Hello! I had my gastroscopy and flexible sigmoidoscopy (aka endoscopy) on Friday and I thought I’d do a blog post to give you an idea of what both are like. I know lots of people get worried about these things, aren’t always sure what to expect if it’s their first time, and therefore look online for other people’s experiences to find out what’s going to happen. I know this because I’m one of those people, and even though I’ve had both procedures before, this time I still had a little look online to try to reassure myself that it wouldn’t be too bad.
Before we get going, let me point out that I live in Northamptonshire in England, and some things might happen differently for you if you live elsewhere or outside of the UK.
Arriving For Your Gastroscopy / Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
So you should have received an appointment letter from the hospital telling you what time to arrive. Unfortunately, this time is not the actual time of the procedure, it’s just the time they want you there. So, my appointment letter said to arrive at 9:45am. When I arrived I got checked in at reception, they asked me to confirm my date of birth and contact details, and asked who my next of kin is. I brought my boyfriend with me so that he could take me home because I wanted to have sedation – more on that later. I didn’t bring my mobile phone because I didn’t want the hassle of checking it in with the nurses and having to retrieve it later, and I knew that they would call my boyfriend when I was ready to be picked up anyway. So they took my boyfriend’s phone number, and then asked us to sit in the waiting room.
Going Into The Ward
After maybe ten or fifteen minutes my name was called, and I was taken into the sort of ward area, where there were two rows of beds with chairs next to them, and curtains that could be pulled around them for privacy. It was a women-only clinic so there were all girls there, and I think they have the male session in the afternoons. I sat on a chair next to a bed, and a nurse took some details, like whether I was allergic to anything, taking any medication, diabetic, had heart problems, and so on. Then I was given a gown to put on and a basket to put my clothes in. As I was having a gastroscopy and sigmoidoscopy I had to take off my top (but could leave my bra on), and my jeans and knickers. You can leave your undies on until you go in to have the sigmoidoscopy if you want to. They suggest taking a dressing gown and slippers as well if you want to, so I usually do that. Then I sat and read my magazine for a while, concentrating as much as you can when you’re waiting for someone to come along and shove a tube down your throat/up your butt. The waiting is pretty boring! But the radio was on, some of the nurses were having a bit of a sing to themselves and a dance, and I had a little dance in my chair as well when a good song came on so we had a little giggle at that. One of the nurses took my blood pressure, and put a cannula in my arm because I was having sedation. Eventually the guy who would be doing the procedure came over to me – that’s when you know it’s nearly time to go in. He made sure we both understood what was gonna happen and why, and I signed a consent form. Normally they talk you through the small risks as well, though I don’t think this guy did. Oh, and earlier I had to sign a form to say I wasn’t leaving any valuables with them, too. Once the guy had gone, they took my bed away, and then a few minutes later came back and told me it was time to go.
Having A Gastroscopy / Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
Time for the procedures! If you’re having both they do the gastroscopy first. Confirm your date of birth again, and for the gastroscopy, they spray some throat spray into your mouth. It tastes a bit like banana and makes your throat numb (and your tongue, because some inevitably gets on your tongue as well) and that makes you feel like you can’t breathe – but you can. Don’t panic, it’s normal! You might dribble on your arm a bit when you’re lying down but don’t worry about that.
Sedation Or No Sedation?
Once you’ve had the throat spray you lie down on your left side, and they put a mouth guard in your mouth and put the sedation stuff into your cannula if you’re having it. I would recommend sedation – I had the procedures without sedation the last two or three times, but the last time was a pretty horrible experience and it was the memory of that time that made me so anxious to go again this time. But with sedation, you don’t care as much about what’s going on and you don’t remember it much afterwards – to me now, it seems like it was all over really quickly. Even with sedation you still gag when the camera is in, but it helps a bit if you try to concentrate on breathing. I have heard of other people having bad experiences with sedation, or feeling like it hasn’t had any affect on them, but for me it was much better and I probably won’t have it without sedation again. I feel so much better about the whole thing now than I did last time. Although one bonus of not having sedation is that you can leave a bit quicker – you don’t have to hang around to make sure you’re okay afterwards. Though it didn’t feel to me like I had to hang around much after – the longest part for me was the waiting beforehand. I arrived at 9:45am, went in for my procedure sometime after 12pm, and left at around 1:30pm.
