“We don’t see people writing much anymore,” says the nurse as she checks my blood pressure to hook me up to an IV drip. “Writing relaxes me,” I reply. I have swiped a pen from the check-in desk at the endoscopy center and am scribbling my hamster-track longhand on the only piece of paper I brought with me, the preparation instructions for the colonoscopy I am about to have.
I always have a notebook and pen with me, but I did not bring any this morning. However, after changing into one of those ignoble gowns with the opening in the back, I am cursing myself for not bringing anything to write on or with. “You can keep your bra and socks on,” the nurse had said, and I did — I am hanging on to every scrap of decency I can get. A notebook and pen would have added greatly to my sense of dignity right now. Never mind that I am wearing fuzzy light blue socks with a sparkly bow on each one made out of rhinestones. They are my comfort socks — Daughter got them for me for Christmas last year.
At least I have the paper, and the pen. It has a nice feel to it. Office Depot rollerball. But I digress. Why am I here anyway? Usually one does not have to submit to the indignity of having a doctor snake a tiny camera up your lower intestine until one reaches 50 years of age, but I have family history of colon cancer on the negative side of the balance sheet and so was advised to start early. You only have to have one every 10 years, so that’s not so bad. I already put it off for two years, so there is no going back now.
I don’t think even childbirth has scared me as much as the anticipation of the dreaded colonoscopy. I’ve been dreaming awful dreams about it for the past several weeks, including one where I had to swallow a wad of dental floss — I think they were going to floss me out from stem to stern. This is probably because even though I know most of the basics about what is going to happen, nobody has sat down with me and given me the nitty gritty details of what this is exactly like, so my subconscious is making up all kinds of crazy stories.
Ignorance is fear and knowledge is power, so I’m going to empower you, Dear Reader, so you will know what to expect. I’m going to empower you up the wazoo, so to speak, so you will not fear and you will go confidently to the gastroenterologist when it is your turn and say, “I am ready.”
First of all, everyone says that the preparation is worse than the procedure. I did not entirely believe this, but it is so true. I was out with happy juice for the main event and felt nothing — but we’ll get back to that.
However, the preparation well, sucks. You start out by going on a clear liquid diet the morning of the day before your procedure. This means you may drink black coffee and tea, apple juice, white grape juice, clear chicken broth, Gatorade as long as it isn’t red, and you may eat Jell-O, also as long as it isn’t red. Something about the dye interferes with the camera, and you wouldn’t want to go through all that and then have them tell you to do it over again because you had too much red dye in you, so stay away from the strawberry Jell-O. Oh, and word to the wise that I got from O Magazine: avoid red meat and fresh vegetables a few days beforehand — they take longer to digest. (I know what you’re thinking. Yes, it’s gross.)
Then about 3 p.m. you start drinking The Prep Solution. This is a 4-liter jug with some powder in it that you pick up from the pharmacy called Trilyte, and you add your own water and one of the variety of flavor packets that comes with it. I opted for Berry Citrus, which seemed the least objectionable. I wondered why they offered you Cherry and other red flavors until I opened the packet and realized that, of course, there is no coloring in the packet. So if red fruit juices float your boat, this is the time to go for it, because they all look the same. My instruction sheet advised refrigerating the solution and drinking it through a straw, which I thought was good advice.
It is like slightly salty watered-down Gatorade with a soapy, glycerine texture without the perfumey soapy taste. It’s not so bad for the first glass or two. The instructions say to drink 8 oz every 10-20 minutes, and that it should take four to five hours to complete the entire bottle. At first, as I say, it was not so bad. I figured I should be able to finish a glass every 15 minutes and would knock this out in four hours flat.
It did not happen. During my first few glasses I was surprised to find my timer going off before I had finished. “No worries,” I thought. “They said 20 minutes was okay. I’ll just take a little longer.” After about three glasses, I start feeling some rumbling in my intestines, and a trip to the bathroom seems like a good idea. Not alarmed, I knew this would happen, as The Prep Solution is designed to, ahem, clear your bowels so they can get the little camera up there and have a good view.
What they don’t tell you is that after the fourth and fifth glass, you are spending so much time in the bathroom that you don’t have time to drink the damn solution. You feel like you are having one of the worst bouts of diarrhea you have ever had, without the nausea (hopefully). Time slips by and the salty, slippery fluid seems more and more repulsive with each sip. You feel bloated and gross, and you still have over two liters left. Ugh.
Oh, another word to the wise. Invest in some baby wipes or flushable adult wipes for your butt, because if you don’t, I don’t care what hoity toity brand of TP you buy, you will be cursing it by the time the night is over. Some A+D Ointment isn’t a bad idea either. (It’s for babies — pretend you have one when you are walking down that aisle at the grocery store).
You wearily return to the foul liquid and tick off each glass as it goes down. After two and a half liters I stopped trying to work on the computer and surrendered myself to mindless TV for the rest of the night. This helped, as I could sip without thinking about it so much. By this time if you are lucky, your bowels are pretty much clear, but they are adamant in the instructions that you need to complete the entire prep (bold, italics and underlined on the sheet — I think they mean it).
The next day when I was at the center I asked the nurse about the solution. “What was that stuff anyway?” “Propylene glycol,” she said. “It brings all the water into the bowels.” Ahhh. That explains the phenomenon of peeing through your ass which happens next, which feels so wrong on so many levels and I was not prepared for. WTF!? was all I could think as I made my way through liters three and four.
Finally, finally, after one episode of Undercover Boss, one 30 Rock, three The Office’s, and the tail end of something called The Vanilla Ice Project, the last drop of the cursed liquid was down. It took me six hours.
After this I tried to drink a cup of chicken broth, because I have a history of nausea with the sedative that they use, a nice little cocktail of Versed and Fentanyl, and the doctor’s office had advised me to try and drink other liquids besides the prep solution to keep me from getting too dehydrated. Yeah, right. At this point I felt I never wanted to drink anything again I was so sick of sipping through that stupid little straw. I managed about a half a mug and gave up. To bed.
The procedure itself, well, I was asleep for most of it. When it was my turn they wheeled my gurney and IV drip into the procedure room and had me lay on my side with my upper body propped on a pillow. I could see a monitor with green and red lines pulsing across the screen hypnotically. I figured the green one was heart rate, but what was the red one? The last thing I remember is asking the nurse what it was and hearing something about oxygen consumption, and then I started to feel woozy. “Did you start the sedative drip?” “Yes,” was the reply, from far, far away. Night night.
When I came to, I felt pretty much okay. They ended up giving me an anti-nausea med in my IV so no problems there. My husband was there to pick me up and the doctor said they found no polyps, which is very good news. Those are the things that can turn into cancer later on down the line. I am so relieved to have the whole thing over that I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I did it.
“Okay, well everything looks good,” says the nurse. “We’ll see you again in five years.”