Colonoscopy in Playa del Carmen

Street art in Playa del Carmen

My first colonoscopy was a disaster. I was in my early 30s and had been having explosive diarrhea off and on for a couple of years. I’d already had cancer, so my primary doctor thought it would be a good idea to get my colon inspected. You have to go on a specific liquid diet and my tiny body does not diet well. My brain just stopped working. I had to leave work at the hospital so I wouldn’t accidentally kill anyone. With my brain fogged up, I didn’t properly read the directions for the prep medication. I drank it straight.

The prep is the worst!

The prep medication is supposed to be mixed with about a liter of water. It flushes your system so your colon is all nice and clean for the colonoscopy. If you drink it straight like I did, it’s basically poison. I spent the entire night on the toilet with a bucket in front of me. We should have called poison control and gone to urgent care for treatment. I was so crazy dehydrated during the colonoscopy. They could hardly find a vein for the IV saline.

Street art in Playa
The street art here in Playa del Carmen is amazing!

They found nothing bad, which is great. The anesthesia made me puke in the parking lot, but I was happy that I didn’t have colon cancer, so there was that! I was so freaked out by the experience that I put up with the diarrhea for a few more years before heading back to a different doctor. She suggested an elimination diet to help me figure out what was causing the issue. I didn’t want it to be bread/pasta, so I eliminated that one last… the problem ended up being the bread (gluten). Sigh.

Gluten-free and feeling better, I could also stop my daily migraine medication as the weekly migraines went away as well. Crazy right? These silly bodies. I was so glad to no longer have to worry about sharting myself at work! My thyroid took a hit which sometimes happens for peeps who can’t eat the glutens. I traded my migraine meds for thyroid meds. At least they are easy to get in foreign countries!

Do I really need a colonoscopy?

When COVID hit Seattle hard in late 2020, I began experiencing stomach pains. I worked at a children’s hospital and was crazy stressed. I figured my pain was stress related and ignored it. After about a year, I finally went to see my doctor. She thought it was stress as well, but ordered an occult blood stool test, just in case. She said if it was positive, I would need a colonoscopy.

I had blood in my poop! Crap! Don’t panic! Lucky for me, she sent me to this really great gastroenterologist. Completely different experience from my last colonoscopy. The prep was expensive, but I had Mr. ItchyFeet read all the directions and make it up for me, so I didn’t screw it up. They had a ton more options for the liquid diet portion. Plus, they let me add flavoring to the prep, so it wasn’t as gross.

Crab on the beach
I almost stepped on this small crab. They blend in so well!

At the clinic, they gave me socks and a warm blanket. They even warmed up the saline, so my veins were all toasty and happy. I got an anti-nausea patch behind my ear to keep me from getting ill from the anesthesia. It was really easy and painless. They removed four polyps and, unfortunately, three of them were pre-cancerous. I also had internal hemorrhoids and erosive gastritis (they did an endoscopy at the same time… scoped up both ends!). I’m glad I went in, but they said I had to come back in a year. What?

Nobody wants colonoscopies every year!

A year later and I’m in Playa del Carmen, México. They have three main gastrointestinal clinics. I chose the closest one (even though it cost a bit more) because I don’t own a car. You’re required to pay half upfront to schedule the appointment. After paying the $200, I found out that the actual colonoscopy would be at the hospital two miles away. I could have saved $100 by just going directly through the hospital. Though I had heard that the hospital price did not include biopsies, so it’s probably for the best.

The prep medication is, of course, the worst! It was way cheaper here than in Seattle ($30 vs $100) but it was not as good and also a lot more volume that I had to get down my throat. I had a really hard time with this brand. I added Tang mango flavoring so I could get it down. This might have ruined mango for me for a bit! Oh, well.

So I pooped water for a couple of hours the night before and then again in the morning. Cleanest colon ever! The appointment was for 3pm but I didn’t know how long it would take to get there so I started looking for a taxi at around 2pm. Unfortunately, my friend and I got the gringo price (should have been max 70 pesos, but they charged 100) but got to the hospital in no time.

Dressed up mannequin in the mall
Playa del Carmen is getting preped for Todas Somos Catrinas! I’m excited!

So hungry!

Now I have eaten nothing since noon yesterday so I’m hungry, my head hurts, I’m tired, and dehydrated. And super stressed that something will go wrong with the appointment, and they will want me to come back on a different day. And we waited… and waited… and waited. Someone would stop by every once in a while and say the room was almost ready. Five more minutes. They moved me to a different waiting room. Five more minutes…

The appointment was for 3pm and they finally took me back to the room at 5:30pm. So hungry! People are in the room getting it all ready and someone hands me a gown with the indication I should remove all my clothes. Don’t be shy! There’s no modesty in a hospital. After climbing onto the bed, the doctor asks why I’m getting a colonoscopy. I’m very young and I’m female but I’m not doing this for funsies!

