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Colonoscopy Demystified

Before you go running, embarrassed, uncomfortable, uneasy or uninterested, hear me out for a moment.

I am going to delve into the uncomfortable, but discussion worthy, world of preventative healthcare procedures: Colonoscopy.

I am turning the fabulous age of 52 this spring, and that means I’m nearly 2 years past that advice we get at our half century exam: “You are due for a Colonoscopy”.
Like many others, I heard it, and moved on.
But there, in the back of my mind was the thought of my grandmother who at the ripe age of 70 was diagnosed with, and treated for colon cancer. She lived to an even riper age of 96. I shudder to think she might not have been with us that long if they had not caught it in its early stages.

I just recently had mine, so, I thought in the interest of good health I would try to demystify the process by sharing my own experience, and suggest a few helpful tips. Hopefully that will mitigate any fears people might have about getting one, and be helpful for those who have one upcoming. Because you should get one if your health provider  recommends it, if for no other reason than to have peace of mind. (Same goes with a mammogram gals! A couple of minutes of discomfort is no excuse to not have one.)

When you schedule your procedure you will be given a cleanse regime. If you work, I would recommend scheduling your appointment immediately following a day off. That way your ‘cleanse’ day is on a day when you can be home, because you will need to be close to your bathroom for a few hours. You start the flushing part of the cleanse in the  late afternoon/early evening prior to your appointment, and that is when you will want to be in the comfort of your own home and near your own potty.

The following is the prep and cleanse my Gastroenterologist recommended prior to the procedure. (Isn’t ‘procedure’ a nicer word than COLONoscopy? Which just reminds me over and over what is coming up? Yeah, I think so too!)

First, they will advice you what medications and supplements (including fiber) to stop taking 7 days prior to your appointment.
Then at 3 days prior, you begin a low fiber diet. I was surprised at how much I really had to think about this, since I apparently tend to eat a fairly high fiber diet, but it really isn’t difficult. I actually kind of enjoyed the opportunity to have a delicious white flour buttermilk pancake along with my eggs! Other options for your meals would be a good yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, lean white meats or fish. You cannot have any raw fruits or veggies, no seeds or whole grains. I’m not a fan of canned fruits, except mandarin oranges or canned veggies. I just figured I eat so healthy on a regular basis, a couple days without were no biggie. Protein that is not gristly is a good bet to keep you full feeling and yet low fiber. If you are gluten free, just watch for the ‘whole grain’ items. Try to find foods made from plain white rice, and contain no seeds. Many GF try to bump up the health factor by using whole grains or adding whole seeds. Stay away from red dyed foods, that can result in a less than clear test.
I tried very hard to keep my fiber intake as near zero as possible, because I wanted the doctor to have as clear a view of my insides as possible. I mean, if you’re going through the effort to do this in the first place, make it count!

Then the day prior your procedure you start your clear liquids diet. At noon, they had me take 2 Dulcolax tablets. I think this is so that it’s easier to move stuff through your system later.
This day is a bit more challenging because clear liquids are, by nature, not very filling.
Here is what I found to be particularly helpful and actually worked to keep me feeling satiated: I started my morning with a cup of black tea for my caffeine hit (no dairy allowed this day! None! Nada!), then followed that with beef bouillon broth. I have the brand Better Than Bouillon on hand, so that is what I used for the broth. (Be forewarned though, some of those bouillons have meat bits in them, so be sure to strain them out with a fine sieve!) To make this more hearty and filling, I ‘bloomed’ (which means – allow to rehydrate) about a 1/4-1/2 tsp of Knox Plain Gelatin in a couple tablespoons of cold water in a mug. I heated the water for my broth in a microwave safe container and whisked in the bouillon. Then, using a strainer to strain out any potential meat bits, I poured the reconstituted broth into the mug containing the gelatin. Whisk this mixture to combine, then drink.  Adding the gelatin to the beef broth made it feel more hearty and rich. It really worked to curb any hunger pangs or cravings. You can achieve the similar results by eating jello following your broth, but it isn’t nearly as tasty. I was so pleased with the result, I would do this anytime I wanted a hearty tasting broth for a snack. (It would be a perfect ‘in-between meal’ low cal snack for someone trying to drop a pound or two)

If you are a coffee drinker, that will be a no-no, decaf or not. Something in the coffee can cause rigidity in your colon and you want that baby as pliable as possible for the scope to go through. So, tea it is for your morning wake up beverage. Or coke. Or mountain dew.

