Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Love Your Colon or Advice From the Rear End

Prevailing medical wisdom says that everyone should get a colonoscopy after the age of 50. But sometimes there are reasons to get a screening before that magic number. If you happen to have a family history of polyps or colon cancer, doctors will line up to plumb your backside as early as age 40. May you be so lucky. Unfortunately for me, I filled out that family history section of the medical screen at the doctor's office truthfully and earned myself an early introduction to the endoscope. I swear I'm going to have to stop being honest on those forms! As an aside, a friend of ours, who doesn't know her family history because she was adopted, just writes "Stray" across the forms and she's done. (Her husband is a vet.) I love that! I, on the other hand, know all of the hereditary ills that have beset my family practically back to the Mayflower. OK, not really. Given my actual family, we probably skulked over here far more recently, crammed hacking and coughing in steerage on some leaky tub and then lied at Ellis Island so we could be admitted or some equally illustrious immigration story. But back to the bad genes thing. Since my parents were foolhardy enough to reproduce despite medical evidence that would have argued strenuously gently against it, I get to have all the fun tests at the doctor's office.

As tests go, the colonoscopy is one of the least pleasant to consider so I was definitely less than pleased when I was referred for one. I put the gastro office off initially when they tried to schedule me during my vacation but there was no escaping it forever. I dutifully picked up the prep meds at the pharmacy before I left for the summer, promptly stashing them and the myriad instruction sheets from the doctor in a cupboard, thinking "out of sight, out of mind." Of course, we all know it doesn't work like that, especially when you are an habitual oversharer like me, so I started telling people that I had to have this done. This garnered a lot of sympathy and some advice from friends who have already been there and done that, sometimes several times. And it was good advice. (Which I will share. Just hold your horses a bit.)

Because of when the test was scheduled, we had to come home from vacation a little early. We also had to come home for dance tryouts and soccer preseason, but the kids are full on blaming my butt for cutting our time at the cottage short, not that I blame them. If I was them, I'd blame my butt too. After all, since they have my genetic history but enhanced with anything their father brings to the table, they'll get to face this particular medical joy early one day too. (And before you suggest that perhaps I shouldn't have reproduced either, I have to plead ignorance of the full extent of bad DNA until after the beasts were already around and it was too late to take my own advice.) So we came home earlier than any of us would have wanted so that I had a few days before the procedure to ease us back into regular life. Turns out it's a good thing we did too.

My lovely husband had cleaned out the refrigerator while we were gone so it was extra empty when we got back from almost a month away. So I did what any lazy normal wife and mother would do in such a situation, I ordered dinner in. And because we were just back from a place far from any thought of ethnic food, I ordered Indian.  (Yum!)  The leftovers would double nicely as breakfast the next morning for me before I got to the store for milk. So after a tasty breakfast of leftover dal makhni and a small grocery trip to tide us over, I dragged out all of the forms and whatnot for the dreaded colonoscopy. Imagine my horror to read that unlike every other person on the planet I'd talked to about this, my doctor had food restrictions starting at four days out. That day was, of course, four days out and I'd already blown it because of my lentil-filled breakfast. Things forbidden to me from that moment on: tomatoes, corn, fruit with seeds, nuts, potato chips, rice, foods high in iron, and foods high in fiber (hello dal, I'm looking at you). Yes, in the middle of summer when the anemic produce of winter is just a bad memory, I was not supposed to eat anything good. There's some good planning for you. And then I remembered the advice of one of my professional colonoscopy enduring friends: eat a lot of white bread, potatoes, and pasta (and not whole wheat pasta either) to make the cleaning out part easier down the road. Basically I was down to a bland, white food diet for three days. Oh joy, oh rapture.

