Colonoscopies: They're Not That Bad!

Allie Bell of Health & Wellness and Bridgette Butler of Health Plus sit down to discuss their recent experiences of their first colonoscopy in honor of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. They discuss their concerns prior to the procedure, their experience of prepping for and undergoing the procedure, and their recovery after. Overall experience? Not that bad!

Begin Transcript

Bridgette Butler:  Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness Wellcast.  I am Bridgette Butler with Health Plus.  March is colorectal cancer awareness month and it’s recommended that everyone over the age of 50 get screened for colorectal cancer.  Colon cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer when it's found early.  Today's topic, the colonoscopy, is the most common screening test for colorectal cancer.  With me today is Allie Bell, Clinical Research Coordinator at Health and Wellness.  Allie, like myself, has recently undergone her first colonoscopy, and she is here today to share her experience of how her colonoscopy was.  Well, not that bad!  Welcome, Allie.

Allie Bell:  Hi.

Bridgette Butler:  Hi.  So, Allie, you recently had your very first colonoscopy.

Allie Bell:  I did.  I have a family history, so I had to have it a little bit early.  So, I wasn't quite expecting to have to do it, so ... family, thanks!

Bridgette Butler:  It was a little bit of a surprise.

Allie Bell:  Yes.

Bridgette Butler:  Okay, okay.  So, it was recommended that you do it a little bit earlier than 50.

Allie Bell:  Uh-huh.

Bridgette Butler:  So, when you heard that it was recommended for you to go ahead and do a colonoscopy, did you have any ideas about colonoscopies?  Had you heard stories?  Was it something that you had ever thought about before?  Did you have any concerns?

Allie Bell:  I didn't want to do it.  So, it took some coaxing and I had to put on my adult pants and just go for it because that's what we have to do.  We have to take care of ourselves.

Allie Bell:  Given the semantics of what occurs and what you are going to do and how you have to prepare for it, it just didn't sound like the most fun time.  It sounded like it could be potentially unpleasant. It just sounded like it would, maybe not hurt, but be terribly uncomfortable.

Bridgette Butler:  Right, okay.  I see exactly what you are saying.  Having had my first one recently my fear was more around the prep for the colonoscopy procedure, and by prep, I mean the preparations that you do to prepare your body to actually undergo the colonoscopy.  I had heard that some of it was kind of unpleasant, so I had some concerns myself.  Now, having heard some of the concerns, what was your overall experience looking back?

Allie Bell:  Well, I will start with the prep nurse that was here at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who gave me a call and she gave me a very good sense of what to expect, and she actually went over some detailed instructions and had some very practical tips, which the particular medicine that I was prescribed, she knew it was safe to put some Crystal Light flavoring in it and that will help with the flavor.  Also, if it is very, very cold, this helps.  And so, when she was talking about it, it eased my mind. She also recommended that you can get some Desitin or some Triple Paste if you are having some need for it.  my first reaction was, is it going to be that ... what is going to happen that I am going to need this?  So, she said, no, it's not that bad.  It's just in case, and you can actually, you know, treat yourself before you are having any problems.

Bridgette Butler:  Yeah, and that's one of the reasons that it is important to talk about procedures like this.  Sometimes it can be a little uncomfortable when you have a procedure where the GI tract is involved and you have to prepare the GI tract for the procedure.

Allie Bell:  Right.  So, I got my supplies, my prescription, and I picked that up.  So, my thought was that I was going to have stomach cramps, that was what I expected, was to all of the sudden feel some pain and then need to go; however, it was not more than a mild pressure that told me, you know, it was time to take care of it.  The next day, I went to my procedure and that was the easiest part.  You are given the medication and you go to sleep and you wake up and everything's all done.  No ... I thought that maybe I would sore.  I wasn't sure how that procedure would go, given the semantics, and I wasn't.  I felt just fine and I was ready to have a big meal in about an hour or two afterward.  So, it wasn't that bad.  It really wasn't.

Bridgette Butler:  Good, good.  Well, that's great to hear.  I'm glad that was your experience and I have to say it was my experience as well.  And how was the experience of getting the appointment?  Did you have to wait an extended period of time to make the appointment or did it happen in a reasonable amount of time?

Allie Bell:  It did happen in a reasonable amount of time.  My doctor made the referral and I was able to get an appointment the very next month, so it was in within a few weeks of my doctor referring me.

Bridgette Butler:  Oh, that's great.  Good.  And it sounds like you received some really good instruction on the phone.

Allie Bell:  I did.  I did.  We have a really great department here.

Bridgette Butler:  Yes, and I happened to have my procedure the same place that you did, which is the Endoscopy Clinic at Vanderbilt.

Allie Bell:  Yes.

Bridgette Butler:  Yes, and they were wonderful.  And like you, I was definitely put far more at ease after speaking with a nurse on the phone.  They gave really detailed instructions and they also explained how the prep is actually a little easier than it used to be, and then they gave me some really good advice like they gave you, too, like the Crystal Light.  I used the Lemonade, and it actually ...

Allie Bell:  I used orange.

Bridgette Butler:  Okay.  It tasted just fine to me.  I did add a lot of ice.

Allie Bell:  It was salty.  It was a little salty, so I had a straw so that I could ... I just kind of powered through.  But, you know, for good health, it's important.

Bridgette Butler:  Definitely worth it.  

Bridgette Butler:  And so, you mentioned that shortly after you were fully recovered, you were definitely ready for a meal.  How was the experience of not eating for a little while before the procedure ... there's a period of time where they want you to just stick to a clear liquid diet, and, so, certainly, during that time, one can get hungry.

Allie Bell:  Not fun at all.  You know, nobody likes to have those hunger pains, but still, it wasn't horrible.  It's only 24 hours.

Bridgette Butler:  Exactly.  And I did find that I had the hunger pains also, but mine kind of came in waves.So, if I wait a few minutes, I won't feel hungry.  Well, it sounds like you have already mentioned a few things that would be helpful for people to know about the colonoscopy and about prepping for the colonoscopy.  Is there any additional advice that you might pass on to those who are either of the age to be screened or have been told that it is time to make an appointment for a colonoscopy?

Allie Bell:  I would tell them that there is no part of it that really hurts and that that was my thing.  I thought that maybe there would be some stomach cramping or some soreness or something like that.  I had never heard that was going to happen, but like I said earlier, the semantics of what is actually going to occur kind of made me feel that that's what would be.  So, that would be a myth that I would dispel.

Bridgette Butler:  Okay, great.  Well, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.

Allie Bell:  Sure, no problem.

Bridgette Butler:  Thanks for listening.  If you have a story suggestion, please email it to us at or you can use the "Contact Us" page on our website at