My husband had an ache that bothered him for weeks. A dull pain wandered from his upper to lower abdomen. No nausea, diarrhea or drama—just persistent pain. Like me, he's willing to sit on annoying symptoms for a while before getting them checked out. These things usually go away without the inconvenience of a doctor visit.

But the pain wasn't going away, so he eventually went to our family physician. She poked him in the belly, ordered an ultrasound, and took a peek at his stomach, liver, kidneys and gall bladder. When that didn't show any specific problem, she suggested a CT scan if the pain continued. In the meantime, she announced, it was time for his first colonoscopy.

"Oh goody," he said. "I've been wondering when that would come my way. Nothing says 'fun' like a tube up my bum." He didn't actually say "bum," but we're keeping it PG-13 here.

Colon screenings and colonoscopy

My husband's a bit over 50, and medical experts recommend colon screening for people in his age bracket. Apparently, the best way to avoid colon cancer is with colonoscopy.

They snake a tube, a light and a microscope up your heinie and have a look-see. It's a bit like having Roto-Rooter clean your drain. If they find any polyps, they take them out before they turn into big nasty cancer.

He's been a healthy guy and never had much need for medical care. As a matter of fact, this was his first real medical procedure. Oh, geez, I'm getting misty-eyed. My baby's first probe. I'm all verklempt.

First, the administrative details

As with all men, it took him awhile to drum up the courage to actually call the "butt clinic." No, he didn't actually call it a butt clinic but "a— doc" is not family-friendly. After a bit of nagging (no surprise there), he finally scheduled a preprocedure appointment with the gastroenterologist.

There's a bit of preparation that goes into getting a colonoscopy, or as my accountant husband calls it, "an internal audit." The "getting to know you" appointment (where they kept him waiting in the lobby for over an hour) was with a nurse practitioner. She gave him the drill on getting ready for his "thorough reaming" (right—his words, not hers). After another 20 minutes in the exam room, the nurse practitioner rattled off a to-do list of rectum-related rules and told him the scheduler would "be right in" to arrange the actual procedure.

By this time, my husband was annoyed and running late. Fifteen minutes later, with no scheduler in sight, he walked out. An assistant apologized for the delay, but the scheduler was "busy." My husband said, "Me too—I've been here almost two hours for what amounted to a five-minute visit. Have her call me."

Oh, she called all right, leaving apologetic voice messages that he took his time returning. Still fuming, he vented, "It burns my butt how they assume a patient's time isn't as valuable as their own. She could have mailed the instructions to me."

I explained two likely reasons for the in-person appointment: First, not every patient reads and follows directions—some need one-to-one instruction. Second, now they can bill for two office visits, not one. "Great," he replied, "another way I'll be taking it in the shorts." No, he's not usually a curmudgeon. He just doesn't like having his time wasted or his plumbing professionally inspected.

Cleaning out your plumbing

It takes three days of dietary restrictions to completely clean out the pipes. Day one he can't eat any nuts, beans, seeds, fibers, hulls, and virtually everything we vegetarians eat. They want him spic-n-span in there so they can see everything clearly. It's a no BS procedure.

Day two he can only drink clear liquids: broth, clear juice, Jell-O—that sort of thing. I've said it before: There's nothing as useless as a hungry man, and a full day with nothing but broth is bad news for everyone. He was a good sport, though, and didn't get his knickers into a big twist over it.

On colonoscopy day, he couldn't eat or drink anything except a gallon of laxative-laced liquid called "Golytely." Who are they kidding? You go like Niagra Falls. (Sorry, it's not a delicate situation.) Once you're done preparing for your intestinal examination, you're clean as a whistle inside and out.

Colonoscopy day humor

The colonoscopy itself was no big deal. They gave him IV drugs, and he slept through all the fun. When he woke up, he had no memory of the undignified event—and no discomfort, either.

There were, of course, jokes about needing a cigarette (no, he doesn't smoke) and "wham, bam, thank you, Ma'am" (really, there's no better time to quote David Bowie). The doc read his report in the recovery room, pronounced my husband's inner tubes healthy and invited him back for a repeat performance in 10 years. Dopey as he was, my husband managed a little drug-induced humor.

"Gee, doc, it's been fun, but we'll see about another date. This one has been a pain in the a—."

Published on April 4, 2008; updated on May 22, 2014.


Jeanne Faulkner

Jeanne Faulkner is a freelance writer and registered nurse in Portland, Oregon. Her work appears regularly in Pregnancy and Fit Pregnancy, and she has contributed articles to the Oregonian, Better Homes & Gardens, Shape and other publications.