Waking Up at 4:00 AM for a Colonoscopy

I was a bit worried that I’d sleep through my alarm, so I had the volume up pretty high. I leapt awake at the alarm (and unfortunately, so did Liz). I was able to get up, go downstairs, and bring up the jug to drink at my desk/office.

Surprisingly, this second half was harder to do. I took the same approach (drank while I set a timer on my phone), but the main difference here was that I was in front of my computer. So I’d get distracted while I was surfing around and looking on social media (god I know, I know).

Ultimately, I got done in about an hour and a half. And then did the same dance as before – sat in the bathroom for a while, reading. When 7:00 AM rolled around, I was more or less done. Showered, changed, and killed a bit of time until I had to drive myself to the hospital.

I texted Liz some pretty explicit details as to where I parked, and then checked myself in. We took this precaution because the procedure involves a thing called “Twilight”, which is a pretty unnerving thing actually.

Basically, you don’t quite go “under” like you would for things like surgery. Twilight still enables the patient to be responsive to verbal commands, and can communicate (I think). But the thing with Twilight is that the patient has no memory of the procedure. The drug inhibits the creation of new memories.

Honestly, in addition to the process itself… the administration of this drug was also fairly unsettling to me. I heard stories of people emerging from this having said or blurted out all manner of crazy things.

Part of me wondered: what would I say? Horrible things about what I thought of others? Would I blurt out statements that would reveal me for the horrible person I am, deep down? Would something happen where I would lose all of my memories, and not just the ones during the procedure.

I like to worry.

The big thing with Twilight is that, after the procedure, you have to have someone else transport you home. No Uber, no Lyft – someone has to help you home. Because there’s a chance you might not remember things still.

Another fun kicker: in addition to not working or operating heavy machinery, you’re also not supposed to sign any legal documents after Twilight. Because again, you might not have any memory of doing so. I thought this was a rather fun (and necessary) detail.

At the hospital, I filled out some forms, waited for my number to be called, and was walked into a large room. In the center was a nurse’s station, and all along the perimeter were a series of square rooms, defined by a curtain that could be open/closed, hanging off a rod.

I ended up changing into the traditional hospital garb (robe with the back loose and exposed, socks)… and crawled into the bed in the room.

Here’s me just hanging out, a few minutes prior to meeting the doctor and getting wheeled to the procedure room. To say I was nervous and anxious at this point is an understatement.

The nurse that checked me in set up a small bit of saline in my right arm (they favor the right arm because patients will be lying on their left side during the procedure).

Honestly, the insertion of the IV also freaked me out a lot. I’m just squeamish like that. I don’t know why, but despite my parents’ desires (and those of most first generation Chinese familes)… I think I would have made a horrible doctor.

The biological aspect of the human anatomy, the underlying mechanics and nuts and bolts of what makes us alive and human… that freaks me out. I don’t know if it’s because my brain immediately jumps too much towards the divine, or too much to the mechanically biological. Either way… and I say this in all honesty… being that close and exposed to the miraculous nature of live itself unnerves me.

So even something as simple as inserting an IV? I have to look away.

The insertion was just a small thing to get my ready for when they administered the Twilight. Which wouldn’t happen until I got into the procedure room.

After a bit, the doctor who would be performing the procedure came in to talk me through the details and to have my sign another form. He was really thorough about everything (the details, the risks, etc) and answered most of my questions. I told him how nervous I was, and he was great about reassuring me and said “We’ll take good care of you.”

Soon after this, I got wheeled from my room to the procedure room. Part of me wishes I would have kept my phone out, so I could have filmed it. But honestly, I was too nervous. Maybe next time?

Weirdly, my brain went back to various pop culture references I had stored in my memory. The video from Eyes of a Stranger and random snippets of Jacob’s Ladder. Thanks a lot, brain.

In the room, I had two nurses: one that hooked me up to various monitoring equipment and another who would be administering the Twilight and helping the doctor. I was even more nervous at this point, but more or less resigned to whatever was going on. I remember there was another woman in the room, taking out the trash while all this was going on. The routine nature of her chore felt very much at odds with how seriously I felt, at the time.

I remember hearing that they were going to start administering the Twilight. But after I rolled on my side, that’s about all I remember.

Until I woke up. During the final phase of the process.

Which, I was told, is a normal thing.

The Twlight, I learned, is for the first part of the procedure. Where whatever they use goes in “about 3-4 feet.” Yeah, my eyes bulged a little when I heard this. Apparently, the first part of the process causes the most discomfort, with a bit of possible muscle cramping during the initial part. That’s what the Twilight is for. And this portion is what I have zero memory of.

When I woke up, I was on my side still and I could tell the procedure was still going on. I was informed that “waking up” like this is perfectly normal, and if I was in any discomfort I could say so and they would administer any additional sedative.

While I could tell that they were “still working,” I felt absolutely no pain, no discomfort, no nothing whatsoever. I had a very matter of fact “Oh, that’s still going on.”

So I just closed my eyes and kind of rested and waited. I remember all this, and remember it was all no big deal. I could sense when they “stopped working” and were all done, and remember being wheeled back to my room. And there they dimmed the lights for me, and told me I could just rest and sleep for a while.

From the moment I woke up, I pretty much remembered everything following. Between when I rolled on my site and when I woke up: absolutely nothing at all. It’s a blank. Which is both amazing and terrible, when I stop to think about it.

I dozed off and on in the room, but wasn’t really that tired. Liz got notified that I was done, and she rushed over to the hospital pretty quickly (I expected her to take a lot longer to arrive).

For me: no disorientation, no problems with memory after waking up. I was totally fine, coherent, and pretty ok. Pretty much zero physical discomfort as well!

Me, post procedure. Good news: the routine colonoscopy showed no polyps at all. So looks like I’ve got a solid ten years until I need to go through all this again.

I look a bit more weary than I actually was. I think I just felt better moving a little slower, but honestly felt a lot more with it than I expected to.

Again, because I wasn’t sure what my memory would be… I made sure to place a donut order with Liz, prior to my procedure. Because in the ground floor of the building I was in was a Stan’s Donuts. Because the people at Northwestern are genius devils for putting a donut shop at the ground level of their hospital.

And that’s where they have those amazing/accursed Blueberry Cream Cheese danishes that I apparently love so much.

So knowing that I’d have been without food for over 24 hours, and knowing that I’d be recovering from someone coming in through the back door… I ordered two of these things. As well as an Old Fashioned. As my first meal, post procedure.

Back home, I climbed into bed with Liz, ate my danishes, had a little coffee, and then promptly fell asleep after about 20 minutes into the movie we were watching.

All in all, the procedure was actually much, much better and easier than I thought it would be. I’d heard horror stories about the prep process, and whatever thing I had was more or less manageable. And the procedure itself was devoid of any discomfort or pain or unpleasantness.

Most of what was unpleasant happened in my own head, in the days and hours leading up to the process itself.

So I’ll say this, to anyone who might have stumbled across these posts… if you’re worried about the proecdure, don’t be. If you’re needing to get the procedure done, do it. While you might hear experiences from others who have and this process done before now, this is my recap of the process in 2019. And for me, it really wasn’t that bad at all.

Especially if you get yourself a little danish, at the end of it all.

Seeing a Side of Me I’ve Never Seen Before: Visiting the Ear/Nose/Throat Doc, Northwestern
Colonoscopy Prep
An Obsession: Blueberry Cream Cheese Danish, Stan’s Donuts

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