Confessions Of A Colonoscopy Virgin: Am I supposed To Be Awake?

Our author was relaxed about his first rectal invasion, until he realised he had a front row seat

colonoscopy saves lives

So, I’m not going to sleep for this colonoscopy procedure…at all?

I guess should have asked that question long before they wheeled me into the theatre, which is not really a full-on theatre at all either, as it turns out.

By now, though, I’m sedated enough through the IV in my arm to not really care too much about anything, even the fact that my Baboon-sized haemorrhoids are now unleashed from my flimsy gown and waving in the breeze. I love this anesthetic!

They’re clearly a well-oiled machine – in more ways than one. In the room I just left, my fellow colonoscopy club inductees are already prepped and ready to follow – and news of the head surgeon’s delay in traffic isn’t going to slow this show up for one second.

The no.2 doc, who hasn’t even bought me a drink mind you, is down to work before I’ve had the chance to brace myself, although for exactly what, I’m not sure.

If I had to describe the initial sensation of a minuscule camera on a flexible tube entering your bum, it’s a very mild push.

But even then, I think that maybe that’s just my brain rationalising why I’m now watching the insides of my bowel in all their glory on a giant TV screen just inches away.

The surgeon is on auto-pilot, clearly not fazed one bit by the sight back there – she’s seen all this, and worse, a trillion times before I’m sure – but I want to know every last detail of the best reality show I’ve seen in years.

Taking precautions can save your life

I should add at this point that there is a far more serious reason for being here than my own amusement.

I’ve just watched my 77-year-old mum go through hell with bowel cancer – she’s still with us, thankfully, although now lives with a permanent colostomy bag.

And this is me, at 49, delivering on my promise to her to take every precaution possible to avoid a repeat in the family.

Australia has one of the highest bowel cancer rates in the world.

In 2016, there were an estimated 17,520 new cases – 9,815 males and 7,705 females – and for just under a quarter of those unfortunate souls it’s likely to prove fatal.

Your risk of contracting the disease increases significantly at 50 – and if you have a family history – but the good news is that 90% of bowel cancers are entirely treatable if caught early enough.

As the colonoscope inches its way through a remarkably clean colon, all seems to be going swimmingly. This is where the hardest part of this whole procedure pays off – flushing your system with the prescribed laxative powder the day before you get here.

Taking shortcuts and cheating on this phase, really could backfire in the worst possible way.

My diligence on the plumbing front earns a pat on the back from my surgeon, but more importantly enables her to easily spot two polyps, one large and one on the smaller side, lurking on the inside lining of the colon.

In the early stages these are usually harmless, wart-like growths, but left there for too long, can easily develop into bowel cancer.

They’re tied off with a wire manoeuvred through the colonoscope and removed for testing.

Easy as that.

Lifetime of testing

The whole colonoscopy procedure has taken no more than 20-30 minutes. You’re then wheeled off to a day ward where you’re feed and monitored for a few hours, before a loved one is charged with getting you home.

A couple of weeks later I return to the hospital for a follow-up chat with the surgeon, and as she suspected, the polyps were harmless at this early stage.

But I was lucky, I know that now.

If mum hadn’t been diagnosed, I probably would have done what most Australians do and stuck my head in the sand.

I would have even completely ignored the free bowel cancer testing kit that comes in the post when you turn 50.

I would have just rolled the dice, relying on the fact I’d keep reasonably fit, hadn’t ever smoked, and am a low-level drinker.

Instead, I’ve already booked in for a follow-up colonoscopy in two years – if you had no polyps, or a family history you can leave it for five.

Mum may have just saved my life.

From sport, business, to general news and lifestyle, the co-founder of 50 So What has covered it all in more than 25 years in print, TV and digital media. When he's not working on the site, you can usually find him on a golf course, playing tennis, or on a flight across the ditch to catch-up with family and friends in his native New Zealand.


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