Colonoscopy: As Medical Procedures Go, It’s a Life-Saver

You’ve heard of the optimist who jumped off the top of the highest building in the city. Someone at the 20th floor heard him say on the way down, “So far, so good.”

It’s Tuesday morning at 9 o’clock and my colonoscopy is scheduled for 12:30 pm. I’m ready.

They say that after age 50, men and women–but particularly men–should get these tests every five years. I’m 68 and this is my first. My wife and her gastroenterologist conspired to get me in for this examination. I didn’t protest; I’ve known this is something that I needed to attend to.

When I’ve mentioned to friends that I’m having a colonoscopy, they all say the same thing: “Piece of cake. The worst part is the preparation.”

The internet is saturated with sites giving information, analyses, advice, descriptions, photos, and testimonials on the subject, so I’ll spare readers the technical stuff I’ve dug up, except for one paragraph.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the USA. Each year, something like 150,000 Americans come down with colon cancer, and around a third of them die from it. However, a colonoscopy is the gold standard of detections, and when caught in time, colon cancer has a 90 percent cure rate. That’s pretty impressive.

I visited the doctor’s office one week ago and we made this appointment. The doctor gave me a prescription for something called “osmoprep,” the tablets to clear my system before the test. The prescription costs 50 dollars. The instructions said to quit taking aspirins 7 days prior to the colonoscopy. On Sunday, two days before the test, I was to eat easily-digested food. I had cereal with milk and coffee for breakfast, a piece of grilled chicken and a baked potato for lunch, and a bowl of chicken noodle soup for supper.

Monday was the big day of preparation however. All solid foods are forbidden, only fluids, and they must be clear. So, I drank lots of apple and white grape juice, coffee is okay (but without cream), lemon popsicles (the dark colors stain the inner lining of the colon and could mask symptoms), chicken broth for lunch, and, since hard candy is acceptable, I sucked on lots of lemon drops.

Then, at 5 pm, the countdown began. At the top of the hour, you take four of the osmoprep tablets with 8 ounces of liquid (water or clear juice). Fifteen minutes later, do it again, repeating this every quarter-hour until 6 o’clock. By now, you have consumed 40 ounces of liquid–more than a quart–and 20 tablets. You’re feeling bloated.

Along about 6:30, or 90 minutes after taking the first tablets, nature begins sending you to the bathroom. That keeps up pretty steadily over the next couple of hours, so you don’t want to stray too far from the back of the house.

Then, at 9 pm, you repeat the 4 tablets/8 ounces procedure three more times. By 9:30, you’ve taken the last of the prescription, and you’re bloated again.

Your assignment the rest of the evening is to relax and obey nature’s calls. But, hey, we do that all the time, right? Nothing to it. No pain involved. You get to read or watch television. There was a fascinating special on about Churchill, so I enjoyed the evening. In fact, I slept several hours during the night.

From midnight on, no more water or anything else taken internally. Nada. Not even a sip.

That’s not as bad as it sounds. Occasionally, you rinse out your mouth (and spit it out) and get a little relief from the dryness.

It’s 9:21 and I’ve had my shower and I’m dressed. I’m now killing time here at the computer just waiting. I’ve read several chapters in the Bible this morning, had a prayer time, read the morning paper and worked the puzzles, made my morning phone call to my 92 year old mother in Alabama, and then went back to bed for another nap.

This is great. I may do this often.


Since we have not met the deductible on our health insurance this year, we wrote the clinic a check for 300 dollars at the front desk.

The staff were friendly and casual. After signing some papers, we sat in the waiting room for maybe 10 minutes before they called. Down the hall and inside a small room, I was instructed to undress from the waist down–“keep your socks on; it’s chilly in here”–and donned the famous hospital gown that opens in the back.