If you’re having a sigmoidoscopy they spin the bed around, let you know they’re going in, and, well, they go in. If you want, you can watch on the screen but I’ve never been that keen on seeing a close up of my insides. It hurts a bit when they do this because air is going in – prepare to feel bloated and fart it all out later! The sedation must have really kicked in by then because I barely remember anything about having this done, which is great.
After Your Gastroscopy / Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
If they take any biopsies or remove polyps during either of the procedures, you don’t notice at all, or at least I never have. Once it’s all done they put the bedsheet over you, wheel you back onto the ward, and that’s it. Someone will come along and take your blood pressure. If you haven’t had sedation you will have gotten up off the bed yourself and just walked back onto the ward. Sedation seems to affect everyone differently – the woman who was in the bed opposite me seemed to be fast asleep when she got back to the ward, whereas as soon as I’d had my blood pressure taken I asked if I could go to the toilet because I wanted to get all the air out of me and I rarely trust my farts to, well, just be farts. Best to go to the loo and let it out as much as you can. One of the nurses escorted me but I didn’t particularly feel it was necessary – I could walk alright by myself, and she confirmed my dignity was covered and I wasn’t mooning anyone as I walked!
Once I was up and about I was given some water and some biscuits. I could have had a hot drink as well but I don’t like tea or coffee. Test the water carefully – remember, you’ve had throat spray which has numbed your throat, so make sure you can swallow without choking before stuffing your face with biscuits. You’ll probably be hungry because you won’t have been able to eat for ages before the procedure -as mine are always in the morning, I tend to have dinner the evening before and then just have water on the day.
A couple of other things to point out – I haven’t explained what a sigmoidoscopy is, but if you need one you probably know that it’s the same as a colonoscopy except it doesn’t go that far up. I mean, I have no colon, so can’t have a colonoscopy! So if you have an internal pouch like me it’s probably the same for you.
In terms of prep for the sigmoidoscopy, it’s much more pleasant than that disgusting drink you have to have before a colonoscopy – I had to give myself an enema in the morning before I went in. Which sounded a bit degrading to me and I was worried about doing it wrong, but it’s completely fine and I’d be okay with doing another one. More on enemas in a different blog post.
The nurses on the ward and during the procedure are brilliant. They do their best to treat the patient as a whole, talk to you, distract you, put your mind at ease, they’re so friendly, and when I was having my gastroscopy I was vaguely aware of the girl in there talking to me, telling me I was doing well and that they were nearly done, and stroking my hair. The staff at Kettering General Hospital are absolutely brilliant, and I wish I was doing something so helpful and meaningful with my career.
Oh, and going home! So when you’re about 40 minutes away from being ready to leave, they call your lift if you have one and let them know when you’ll be ready. Once you’ve had your drink and biscuits, get changed, and a nurse will come over to give you a piece of paper explaining the results. Then if your lift is here they’ll take you out to the waiting room and give your lift a piece of paper if you’ve had sedation, letting them know what you can and can’t do – no driving for 24 hours (good excuse for a lazy weekend), no using the oven or heavy machinery, no drinking, etc. And then you go on your way.
Getting Your Results
My results for the sigmoidoscopy were fine, but they found two polyps in my stomach so they took samples of those. They said the results would be sent to my GP within two weeks and I might not get a letter but I can call the doctors and get the results. Last year my results took 8 weeks to arrive because they wanted to get a second opinion about them, so I hope they are quicker and good news again this year.
If you have any questions about having a gastroscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy, leave a comment or tweet me @writersamr. I hope this has been a helpful blog post! If you have any other tips to add, put those in the comments, too. See you soon!