Being restricted on foods you can eat is bad enough in the privacy of your own home but when you have to admit to crazy restrictions (and the reason behind them--yes, pun intended) in public, it's even worse. I had mashed potatoes for dinner the night we met a whole group of neighbors out for the local music and movies on the lawn event. I had a hot pretzel appetizer for lunch the day I went out with two friends to celebrate their birthdays. I had exactly nothing besides water the night we were out for a friend's surprise birthday party, not even cake. Sad, no? I might not have been enjoying the overload of boring, mostly tasteless food but my boys were in heaven with the overwhelming amount of white bread (hallelujah!) French toast, mashed potatoes, and olive-oil tossed spaghetti they were getting to eat. Unfortunately for them though, all good things must come to an end and I reached the clear liquids only day. Frankly I didn't give a rat's @ss what they ate that day as long as they didn't eat in front of me. White cranberry juice for breakfast, lemon jello for lunch, and pineapple jello (really gross, incidentally) for dinner did not make me a happy camper.

But if I thought the flavor deprivation and then avoidance of all solid food was the low point, I was very much mistaken. And this is what people mean when they tell you, with a twisted evil grin on their faces, that "the prep is the worst part." Yes, the hunger from not being able to eat (everyone, not just my Gestapo doctor, has the clear liquid diet the day before) is annoying but the bottle of Suprep is NASTY and there's no getting around it. Even diluted with water, it is beyond disgusting tasting. Who knew my sick chugging skills would come in handy here. When I was a small thing, I learned to put yucky to me food I didn't want to chew in my mouth and then swallow it down whole accompanied by my entire glass of milk or water. This same skill came in handy in college and impressed my now husband (probably why he married me really). And now it helped me get the gross meds down in one long gulp. Following said prep meds with another 32 oz. of water within an hour was not too hard but my stomach did end up so distended it looked as if someone had poked me with a pin, I might have gone off like a sprinkler. So then the fun started. I had taken one of my smart, experienced friends' advice and silly though it seemed, I lubed my bottom up with Aquaphor before drinking anything. (If you don't know Aquaphor, you should. It is absolutely the best for diaper rash, runner's rash, chapped lips, and also apparently keeping your butt safe during colonoscopy prep.)

I don't know if there's an estimated average time before the prep stuff starts working but let me tell you, from the minute you finish that bottle and the necessary water, you know it's only a matter of time before you move into the bathroom permanently. If you're smart, you've not only prepared your bottom, you've checked to see the toilet paper situation in any bathroom within range and added another roll and you've told you family that one bathroom in particular (whichever one is closest to your body after drinking the prep) is yours and yours only for the next 12 hours or so. Plus, no matter how much toilet paper you think you'll end up using, you should double the estimate and stock "your" bathroom accordingly. Finally, after you finish drinking the prep, do not fart. Really. Let me repeat that. DO NOT FART. Under any circumstances.  Just trust me on this one. Once the deluge from your butt starts, hopefully not until after loud rumbling warnings from your soon to be beleaguered intestines, you can carry on with normal activities as long as they occur not more than a foot and a half from the toilet and you are wearing elastic waisted pants (or have given up and permanently unbuttoned the non elastic waisted). When you feel the first urge to go, you will then have approximately 3 nanoseconds to plant yourself safely on the commode, hence the elastic advice.

If you have been smart and followed the awesome advice to goop up your nether regions, you will have as pleasant an experience as you can when you are cleaning yourself off. But be warned that once the glop is gone, it will feel like your butt has started moonlighting as a flame thrower and you're pretty certain that the pure acid shooting out of your anus is melting not only your internal pipes but the actual sewer pipes as well. So like with sunscreen, my best advice is to reapply, reapply, reapply. This constant stream of molten lava exiting your body and searing the skin off your hiney is exactly what people mean when they say that the prep is "unpleasant," and that description is the world's most understated euphemism ever. But if you get really lucky like me, you'll eventually feel like you've cleaned out anything that ever thought of sticking around in your colon all the way back to newborn meconium and you'll head to bed to try and get a little sleep. And this is fine but you're not done. Oh no. Not even close.

