Dave Barry's Colonoscopy


dave barry's colonoscopy

byline: by dave barry,

mcclatchy newspapers

ok. you turned 50. you know you're supposed to get a colonoscopy. but you haven't. here are your reasons:

1. you've been busy.

2. you don't have a history of cancer in your family.

3. you haven't noticed any problems.

4. you don't want a doctor to stick a tube 17,000 feet up your behind.

let's examine these reasons one at a time. no, wait, let's not. because you and i both know that the only real reason is no. 4. this is natural. the idea of having another human, even a medical human, becoming deeply involved in what is technically known as your "behindular zone" gives you the creeping willies. i know this because i am like you, except worse. i yield to nobody in the field of being a pathetic weenie medical coward. i become faint and nauseous during even very minor medical procedures, such as making an appointment by phone. it's much worse when i come into physical contact with the medical profession. more than one doctor's office has a dent in the floor caused by my forehead striking it seconds after i got a shot.

in 1997, when i turned 50, everybody told me i should get a colonoscopy. i agreed that i definitely should, but not right away. by following this policy, i reached age 55 without having had a colonoscopy. then i did something so pathetic and embarrassing that i am frankly ashamed to tell you about it.

what happened was, a giant 40-foot replica of a human colon came to miami beach. really. it's an educational exhibit called the colossal colon, and it was on a nationwide tour to promote awareness of colorectal cancer. the idea is, you crawl through the colossal colon, and you encounter various educational items in there, such as polyps, cancer, and hemorrhoids the size of regulation volleyballs, and you go, "whoa, i better find out if i contain any of these things," and you get a colonoscopy. if you are as a professional humor writer, and there is a giant colon within a 200-mile radius, you are legally obligated to go see it. so i went to miami beach and crawled through the colossal colon. i wrote a column about it, making tasteless colon jokes. but i also urged everyone to get a colonoscopy. i even, when i merged from the colossal colon, signed a pledge stating that i would get one.

but i didn't get one. i was a fraud, a hypocrite, a liar. i was practically a member of congress. five more years passed. i turned 60, and i still hadn't gotten a colonoscopy. then, a couple of weeks ago, i got an e-mail from my brother sam, who is 10 years younger than i am, but more mature. the e-mail was addressed to me and my middle brother, phil. it said:

"dear brothers,

"i went in for a routine colonoscopy and got the dreaded diagnosis: cancer. we're told it's early and that there is a good prognosis that they can get it all out, so, fingers crossed, knock on wood, and all that. and of course they told me to tell my siblings to get screened. i imagine you both have."

um. well. first i called sam. he was hopeful, but scared. we talked for a while, and when we hung up, i called my friend andy sable, a gastroenterologist, to make an appointment for a colonoscopy. a few days later, in his office, andy showed me a color diagram of the colon, a lengthy organ that appears to go all over the place, at one point passing briefly through minneapolis. then andy explained the colonoscopy procedure to me in a thorough, reassuring and patient manner. i nodded thoughtfully, but i didn't really hear anything he said, because my brain was shrieking, quote, "he's going to stick a tube 17,000 feet up your behind!"

i left andy's office with some written instructions, and a prescription for a product called "moviprep," which comes in a box large enough to hold a microwave oven. i will discuss moviprep in detail later; for now suffice it to say that we must never allow it to fall into the hands of america's enemies. i spent the next several days productively sitting around being nervous. then, on the day before my colonoscopy, i began my preparation. in accordance with my instructions, i didn't eat any solid food that day; all i had was chicken broth, which is basically water, only with less flavor. then, in the evening, i took the moviprep. you mix two packets of powder together in a one-liter plastic jug, then you fill it with lukewarm water. (for those unfamiliar with the metric system, a liter is about 32 gallons.) then you have to drink the whole jug. this takes about an hour, because moviprep tastes - and here i am being kind - like a mixture of goat spit and urinal cleanser, with just a hint of lemon.

the instructions for moviprep, clearly written by somebody with a great sense of humor, state that after you drink it, "a loose watery bowel movement may result." this is kind of like saying that after you jump off your roof, you may experience contact with the ground. moviprep is a nuclear laxative. i don't want to be too graphic, here, but have you ever seen a space shuttle launch? this is pretty much the moviprep experience, with you as the shuttle. there are times when you wish the commode had a seat belt. you spend several hours pretty much confined to the bathroom, spurting violently. you eliminate everything. and then, when you figure you must be totally empty, you have to drink another liter of moviprep, at which point, as far as i can tell, your bowels travel into the future and start eliminating food that you have not even eaten yet.

