A Tale of Two Colonoscopies

Imagine learning you’ll have to drink super salty water that tastes like it’s been used to boil carrot peelings in order to prepare for a necessary medical procedure. If you are an Island Hospital Anacortes patient, you will drink 16 ounces of the disgusting stuff, but if you are a Naval Hospital Oak Harbor patient, you must drink 128 ounces, EIGHT TIMES times (that is not a typo) as much to prepare for the same procedure that you will undergo at the same facility as only-has-to-drink-one-pint guy.

About a year ago, my husband and I had both hit the half-century mark, which meant, of course, that it was time to schedule one of the most dreaded cancer screening procedures: colonoscopy. His (our) doctor had put in the referral nearly a year prior, before the current surgeon was on staff, he was treated like an Island Hospital (non-Navy) patient. He contacted IH to schedule it. They sent him the necessary paperwork to complete and information about preparing for the procedure. As directed, he bought two 1.5 oz bottles of phosphate from a local drug store for $5.50 each. The day before his appointment, he followed the required liquid diet. That night he drank the first half of the prep, one 1.5 oz bottle of phosphate mixed with 6.5 oz of water for a total of 8 oz of salty liquid. He then continued with the liquid diet. Early the following morning, he drank the second 8 oz phosphate plus water solution.


Island Hospital patients drink two 8 oz glasses

We two hours before the procedure. After checking in, my husband stopped by the volunteer desk, where they called back to endoscopy to let a staff member know he was there. Once in the back, he put on a gown, booties and a head covering and waited in a movable hospital bed. A nurse placed an IV into his arm. The surgeon arrived, a fifty-something-ish man wearing scrubs who exuded calm competence. He said colon cancer’s prevalence is second only to lung cancer after the reproductive types but only about 30%-40% of persons choose to go through the screening process. He explained the risks of the procedure and, after asking my husband about his medical history, he departed for the operating room. Less than an hour later, it was over. My husband received a clean bill of colon health and would not need another screening for ten years.

A month later, it was my turn. Because our doctor had just put in my referral, they would treat me like any other NHOH patient. Everything was different. A scheduler called from NHOH to set up a pre-op. A couple of weeks later, I arrived at the hospital, sat in the waiting room, and eventually arrived at the assigned room. After a staff member had taken my vitals, the surgeon arrived. If I hadn’t known, I would not have guessed she was a surgeon, much less a member of the USN. Nervous, I commented on her youthfulness. She offered that she was thirty-two years old and board certified. I inquired about the number of colonoscopies she’d performed. She replied, “I wish I knew,” then rattled off stats that allowed me to do the math in my head in a matter of seconds. During the past six months (25 weeks), she’d performed four procedures a day three days a week (25*4*3=300). She added that she’d performed 60 to get certified. Then asked about my medical history and whether or not I’d experienced certain symptoms of colon cancer. She said if I chose not to go through with the procedure within the month, it’d take weeks to reschedule which would mean returning to meet with her again within 30 days of the procedure as required.

She added me to her schedule and handed me a pamphlet about the procedure on my way out. As I left, a staff member gave me a sheet with an appointment reminder for the following week, when I’d have to meet with a different staff member to learn about the prep and complete some paperwork. I returned to the hospital, sat in the waiting room, and met with a nurse who had me sign a form and explained the prep procedure. She instructed me to stop by the pharmacy, where I waited about 25 minutes to obtain an enormous plastic jug labeled GoLYTELY containing about half an inch of a white powdery substance which costs about $20 at the drug store and a prescription bottle with two yellow Dulcolax tablets an inexpensive OTC medication.


GoLYTELY (128 oz) vs phosphate plus water (16 oz)

The day before the procedure, scheduled at the same facility, I ate a light breakfast as instructed, then followed the same liquid diet that he had. I added 128 ml of lukewarm water to the plastic jug, shook and refrigerated it. That night, instead of drinking 8 oz cup of super salty water as my husband had, I started in on the GoLYTELY, one 8 oz glass every ten minutes or a total of 64 ounces, which took me an hour and twenty minutes. The instructions state, “Nausea, bloating, or feelings of fullness are common.” Trust me. This is an understatement. As for what happened next, if you’ve been through it, I needn’t remind you of the horror; if you don’t have to go through it for a long time, you needn’t know;  and if you must do same soon, I needn’t scare you away from going through an important screening procedure.

