I had my colonoscopy. Here's my review.
When I turned forty, I asked my doctor if it was time for a colonoscopy. I was nervous just asking the question, but that’s common. According to WebMD, a website that pretends to be a doctor to taunt the losers running Dentist.com, most people are “scared shitless” about colonoscopies. One study found that 56 percent of people who received a positive stool test for colorectal cancer failed to schedule a follow-up colonoscopy that might save their life.1 Of course, they had their excuses. But as the saying goes, excuses are like assholes—we all have them, they all stink, and from time to time, those assholes need to be checked.
“Actually, the guidelines say forty-five,” my doctor said. “You’ve got five more years.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” I said.
“Nervous?” she asked.
“A little. But also, we just met, and I think it’s important to get to know each other better before butt stuff.”
My doctor frowned. I spent the next five years dreading my colonoscopy and searching for a doctor with a better sense of humor.
The prep was a total shit-show
Everyone said the prep is the worst part of the colonoscopy. And by everyone, I mean friends, family, medical professionals, and internet randos. Naturally, I assumed they were referring to the shit-show called the “clean out.” But as the saying goes, when we assume, we make an ass out of you and me.
To be clear, the shit show blew ass, but the worst part was the oral laxative. I thought the oral laxative would be a few ounces. But at the pharmacy, they gave me a one-gallon jug. ONE BIG-ASS GALLON!
The laxative tasted like fizzy salt water mixed with the tears of undergrads who failed organic chemistry. The night before the procedure, I had to drink three quarts in two hours, then I had to wake up at four in the morning on the day of the procedure to finish off the last quart. To help the medicine go down, it’s best to chug an eight-ounce serving. I felt like I was pledging a fraternity that was into weird butt stuff, which is probably redundant because all frats are into weird butt stuff.
The other challenging thing about the prep was the food. Five days before the colonoscopy, I went on a low-fiber diet and tried to avoid nuts, seeds, popcorn, and foods with red dye. Folks, I’ve never craved a Red Vine and popcorn sandwich with crunchy peanut butter on whole grain bread so bad in my life.
One day before the colonoscopy, I went on a clear liquid diet. At that point, I craved any food that was solid and opaque. Also, the clear liquid diet specifications were poorly worded. You can have water, which is clear, and tea, which is not clear; you can have broth, which is not clear, but you can’t have vodka, which is clear.
“I could drive a truck through these loopholes,” I told Christina. “These doctors ought to run their instructions by legal.”
“Eat vodka-infused red velvet cake, if you want,” Christina said, “it’s your ass.”
The colonoscopy aka ‘butt stuff’
The morning of my colonoscopy, Christina drove my to the Kaiser Permanente medical center in Woodland Hills. An indifferent receptionist gave me some paperwork to fill out, then a nurse named Matthew got me ready for the procedure.
“This is your first rodeo,” Matthew said.
“Actually, it’s my colonoscopy. I’m a veteran rodeo clown.”
Matthew thought that was funny, so I asked if he knew any doctors who had a sense of humor. He said most gastroenterologists are funny, probably because you need a sense of humor to endure a decade of schooling just to get a job that’s wall-to-wall assholes.
As Matthew took my vitals and started my intravenous line, we discussed our mutual interests: travel, yoga, and talking to strangers. My gastroenterologist, Doctor Patel, came over to introduce himself and ask a few questions, but he didn’t make any jokes, and neither did I.
After about thirty minutes, it was my turn for butt stuff. A nurse named Britney wheeled me into the procedure room.
“You’re gonna go to sleep and when you wake up, it’ll be done,” Britney said.
“Awesome,” I said. “Do you guys do root canals too? What about tax prep? There are a thousand things I’d like to sleep through.”
Britney said I was funny, but she didn’t laugh, so maybe she was just humoring me. Or, maybe Britney was messing with me, because before she left the room, she turned on some music: Hotel California by The Eagles.