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after an action-packed evening, i finally got to sleep. the next morning my wife drove me to the clinic. i was very nervous. not only was i worried about the procedure, but i had been experiencing occasional return bouts of moviprep spurtage. i was thinking, "what if i spurt on andy?" how do you apologize to a friend for something like that? flowers would not be enough.

at the clinic i had to sign many forms acknowledging that i understood and totally agreed with whatever the hell the forms said. then they led me to a room full of other colonoscopy people, where i went inside a little curtained space and took off my clothes and put on one of those hospital garments designed by sadist perverts, the kind that, when you put it on, makes you feel even more naked than when you are actually naked. then a nurse named eddie put a little needle in a vein in my left hand. ordinarily i would have fainted, but eddie was very good, and i was already lying down. eddie also told me that some people put vodka in their moviprep. at first i was ticked off that i hadn't thought of this, but then i pondered what would happen if you got yourself too tipsy to make it to the bathroom, so you were staggering around in full fire hose mode. you would have no choice but to burn your house.

when everything was ready, eddie wheeled me into the procedure room, where andy was waiting with a nurse and an anesthesiologist. i did not see the 17,000-foot tube, but i knew andy had it hidden around there somewhere. i was seriously nervous at this point. andy had me roll over on my left side, and the anesthesiologist began hooking something up to the needle in my hand. there was music playing in the room, and i realized that the song was "dancing queen" by abba. i remarked to andy that, of all the songs that could be playing during this particular procedure, "dancing queen" has to be the least appropriate. "you want me to turn it up?" said andy, from somewhere behind me. "ha ha," i said.

and then it was time, the moment i had been dreading for more than a decade. if you are squeamish, prepare yourself, because i am going to tell you, in explicit detail, exactly what it was like.

i have no idea.

really. i slept through it. one moment, abba was shrieking "dancing queen! feel the beat from the tambourine ..." .. and the next moment, i was back in the other room, waking up in a very mellow mood. andy was looking down at me and asking me how i felt. i felt excellent. i felt even more excellent when andy told me that it was all over, and that my colon had passed with flying colors. i have never been prouder of an internal organ. but my point is this: in addition to being a pathetic medical weenie, i was a complete moron. for more than a decade i avoided getting a procedure that was, essentially nothing. there was no pain and, except for the moviprep, no discomfort. i was risking my life for nothing.

if my brother sam had been as stupid as i was - if, when he turned 50, he had ignored all the medical advice and avoided getting screened - he still would have had cancer. he just wouldn't have known. and by the time he did know - by the time he felt symptoms, his situation would have been much, much more serious. but because he was a grown-up, the doctors caught the cancer early, and they operated and took it out. sam is now recovering and eating what he describes as "really, really boring food." his prognosis is good, and everybody is optimistic, fingers crossed, knock on wood, and all that.

which brings us to you, mr. or mrs. or miss or ms. over-50-and- hasn't-had- a-colonoscopy. here's the deal: you either have colorectal cancer, or you don't. if you do, a colonoscopy will enable doctors to find it and do something about it. and if you don't have cancer, believe me, it's very reassuring to know you don't. there is no sane reason for you not to have it done. i am so eager for you to do this that i am going to induce you with an exclusive limited time offer. if you, after reading this, get a colonoscopy, let me know by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to dave barry colonoscopy inducement, the miami herald, 1 herald plaza, miami, fla. 33132. i will send you back a certificate, signed by me and suitable for framing if you don't mind framing a cheesy certificate, stating that you are a grown-up who got a colonoscopy. accompanying this certificate will be a square of limited-edition custom-printed toilet paper with an image of miss paris hilton on it. you may frame this also, or use it in whatever other way you deem fit. but even if you don't want this inducement, please get a colonoscopy. if i can do it, you can do it. don't put it off. just do it.

be sure to stress that you want the non-abba version.

about the writer = dave barry is a pulitzer prize-winning humor columnist for the miami herald. readers may write to him c/o the miami herald, one herald plaza, miami, fla. 33132.

ps..... i have never had a colonoscopy. i had a prescription for one once, but was given a sygmoidoscopy instead. it felt like the doc was trying to disembowel me. i swore i'd never ever pay three hundred dollars again to have someone torture me. by the way, i too had to take the "movieprep" as well. it made me feel like i too was never ever going to be able to make it to my what i thought was a colonoscopy. but as you can read above, i did.