When you get up to take round two of the vile meds, hit the bathroom first and try to clear out anything that might otherwise leak out when your innards clench in protest as you chug down the next set of nasty. At this point my experience veers wildly from everyone else I talked to (except my mom) so maybe you won't be so blessed (either that or no one wants to admit to this added awfulness). I needed to get another 32 ounces of water down on top of the meds within the hour again but I could only choke down 16 before I felt wretchedly horrible. I laid down to try and ignore the rising nausea. Then I sat up to try and make it better. Then I stood up and paced, actually praying to keep the meds down. No dice. 45 minutes into the second set of prep meds found me sitting on the toilet, jammies around my ankles, heaving 16 ounces of meds and 16 ounces of water into the trash can on my lap. If that's not a party, I don't know what is! I did eventually stop vomiting and after sipping the remaining 16 ounces of water, crawled back to bed for an unhappy couple of hours. When the alarm went off to get up, I had to dash to the bathroom, first to throw up again, then to torture my poor acid burned bum again, and finally to enjoy a few last dry heaves.

And then we were off to the doctor. I had to keep my eyes closed most of the way there and I wanted to complain bitterly about all the bumping around the car was doing but was too busy trying not to get sick to say anything. Incidentally, very similar to how I felt during the drive to the hospital when I was in labor with my oldest so long ago. Not that I'm comparing my oldest to a colonoscopy or anything, but he is a teenager, so... Anyway, as every tells you, the procedure itself is a piece of cake. The last thing I remember before waking up in recovery (after complaining that the anesthesia being pushed into my IV was burning down my arm) is the nurse anesthetist asking me if I was starting to feel sleepy. And I got lucky and everything was normal so I don't have to revisit this fun house adventure for another 5 years.

Now, ghastly as this might read, here's my PSA for the day: do it anyway. If you are of an age or have a family history, endure it and get it done. It's really no worse than raising a teenager, in the long run. ;-) And it can save your life and prevent you from developing a terrible cancer, which teenagers can't do.  As Nike always says, Just Do It.


  1. I am feeling very blessed right now that I do not have the family history to need this done before 50, but really really not looking forward (as much as I grinned and chuckled my way through your blog!)to that d-day!!!

  2. Wow, that was a very visceral description! Sooo glad I get to wait til 50. And very glad you survived!

  3. I had a colonoscopy at 24 because I have bowel issues (amongst many other digestive system tests) so I was laughing as I was reading this, it bought back so many memories! Here you're simply sedated rather than knocked out for it, which is not fun. You're lucky you were out cold for the whole thing.

  4. Hysterical! Glad everything came out OK (pun intended!).

  5. Had my first a few weeks ago - don't have to go back for 5 years. I can relate to some of your experience and I'm glad it's behind us both ;-)

  6. Now that you mention this, I'm wondering when I should be getting this too. Unfortunately, like you, I have the family history too. Will check with my doctor next time I go in for a visit. Thanks for the reminder; in the end (um, yeah, pun intended here too), it will be for the best.

  7. I put off my colonoscopy for a long time due to fear. My experience was the exact opposite of yours. I don't understand why your doc made it so miserable.

    My doc said a day or two before just eat yogurt and chicken broth. She said to mix the solution with lemonade. It made it quite palatable. Drink 8oz. every half hour. Surprisingly, there was very little to clear out and she said when the flow is clear you can stop the drink. I only had to drink about 2/3. The procedure I was out for so all in all it was not a bad experience at all. The hubby had the same experience. Im sorry yours was so miserable.

  8. I put off my test for a long time. My experience was the exact opposite of yours. I ate yogurt and chicken broth the day before. Doc said to mix clean out drink with lemonade, and it wasn't bad tasting at all. 8oz every 20-30 minutes. Once the flow was clear you could stop the drink. was surprised how little there was to clean out, and only drank 2/3 of the bottle.
    The procedure itself I was out for so not bad at all.

    Don't get why yours was so horrid and am sorry it was. My hubby and friends have all had similar experiences to mine. Dare I suggest a different doc next time?


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts