As we approach the back-end of Bowel Cancer Awareness month, Alice Sanders pulls the plug on the anxiety-inducing mystery of having a tube shoved up your bum for medical purposes. You may wish to source a rubber ring for your swivel chair before reading.
April is Bowel Cancer Awareness month. Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK, but it’s not one we talk about very much.
It’s my belief that we talk about it less because it’s to do with bums and that’s embarrASSing. We are fulfilling a terrible British stereotype – we’d rather die than talk about our shit. But this is fairly likely to affect you or someone you love in the course of your lifetime, so hop on board the bum bus now. Don’t worry, I’m here and I’m ready to talk about my rear.
“I spent two weeks in and out of hospital with violent intestinal spasms, and more gas coming out of me than you’d need to circumnavigate the globe in a blimp.”
In October of last year, I’d been in discomfort for a while, and when the bar was raised to full-blown pain I decided it was time to visit the doctor. I’d left it so long because my brother was diagnosed with bowel cancer at just 27 years old and I was terrified I had the same thing. If you have any symptoms of bowel cancer, just go to the doctor’s, for crying out loud. You can check your symptoms here: www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/bowel-cancer/about/bowel-cancer-symptoms.
After I’d described my symptoms: bloating, pain after eating, alternate bouts of constipation and diarrhoea, the doctor sent me straight to the hospital for tests. This was largely because of my family history of bowel cancer. Nevertheless, it was pretty fucking scary. I had blood tests, urine tests, stool samples and X-rays. I spent two weeks in and out of hospital with violent intestinal spasms, and more gas coming out of me than you’d need to circumnavigate the globe in a blimp. Then finally, I was sent for the ‘round of golf’ tests – the full set of holes. I had a gastroscopy (down your throat), an internal ultrasound (up your foof), and a colonoscopy (up your bum), or as I like to call it, the ‘gob, goo and poo’.
As I am now an expert on all matters colonoscopy, I’m going to walk you through one, so should you ever have to experience it yourself, you know what you’re in for. Oh, and just to be clear – a colonoscopy is when they put an endoscope (tiny camera) up your bottom and have a look around in your colon or large intestine.
So, if are you sitting comfortably – but shitting uncomfortably – this is what you might be looking at.
1) You are not allowed to consume anything except clear liquids for about 24 hours before the procedure. I hate this because being hungry makes everything seem much worse. Also, you’re not allowed to drink any blackcurrant flavoured drinks because they can stain the colon. This means that hot Ribena, the ultimate in non-alcoholic comfort drinks, is off the menu. Instead try Sainsbury’s High Juice Apple and Alphonso Mango squash, and spend your time thinking about what Alphonso Mango would look like if he were actually a man. (Small, with a neat, dark moustache.)
2) Get someone to take you. You might think you’ll be fine but actually you’ll probably be pretty scared. At the very least listen to a really good podcast and don’t spend your time worrying about what’s about to happen.
3) You get to wear the most ridiculous outfit ever, and this from a woman who owns a sequinned playsuit. You’re supplied with one of those hospital gowns that opens at the back, and a pair of paper shorts that have an opening for easy access to your rectal passage. Also, it’s the only time anyone’s ever said to me, “Take off all of your clothes except for your socks.” God bless that nurse, she was right: my feet would’ve been very cold otherwise.
4) Be prepared to have unexpected thoughts about body hair. As I was sitting there in my hospital gown, paper shorts, and socks, I kept staring down, thinking, “I should’ve shaved my legs.” Now, I make no judgements about a woman and her body hair, and I hadn’t shaved my legs for about three months; it’s just that the stress got to me and I allowed the patriarchy in for a moment. I guess I was wondering what the etiquette was. I even thought, “Should I have got my bumhole waxed for the surgeon? Does anyone do that?”
“Get someone to take you. You might think you’ll be fine but actually you’ll probably be pretty scared. At the very least listen to a really good podcast and don’t spend your time worrying about what’s about to happen.”
5) You’ll be awake for the whole thing, because unfortunately you cannot have an anaesthetic for a colonoscopy. You’ll have to have a cannula in for them to administer a sedative. If you’ve had blood taken before, just get them to put your cannula in that vein. You’ll also have a device clipped to your finger to measure your pulse and an oxygen mask. It’s pretty cool.
6) They will stick a tube up your butt. This bit wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it might be. The tube is narrow and lubed, and I barely noticed it being slipped up my jacksy, whilst the assemblage of medical staff looked on.
7) You get air blown up your arse, literally. I’m now utterly baffled as to why this is a metaphor for being complimented or sucked up to, as it’s thoroughly unpleasant. They inflate your colon so that they can see it better, especially at the points where it curves around. At these points, it hurts, and feels a bit like your guts are going to explode. One of the nurses will probably press on your tummy to help with the discomfort, and you get to tap your cannula like a rich old lady on her deathbed and shout, “mama’s hungry”, and hopefully they’ll give you more drugs. It’ll be over very quickly, I promise.
8) You have the ultimate selfie taken. You see right up your own arse on a massive screen. In fact, you get a tour of your own arse. And at the end, you get a print out of various parts of your colon that are called exotic names like ‘hepatic flexure’ and you can pretend you went on holiday there. Show your friends! Put the pics on Facebook!
9) You get the incredible, ineffable relief you can only get when somebody stops blowing air up your arse and removes a tube that goes all the way up your rectum and into your colon.
“I guess I was wondering what the etiquette was. I even thought, ‘should I have got my bumhole waxed for the surgeon? Does anyone do that?’”
10) You need to ask someone to pick you up and look after you. The hospital won’t let you leave alone, as you will be highly sedated, tender, bloated and woozy. I know that it can be difficult to ask for help. I, for one, pretend I can do it all by myself, secretly resent everyone for not helping more, and turn into a megabitch. But this is not a good way of dealing with feeling vulnerable. Ask someone you trust to pick you up, make you a relatively plain meal, and tell you everything will be OK. Asking for help is not weakness; none of us get through this life alone.
11) You will fart. All night long (karamu, fiesta, forever!). And these farts will not be your usual kind of farts; they will be practically odourless (because there’s nothing in your colon), but last for up to a minute. How. Did. They. Get. So. Much. Air. Up. There?
12) You’ll know if there’s anything wrong. In my case, there was. I had 10 polyps, which are like small cysts, throughout my colon. Luckily for me they had not turned cancerous yet, as polyps can do. But it’s always better to know what you’re dealing with. Don’t secretly think it’s the worst case scenario, and silently panic. Go get checked out. Say coloYEScopy!
The upshot of all this for me was that I had to have a couple more of these procedures to get my polyps cut out. I’m a pro at this now; I’ve had that tube up my arse for up to two hours at a time. Also, I have to go to Guys Hospital to get my butt researched, ‘cos all the colorectal surgeons be like, “Gurl, dat ass!” But seriously, my brother and I are still alive because we got checked out. If you have any symptoms, just go to the doctor and join me in the hepatic flexure; it’s not as bad as you might think.9898 Views
Alice Sanders is a freelance writer. She writes articles, audio description for the visually impaired, and fiction. She also performs with comedy improv troupe The Pioneers. @wernerspenguin