I had this really grandiose idea about writing a giant blog post after going through my colonoscopy, as if this would be a one-stop-shop for anyone about to get their first colonoscopy. But there are plenty of information sources for colonoscopies and what to expect from them (including, one would hope, your doctor). More importantly, the colonoscopy itself ended up being way less action-packed than the prep itself, and nobody told me that! So what I’m going to do is skip providing a traditional “how to” section about a colonoscopy and merely give you a list of things that I sure as hell WISH I’d known about colonoscopy prep, but that aren’t listed on, say, the Mayo clinic website. Not in any particular order. -EDIT, 17 January 2017
- When you do your prep for a colonoscopy, you shit fire out of your ass for an entire day. They say it’ll only be for a few hours, but for some people, it can be for, say, 13 hours (read: me). THIRTEEN hours of sitting on a toilet with horrifying things coming out of you violently. This is, believe it or not, okay. Just be prepared, you might be in the minority, and you might be on the toilet for even longer than expected. But you’ll survive, I promise!
- Your poo will turn from dark brown smushiness to a liquid yellow, or even colorless. It’ll have weird things in it when it’s yellow. Little bits of… whatever. That’s normal. Just yucky.
- Have a huge supply of really soft toilet paper in the house.
- Have a huge supply of wet wipes for your butt in the house (especially good if they are unscented, because the scented stuff can have chemicals that irritate your butt when it’s inflamed/upset/shitting fire).
- Soon, your anus will start to burn like fire, not in some kind of metaphorical sense. It will literally feel like it’s on fire. You think I’m kidding? You think I’m speaking in hyperbole? I am pretty sure if took a blow torch to my ass for a couple seconds, it’d feel just like it felt at about hour 10 of prep. So what you can do is, when you START feeling uncomfortable, you need to begin using the wet wipes to give your butt a break. And then once you’ve cleaned yourself off, totally slather your anus (I know, I know) with plain, unscented Vaseline. It will protect your precious, innocent butt. Because if you don’t do this, eventually your anus will begin cracking (NOOOOO!!!) and bleeding. Even if you DO do it, it may begin bleeding. You can apply this by putting a large dollop on a piece of toilet paper and carefully dabbing it all over yourself, right on the “good” bits. Don’t be shy. I started using the Vaseline late in the game and until I did, I found myself actually screaming while on the toilet. You shouldn’t consider me a typical case–I’m pretty sure my… session lasted an unusually long time. Nonetheless, once I put on the Vaseline things were way more pleasant. I just kept reapplying after each potty break.
- Some people find that once their pooing has subsided, a lukewarm bath is very soothing on the ol’ derriere. Just don’t put anything in the water, because some soaps can be irritating.
- Keep a range of reading material in the bathroom. I found that inane magazines were the best. I was unable to focus on any serious reading and found Time Out NY much better. Especially the fashion sections. I read that one person used to wheel her tv into the bathroom during this special time. That’s pretty brilliant. EDIT, 17 January 2017: Since writing this portion, I think the idea that someone would “wheel” any television anywhere is hilarious. Even a few years ago, what was I thinking? Obviously, you’re just gonna bring your iPad or your phone into the bathroom like we all pretend we DON’T do, and you’re gonna watch Netflix or Hulu on it. That’ll do just fine. But if by some miracle you still have a television that sits on a device with wheels… well, do you think you could take a picture of it and send it to me? I’d like to see that in action. My grandpa had that setup and I miss it!
- Speaking of televisions, you’re going to have a lot of time in between potty breaks where you won’t really be able to be far away from the toilet, but also unable to do anything else. So I think now would be a great time to have a tv show marathon. Mine was Law & Order: SVU. I’ll admit that the occasional mention of “anal tearing” on that show was really off-putting especially given my condition at the time, but otherwise, it was very entertaining. Christopher Meloni is HOT (Sorry, boyfriend, you know I love you and you’re the hottest man in the world…). Weirdest way to be distracted by a colonoscopy prep ever? This is embarrassing.
- Drink tons of gatorade the day before you do your cleanse. You’re gonna be WIPED. OUT. So basically you’ll want to make sure your electrolytes don’t get dangerously out of balance. Best way to do this is to load up beforehand.
