On a Personal Note: Made it Through the Colonoscopy

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Even though I am under 50, my mom had polyps in her colon and so I had this done as a precaution. The preparation was ghastly, and I had to go through it twice over two days. I am dizzy and wan but the doctor gave a good report. How do you spell relief--KSH.

Update: Read what Dave Barry wrote about having a colonoscopy as provided by one of our commenters.

Filed under: * By Kendall* Culture-WatchHealth & Medicine

Posted May 30, 2008 at 3:45 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Andrew717 wrote:

Good to hear!  My future mother-in-law went through this last week.  Can’t be fun

May 30, 3:50 pm | [comment link]
2. Christopher Johnson wrote:

Great news, bro.  I haven’t had one of those yet.  If your PSA jumps, let me know and I’ll talk you through it. grin

May 30, 4:05 pm | [comment link]
3. KevinBabb wrote:

“How do you spell relief”?

I believe the expression is, “Study results within normal limits.”

May 30, 4:09 pm | [comment link]
4. Randy Muller wrote:

The preparation is indeed ghastly.  You have to drink this poisonous stuff that I call “instant flu”, which, um, negatively impacts your intestines.

I felt fine and normal before I drank it, and after I drank it, I immediately felt like I had the flu.  It went downhill after that… literally.

There were other preparations that made the whole experience even worse.

May 30, 4:10 pm | [comment link]
5. Timothy Fountain wrote:

Uggh.  I turn 50 in a couple of weeks. 
Since you have been the forerunner, I sing Benedictus in your honor.

May 30, 4:23 pm | [comment link]
6. trimom wrote:

Yes, the preparation is horrific but I really liked the Versed.  I stayed awake and watched the TV monitor the whole time but became very cheerful and pleasant and helpful.  So helpful that I would have likely gotten off the table to assist the physician had that been allowed.  Much to my embarrassment, I just talked him through the whole procedure, even advising him to back up to look at something again that he might have missed.

May 30, 4:25 pm | [comment link]
7. Henry Greville wrote:

I agree with trimom (#6). Watching the procedure under the pleasant effect of the drugs makes the prep a distant memory - and what a relief to see that when something is found it is nipped out for good.

May 30, 4:37 pm | [comment link]
8. Dee in Iowa wrote:

Your all a bunch of whimps….God knew what he was doing when he had women have the babies…..morning sickness, monthly exams, cleaning out before delivery if there is time…...stitches…...need I say more

May 30, 4:37 pm | [comment link]
9. Dallas Priest wrote:

So glad everything came out in the end.  Solemn te deum.

May 30, 4:49 pm | [comment link]
10. Br. Michael wrote:

Here is what Dave Berry had to say about it:

Subject: Dave Barry’s Colonoscopy

Dave Barry is hilarious while presenting a VERY serious subject. NAK This is a public service announcement of sorts written by a pulitzer prize winning writer who can reduce one to gales of laughter almost at the mention of his name. It’s laugh out loud funny, but bears a serious message.

BYLINE: By Dave Barry, McClatchy Newspapers OK.

You turned 50. You know you’re supposed to get a colonoscopy. But you haven’t. Here are your reasons:

1. You’ve been busy.
2. You don’t have a history of cancer in your family.
3. You haven’t noticed any problems.
4. You don’t want a doctor to stick a tube 17,000 feet up your behind.

Let’s examine these reasons one at a time. No, wait, let’s not. Because you and I both know that the only real reason is No. 4. This is natural. The idea of having another human, even a medical human, becoming deeply involved in what is technically known as your “behindular zone” gives you the creeping willies.

I know this because I am like you, except worse. I yield to nobody in the field of being a pathetic weenie medical coward. I become faint and nauseous during even very minor medical procedures, such as making an appointment by phone. It’s much worse when I come into physical contact with the medical profession. More than one doctor’s office has a dent in the floor caused by my forehead striking it seconds after I got a shot.