The nurses hooked up an IV in my right arm, stuck a few monitor pads on my chest, my doctor arrived and we chatted, and they gave me a sedative through the IV. It wasn’t enough to put me to sleep, but enough to lessen any pain or discomfort. I lie on my side, hardly aware of the procedure, which I can actually watch on the monitor just in front my head. Not every day one gets to see the insides of his body, so it’s pretty fascinating.

I knew from the internet images what a polyp looks like, so was not surprised when the probe discovered a small one. Then, a wire emerged from the end of the camera, encircled it, and snipped it off. Just so quickly and painlessly was my body spared the possibility of that turning into colon cancer.

“You look fine,” the doctor said. “You did a good job of preparation.”

The procedure took 20 minutes. Afterwards, while I was still a little groggy, they brought Margaret into the room, and she helped me dress. A nurse sat with us and went over the results of the test and answered our questions. The printed report actually carries several small color photos of what the probe had seen inside my body. Pretty impressive.

Following a wheelchair ride to the car, we headed home, Margaret driving.

On the way, we stopped at Smoothie King for a large peanut power plus with extra protein, my favorite.

It’s three o’clock and we’ve been home nearly an hour.

All in all, a pleasant day. Not as much fun as a picnic, but more productive.

In 1998, Jay Monahan, husband of Katie Couric, died of colon cancer. Had he had a colonoscopy in time, the disease could have been found and treated. Thereafter, Katie became a warrior for these tests. In 2000, she had the procedure on live television to show how easy and painless it is.

To those considering the test, Katie admits that the procedure is invasive, uncomfortable, and embarrassing. About that, she says, “Get over it.” Anyone who has had surgery or any woman who has given birth knows about “getting over” the embarrassment part. Some unpleasant things you do because the benefits are so worth it.

A scripture comes to mind. “Jesus, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame.” And then, “consider Him who endured such a contradiction as sinners against Himself, so that you may not lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)

Some unpleasant experiences you just try to get through for the benefits on the other side.

My purpose in telling all this is the same as Katie’s was: to encourage people to have this test. So many lives could be saved if everyone over 50 had a colonoscopy. For those of us in the Lord’s work, think of how many lives can be touched by us spiritually if we are given an additional 15 or 20 years of ministry because we caught this disease in time.

I’ve had cancer. In late 2004, I was diagnosed with a carcinoma under my tongue. The doctor removed the offending material and for three months in ’05, I went through radiation. Since then, regular checkups show no sign of a recurrence.

How well I recall when the doctor first read the biopsy and told me I had cancer. I thought, “No, no, no. Cancer is what happens to other people. Not to me.”

Big joke. That dreaded disease is no respect of persons.

If there are people you love who are counting on you–children, grandchildren, others–you have the best possible incentive to have this little test done.

You know how irksome it is at the end of an e-mail where the writer dares you not to delete this, but to forward it to others? Well, I always take the dare and delete it. I hate every kind of manipulation, and certainly do not intend for this to be used that way.

However, may I say, if there is someone you love who should be tested for colon cancer, please consider sending this along to them.

11 thoughts on “Colonoscopy: As Medical Procedures Go, It’s a Life-Saver

  1. Thanks for the post. I just had the procedure a few weeks ago. The second one for me. I, like you, just had a very small polyp removed. I was adopted, but my natural father died at age 52 from colon cancer. He had a brother who died at a young age from colon cancer. That brother had a son who died in his 40’s from colon cancer. I have to keep a close watch! Recently, a 50 year old lady very loved by all in Jonesboro and a member of our church died from colon cancer. Two weeks ago another lady in our church was diagnosed from colon cancer. I believe she is 49 or 50. I want to join with you in encouraging everyone to go through the very easy procedure (except for the night before!) of the colonoscopy.

  2. Wow what timing. I just had a minister friend tell me he is having his first one of these this week. Very interesting to read the details of what you went through. I turn 50 next year, and I guess I’ll take my turn.

  3. How timely. I just filled my prescription for Colyte. My prep is a liquid– rather yucky tasing, I am told, but much cheaper than the pills, from the sound of it.

