There are a lot of o’s in the word “colonoscopy.” Perhaps it’s because you spend the entire 24-hour prep time exclaiming “Oh!” As in, “Oh gosh, I’m hungry.” And, “Oh my God, this stuff is awful.” And “Oh my God, it’s time for another glass!” And “Oh boy, time for the bathroom!”
If you’re blessed to cross the age of 50, you’re then cursed with the routine colonoscopy. It’s as much a rite of passage as getting to vote at 18, legally drink at 21, and run for president when you’re 35.
Turning 50 used to mean you also get an invitation to the AARP, but its mail solicitations now begin showing up in our mailboxes even before the half-century mark. That red card with your name on it is as much a reckoning of age as gray hair, but none of it comes with the baggage of Gavilyte.
Gavilyte is the name its manufacturer gives polyethylene glycol because it sounds less like you’re drinking gasoline or some other crazy chemical. It comes in a plastic jug whose bottom is filled with the powder you will mix with water, chill and then torture yourself with. “At least it’s free,” said my pharmacist ruefully. The health insurance gods have a warped sense of justice.
Over the years, doctors have concluded that a routine screening for colon cancer at age 50 is a good benchmark for detecting and arresting a very arrestable form of cancer.
As medical procedures go, a colonoscopy is pretty simple and painless. The procedure involves inserting a thin camera up one’s posterior into the intestines to look for polyps and other signs of cancerous or precancerous growths. The patient is sedated with no recollection and many times little after-effect. But for a doctor to assess a patient’s colon with accuracy and confidence, the way must be clear, so to speak. And that’s where the preparation comes in.
Beginning three days before the procedure, you have to go off certain foods, such as seeds, fruit with skins (grapes, tomatoes) and roughage foods like leafy greens. Since these things make up a large part of my daily diet, my displeasure was primed early. Ah, but I had yet to experience displeasure.
The real grumpiness kicks in the day before a colonoscopy. Your diet is further constricted to clear liquids only, like water, water and water. Oh, and broth. If your family is having ham, homemade macaroni and cheese and fresh sauteed spinach for dinner, you might want to go find yourself a new family. Just when the real hunger is kicking in, it’s time for the Gavilyte! What about a nice cold eight-ounce glass of polyethylene glycol doesn’t appeal to the average person, right?
Look I’m not going to sugarcoat this: Nothing about this liquid concoction is pleasant. The professionals say you can flavor it with a little Crystal Light or something similar, but trust me when I say nothing is going to work except cramming it down your throat. It has a consistency unlike anything else you will ever drink. It is … heavy. It’s like drinking syrup. Someone in the office equated it to dish soap.
After the first glass, I almost called the doctor’s office to cancel the colonoscopy. They say you have to drink a gallon of this stuff. I thought that was an over-exaggeration. It turned out to be an under-exaggeration. Four liters is 1.05 gallons. The .05 matters.
Making yourself drink this concoction is akin to being scared of heights and forcing yourself to jump out of an airplane — every 15 minutes. I would hold my nose for about 10 seconds — smell and taste are linked — down the liquid and then hold my nose another 30 seconds while I rinsed my mouth with Gatorade and then sipped more Gatorade.
Even the time spent in the bathroom as the Gavilyte does its job is not as bad as the act of drinking it. By the time I finished my last glass around 1 a.m. — I began at 4 p.m. with a “halftime” after eight glasses — I felt like a warrior beast. I’d slain the mighty jug of polyethylene glycol.
I showed up at the doctor the next day. The nurse took me back and prepped me for the procedure. “You might not like the IV,” she said.
“Do you know what I just put myself through?” I replied.
“Yes. I have mine scheduled for next week,” she said, resigned to her fate.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “It’s no big deal.”
Contact editor John Nagy at (910) 693-2507 or email@example.com.