Lesson #20: Preparing for a Colonoscopy

I was reminded of my intent to write this article by the amusing photo in Lesson #29.  Art as it relates to a colonoscopy; how revolutionary.  ; )

I, just recently, had to undergo a colonoscopy.  Anxious about what was about to happen to me, I found a great deal of information (and misinformation) about the procedure online.  Though slightly personal, I decided to write up this experience to answer any questions a reader may have as they’re about to go through the same.  I imagine, if you’ve come upon this article through a search, you’re about to undergo the procedure for the first time.  Shared below is a list of things I read, mixed with stories of what I went through.

Reoccurring Theme #1: “Preparing for a colonoscopy is the most awful thing you’ll go through in life…”.

Author after author shared wild cautions, pleas for thoughts and prayers, slightly irrational fears and intense anxieties.  These people must live sheltered lives.  I can ensure you, folks, this really isn’t that bad.

The internet had me freaked out!  I found several doomsday stories of how bad the preparation is: anything from “the day before is far worse than anything that happens the day of the actual procedure” (which made me highly concerned, because I knew IV needles are no picnic; I expected the preparation to be pretty painful…) to one writer describing that one will “definitely need the moral support of a friend to get through the preparation – If you can not have a friend immediately with you, make sure you can communicate with them on a cell phone or via internet while in the bathroom for moral support,”.  I was left wondering just what was going to happen to me in the bathroom!?

Well, nothing bad happens in the bathroom at all.  It took about three to four hours for me to start “going” (I was drinking the MoviPrep preparation-solution slowly), and it was not painful, traumatic, bad, scary, or anything the like.  It’s what you’d expect from something of this sort; you drink a whole lot of liquid, the liquid clears your body, a lot of liquid that comes out.  That’s really all there is to say; it’s nothing painful, life-shattering or even upsetting. Rest assured.

Not-so-Helpful Tip #2: The Drinking Solution, Movi-Prep, Can Be Made Better By Adding Flavored Drink Mix

Having read much ado about just how bad the drink mix tastes, I went to four stores looking for Kool-Aid to add to the mix (apparently Kool-Aid packets don’t sell like they used to).  Websites like The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide and Colonoscopy-Preparation.com recommended that I do so.  Before even tasting the Movi-Prep, I poured in some lemon Kool-Aid, thinking I was oh-so-smart and feeling pretty pleased with my lemony concoction.

Well, it was disgusting.  The flavor and consistency of the mix really is terrible.  I read online that I should try to drink with a straw, moving the straw far down my throat to avoid the taste.  This helped a bit, but I found myself choking up the mix and absolutely unable to finish it at the pace supposedly required.

A phone call to the doctor proved incredibly helpful.  The instructions I was provided, asking that I drink a quarter of a very large container every 15 minutes, were mere “guidelines”.  In fact, I could drink the solution slowly, didn’t really need to follow the schedule at all and, as long as the solution was down by a certain time the in morning, I was good.  I highly urge you to talk to your doctor before beginning to see if this slower pace is okay for you, as well.

Also, as a petite female, I was given the same dose a football player would ingest; MoviPrep seems to come in only one size.  I am not recommending this, but I found that I didn’t need to drink the final 25% of the solution.  Consult with your doctor as to just how much you need to drink.

A nurse gave me some additional advice, (too little too late for me, but hopefully helpful to you), about an over-the-counter option far cheaper and easier to ingest.  She rattled off a shopping list of a type of oil, Miralax laxative and liquids that would have done the job.  Next time I’ll know and, if you’ve found me before purchasing your prescription, consult with your doctor about this option.

When on the second batch, I decided to taste the Movi-Prep without the Kool-Aid.  Though it was still gross (the slightest hint of lemon mixed with SALT like you’ve never tasted salt before), the Kool-Aid had, in fact, made it worse.  I also found that the instructions for the Movi-Prep specifically directed that one should “not add sugar, sweetening agents, flavoring agents, or other products”.  (You can read more at Drugs.com).  So… this is, apparently, not a good idea.

I watched the video below and found myself attempting to keep up with this girl.  She is a Rockstar; I’m not sure how she downs the mix so quickly.  (And I must tell you, some text messages to my boyfriend about how “I can’t keep up with the girl in the video while drinking the disgusting stuff” proved to be some very entertaining “that’s what she said” jokes).

Not-so-True Factoid #3: Drinking the Mix is the Worse Than Anything That Happens the Day Of  

Colonoscopy-Preparation.com calls drinking the “Total Bowel Clearing Mixture” the “most dreaded part of the entire colonoscopy preparation process”.  This may be true for many, but was not for me.  I had a strong feeling that the IV would be the worst part and, boy, was I right.  By the time one reaches the surgery center, one is amply dehydrated, having not been allowed to drink liquids for quite some time.  I am petite and have small veins, a fact that has always proven to be a problem for me when it comes to blood tests and IV’s.  Dehydration leaves them even harder to locate.  After struggling for quite some time with one hand, the nurse finally had to dig in to the other.  The original hand was left swollen and amply bruised for weeks.

This was terribly painful and left me quite shaken.  Then, just when I thought the pain was finally over, the Propofol they used to put me to sleep made me feel, as it was administered, like my hand was about to explode.  The burning became quite intense as it made its way up the arm, leading me to panic, again, and having my last memory of consciousness be quite unpleasant.  No one warned me of this ahead of time, and I was left feeling like something had gone wrong.  I understand, now, that this is quite normal.

Some advice I have for getting through the day of:  It is at this point that one should have a friend or family member in with them.  If you’re a baby like me (Yeah – I’ll admit it…), the needle can be a bit intense.  Also, ask the nurse to administer a numbing agent before the IV.  This will, at least, reduce the pain of the larger needle.  My nurse sort of scoffed this off, but I was insistent.  Be insistent.

Beyond that, you remember nothing, wake up with no pain, and head straight out for a meal with your driver.  Recovery is easy – Aside from a terrible tasting liquid and an IV, there’s really nothing to fear.

This is an interactive blog; if anyone reading is about to undergo the procedure and has further questions about my experience, feel free to write or comment.  Best of luck to you, and thanks for reading!