In 1997, when I turned 50, everybody told me I should get a colonoscopy. I agreed that I definitely should, but not right away. By following this policy, I reached age 55 without having had a colonoscopy. Then I did something so pathetic and embarrassing that I am frankly ashamed to tell you about it.

What happened was, a giant 40-foot replica of a human colon came to Miami Beach. Really. It’s an educational exhibit called the Colossal Colon, and it was on a nationwide tour to promote awareness of colo- rectal cancer. The idea is, you crawl through the Colossal Colon, and you encounter various educational items in there, such as polyps, cancer and hemorrhoids the size of regulation volleyballs, and you go, “Whoa, I better find out if I contain any of these things,” and you get a colonoscopy.

If you are a professional humor writer, and there is a giant colon within a 200-mile radius, you are legally obligated to go see it. So I went to Miami Beach and crawled through the Colossal Colon. I wrote a column about it, making tasteless colon jokes. But I also urged everyone to get a colonoscopy. I even, when I emerged from the Colossal Colon, signed a pledge stating that I would get one.

But I didn’t get one. I was a fraud, a hypocrite, a liar. I was practically a member of Congress. Five more years passed. I turned 60, and I still hadn’t gotten a colonoscopy. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I got an e-mail from my brother Sam, who is 10 years younger than I am, but more mature. The e-mail was addressed to me and my middle brother, Phil. It said:

“Dear Brothers, “I went in for a routine colonoscopy and got the dreaded diagnosis: cancer. We’re told it’s early and that there is a good prognosis that they can get it all out, so, fingers crossed, knock on wood, and all that. And of course they told me to tell my siblings to get screened. I imagine you both have.”

Um. Well. First I called Sam. He was hopeful, but scared. We talked for a while, and when we hung up, I called my friend Andy Sable, a gastroenterologist, to make an appointment for a colonoscopy. A few days later, in his office, Andy showed me a color diagram of the colon, a lengthy organ that appears to go all over the place, at one point passing briefly through Minneapolis. Then Andy explained the colonoscopy procedure to me in a thorough, reassuring and patient manner. I nodded thoughtfully, but I didn’t really hear anything he said, because my brain was shrieking, quote, “HE’S GOING TO STICK A TUBE 17,000 FEET UP YOUR BEHIND!”

I left Andy’s office with some written instructions, and a prescription for a product called “MoviPrep,” which comes in a box large enough to hold a microwave oven. I will discuss MoviPrep in detail later; for now suffice it to say that we must never allow it to fall into the hands of America’s enemies.

I spent the next several days productively sitting around being nervous. Then, on the day before my colonoscopy, I began my preparation. In accordance with my instructions, I didn’t eat any solid food that day; all I had was chicken broth, which is basically water, only with less flavor. Then, in the evening, I took the MoviPrep. You mix two packets of powder together in a one-liter plastic jug, then you fill it with lukewarm water. (For those unfamiliar with the metric system, a liter is about 32 gallons.) Then you have to drink the whole jug. This takes about an hour, because MoviPrep tastes - and here I am being kind - like a mixture of goat spit and urinal cleanser, with just a hint of lemon.

The instructions for MoviPrep, clearly written by somebody with a great sense of humor, state that after you drink it, “a loose watery bowel movement may result.” This is kind of like saying that after you jump off your roof, you may experience contact with the ground.

MoviPrep is a nuclear laxative. I don’t want to be too graphic, here, but: Have you ever seen a space shuttle launch? This is pretty much the MoviPrep experience, with you as the shuttle. There are times when you wish the commode had a seat belt. You spend several hours pretty much confined to the bathroom, spurting violently. You eliminate everything.
And then, when you figure you must be totally empty, you have to drink another liter of MoviPrep, at which point, as far as I can tell, your bowels travel into the future and start eliminating food that you have not even eaten yet.

After an action-packed evening, I finally got to sleep. The next morning my wife drove me to the clinic. I was very nervous. Not only was I worried about the procedure, but I had been experiencing occasional return bouts of MoviPrep spurtage. I was thinking, “What if I spurt on Andy?” How do you apologize to a friend for something like that? Flowers would not be enough.

At the clinic I had to sign many forms acknowledging that I understood and totally agreed with whatever the h*ell the forms said. Then they led me to a room full of other colonoscopy people, where I went inside a little curtained space and took off my clothes and put on one of those hospital garments designed by sadist perverts, the kind that, when you put it on, makes you feel even more naked than when you are actually naked.

Then a nurse named Eddie put a little needle in a vein in my left hand. Ordinarily I would have fainted, but Eddie was very good, and I was already lying down. Eddie also told me that some people put vodka in their MoviPrep. At first I was ticked off that I hadn’t thought of this, but then I pondered what would happen if you got yourself too tipsy to make it to the bathroom, so you were staggering around in full Fire Hose Mode. You would have no choice but to burn your house.

When everything was ready, Eddie wheeled me into the procedure room, where Andy was waiting with a nurse and an anesthesiologist. I did not see the17,000-foot tube, but I knew Andy had it hidden around there somewhere. I was seriously nervous at this point.
Andy had me roll over on my left side, and the anesthesiologist began hooking something up to the needle in my hand. There was music playing in the room, and I realized that the song was “Dancing Queen” by Abba. I remarked to Andy that, of all the songs that could be playing during this particular procedure, “Dancing Queen” has to be the least appropriate.

“You want me to turn it up?” said Andy, from somewhere behind me. “Ha ha,” I said. And then it was time, the moment I had been dreading for more than a decade. If you are squeamish, prepare yourself, because I am going to tell you, in explicit detail, exactly what it was like.

I have no idea. Really. I slept through it. One moment, Abba was shrieking “Dancing Queen! Feel the beat from the tambourine .”

... and the next moment, I was back in the other room, waking up in a very mellow mood. Andy was looking down at me and asking me how I felt. I felt excellent. I felt even more excellent when Andy told me that it was all over, and that my colon had passed with flying colors. I have never been prouder of an internal organ.

But my point is this: In addition to being a pathetic medical weenie, I was a complete moron. For more than a decade I avoided getting a procedure that was, essentially, nothing. There was no pain and, except for the MoviPrep, no discomfort. I was risking my life for nothing.


May 30, 4:57 pm | [comment link]
11. Br. Michael wrote:

Dave Berry continued:

If my brother Sam had been as stupid as I was - if, when he turned 50, he had ignored all the medical advice and avoided getting screened - he still would have had cancer. He just wouldn’t have known. And by the time he did know - by the time he felt symptoms - his situation would have been much, much more serious. But because he was a grown-up, the doctors caught the cancer early, and they operated and took it out. Sam is now recovering and eating what he describes as “really, really boring food.” His prognosis is good, and everybody is optimistic, fingers crossed, knock on wood, and all that.

Which brings us to you, Mr. or Mrs. or Miss or Ms. Over-50-And-Hasn’t- Had-a-Colonoscopy. Here’s the deal: You either have colorectal cancer, or you don’t. If you do, a colonoscopy will enable doctors to find it and do something about it. And if you don’t have cancer, believe me, it’s very reassuring to know you don’t. There is no sane reason for you not to have it done.

I am so eager for you to do this that I am going to induce you with an Exclusive Limited Time Offer. If you, after reading this, get a colonoscopy, let me know by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to Dave Barry Colonoscopy Inducement, The Miami Herald,
1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. I will send you back a certificate, signed by me and suitable for framing if you don’t mind framing a cheesy certificate, stating that you are a grown-up who got a colonoscopy. Accompanying this certificate will be a square of limited-edition custom-printed toilet paper with an image of Miss Paris Hilton on it. You may frame this also, or use it in whatever other way you deem fit.