- Wear incredibly comfortable clothing that can be removed super quickly. I recommend pajama pants or sweatpants without drawstrings, or at least without drawstrings tied. You will be really surprised as to how quickly you’ll need to rip your pants and underwear off. Don’t be silly and wear jeans or something. You will not have time to remove them… and then you’ll be in one horrible mess. (shudder)
- Drink vanilla and/or strawberry Ensures (or other such “meal replacement” shakes) to keep your energy up. They’re delicious! Sorta! Not really! They’re fine… they’re better than starving. Most doctors are perfectly fine with you drinking these on the day of your prep. Ask your doc!
- Make homemade chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you’re a vegetarian or vegan) before your prep. That way, instead of drinking some crap from a can or whatever, you’ll have something delicious and fresh and full of vitamins/minerals. There are many recipes for chicken stock on the ol’ Internets. It isn’t hard, just time-consuming. But remember you can freeze it and if you have extra left over you can use it for making soups later. Real food to replace what you just did. EDIT, 17 January 2017: Don’t listen to me if you don’t feel like making homemade broth, go get some broth from a can, pouch, or make some from a bouillon cube… or that Better than Bouillon stuff. I was going through a real, snobby asshat phase when I wrote this post where I just HAD to cook everything from scratch. Now I live in reality and cutting corners is what most people have to do because, hello, people have families, jobs, they’re sick, etc. Broth is delicious in all forms. Just do whatever you can do and have some delicious broth! YUM.
- Make sure you have tons of soap in the bathroom. Because you are going to need to wash your hands approximately seven million times. And if your hands tend to get dry, some lotion, as well. EDIT, 17 January 2017: AND. It’d better be a scent you really like, because you’ll only smell it seven million times, remember. The way I see it, you have a few options, depending on what kind of person you are. 1) Pick a soap scent you already know you love; 2) Pick a special soap and scent, something reeeeally extra wonderful, because hey if you can’t have nice soap now when’s the time?!; 3) Switch it around so you won’t be bored with the smell and/or nauseated by it (some people find a repeated smell unpleasant). Do give this some thought based on your relationship to smells. I’m extremely sensitive to scent and decided on a lavender-scented soap because it’s my favorite scent.
- Hemorrhoid cream! This might make your butt feel better after several hours of diarrhea. Give it a try.
- Don’t be alone in the house. I mean, I don’t recommend having a family member, friend, or partner in the bathroom with you unless you have problems getting on and off the toilet (in which case, they are really in for a fun time and you need to buy them a drink after this), but it’s a comfort to have someone around who can get things for you if you need. There were a number of times I screamed things like, “VASELINE!!!” and “MORE TOILET PAPER AAAAAAAH” down the stairs. Also, you will want emotional support. I found it extremely difficult not to vomit the Suprep stuff you have to drink… TWICE. My boyfriend stood there while I drank it cheering me on. At once point when I was very nauseated he comforted me by giving me a little back massage and that distracted me quite a bit from it.
- When you’re drinking your prep stuff, use a straw! That way, the horror touches less of your tongue and you taste less of it. Also, you may be able to refrigerate the stuff for a little while before drinking it. The tongue tastes a bit less of something when it is very cold. EDIT 10/20/2017: Ask your doctor if this is an option. The medical info packet provided with Suprep states the following:“Store at 20° to 25°C (68° to 77°F). Excursions permitted between 15° to 30°C (59° to 86°F). See USP controlled room
temperature.” However, my doctor permitted me to refrigerate the Suprep prior to ingestion (and it was effective), and others have done so successfully as well. Again, do not do this without asking your doctor. One of the people in the comments section came up with the idea of creating prepsicles (brilliant), which didn’t work for them (they have a very sensitive stomach), but I think this might work for others. Freeze the wretched Suprep and eat it like a popsicle. See if you have better luck not puking it up that way. Executed with Crystal Lite, apparently. Again, you will need to consult with your doctor to see if this is a viable option, because you need to ensure this does not hinder the efficacy of the medication. You don’t want all of this to be for nothing!