Now, on the hand, Hotel California was the perfect choice for an experience that involves uncomfortable butt stuff, heavy narcotics, and the indifferent machine that is American healthcare. But on the other hand, I’m a Lebowski, and I hate the fucking Eagles.2
Laying there in a dark room, waiting for butt stuff, I did not have a peaceful easy feeling. But then I met the anesthesiologist. I don’t remember his name, so I’ll just call him Doctor Feelgood.
“I’m going to give you Propofol,” Doctor Feelgood said.
I rolled over onto my side. Doctor Feelgood took my hand and injected the Propofol.
“You’re going to feel a little warm,” Doctor Feelgood said.
“I don’t feel anything,” I said.
“Even better,” Doctor Feelgood said.
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax,” said the night man
“We are programmed to receive
You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave”
Recovery was a little hazy
I woke up with a different song in my head. It was Fat Bottomed Girls, which seemed vaguely appropriate, in a cheeky sort of way.
“All done,” Britney said. “How are you feeling?”
“I was listening to Fat Bottomed Girls by Meatloaf,” I said.
Meatloaf didn’t sing Fat Bottomed Girls. It’s a Queen song. But Britney didn’t correct me. Instead, she did the yes/and thing that works so well with improv comedy and people who are high on Propofol.
“Trader Joe’s makes the best meatloaf,” Britney said. “But you gotta add Rao’s sauce. It’s the best.”
“I only buy Rao’s.”
That was a lie. I never buy Rao’s because I don’t want to bother with a credit check and loan application for some tomato sauce. But I was high on Propofol, and in that moment, my stated preference for Rao’s felt as true as my false belief that Meatloaf sang Fat Bottomed Girls.
“Everything went great,” Doctor Patel said. “Any questions?”
“Yeah, were you guys listening to Meatloaf in there?”
Doctor Patel looked confused, but he zeroed in on the word meatloaf.
“I’d hold off on meatloaf until tomorrow,” he said. “And make it turkey meatloaf. Red meat increases your risk for cancer.”
Conclusion: Butt stuff ain’t easy, but it’s necessary
After I sobered up, I told a few friends about my colonoscopy. Two friends who are a few years younger than me said they were dreading their colonoscopies. Two friends who are a few years older than me said they kept putting off their colonoscopies.
I understand the dread, and I understand the procrastination. Nobody wants a colonoscopy. But here’s the thing: the prep, by which I mean chugging laxative juice, really is the worst part.
The shit show is manageable.
The butt stuff was unmemorable.
The drugs ruled.
And the rock & roll started out kinda rough, but it ended on a high note.
Colonoscopy: 10 out of 10, would recommend!
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Shout out time!
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Stick around and chat!
You know the drill. I’ve got questions. You’ve got answers.
Are you experiencing dread / procrastination about your colonoscopy? Share your fears. This is a safe space.
I definitely heard Hotel California by the Eagles because I was sober at that point, but was Fat Bottomed Girls real or a hallucination? Also, explain the Meatloaf / Queen mix up. Get creative!
What’s your perfect colonoscopy soundtrack?
I’ve never had Rao’s tomato sauce. Is it worth paying three times as much for a jar of tomato sauce? If you say yes, prepare to defend your bougie palate. If you say no, prepare for bad reviews of your pasta.
Propofol really is a helluva drug. You don’t remember the bad stuff, but when you wake up you feel love and good vibes for everyone around you. Wouldn’t a dose of Propofol improve the tax season experience? Write your Senators!
Want more Michael Estrin stories? I’ve got two books!
Ride/Share: Micro Stories of Soul, Wit and Wisdom from the Backseat is a collection of my Lyft driver stories🚗🗣
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See WebMD reporting on a study from the Cleveland Clinic https://www.webmd.com/colorectal-cancer/news/20230127/many-people-do-not-get-colonoscopies-even-after-positive-stool-test