But even if you don’t want this inducement, please get a colonoscopy. If I can do it, you can do it. Don’t put it off. Just do it.

Be sure to stress that you want the non-Abba version.

May 30, 4:58 pm | [comment link]
12. Oldman wrote:

Kendall, God Bless You dear friend and may the Lord help the memories go away, soon.  I know all of us T-one-niners are praying for a quick recovery with no after effects or difficutlies.

I hope I never go through that. My wife had a colonoscopy in SE Asia at one of the best Western hospitals around.  Still, I heard her screaming and I was way away in the waiting area.  She thought it almost worse than having our two babies….and to make it worse in her eyes, there was nothing wrong. At least her discomort having babies produced our wonderful two boys and not a dull, even though happy, medical report.
P.S. She’s 74 with no other problems with the colon, nor I at 79.

May 30, 5:16 pm | [comment link]
13. Br. Michael wrote:

By the way I have done this twice.  Kendall I feel your pain.

May 30, 5:23 pm | [comment link]
14. Laura R. wrote:

Br. Michael, thanks!  I haven’t laughed that hard in I don’t know how long.  A great way to approach an important subject.

May 30, 5:29 pm | [comment link]
15. Larry Morse wrote:

Kendall, I can’t find the words to tell you how excited and interest ed I am on the interior of your colon. Can we have a report of your prostate?  Have you any scars, ordinarily concealed, your could use Picasa to show us?

May 30, 5:30 pm | [comment link]
16. Dee in Iowa wrote:

Also Kendall+, most doctors furnish the patient with pictures.  Would love to have you post yours…

May 30, 5:43 pm | [comment link]
17. Alice Linsley wrote:

May God grant you many healthy years, dear Kendall!

May 30, 5:52 pm | [comment link]
18. Kendall Harmon wrote:

Most procedures do not use versed any more they use the newer propofol.



May 30, 6:02 pm | [comment link]
19. Br. Michael wrote:

Dee, I have been thinking about a place to hang my 8X10 color glossy.

May 30, 6:02 pm | [comment link]
20. Oldman wrote:

Please good people don’t put Kendall through showing pictures. I sure don’t want to see or show the orthoscope pictures of my cancered prostate. I’m old fashioned and believe these are at least family matters and at most my own.

An addendum: I would certainly be happy to help anyone with a hight PSA that is later diagnosed as prostate cancer that needs treatment. I am still a bit radioactive from the radioactive seed they panted in my cancer. The procedure wasn’t too bad and the aftermath easy to live with. It’s much better than external radiation!

May 30, 6:18 pm | [comment link]
21. Oldman wrote:

Re: 20. I should spell check everything! “High, not hight PSA, “radioactive seed they planted” not panted.

Sorry, but am an Oldman with creaky fingers.

May 30, 6:22 pm | [comment link]
22. Bill C wrote:

WARNING:  I’ve had two.  The first was great and I watched every minute of the procedure in complete comfort.  I expected the same with the second one but had a different doctor.  This colonoscopy gave new meaning to pain as the doctor whipped tube from side to side down the tunnel.  He must have been a Formula One driver was in a hurry to go home for dinner.  Never, again.  Next time, I’ll make sure they put me to sleep!

May 30, 7:08 pm | [comment link]
23. Rob Eaton+ wrote:

You guys got drugs!?
I need to find another internist.


May 30, 7:18 pm | [comment link]
24. ct layperson wrote:

You have my sympathy - I had to go through it twice in 2 days also. I hear a “virtual” procedure is coming, which would be a very good thing.

May 30, 7:31 pm | [comment link]
25. MikeS wrote:

Yes, I remember having it twice inside of two days as well when I was 38.  Dave Barry describes the experience better than I ever would.

What made it worse, it was Holy Week (the only time the doctor could schedule the machine to be in our rural area).  The last “procedure” came on Friday morning.

I was in perfect shape and strength for reminding people of the events for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services.  Easter morning I was still out of it.

