’ diet. I started the week before because I had to have the cleanest colon ever.
A white diet is simply a no-fibre eating plan. There are a few things that surprised me ie, white bread, Rice Krispies as a breakfast cereal and white rice. But, you can also have clear drinks, fish, eggs, chicken, white pasta, baked potatoes and milk so it is perfectly doable.
You can’t eat nuts, fruit, vegetables, salad or red meat.
What is allowed though is Lucozade! I had to ring the unit to double-check and yes, it is considered a clear liquid. I felt it was my saviour after such a bland diet. I didn’t use any seasoning even white pepper, I was worried it might show up on the scan as something sinister.
MOVIPREP – THE DAY BEFORE
Honestly, by far, the worst part of the whole procedure was drinking this and its dire consequences.
No more food should be consumed from now until after the examination.
I had to dissolve four sachets of powder with two litres of lukewarm water. I think the ratio I used was 500ml of boiled water to one and a half litres of cold water.
It’s a thicker-than-water, sickly salty/sweet solution with a hint of artificial orange-flavour. Nasty stuff.
I had read (online) that it tastes better chilled and it can made up 6 hours ahead of time which is what I did. Even then, it was still extremely unpleasant and I had to drink 250ml of this devil potion every thirty minutes. It is so vile, it took me 10 minutes to drink one glass. I had to sip it slowly in case I gagged. I can’t begin to imagine how awful it would taste at room temperature. I read some people mix in a splash of barley water but I drank it straight.
My procedure was scheduled for 8.30 am. My instructions said to start to take the solution between 2 and 3 pm but I started an hour earlier and I’m glad I did. I believe it saved me a precious hour of sleep.
I downloaded 14 hours of TV programmes and set up a little table in the bathroom to put the iPad on and had an array of water wipes, vaseline (so important to prevent piles) and pads at the ready.
I wanted to get maternity pads to catch any accidents in case I didn’t get to the bathroom on time, but three shops later couldn’t find any so opted for thick ‘night-time’ pads instead which were perfect.
Your bowels don’t start moving until 2-3 hours after the last of the prep and you are warned not to stray too far from a bathroom.
They weren’t kidding! I sneezed and felt ‘something’ give, fortunately, I reached the bathroom just in time. I won’t get too graphic, but it was neon yellow. I had a lot of showers during this time.
Here’s a tip actually, don’t think you can second guess when the urge will come. I went to grab a magazine and literally had to fly to the bathroom, it won’t wait for you, stay in the bathroom.
In the end, I didn’t watch any programmes, you can’t possibly concentrate, just scroll through the news or something because everything happens in seemingly endless rapid-fire bursts. I burned a scented candle in the bathroom because the initial odour was pretty bad. It was quite safe though because I was hardly going anywhere.
You will feel very sore, and you probably will get piles. Diarrhoea is deeply unpleasant, and this feels like the worst case of food poisoning you’ve ever had.
THE MORNING OF THE PROCEDURE
I was not allowed to drink anything from 5:30 am on the day of the procedure. I found this really difficult and I was gasping for water. I brushed my teeth and sucked out all the moisture I could from the toothbrush.
This sounds frivolous but after my shower – without any fragranced products, I carefully blow-dried my hair and put on very light makeup, I just wanted to look like me afterwards.
I had to drink the last 500ml of solution, again I did this an hour earlier, I’m so pleased I did because things started moving an hour later and it was all finished and over (but only just!) by the time the taxi came.
Being the organised drama queen that I am, I packed an overnight bag and threw in a pair of huge sunglasses to hide my inevitable tear-stained face afterwards.
I was looked after at the Unversity College London Hospital and I can’t fault them. Usually, there’s one member of staff who is a bit of a grump or worse – indifferent. Here, the stars aligned, and I was treated with kindness and respect from beginning to end.
Admittedly, it was a little bit tense in the waiting room. I collected my papers and hospital wristband at reception but Mark put the band on too loosely and it immediately fell off and you can’t re-do them. I flew into a rage (nerves and fear of course) and we bickered about who should go to reception and ask for another one. I marched off and said loudly that my idiot husband didn’t know how to put a wristband on. The receptionist told me that actually, the admitting nurse had to put it on and printed off another one for me.
I will admit I was a little bit moany and spent a lot of the time complaining that I was thirsty, the lovely male nurse who did all my prep, took pity on me and gave me a splash of water in a paper cup which I sipped very slowly. He said my blood pressure would be affected if I was too dehydrated. He took his time with me and I relaxed. He may have given me some meds at that time but I just can’t remember.
I had to go back into reception because I forgot Mark’s mobile number for the next of kin form and my phone was with him. I had my handbag though and they put it at the bottom of the trolley bed so it goes into the theatre with you.
The nurse came out with me and told Mark he should go off and ‘have a nice breakfast’ and they would call him when I was out of recovery. Mark went to get up and I glared at him, my eyes saying, I dare you. He quickly sat back down. I know, I know, very bad behaviour.
There was an assortment of items for me to change into. Two fairly long gowns – one to wear frontways and the other backwards, slipper socks, and a big pair of long green paper shorts, called I was told, modesty shorts with a slit at the back for access to your bottom. If you have any qualms about your arse hanging out on the operating table then rest assured they’ve got you covered – quite literally.
I then met the Consultant Endoscopist, herein known as the consultant. He went through everything and I sort of wished he didn’t, I don’t want to hear this technical stuff especially when he went through the risks. But then again he also assured me that he had an excellent record doing these procedures. Ha! I know he did because I looked him up a couple of weeks before. I knew everything about him.