- THE NAUSEA GOES AWAY! If you can just make it through the first 30 minutes of nausea you’re pretty much home free. Then of course it all comes out of your butt, which is gross, but I prefer that to feeling like I’m going to hurl. Keep telling yourself it’s almost over, it’s almost over, don’t throw up. EDIT, 17 January 2017: If you absolutely can’t keep this nasty garbage in your stomach, don’t wait, call your gastroenterologist right away. It might be that you need another type of prep. And that’s okay! Everyone’s different. I have such a sensitive stomach, a fairy was likely sprinkling magic anti-nausea dust on me to help me keep that shit down.
- When you’re nauseated, you will often salivate a lot. Try to spit it out instead of swallowing it. Sometimes swallowing makes you even more likely to gag.
- Once it’s all over, remove all the towels in the bathroom and sanitize everything. I really don’t think I need to extrapolate on that one. You doodooed a lot.
Here are some colonoscopy bonus facts:
- The shit they give you to make you go asleep during your colonoscopy (read: if you’re given meds for your colonoscopy, and they call it “twilight”, you won’t feel a thing, awesome!!!) makes most people borderline euphoric when they awaken. YAY! Enjoy it. Mmmmmm. Druuuugs.
- They pump you full of air when they do a colonoscopy, like your intestines become one of those long, thin clown balloons. I can only hope they don’t try to make any shapes out of the intestines but let’s not go there. Well it’s not like the air stays in you forever. Which is HI-LARIOUS. Don’t be a jerk and be all embarrassed. C’mon. You come out of your colonoscopy, laying on recovery bed all woozy, pretty happy from the drugs, and you are gonna fart and fart and fart. Epic farts, monstrous farts. Award-winning farts. And you’ll hear OTHER peoples’ farts. So let your fart flag fly, dude. Don’t be all, oh no! Someone heard me fart. Seriously? The recovery nurses (god help them) hear farts ALL. DAY. LONG. I had a good laugh with a very nice nurse named George over it. Take your special farting in public loudly opportunity and let ‘er rip. George takes it all very seriously: “I don’t let anyone leave until I’ve heard them farting.” (giggle) Great, George. That’s great. It must be quite something to know him personally. EDIT, 17 January 2017: I still think about George, and wish him well. I hope he continues to encourage every once of his patients to fart really, really loudly for him. What a freeing experience.
- Before your colonoscopy you’ll be wandering around with your ass hanging out of a gown and worry about strangers looking at your ass. Why? Honestly however your ass looks, remember that really, really, really, really old people get colonoscopies a lot. However old you are, someone older than you gets colonoscopies where you are about to get yours. And their butt is probably wrinklier/bigger/stranger/spottier/whatever than yours. But who cares? It’s just a butt.
Alright that’s it. I hope you’ve learned some good tips and/or gotten some relief and have learned from my experience. Now I will try to forget about that prep forever and ever, or until the next time. The colonoscopy itself is a snap! It’s the prep that sucks. YEEK. Next time I know what to do!
EDIT, 17 January 2017: I’ve received so many positive responses from this post, which brought me tremendous joy. People shared their own stories, prep-tips, and told me that laughter helped them with their prep experience. Those comments meant and continue to mean so much to me. I write very frankly, which is why you see words like “fire” a lot, and I fully admit to enjoying drugs in a medical setting (c’mon now, you do, too… c’mon… ever have morphine after a surgery? I had my appendix out once and WHOA nelly, I still fantasize about that sweet nectar). But I hope nobody took that to mean I wasn’t taking the topic seriously, and had–and continue to have–a very real hope to help people feel better about situations such as swallowing poison that makes you shit out every bit of fecal matter in your body, followed by having a total stranger shove a big hose up your ass. Resilience: people are built of the stuff. We survive strange, painful things all the time, every day, as evidence by the birth of each and every once of us (coincidentally, ANOTHER event that involves poop in a really unpleasant and embarrassing way). I’m no guru, but for what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure the way to live isn’t to eliminate pain. It’s to figure out how to accept it when it happens and enjoy life despite it. We all have pain. Conservative, liberal, moderates, Black, White, Asian, gay, straight, trans, no faith, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, northerners, southerners, midwesterners; doctors, steel workers, teachers, people without homes, people in mansions, apartment renters. A lot of different kinds of people, not one of them born without the ability to feel pain. We all have to figure out what to do about it, whether it’s physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual pain. I don’t know about you, but a couple things help me deal with it: being informed, and laughing my ass off.
Thank you for your comments. I do hope you’ll keep them coming. 🙂 –Rachael