PSA: Colonoscopies are good, and you should get one

I tend to be a bit picky about what personal information I do or don’t share here. Part of that’s because I don’t feel like the minutiae of my life are particularly interesting, but a lot of it is that I often don’t feel comfortable sharing personal stuff on the internet. That said, I got my first colonoscopy today, and like many before me, I feel the need to “celebrate” by telling other people to do the same.

Happily, my plumbing all seems to be in normal working order. I wanted to state that early on, because a lot of these PSAs come in the context of either catching cancer just in time, or of catching it too late. I’m fine, but if I had not been, literally poking a camera in there to see what’s going on is the best way to catch problems before they become crises. Over the past decade, my digestive system has decided that it cannot cope with an annoyingly wide range of foods, taking away many of my favorites. This means that I’ve had reason to worry that something’s wrong, but with insurance bullshit in the US, an international move, COVID, and a smaller international move, I haven’t managed to actually get the procedure done until now.

It was an interesting, if not particularly pleasant experience. For those who don’t know, there are a couple days of preparation that must be done prior to a colonoscopy. It includes a low-fiber diet, followed by a 24 hour fast, and starting the day before your probing, you have to drink large quantities of a thick, citrus-flavored potion that makes you shit out literally everything in your intestines. This is not a pleasant process, but it’s important if you want the doctors to be able to get a clear view.

Thanks to Ireland’s public health system, my health insurance is cheap, and completely covers hospital procedures, so I didn’t have to worry about cost – just €25 or so for the gut-cleaner. Apparently the default, at least in Ireland, is to get the stomach checked out while you’re in the endoscopy unit, which is a much quicker procedure, though unpleasant in a whole other way. My throat is a bit sore from it, and that’ll probably continue through tomorrow.

Even so, it was interesting to see what the inside of my own stomach looked like, and also interesting to see my own large intestine – I even got to see the entrance to my appendix! I also got to watch them take biopsies of my intestinal and stomach linings, which was… a little unnerving. I’m grateful that there aren’t any nerve endings in there, because while the clipper/grabber they used is tiny, it’s still unnerving to see someone just… snip at my entrails like that. I’ll find out the results of those tests in a few weeks, but the impression I got is that nobody’s expecting to find anything exciting or worrisome.

I’m glad that I got this done. I was pretty sure my own health problems were related to food tolerance/intolerance, but I just couldn’t be sure, you know? I’m also extremely grateful to be in a country with an actual healthcare system. I was starting to seriously consider getting a colonoscopy shortly before we left the US, and my insurance at the time was not only not very good, but it also didn’t seem to work – they kept sending us different cards and contradictory letters, while we kept sending them money. I got a 10 minute check-up shortly before our flight, and had to pay $200 out of pocket for that, because my insurance wasn’t working. In the US, a colonoscopy would have cost me thousands of dollars, possibly even with an insurance plan. Here, I was covered, and if the biopsy results do show any problems that need addressing, I know that I will be able to afford treatment.

For those living in the US, a universal system is worth fighting for. For those outside the US (especially in the UK), keeping your universal system is worth fighting for as well, because there are absolutely those who want to force you into the nightmare of for-profit healthcare.

If you are at all able, especially as you move into your 40s and beyond, get a colonoscopy. I recently turned 39, so I’m a bit early, but I had symptoms that needed investigating. Even without symptoms, it should be routine as you get older, to match your increasing odds of bowel cancer. It’s an uncomfortable process, but the peace of mind is lovely to have, and an early warning that there’s trouble coming down the pipe is even better.


  1. maggie says

    Good for you. Colon cancer runs in my family so I get the checkups regularly. Fortunately, it is a free procedure here in Canada so I don’t have to worry about the cost. Takes away one of the reasons to not get the procedure done.

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