i am now 65 years old, and still have never had a colonoscopy, even though my grandmother had colon cancer, and had to wear a permanent ostomy bag. i did however have another sygmoidoscopy when i was 55, when i again thought i was going to have a colonoscopy, because i asked my doctor for one. the second sygmoidoscopy was far worse than the first one. i again had to take the "movieprep" and went through all the poopie preparation once again. when the doc began sticking that thing up my butt, i thought i'd jump right off that gurney? it hurt worse than the first time.

now i have copd, and don't qualify for my colonoscopy. i feel cheated.:o


1,714 Posts


VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

142 Articles; 9,979 Posts

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych. Has 20 years experience.

That is HILARIOUS!!!!!!!!

Still, I just can't wait to not do this..........


1,714 Posts

Everyone dreads the procedure itself, until we bring out that grocery bag with the gallon jug of dynamite in it. I once had a little old Italian lady squeal, "Mamma Mia!" (not the ABBA song, either!)

They now have Half-Lytely, but that can't be any fun either. Some people use mag citrate and I understand that does the job too.

VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

142 Articles; 9,979 Posts

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych. Has 20 years experience.

It's not the procedure that worries me.........if you give me enough Versed, I'm not going to care if an entire Army platoon is marching through my colon.

It's the PREP: I've put a great many people through it, and they all look and feel so miserable during the process that I'm thoroughly put off by the whole thing. It's like bad karma coming home to roost after having poured hundreds of gallons of GoLytely, which is about as appealing as a salt lick with a hint of lemonade, down patients' throats and making them poop their brains out.

When they figure out a way to do these screenings without making people drink huge amounts of horrible-tasting liquids and forcing them to evacuate everything they've even CONSIDERED eating, I'll get it done. Besides, 60 is still ten years away......

The prep doesn't bother me at all. Neither does the procedure.

I just need to get medical insurance. :D'

I'll be 51 in July. My dh will be 55.

NO colonoscopies. . . .:nono:

It is no big deal. I've helped patients prep for them a million times. No big deal.



333 Posts

Fran, your experience is exactly why patients should receive sedation. Going back for a second round of that took (cough) guts, and I suspect a lot of patients don't. I don't think I'd go for the first without it.

NJ insurers tried to stop coverage for the sedation! Make it a luxury for the rich! They're thwarted for now.

The other thing I'm wondering about, being a student at this point, is giving that Golytely prep to a in-hospital patient - with a roommate. There was one pt. getting prepped, and his roommate had BPH - how's that gonna work out, I asked. RN responded with :icon_roll .

Man, do I hate double rooms, and urinals and commodes needed only because it is a double room. Bet the patients hate it MUCH worse.


1,714 Posts

I saw something in the "Baby Blues" comic strip a while back about a giant traveling colon that came to the kids' school, and of course Hammie thought it was a total riot.

Guess it wasn't just something the cartoonist made up!

And there's a song pretty much agreed to be one of the worst songs ever written called "Playground In My Mind." I've heard it and am mystified as to how it ever became a hit. Anyway, the singer now performs in Vegas, and a few years ago he had a routine screening colonoscopy and they found a cancer at stage zero - cured it completely with the biopsy. He uses his performances to raise awareness of this condition, and yes, he does admit that colon cancer is something people don't like to think about.

They like to experience it even less.


829 Posts

Specializes in Home Care, Hospice, OB.
and there's a song pretty much agreed to be one of the worst songs ever written called "playground in my mind." i've heard it and am mystified as to how it ever became a hit..

just heard the song again on satellite radio..what a blast from the past!!:jester:

so glad this thread was posted. i got the piece on e-mail but lack the technical ability to link it!!

turn 50 this summer, and am scheduling mine.....:eek:


171 Posts

Specializes in ICU.

My poor brother-in-law (28yo) had a colonoscopy last month at a hospital that didn't use sedation. He didn't realize that it was something you really should be put out for and didn't think about it. He felt so violated afterwards and was totally traumatized. He said it took him 2 weeks to get over it emotionally. I can't believe that they wouldn't use Versed. It's just horrible.

leslie :-D

11,191 Posts

hubby had his last yr.

he was knocked out too.



829 Posts

Specializes in Home Care, Hospice, OB.
hubby had his last yr.

he was knocked out too.


"better living through chemistry!"

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