Thankful Thursday: Colonoscopies … Really, They’re Not So Bad
Posted Jul 11 2013 8:05am
I’m not very consistent with my “Thankful Thursday” posts, but this is one I really want to share.
This week, I am thankful for my GI care team and for medical tests, like colonoscopies, that keep a watchful eye on my ulcerative colitis and ensure I stay healthy …. and in remission.
Ahh, not what you were expecting, right?
I get it. No one likes to talk about colonoscopies. Or about poop and bowel issues in general, unless you’re a 6-year-old boy. Just like you may not talk about how much money you make or what size clothes you wear, talking about gastrointestinal issues — including getting a colonoscopy — isn’t really seen as “polite” conversation. Most of us are embarrassed by it.
Or at least that’s how I used to be. Pre-ulcerative colitis, pre-kids, that is. But today, bowel habits have become one of the most popular topics at our house, much to Dr. G’s chagrin. However, I’m now completely unfazed by it.
But ten years ago, when my doctor needed to confirm my ulcerative colitis diagnosis and they called for a colonoscopy, this is what I was thinking at the time:
Not only do I have to survive on a liquid diet for 24 hours, but then I literally have to drink a liter’s worth of a laxative that is thick like sea water and tastes just as bad? And then live in the bathroom for the rest of the day?
And, seriously, you’re gonna stick what where? No way, no how.
Yet now, when I consider the alternatives, 24 hours of feeling uncomfortable is a small price to pay to make sure my disease is behaving itself and there isn’t any funny business going on … namely, polyps that could potentially turn cancerous.
On Monday, I had my fourth colonoscopy in ten years as part of this routine surveillance of my disease. One of the nurses called me a “frequent flyer.” But that doesn’t mean it gets any easier. Or more pleasant.
Because part of my initial fear is true: the cleansing prep (which is done a day in advance) really is the worst part. But there are ways to make it tolerable and manageable. And remember that the actual colonoscopy itself isn’t so bad; you’re given a mild sedative that puts you in a happy twilight place, so you don’t feel a thing. I kind of drifted in and out during my procedure on Monday, and apparently I told one of the nurses (an attractive male, no less) I was “making a grocery list.”
Um, okay. Wonder what else I said?
So here are some of the tricks I’ve learned over the years to get through a colonoscopy prep:
Stock up on all the essentials ahead of time: broth, popsicles (not red), apple juice, Gatorade (no fruit punch), etc. Ask if you can have yogurt; I was surprised this time around to learn I could eat plain yogurt (no pieces or chunks), so I ended up inhaling three Greek yogurts that day. The protein definitely helped with some of the hunger.
Keep busy when you’re fasting (but before you start the actual prep) so you’re not fixated on your hunger. On Sunday morning, Dr. G. and I took the kiddos to the beach. This actually worked out really well, because not only was I totally distracted by having to keep an eye on the kids, but since it was so warm, I wasn’t really hungry and all I wanted was to drink water.
Ask your doctor about a split-dose prep. This was my first time using the HalfLytely solution, and instead of downing a vast amount of icky liquid all in one sitting (which tends to make most people sick), you drink one half at night and one half early the next morning. It also comes with different flavor packs. I picked the cherry, and although it didn’t completely mask the flavor, it made it bearable, which is about all you can ask.
Drink the prep solution cold and in a tall glass with a straw, so you can down it quickly. Hold your nose when you swallow, if you have to. Pretending you’re back in college doing shots of things like Yaegermeister or Goldschlager helps, too
Find something enjoyable to do during the prep. I left Dr. G. in charge of the kiddos for the night and set up shop in our room with my HalfLytely, two new magazines and two movies from Redbox (“Safe Haven” and “This is 40” … two movies I knew Dr. G. would have no desire to see).
I finished around 10pm and set my alarm for 5am, and headed downstairs, where I proceeded to finish dose #2 while watching four straight episodes of “House Hunters” – although I had to pause it, like, every five minutes.
The procedure itself went fine and I should have my official results next week, although my doctor didn’t think there was any cause for concern.
The best part? I’m done for another four years! Hurrah!
Some parting thoughts ….
I know many of us are taught from a young age that “potty talk” isn’t appropriate, but having a colonoscopy, GI condition or even something like your run-of-the-mill stomach distress is nothing to be embarrassed about. Maybe if more of us were willing to talk about it, more people would get a colonoscopy or discuss their tummy woes with their doctor, rather than just blowing it off or vaguely declaring, “Oh, I have IBS,” without ever getting a proper diagnosis.
And seriously, if you need to have a colonoscopy, don’t let the prep scare you off. It’s not pleasant, but really – are there any fun medical tests? Just remember this: colonoscopies are the main screening tool for colorectal cancer (the third most common cancer in the U.S.) and can identify and diagnose it early, when treatment works best. This test can save lives, plain and simple.