I sipped this beef broth brew throughout the day, into the early afternoon. Then I switched to chicken broth. I still added the gelatin to keep me full.  Another trick is chewing some gummy bears. I bought an organic, juice-based, brand, but remember NO RED. You cannot consume anything that has red dye or red coloring in it. They stress this quite emphatically! I’m not a jello fan, so I didn’t have it, but if you like jello, go for it. I also had a box of orange popsicles on hand, just to change it up. But again…NO RED.

Around 4-6pm, you will start to consume your ‘flush’ solution. (Flush. Oh, you will be doing a lot of that, literally!) Honestly? For someone who drinks a LOT of water on a regular basis, this was a breeze. My ‘flush’ solution consisted of a bottle of Miralax and 64oz of Powerade. You mix the two together (really shake it up) and then consume 8 ounces every 15 minutes. I used my phone to set the timer at each dose. Like I said, I drink a lot of water, so this was no biggie, and it tasted good to me. (I like the taste of Powerade LemonLime, but you can use Gatorade if you like.) You will start to feel a bit full as it starts to work through your system, so long gone are any hunger pangs you might have had earlier. Trust me, from here on out, you really don’t feel hungry! This is also the time you want to have a good book at hand or downloaded to your smart device. You and your bathroom will be BFF’s for the next few hours. I suppose the time it takes to work through you is dependent upon your system. For me, I started at 4:30pm and I was about done by just after 10. And when I say ‘done’ I mean tied to the very near vicinity of the bathroom. Be sure to buy the softest TP you can find. I even invested in some flushable wipes. Oh, and be sure to have a cup of broth or juice before you go to bed, so you don’t wake up dehydrated.

The day of the procedure is actually easier. I again woke up and had a cup of black tea, a cup of chicken broth-gelatin mix.  I was instructed to consume a 10 oz bottle of Magnesium Citrate 4 hours prior to my procedure. It comes in a little bottle and you have to choose the lemon flavor because the other one is grape=red dye. (These items are available at the drug store) I used a bubble tea straw and just sucked it down. I didn’t think it tasted bad at all, and it was slightly effervescent. It tasted like a very tart lemon drink. The straw helps it go down fast. This is another time where you will want to be close to your potty. But it’s not nearly as intense as the previous days cleanse, there just isn’t much left. And its must shorter also. Depending upon when your procedure is scheduled you will or will not have time to eat or drink something prior to this step. I’d try to get some water in for sure, because 2 hours prior, you will stop drinking all liquids. As I’ve mentioned, I drink a lot of water. That was kinda hard for me. No water, no hard candies, nothing those last 2 hours.

The procedure will vary I think, depending upon your clinic. I thought it was very tolerable, the staff was very kind and compassionate, explaining everything in detail. The actual procedure was far easier than I thought it would be, and FAST. I was given the option to watch on the monitor, or not, and initially I was going to try and sleep through it. But since I for some reason wasn’t even aware when it started, when the picture came up on the screen in front of me, I was mesmerized. So I watched and asked questions along the way. The nurse who administered my drugs said that I would be given an amnesiac and I might forget everything. Well, I don’t know if it worked, or didn’t, because while I don’t remember the details beginning and ending, I remember the watching the video feed. I guess that is the best of all outcomes!

Following the procedure you will be wheeled back to recover and they will not let you go till you pass gas. And that is about how matter of fact they state it. You don’t leave until you ‘blow off some steam’. (Lame attempt at humor here, I know) I dozed off a bit. It was a good excuse to take a little nap. Then your designated driver will pick you up and take you home!

Well, that’s about it! See? No big deal really. I’d say that the only uncomfortable part was the bloated, gassy feel you get afterwards.  But in the end that really didn’t affect me much. I knew my results right away. I got a clean bill of health and a free pass for 10 more years of no worrying!

I hope that demystified the whole colonoscopy process. The whole process has come a long way in the past decade or two. No longer do you have to choke down that gag-inducing chalk stuff. And no longer do they totally sedate you. I know it’s a procedure none of us really want to have, or heck, even think about. But if it is recommended you get one, I hope that my sharing of the experience takes some of the fear and embarrassment out of the whole ordeal.

The nurse told me I could cross it off my ‘Bucket List’. Ummmm, I have a lot of things on my Bucket List, but that is not one. However, knowing I have clean bill of health, I have the peace of mind knowing I can work on that Bucket List!