In a word…”Ew.”

The next morning, I was had to do same; drink two quarts of GoLYTELY, one disgusting glassful every ten minutes. It was even worse the second time around because I already knew how awful the drink tasted and how horrible I’d feel while drinking it.


NHOH patients drink-3,785 ml. Island Hospital patients drink -473 ml.

Due to some confusion, we arrived an hour earlier than I was supposed to, my husband’s and my roles reversed. A volunteer called endoscopy to let them know I’d arrived and they sent me back. Someone led me to an L-shaped curved room with about eight hospital beds separated by curtains; the operating room assembly line. A different person walked me to the rest room, handed me an enormous (one size fits all) hospital gown with a faded blue/gray/white geometric pattern, blue papery booties and a head covering made of the same material. After dressing, I returned to my spot. A nurse placed warm blankets over me. Soon, she decided to insert my IV, mentioning she was to start from the extremities in to locate a place to insert it. I was dehydrated, so her attempt to use a vein partway along my forearm failed. She cleaned off the blood drips and successfully placed it in a vein in the crook of my arm.

As I waited, others came and went. An elderly man exited the rest room after donning the same style gown, promptly turned around and, oblivious about the opening in the back, unintentionally mooned me.

About fifteen minutes before my scheduled start time, I saw the surgeon, dressed, pre-scrubs, in a light colored top with black stretch pants. She spoke with me, then with the guy who was up next. A surgical nurse then wheeled me to the operating room, which contained a monitor, tons of tubes, low light and a screen showing a chest x-ray kitty corner from the hospital bed in which I was lying. A second nurse arrive. I felt very nervous. The first nurse grabbed two pink-capped syringes, instructed me to lie on my left side, and injected the medicines (a sedative and another drug that supposedly has an amnesiac effect) into the IV. I started counting in my head one-one-thousand and made it to about twenty before I lost awareness.

Sometime later, I awoke to uncomfortable sensation of extreme tugging along my abdomen. I think I tried to move and heard someone tell me, “No, no, no.”

Had I been abducted by aliens?

I lost awareness again, came to once the procedure was over and was wheeled into a recovery room. Finally, I returned to my original spot in the pre-op room where I dressed, and collected my Golden Ticket.

Have I mentioned this lately?

Island Hospital patients


Naval Hospital Oak Harbor patients

My reason for sharing this story is to raise awareness (and hopefully make positive change for patients): Naval Hospital Oak Harbor patients should not be forced to imbibe eight times the amount of a disgusting, nausea-inducing drink than everyone else in order to prepare for the exact same procedure performed at the exact same hospital.

4 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Colonoscopies

  1. That is so strange, in a retail pharmacy I’ve only seen Gavilyte (another brand of the dreaded golytely) I have not heard of the phosphate solution way. Ask about Suprep if you get it done again, it’s not as much to drink. That’s the only hope I can offer….

    • OMG, don’t rush me please (I have ten years until I must do THAT again). From what I hear, the surgeon chooses the prep. The label says, “Oral Saline Laxative” and under that “Phosphate.” Thanks for the tip, I just looked it up and Suprep requires two 16 oz drinks for a 32 oz total, which is still much better than 128!

  2. I’ve only had to do the smaller amount of liquid (even that is yucky). However, I’ve always had it done by a surgeon. I’ve also heard that the phosphate solution isn’t that great for you. My husband had his colonoscopy done by a gastroenterologist and he had to do the “Large” amount of liquid, my understanding is that it cleans you out better. I’ve also heard how horrible you feel with the big liquid thing. I’ve just been reading it’s better to have your colonoscopy done by a gastroenterologist in the long run, so I’m not sure what I’ll have to do next time I go – considering a gastroenterologist or a primary care doctor.

  3. Suprep made me barf. Just sayin. The choice of prep does seem doctor-specific, and most go for the high-volume, high-barf- probability version.

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