I asked if I could wear the silk eye mask I brought from home to block out all the ‘medical’ stuff and they said yes. It was far and away the best idea I’ve ever had. I felt more relaxed and could blank everything out. There’s a ton of equipment and at least two huge screens showing my insides. I didn’t want to see any of it.
Another wonderful nurse held my hand throughout. She said we could talk or say nothing, whatever I felt like doing. She asked if I wanted the consultant to talk during the procedure and explain what he was doing (what horror) I said no, only if necessary.
Naturally, I complained about being thirsty again, and the nurse brought me a piece of gauze soaked in water to moisten my lips.
However, I did have a peep from under the mask when the consultant said I had an exceptionally clean colon which made everything easier for him and I had obviously adhered to the difficult (his words thank you very much) prep instructions. My ‘score’ later on the Boston Bowel Preparation Scale was 9 out of 9. Ryan Reynolds, eat your heart out.
For pain relief, I was given a combination of Fentanyl and valium. Now, I have to say, it was slightly uncomfortable when he was passing the camera through a particularly windy part of my colon, it felt very much like one of my cesareans. I had a gripe about this and they immediately topped up the painkillers. It’s vitally important to say if you feel pain or discomfort. You’re awake, you don’t have to suffer. I was given other meds, sedation and Hyoscine Butylbromide for cramping during the procedure.
They did find a polyp which is when I talked to the consultant (still wearing my eyemask) but he was calm and said he was able to remove it completely without any blood loss and had put in a few tiny ‘clips’ that I would pass naturally in a few days.
I was put in a recovery bay with a nurse watching over me for about half an hour tapping away on a monitor. The blood pressure cuff takes readings every 5 minutes.
The consultant came along for a brief chit-chat and said the polyp was not cancerous though they would carry out further tests to see if anything was amiss. But he reassured me it was all gone. Indeed they send you away with a very detailed report with photographs. I was told that depending on the outcome I could be back within two or three months for another procedure – this time with an enema instead of colon prep if there was anything suspicious that had to be investigated, but it all looked good.
The phrase I was looking for in the report said: This endoscopy (the colonoscopy) has not detected any cancer. You will therefore be discharged from the suspected cancer pathway. The word ‘cancer pathway’ gave me a chill but obviously, I was very happy.
The lovely (but they were all so lovely – male and female) nurse asked if I would like tea or coffee and some biscuits. I said yes because at that point any liquid would do, even from a hospital vending machine. I said I’d like a milky coffee with one sugar.
What was brought to me by the orderly was a large milky coffee in a takeaway cup with one sugar and a packet of three (yes THREE!) Chocolate Bourbon biscuits. Nothing tasted more delicious, it was exactly what I needed. I sat up sipping coffee, watching everyone scurrying around.
My blood pressure was normal so I was discharged and changed back into my clothes (kept the slipper socks of course) and was escorted to the bathroom where I topped up my lipstick and eyeliner. I went back to reception, a relaxed, happy and much nicer woman to greet a relieved-looking Mark.
A week later the original nurse who arranged the appointment, rang and told me that everything was indeed clear and to look out for the next kit in two years’ time. I made sure to thank her for her compassion and kindness and named all the other nurses who looked after me and told her to pass on my thanks and gratitude to them.
I lost 6lbs (3 back on so far) but it wasn’t a positive thing, as my neck – which was barely holding on, has become crepey. Losing weight that quickly is not for us older gals.
Two nurses, the admissions one and the one in the operating theatre made a point of saying that I was brave to do this. I just thought it was something they said to be reassuring. But when the nurse who sat with me during recovery said the same thing, I said, everyone keeps saying this to me. She told me that the percentage of people who receive the call back letter inviting them to undergo a colonoscopy but never make that appointment isn’t as high as it once was but it is still too high. People are scared and I absolutely get it.
This was a long read and congratulations if you made it this far! I hope it’s been helpful. I always post on the blog information *I* personally would want to know.
For every 100 people getting their FIT kit results, 98 do not need further tests, and 2 will need further tests. I was one of those two.
Take the test, it might just save your life or get your treatment started early.
TIPS FOR A MORE COMFORTABLE COLONOSCOPY
Of course, I’m not a doctor so do not solely rely on my advice, this is just what made my experience easier.
- Try to get the earliest appointment possible. When I came out of the waiting room it was packed solid. Early is everything, also try to book in midweek, ie not Monday or Friday.
- If you are given Moviprep to drink. Make it up 4 or 5 hours ahead and put it in the fridge. It’s revolting but chilling makes it 10% less disgusting to drink.
- You need to drink an extra 750ml of fluid with the Moviprep.
- Whatever time you are given to begin the prep, do it an hour earlier. The last dose on the day of the procedure takes an hour to work, you don’t want to be travelling to the hospital and have that kind of accident.
- Lucozade is classed as a clear liquid! It’s almost as good as a meal when you’re not allowed to eat solid food.
- Wear an eye mask during the procedure. You can drift away and almost pretend it’s not happening to you.
- Ask questions and let people know immediately if you’re uncomfortable.
- Don’t fret if you expel a little blood in the toilet immediately afterwards, but do call for help if the amount is excessive, from the day of the procedure to a month later. Watch out for this as there is such a thing as delayed bleeding which requires urgent investigation.
- Eat lightly for the first few days afterwards. I would suggest the ‘white’ diet just to get your gut settled in. Ease off fibre for a few days.
- Isn’t it better to know one way or another, rather than carry the burden of what might be wrong with you?