    I had some ice cream for dessert this evening and will be eating a lot of Jello tomorrow.

  4. At the young age of 66 I just had it done for the fourth time. I’m just thankful that there are people who are willing to do that for a living. This last time they also looked in my stomach and the last thing I remember saying before I went out was “Make sure you change the probe.” I can only assume they did.

  5. I’m ashamed of myself that I waited to have this procedure. Finally, last year, at age 53, my wife conspired with my doctor to get me in. It really was the easiest medical-type thing I’ve ever done. I’d rather do it again than go to the dentist. After lying on the cot for several minutes,I asked the nurse when they would start the procedure. She smiled and said, “We’re already finished”.

    I am curious, though,as to how they convinced the very first colonoscopy patient to submit to it.

    “You’re going to do WHAT, with WHAT?”

  6. As you know, Joe, I am 81, and about 5 years ago I had this procedure done at the VA. Things have changed a lot since then, I’m sure, because it was no “Piece of cake” for me. The blew me up with air a couple of times, finished cleaning me out by syringe bags, and kept me on the table for several minutes, instructing me to turn, breathe deeply, etc. I praise the Lord Jesus that they found nothing except a little divaticulitis (sp?), and I have been fine since. I probably need another one, but may not live long enough to have it. Glad you did so well with yours. Hugh Martin.

  7. Dr. Joe: Been there done that 7 times now! Another one later this year. My Dad died from Colon Cancer in his early 50’s. Everyone should be tested if the doctor says so. For me the best part is the great sleep afterwards! Always better than sorry.


  8. Doctors in Greenville prescribe the liquid and it is awful – even the stuff they call flavored. Pills I can handle. I, like you, watched while they probed. My husband, who goes to sleep with a dose of Tylenol, slept. But my Mother had colon cancer and early detection is the only way.

  9. Joe,

    Let me say a hearty “amen” to your urging others to have this simple but undignified test performed.

    I was one who felt that “when my doctor told me I had to have one, I would do it, but not a moment before.” Unfortunately, at 54 when I did have the procedure done the news was devastating. The doctor who performed the test told my wife the huge tumor had probably been growing there for two years or more.

    When surgery was done to remove a large section of the colon it was discovered that the cancer was in stage four (liver and 14 lymph nodes) and considered “incurable”. Prognosis was a survival time of 18-22 months.

    God has blessed me to live more than a year beyond that prognosis, but I would have saved my family a small fortune and great sorrow, had I only had the procedure when I was 50.

    A word to the wise…

  10. Joe: Glad to hear that you had the procedure. I have had it done 2 times. Had some polyps both times. I am scheduled already for next year. Let me also encourage others to have the procedure for their own life. If you are free of polyps next year they will let you go 4-5 years without having another one done.

    Also I would encourage everyone over 50 to have a prostate exam and also get the psa test that goes along with the exam. I get a yearly check up and that is standard procedure for me. While living in the Brandenburg area a few years ago a very popular T.V. reporter that had a Farm and Garden Show was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was the fast growing kind. He passed away in less than a year.

    Be sure to schedule another procedure for next year!! Borrowing a phrase from some old advertising on seat belts ,I think, ” The life you save may be your own”!!

  11. The funniest take on colonoscopies you will ever read was written by humorist Dave Barry. Using your search engine, type in “dave barry/colonoscopy,” and pull up a chair. My friend Chet sent it to me, I printed it out and placed in my notebook, then read it in the bank waiting room Friday while waiting to see an officer. It was so hilarious I embarrassed myself laughing out loud. Of course, Barry would say anyone who deigns to have a colonoscopy proves they are beyond embarrassment, so I suppose it’s all right.

    Several readers who did not leave a comment on the blog wrote me personal notes to say, “All right—you’ve talked me into it. I’m having the test done.” Good. That was the point.

    If anyone has the test and gets a bad report, tell us here and we’ll get you some prayer support. Really.


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