Colonoscopy: If you’re 50 or older, you should get one. They’re not as bad as you think.

John Kelly
Columnist May 18

Some dame had slipped me a mickey and stolen my clothes.

How else to explain my situation: groggily waking up in a narrow bed and discovering that I wore only a backless smock and little rubberized socks, a needle in my arm that was snaking off to an IV bag?

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Where was I?

The face of a woman dressed in pale green scrubs swam into view. She looked efficient, no-nonsense. She ordered me to fart.

What kind of nightmare was this?

Then it started coming back to me. The last thing I remembered was watching an anesthesiologist inject something into my IV.

“I feel funnnnnnnnnny,” I managed. Then: nothing. A thick black curtain fell. Consciousness disappeared. Time ceased to exist.

Now a clock on the wall suggested I’d been out for 25 minutes or so, but it could have been 25 hours.

“Would you like something to drink?” the Woman in Green purred.

“Whiskey. Neat,” I said. Or would have said if I hadn’t actually said, “Do you have any ginger ale?”

She handed me a can. I dribbled as I sipped from the straw, my head still swimming. A doctor hove into view, papers in hand.

“No polyps,” he said. “See you in five years.”

And to think I’d been dreading my colonoscopy.

Nearly a third of the people who should have colonoscopies don’t. According to a study conducted three years ago by the Colon Cancer Alliance, fear is the main reason. People are afraid to get the results or, more likely, afraid to go through the procedure in the first place.

Well believe me when I say that hours of Niagara Falls-like diarrhea followed by a camera-equipped probe snooping around your most intimate of places is nothing to be afraid of.

I was first scoped five years ago and I can tell you that the preparation has improved a lot. Back then I had to fill a gallon jug with water and a foul-tasting powder and chug it over the course of a few hours. But this new stuff — SuPrep — didn’t taste bad at all.

I liked it so much — or rather, I hated it so little — that I feel like I should endorse it, the way RGIII endorses Subway. “When you want your bowels as clean as a whistle, use SuPrep, the choice of champions.”

Of course, no matter what you take, there’s no getting around the end result, if you know what I mean. When the pharmacist fills your prescription he ought to hand you a book to read while killing time in the bathroom: “War and Peace,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” “À la Recherche du Temps Perdu.”

Polyps are the pre-cancerous, ticking time bombs that the doctor will be hunting for during your colonoscopy. Your insides have to be squeaky clean so that the doctor can see them through the little scope. If he or she does, they can be literally nipped in the bud.

Under the sway of the most sublime knockout drops, I didn’t remember a thing. And then when I awoke, I was given permission — nay, directed — to pass gas.

All of us slowly awakening patients were. Resting in the recovery room, safely behind our privacy curtains, we were a veritable human calliope. But because we were not full of what so many in Washington are full of, these were not the unpleasantly scented effusions we normally try so hard to suppress. They were as fair as angel breath.

I was given a sheaf of papers that outlined what discoveries had been made during my colonic safari. Five years ago I’d had a polyp snipped out, but now I was polyp-free. And in one spot, under “Procedure,” my doctor had written, “The prep quality was excellent.”

“He doesn’t usually write that,” the nurse said. “He usually writes ‘Adequate preparation.’ ”

I swelled with pride.

My smock shed, my street clothes on, I met My Lovely Wife in the waiting room, and she drove us off to lunch. It was time to start filling that colon up.

Are you 50 or older? Are you younger, but have a family history of colon cancer? Talk to your doctor about getting checked out. I’m here to tell you that the little spelunking expedition isn’t as bad as you think.

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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