When my gastroenterologist said she needed to stick tubes down my throat and up my butt, I wasn’t exactly overjoyed. Over the years I haven’t had a good relationship with scopes. I’ve had:
- 1 colonoscopy; where they look at the whole colon.
- Countless sigmoidoscopies. This is a mini-colonoscopy, where the doctors look at the left part of the colon.
- Two gastroscopies. A doctor will pop a tube down your throat, through the stomach and into the first part of the small bowel.
August 2016, 5 months before my diagnosis, I had an unsuccessful colonoscopy. Despite the fact I’d been bleeding from my butt for two months prior to the scope, they couldn’t find anything. Over the years I’ve become accustomed to talking about poo with strangers, but back then (aged of 18) talking to a male doctor about my bowel movements felt humiliating. It didn’t help that the GI who performed the scope didn’t have an ounce of sympathy. He is now formally referred to as GI Joe due to the fact he had the emotional range of a teaspoon.
The process of having a colonoscopy was pretty intense. GI Joe gave me a strong laxative to clean out my bowel and yes… It is as horrible as it sounds. My advice to anyone who has this, make your bathroom your bedroom for the night… And a side note to anyone who thinks a cleanse is a good idea… Maybe think again.
A few months after the unsuccessful colonoscopy, I changed from GI Joe to a gastroenterologist with genuine human emotions. But of course, he needed to take a look. From December 2016 to December 2017 I had a flexi-sigmoidoscopy once a month; without sedation or pain relief to monitor my UC. I asked a nurse if I could have pain relief once and she all but laughed in my face. I’m not apologising for the many expletives that came out of my mouth that day.
Every time I felt hopeless, vulnerable and humiliated. Scopes will never be fun, and even though the purpose of this post isn’t to scare the living daylights out of people; I don’t want to lie about my experience. At the time my colon was bleeding heavily and full of ulcers; making the walls of the intestine sensitive to the slightest touch. That’s why it was such a painful experience. It isn’t like this for everyone.
After 11 months of treatment from GI 2.0, I was handed over to the surgeons and GI 3.0 for more tests prior to cutting my colon out (Jan 2018). The day before my surgery, GI 3.0 did a gastroscopy and flexi-sigmoidoscopy to make sure the bleeding was coming from my colon. Thankfully, my third GI is female and has an abundance of empathy; she’s hugged me multiple times over the years. She pumped me with strong sedation and I got through it with a nurse stroking my head and holding my hand. It wasn’t pleasant but it wasn’t at all as painful as the previous ones.
Nearly a year on and my most recent experience with scopes was a gastroscopy and rectal stump examination to determine what was causing my iron deficiency. Unfortunately the sedation didn’t work as well as the last time and instead of playing with the fairies, I felt every push of the tube. Even though I didn’t have to take any bowel cleansing prep, the 10 minute scopes felt like hours.
Despite this, my recent scopes discovered that my iron deficiency is coming from my rectal stump. Because of the scopes I don’t need to have surgery sooner than expected! The stump is inflamed but not so bad that I need suppositories or surgery to take it out right now. I will have regular iron infusions to keep my energy levels up and my GI said, due to the severity of my colitis when the bowel was removed it’s likely the stump needs more time to heal. She assured me the bleeding should stop with time, but in the meantime I’ll be closely monitored and will discuss the possibility of removing it at a later date.
Scopes are a necessary evil. They might not be fun, however they can save your life. My advice is, talk to your doctor and make sure you feel safe in their hands. Having a good doctor, who talks to you about your fears and worries about the procedure will help. The very reason I agreed to undergo my most recent scopes was simply because I knew I would be in good, safe and caring hands. Having a doctor who listens to you is one of the most important parts of living with a chronic illness.