I’m having a colonoscopy on Monday. And, as it happens, a pregnancy test.
No, I’m not 50 yet, nor is there anything particularly wrong. I’m also not pregnant. You see, I have Crohns Disease, have since my 20s, and thus am supposed to have one every year, to see if there’s been any progress of the disease, and to check for colorectal cancer. My sweet new gastroenterologist (the one who I think is exuberant rather than gay, but the jury’s still out), just reminded me that my risk of CRC goes up a chunk for every decade since I’ve been diagnosed. It’s about 30% right now, but fortunately, colon cancer is HIGHLY curable if you catch it early.
Most folks need to get tested every ten years once they hit 50, but Crohn’s patients should get one every year post-diagnosis. Since I’ve had this ridiculous disease since I was 22, I’ve often been uninsurable, so I really average about 2 years between. I’ve been lucky so far, but it’s something I plan to get better at thanks to my swanky new Obamacare. The pregnancy test is just a special extra bonus, before they’ll give me anesthesia (and I TOTALLY want that). I did tell them that I practice lesbianism as my form of birth control, but they require them for all women of childbearing age. One more reason to look forward to menopause.
So anyway, Monday’s my exam. And since I’ve had somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-15 colonoscopies, I’m your go-to gal for tips and suggestions, as folks are getting ready for their first one. Rather than (or in addition to) being the person folks call or tag on FB for this topic, I’ve here compiled all my best tips for gracefully getting through your colonoscopy. This post will detail how to get through the prep, and I’ll do some follow up once I’m home and out from under the drugs.
Surviving the prep
Colonoscopy prep is mostly uncomfortable and weird, rather than actually painful or scary (this is true of the procedure as well, thanks to the drugs). These tips are intended to increase your comfort and get you to the other side, where you can feel extra virtuous about your level of self-care. And remember, it’s only 24 hours or so. You can do just about anything for one day, right?
Your doctor is going to write you a prescription for prep, which could be anything from the horribly named Golytly to the VERY EXPENSIVE but apparently more effective Suprep. All of these liquids taste TERRIBLE, but they have the same purpose: to clean out everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING in your colon. You’re going to drink it the day before your procedure. Here’s what you need to know:
- You WANT this stuff to work. Yes, it tastes terrible, and yes, it’s going to make you shit like a mink (sorry), but you know what happens if you DON’T drink it all? They’re gonna get you on the table, give you anesthetic, look in your not-squeaky-clean colon, wake you up and send you home. With a stern lecture. You will then get to pay for your colonoscopy twice, and do the prep twice. It’s not worth it. Drink it all.
- A few things help with the unpleasant taste of the prep solution: an hour before you’re scheduled to drink it (on your doctor’s timetable, they’re all different), put it in the freezer. Somehow it’s slightly less wretched if it’s icy cold. Drink it with a straw. It will hit less of your tongue on the way down. Some folks like to put it over ice, but you know what? Ice melts, and then you have MORE of the damn stuff to drink. If you have the type that tells you to mix it with something, citrus flavored beverages cover the taste better.
- You want a chaser. They’re probably going to tell you to drink lots of gatorade, for a good reason. You know how you get really weak and wobbly when you have the stomach flu? That’s the diarrhea sucking all the electrolytes out of your body, and you’re about to do that on purpose. However, I HATE gatorade. It’s all artificial colors, it tastes dreadful, AND it sort of tastes like the prep solution. Ick. I drink coconut water. It’s also full of electrolytes, but tastes totally different, and will keep you from passing out. Of course, if you love gatorade, knock yourself out.
- Drink LOTS of beverages in general while you’re doing the prep. Keep a big insulated cup in the bathroom, with something you really enjoy in it. Remember, you can’t have anything red or purple, or anything with actual fruit, fiber, or dairy in it. So black tea or coffee are fine, soda is fine if it’s not red, the aforementioned coconut water, lemonade, etc. Popsicles are nice too. Me, I’ll be alternating tea with honey, homemade chicken stock that I’ve run through a coffee filter, and water.
- Half the problem with the prep is that it’s BORING to spend much of a day in the bathroom. This is where technology can help. Stock up on trashy magazines, load up your computer, phone, or tablet with a really great amusing Netflix series you’ve been meaning to watch. I’m gonna finish watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, myself. Text people (but for god’s sake, don’t call them).
- You’re going to want to increase comfort in any way you can. For me, this means a heater in the bathroom if it’s cold, comfortable clothes that don’t press on the belly, cozy layers and warm socks. If it’s summer, you might want a fan. This is the time to go whole hog on the fluffy toilet paper, also. Trust me, you will VASTLY regret it if you try to complete your prep while using the wretched sandpaper that calls itself ‘recycled toilet paper’. Extra fluffy quilted 6 layer fanciness with a cartoon animal on the package? I’m in. Baby wipes are not a terrible idea, either.
- A little lubrication goes a long way. You’re encouraging all your digestive juices to exit your body in a speedy fashion, and that stuff is mostly acid. Plus, you’re going to apply (fluffy, expensive) toilet paper over and over again to a moist area. Protect the skin! Like a runner who applies Bodyglide to prevent blisters, or like anti-chafing gel on your thighs if you’re a comfortably padded woman, an ounce of prevention here will really improve your experience. Me, I apply a little vaseline to the area, and refresh it often.
- Expect to be really tired. Not only are you not eating, and sucking out all the nutrients in your body, you’re going to be up and down all night. Going into the process well rested will help, and so will catnaps, when you can.
- Don’t skip the coffee! I mentioned this above, but it bears repeating: coffee and tea (without milk of any kind) are clear liquids. Don’t make yourself and the people around you more miserable by skipping the caffeine your body is used to.
That’s it, really. My prep is Sunday, so I’ll be going out in the next couple days for trashy magazines, pricey tp, and coconut water. I’m going to leave you with a couple of quick facts:
- Colon cancer is a preventable and highly treatable cancer when caught at an early stage.
- People who are diagnosed at early stages have over a 90 percent chance of a cure and surviving.
Want to know more about colon cancer? Check out this link: American Cancer Society
It’s totally worth it. Go get tested.
(Follow this link for Part Two: no legally binding decisions and no shopping online)
Until next time,
(I really overthought whether this post needed a picture. Be happy I decided again it).