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In my family there is a history of bowel cancer and pre-cancerous polyps. So, I was told that I needed to start having colonoscopies regularly from the age of 40. During a colonoscopy the doctor uses a special camera to investigate the bowel and check for abnormalities.
Before we left Canberra I was extremely busy with a very demanding workload and preparing to move my family across the world. It was easy to postpone a colonoscopy, especially considering it’s not a pleasant prospect!
When we had settled into life in Trondheim, Norway I thought that I would take advantage of my less busy job and finally have that colonoscopy. In Australia a colonoscopy is performed under general anesthetic so the patient is oblivious throughout the procedure. Imagine my surprise when the GP told me that here it is performed without any anesthetic or analgesic or sedative!
I was called in by letter directly to the procedure without any consultation. I translated the letter and began my preparations by stopping eating whole grains, seeds and fruits containing seeds 1 week beforehand. I called the clinic to check whether my translation was correct, to ask questions about the procedure and to ensure that I was prepared. The nurse didn’t feel confident enough to speak to me in English and so the specialist called me back 2 days later. He told me that they would ‘do the procedure’ without providing details but did reassure me that it’s not usually painful.
Yesterday I started fasting at 12:45 and 4 hours later I started drinking 4L of Laxabon at a rate of 250mL per 10 minutes. After 2 hours the laxative caused some pain as the front of saline solution made it’s way through my intestines. After that the action began in earnest and I spent the next 3 hours either on or next to the toilet. If you are preparing for a colonoscopy feel free to ask me questions and I’m very happy to answer.
The Laxabon tastes ok and is surprisingly satisfying so I didn’t experience hunger. At times I slowed down the drinking and almost vomited once but didn’t. Whenever the cramps subsided I resumed drinking. I thought I would be able to read but it was not easy to focus. I did watch some TED talks and later a film. I really enjoyed the heated bathroom floor!
I slept well and this morning I continued fasting and after purging the rest of the contents of my intestine I walked the 3km to the clinic. The doctor greeted me matter-of-factly and used first names. I like the lack of separation and pretensions in the unstratified Norwegian society. I changed into a pair of disposable pants with a convenient hole at the back and sat on the bed for a quick briefing by the doctor. He asked me if I wanted to do it the Norwegian way or use medicines. I opted for the Norwegian way.
I lay on my left side while he inserted the colonoscope. It was not painful. I had a full view throughout the procedure of the footage from the camera. It was interesting to see inside my own lower intestine. The doctor told me that air would make its way into my bowel and I shouldn’t hesitate to push the air back out. I liked that he thought to tell me that. Imagine the discomfort of trying to hold air in throughout the procedure! I didn’t feel any pain and I didn’t feel humiliated. I felt discomfort when the scope went around bends in the bowel and when air was moving around. I chatted with the nurse about the Tråante jubilee of Sami culture that is underway in Trondheim.
The doctor started talking to me about the lack of necessity for anesthetic and that he thinks it’s used in USA and Australia out of fear of litigation. I was a little concerned that he was no longer looking at the screens but he’s had a lot of practice so it was fine.
All of my anxieties were unfounded. The procedure was fine, fasting for 24 hours was fine, walking to and from the clinic while fasting was fine. It was kind of my husband to come to the clinic with me. I’ve had discomfort since the procedure finished because of all of the air that is trapped in my lower intestine but that too will pass!