The Dr. even wanted to show me the videotape later.  I told him I’d pass this time.

May 30, 7:57 pm | [comment link]
26. appletree wrote:

I made the mistake of accompanying Sylvia for her procedure.  I was fine until the physician brought out the color photographs.  I immediately broke into a cold sweat and had to excuse myself.  I’m certain here that this was one manner in which George Kodak never envisioned his invention being utilized.  Glad to hear you’re okay.  But never let Elizabeth talk you into accompanying her when her time arrives.  You’ll thank me.

May 30, 7:57 pm | [comment link]
27. tjmcmahon wrote:

You guys got drugs!?
I need to find another internist.

Well, that’s what you get for going to the Episcopal Hospital of Natural Druidic Healing.

May 30, 8:10 pm | [comment link]
28. Roger+ wrote:

In the midst of a colonoscopy, and watching it live, I mentioned to the physician hanging on to the other end of the 17,000 foot tube, “My spiritual director told me to look inward, but I didn’t think it would come to this!”  At that point the 17,000 foot tube jiggled and I thought it best to contain my enthusiasm for making any further comments.

May 30, 8:42 pm | [comment link]
29. Elizabeth H. wrote:

Dear Appletree,
I never hide the fact that I am older than Kendall (and we may argue about the wiser and better looking part) so I have already had my go at this procedure.  No fun but good to say you have done it.  Being a nurse practitioner I did mine as soon as I hit 50 so that I could confidently encourage all my patient to have one.

May 30, 8:58 pm | [comment link]
30. physician without health wrote:

I am glad Kendall that this is over for you and all is OK.  I went through it several years ago after my brother was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer.  Thank God through His hand and with the expertise from Mayo Clinic, he is in complete remission.  For me the prep was the worst!

May 30, 10:14 pm | [comment link]
31. trimom wrote:

Dave Barry’s “Dancing Queen” by Abba is nothing compared to The Eagles’ “Hotel California” that accompanied mine!!  That should have been creepy…. but the Versed made me strangely OK with it.

May 30, 10:21 pm | [comment link]
32. Now Orthodox wrote:

Old Man,
Getting ready for my SECOND biopsy.  PSA has gone from 2.6 to 5.23 in about 3 years.  First biopsy (1 year ago) showed no cancer…..hopefully this one will show none as well.  My doctor can’t tell me what else it COULD be.  Oh well….all things bring glory to God in due time.

May 31, 1:04 am | [comment link]
33. Rick in Louisiana wrote:

How about being engrossed in the latest issue of Saveur magazine during the hour you wait for the procedure to start? Remember what state this is.

On the way home stopping by your favorite restaurant to pick up your favorite food that evening. A good end to a challenging weekend. Barry’s column is hysterical partly because it is so dreadfully accurate.

May 31, 1:55 am | [comment link]
34. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

Best wishes for a prompt return to form Canon Harmon.  Thank you for all you do.

May 31, 7:53 am | [comment link]
35. them wrote:

Hint: To drink the STUFF, put the straw to the back of the tongue bypassing all those taste buds.  I know from years of experience.

May 31, 8:51 am | [comment link]
36. Oldman wrote:

Now Orthodox, all other high PSAers, and future colonoscopy candidates. Procedural medicine is rapidly making huge strides. My first prostate exam was in 1998. The doctor actually shot 13 darts inside me to obtain the tissue. Why 13 darts? I am sure he charged by the dart. My second one was a year ago and the doctor was fantastic. I could see on the screen what he saw and the sampling was only a slight sting. Nine years in medicine can bring huge advances. I am sure colon screening will someday be a snap like prostate sampling is today.