It’s at this point I realize that she never got the reports I sent her from my last colonoscopy. They show exactly where she should look during this one. I tried to explain as best I could, and she seemed confident that if anything was there, she would find it. No worries. This whole time I’m watching a tech clean the colonoscopy instruments (from the previous patient) right there in the room. Weird. Time to place the IV and get the drugs going!

Things are done differently here

In the States, hospitals use these cool little flexible IV needles so you can move about without causing damage to the vein. Not here! Straight metal needle connected to some tubing. Safety third! Interesting, to say the least. Especially when someone knocked over the metal pole holding up my saline bottle (you know the one connected to my arm!). Luckily, the IV didn’t get pulled out. My heart is going a mile a minute at this point.

Fútbol in Playa
Fútbol in Playa! So much fun!

Drugs and sleep. I woke up absolutely freezing, super groggy, and in a lot of pain. They fill your intestines with gas for the procedure so you wake up really gassy. I’m trying to let the gas out, but I also realize I’m pooping the bed. I’d be embarrassed, but you just can’t be in that situation. It’s all liquid anyway and nothing they haven’t seen a million times.

Still so crazy cold. The A/C was turned up to sub-zero freezing and I’m used to tropical hot hot! I was painfully cold with chattering teeth and full body shivering. With help from my friend, I made it to the bathroom to release some of that painful gas. So drugged and woozy! The technician finished cleaning the instruments and decided it was time to go, removed my IV (careful!), handed me my clothes, and booted me out the door.

How to get home

I only made it part way to the parking lot before I had to rush (wobbly) back in. I barely made it to the waiting room bathroom. Then it was just a matter of sitting on the toilet with my face in the trash can (sorry, environmental services!). At some point, I realize that there is a lot of blood in the toilet. Unfortunately (luckily?), I’m too drugged to care or be able to tell anyone.

Time to get a taxi and get home! But now it’s 8:30pm, full dark, and no taxis to be seen. My friend tried a phone app to get a taxi, but they said no. Too far of a drive to pick us up, for such a small fare. We started walking. This meant crossing the highway in the dark with no street lights, just hoping beyond hope everyone was driving with their headlights turned on. We just had to run for it and stay upright. Danger!

PDC Palacio Municipal at night
I was lucky enough to spot this on my long walk home after the colonoscopy. So pretty!

We made it to a major grocery store hoping to grab a taxi or a colectivo, but at this point I’m very nauseous and worried I’ll vomit in any vehicle I get in. We just trudged the two miles home while I tried to look sober and not get us in trouble for public intoxication. That would make my day so much worse! We made it without incident and I spent some more time in the bathroom (sorry, future me!).

I was finally able to get some food down in the form of the bestest, warmest, homemade chicken stock I have ever had. What a freakishly crazy day! I had gassy stomach pain for several days but now I’m right as rain. They didn’t have to cut anything out, which is great, but I wish they hadn’t given me so much anesthesia. I was legit hungover the next day. I’m a tiny person, after all!

Lessons learned

Playa del Carmen isn’t known for medical tourism (save for maybe dentistry, dermatology, and pharmaceutical). Next time I need a colonoscopy, I’m heading for a city or country that has dedicated a lot of resources to medicine. Places like Costa Rica, Panama, Cuba. I spent $400 on the procedure, which is significantly less than in the States (average price around $3000). Hopefully, I don’t have to get another one for a long while!

Recommended Posts


  1. I absolutely HATE that prep.
    Did you or anyone ever consider Girardia? (I’ve had it like 7-8x. Nepal and windsurfing)
    Explosive diarrhea is one of the main symptoms. The ‘critter’ also seems to ‘love’ certain foods, maybe it’s the gluten?
    Joyce had it for years, and didn’t know it. She went through a LOT of medical ‘experiences’ and never got diagnosed correctly. When we went to Nepal, and I got it really badly, we figured she must have it also because we were eating and drinking exactly the same stuff. But….she showed no difference in symptoms. It was also ‘rampant’ in the Peace Corp workers we talked to.
    I treated myself per medical protocol and it went away. Had to do that several times while there. Joyce waited until the day before we went home. Her ‘chronic’ symptoms went away.
    The fecal lab test is very inaccurate and unreliable.
    Best test is take the meds, and see if it goes away.

    1. Yeah, I tested for giardia and treated just for the fun of it. No help there. Too bad as it would be lovely to eat gluten again!

Comments are closed.