By: Sarah Blahovec
Coming up on my third colonoscopy, I am reminded that there is a stigma for medical issues of the colon. Before my very first colonoscopy when I was 15, I was laughed at by an acquaintance for saying that I would be getting a colonoscopy, as there is a certain shame that permeates the digestive system and the idea of a colonoscopy, especially for young people who are not typically expected to need such a procedure. After all, isn't it amusing to get a camera on a hose shoved up your butt after swallowing laxatives for a day? Through the years, I realized that although this procedure is vital, talk surrounding it is delicate because of disgust, as well as fear: fear of the prep, the procedure, and especially fear that someone might know that, *gasp*, you have a colon! In my attempt to break this stigma and make the colonoscopy seem like an approachable subject, I have decided to journal my road to the scope.
It's the night before the last day before fast/prep day, an odd place to start recording my journey to the scope, but I have been dreading this week since mid-December, and I only came up with the idea of a colonoscopy journal five minutes ago. Despite the fact that I have been feeling sick with Crohn's symptoms for a few days and I don't have a great love of food right now, I made a complicated dinner and dessert today, knowing that cranky, craving-wracked, "prep day me" would punch "current me" in the teeth for passing on the opportunity to eat. But was it really wise to bake those three dozen cookies less than 48 hours before a medical fast? As I fall asleep tonight, my mind will be occupied with determining how many chocolate or cheese products I can consume in the next 24 hours without throwing up, or in the case of cheese, without causing severe constipation that will thwart the efforts of the Miralax currently sitting on my table, its bright purple logo haunting me with thoughts of what will, quite literally, come to pass.
Today starts the last day of food, and sitting at my desk, I wonder how I will survive tomorrow's workday sans nourishment. Seeing as I suffered vertigo and nausea for an hour on Monday because I didn't bring enough to eat, I'm wondering how my body will respond to a day and a half of no food. People always tell you that prep is the worst part of a scope, but I am much more bothered by not eating. This is coming from someone who once spent three months only drinking Ensure, but also someone who irrationally yelled at her brother for bringing a cheeseburger into her hospital room when she was nearly-but-not-quite cleared for eating after a surgery; in the former case, I knew I wasn't able to "eat" for a long time, but when the anticipation of food exists, whether it be after surgery or a day and a half fast, it's harder to block out that you will be able to eat again soon.
I pretty much stuffed my face from the time I got home until midnight, as if this was going to make me less hungry for the next two days. I figure I might as well indulge in gluttony tonight, because it's not like these extra calories are going to stay in my body for long when facing the powerful three-laxative cocktail. After a breakfast of two pieces of white toast in the morning, the fast will begin.
For the fasting part of the day, my mood was a mix of hostility towards those with the privilege of eating and lethargy from not having any calories to burn. The actual trial of colonoscopy prep didn't start until 6 PM. People always say prep day is the worst for the obvious your-intestines-are-exploding-so-hurry-off-to-the-bathroom reason, but I find that there are a number of other factors that might actually be worse:
1. It is impossible to avoid nausea when you are chugging a grainy mixture of Miralax and Gatorade every fifteen minutes for two hours, and by the end of that time period, your face will be as green as the Lemon-Lime flavored beverage you can only hope will never haunt your palette again.
2. If you care about hygiene, you are washing your hands as often as you are running to the bathroom, so your skin will probably dissolve by 8 PM.
3. Running to the bathroom means almost constant interruptions to the Netflix binge that is keeping you company during this ordeal.
4. If you live with anybody else, that person still has to eat, and no matter how hard you try to understand that, you will still be bitter because your exhausted mind and hungry body are too exhausted and hungry to be reasonable.
5. Your colon doesn't magically shut off at midnight, so good luck with sleeping.
It is 6 AM, and despite the fact that my body has evacuated things I haven't even eaten yet, I still have to guzzle down a bottle of Magnesium Citrate and two glasses of liquids. Magnesium Citrate can only be described as an assault in a bottle. Because it is partially a saline solution, the manufacturer tries to cover the salty taste with an equally strong amount of artificial flavoring. The result is an intensely overpowering grape flavor that makes you feel like your tongue is going to melt. And because you have to take more laxatives five hours before procedure time, guess what happens? Screw getting a few more hours of shut-eye, your colon just received the signal that it needs to continue evacuating despite the fact that if you swallowed a penny and did some jumping jacks, you would probably hear it rattle (and then you would have a terrible intestinal blockage because you swallowed a penny).
Soon, it's time to go in for the procedure. The most worrying thing about going for a colonoscopy is actually the fear that you will need to use the bathroom along the way. Since the Magnesium Citrate kicks in "between ½ and 6 hours after ingestion," it is entirely possible that my digestive system will have a meltdown on the road. Upon arrival and after an hour of waiting, I have registered and changed into the hospital gown, which is of a higher quality of fabric but much more revealing than other hospital gowns I have worn (unfortunately, I have expertise in this subject). Despite being less hydrated than usual due to the digestive Drano I have consumed, the nurse is surprisingly accurate with placing the IV in my tiny, rolling, "K-2 of the circulatory system" veins. Then I'm in the procedure room, and soon out for a nice nap.
The nap is the best sleep of your life, but it ends sooner than you would like.
In reality, once you're out of the procedure room, it takes about a half hour to be out the door and on the road toward the delicious food you've been denied and have dreamed of for two days. The next day or two is filled with a mild punched-in-the-gut feeling and bloating because the procedure requires that you be pumped full of gas. In my balloon-like state, I devoured a plate of waffles and resigned myself to the bed and then the couch with a heating pad, welcoming a day of rest and comfort food.
For many people, a colonoscopy is a scary or taboo procedure because they think anesthesia is frightening and prep is gross. In reality, the prep and procedure involve a number of first-world, minor inconveniences for a painless procedure that we are lucky to have. Colonoscopies can lead to life-saving detection of colorectal cancer, and the procedure plays a vital role in diagnosing inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) and other intestinal disorders. Therefore, screw the taboo, and if it is recommended by your doctor based on your age and medical history, make sure that you are taking advantage of this important procedure!