May 31, 10:52 am | [comment link]
37. RMBruton wrote:

Good for you. My Father died of Bowel Cancer. It could likely had been averted had he heeded our family G.P.‘s advice and been tested. He smoked for over thirty years and had quit in 1969, he died in 1986. I had my first colonoscopy in 1998. No one likes the prep and it can be lethal for some older patients and folks with dodgy cardiac conditions. Mag Citrate can accomplish much the same effect as “Goes Lytely”. The virtual colonoscopies are not yet nearly as precise, but may work for some folks. The main thing is to know who is doing yours and are they good? The possibility of perforating the colon and having to have a colostomy are always there when you have a colonoscopy. I had one patient who had one that went bad, she had to have an irreversible colostomy and died after six months. It can be a life-saver, but do your homework. My G. P. has ordered one for me and next year my wife gets to join the club as well. But hey, it beats the hell out of not having one and then finding out that you have cancer which might have been averted.

May 31, 12:02 pm | [comment link]
38. Kevin Maney+ wrote:

I’m glad everything came out all right, Kendall…

May 31, 12:58 pm | [comment link]
39. Larry Morse wrote:

Let me try again since my earlier version seems not to have been received. What I was trying to say in #15 is that Kendall’s report on his colonoscopy is in bad taste in every conceivable way. I am astonished - but perhaps shouldn’t be - at the “let’s bare it all in public” discussion.
Posting pictures could hardly make it worse. If this were merely an exhortation to have oneself checked for cancer, I could understand it, but this is just another example of the Youtube at work, the American love of exhibitionism. What happened to a sense of privacy and personal reserve? Ha self-restraint failed even h ere?  LM

May 31, 3:00 pm | [comment link]
40. Patty in Massachusetts wrote:

Oh, lighten up, Larry. wink  It’s Kendall’s blog, not yours.

May 31, 5:49 pm | [comment link]
41. Rob Eaton+ wrote:

When I read your comment (15) I heard sharp, sarcastic humor, rather than a complaint of disgust.  I guess you’ll have to do better at communicating your complaining, you know, instead of your usual affable self.
But really, Larry, I took the post as being an opportunity to make the case, nuanced as it might have been as the sharing of a personal, medical, getting older, moment, for all of us to not be so wrapped up in our lives that we neglect the life of our bodies.  The comments, I think, reflect that many of us have indeed heeded our doctors, spouses and friends to care for our bodies.  Some waited for the crisis of someone else’s disease to get the point - and now they, too, have joined the band of exhorters.
It’s life, Larry.  And that is actually what brought web logs into existence in the first place.  Kendall’s being true to origins, even if unintended.

May 31, 6:06 pm | [comment link]
42. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

#39 Every so often Canon Harmon shares an article or issue with us which we as should bear in mind.  In the UK this is not standard at 50 so far as I am aware; perhaps it should be.  It has given me food for thought as I had a grandfather who died of cancer of the colon, so I am grateful.

May 31, 6:07 pm | [comment link]
43. Kendall Harmon wrote:

#42 has it exactly correct.  I am bearing witness that there are some people out there who are under 50 who for reasons of family history should have this procedure done as a precaution.  One does not need to look any farther than Katie Couric’s husband among many others to see the importance of this.

May 31, 8:10 pm | [comment link]
44. Larry Morse wrote:

I have no doubt of its importance. I never argued otherwise. I merely said that there is such a thing as bad taste, that the case at hand is an example and that simple self-restraint and a a touch of modesty would leave the unpalatable details private. I do not need to hear about the stat e of the skull to know that one should not fall on one’s head from the roof top. What is so unsavory to sit next to a man or woman who gives you the Health Report in detail and assumes that you will listen because he has your ear? This is simple: Colon cancer is deadly and may well be prevented by a colonoscopy.
Can I grasp that or do I need to hear about the kind and degree of diarrhea caused by the drugs?  Well, I will say no more. Clearly, I am a minority.  Larry

June 1, 1:17 am | [comment link]
45. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

I always prefer to know the unpalatable details so that I can make an informed decision or at least know what is really involved.  On balance best to face it, though I expect all of us would much rather not.

June 1, 1:56 am | [comment link]
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