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What to Know Before You Get a Colonoscopy
I happened to get three different messages in the past week asking about getting colonoscopies! And since I’m no stranger to Googling “What to know before you get a colonoscopy,” I figured I’d share my own experiences. You’ll either have absolutely no interest in this, or you’re one of the three people who will find it helpful! Either way, here goes…
Most people get their first colonoscopies when they turn 50.
Well by the time I turned 30, I had already had three. Now I’m 31, and I’ve had four. Thanks to a lifetime with Crohn’s disease, I’ve endured my fair share of slightly invasive — but mostly painless — procedures.
I’m no doctor and I don’t play one on TV, but I’ve learned a few things about colonoscopies over the years. Namely that they’re no big deal. Katie Couric got one on live TV! The worst part is the prep, and there are ways you can make that manageable, too. Here are a few colonoscopy-related tips, tricks, and takeaways from your friendly neighborhood Crohn’s girl…
1. Ask your doctor if you can do a Miralax prep.
In order to have an effective colonoscopy, your insides need to be emptied out. That means pumping your body with some kind of laxative so your GI tract will be fully visible to the doctor during the procedure. In other words, you need to poop everything out.
There are a few different ways to prep for a colonoscopy — and the prep is tougher than the procedure. The worst prep, in my experience, was when I had to drink a gallon of clear liquid called “Golytely” (yes, pronounced like “go lightly,” which is, well, ironic). When I did that, I made it through one measly glass before I was miserable, complaining, and shivering (I got really bad chills that time). If you’re good at chugging liquids, the prep in general will be easy for you. But I’m not, so the prep is always tough for me.
With a Miralax prep, you do some variation of mixing a bunch of Miralax (a powdered laxative) into a drink of your choice (it can’t be red or purple and it can’t be alcoholic, sorry) and drink the amount prescribed by your doctor. Sometimes the doctor will tell you to drink a certain amount early in the evening and then more in the middle of the night, but I never actually do that.
Because theoretically, once what you’re doing in the bathroom is coming out clear — and it will eventually just start coming out as a clear liquid — you’re probably good to go. I’ve never actually finished an entire prep. I won’t call this advice because doctors will say, “No, you have to drink it all to make sure you’re fully cleared out because if you’re not, we’ll have to re-do the entire procedure!” But historically for me, once I have a few clear episodes in the bathroom, I know I’ve had enough to drink.
2. But before you start prepping, stop eating.
Let’s say your colonoscopy is on a Tuesday morning. So you’ll be told to eat dinner Sunday night, fast (or follow a clear liquid diet) all day Monday, and then start your prep sometime Monday evening. One thing that’s made the prep even easier for me is to actually eat very little on Sunday as well. The less that’s in your body by Monday night, the less you have to expel. Try to eat light, easily digestible meals in the days leading up to the prep so it’s not so intense trying to clear everything out.
3. Get really soft toilet paper or baby wipes for while you’re prepping.
4. Don’t be too far from the bathroom.
Once you start going, you’ll be going a lot, and fairly urgently. You’re not going to want to run to the store or to meet up with friends. Stay put and get caught up on your Netflix queue.
5. You might feel really full and bloated.
All that liquid, man. It’s emptying you out, but it’ll fill you up in the process. I never sleep well the night before a colonoscopy because my stomach feels so weird and, quite honestly, I’m afraid I’m going to make a run for the bathroom while I’m sleeping somehow. Or, you know, not make it. (But that’s never actually been a problem, promise!) Colonoscopies are probably the sexiest procedures.
6. The actual procedure is easy!
I always ask for as much anesthesia as possible. I like to be fully knocked out. I know some people want to be awake to watch or whatever, but those people are surely insane. I love getting anesthesia. I love those last few seconds after “taking a deep breath in” and then trying to count back from 100 and only making it to 99. I love that dark nap, and I love feeling silly and giggly right before I pass out. If I could get anesthesia or laughing gas at home, I would inhale it every single day. (Is that a thing?)
Before you fall asleep, the doctor will have you turn onto your side, and the next thing you know, you’ll be in recovery! Apparently during my last colonoscopy, I asked Dr. Bosworth why he wanted to “be a butt doctor,” and also convinced myself I was getting a colonoscopy because I had colon cancer. But other than that, it’s a pretty good, non-embarrassing time.
Oh, and it won’t hurt. Your bum will not be sore after the procedure. At least mine never has been!
7. But you might feel weird in recovery.
I got my first few colonoscopies during Crohn’s flares, so I was doing the urgent bathroom thing long before I started prepping for my procedure. During the colonoscopy, the doctor pumps air into your colon, so afterward it’s natural to feel really gassy. Well in my doped up state, I was convinced I was “pooping on the table.” The doctors and nurses kept telling me that no, actually, I wasn’t. It was probably just gas, if anything, but I was absolutely convinced that I needed to take myself to the bathroom. I was too drugged to be able to do that, so they gave me a bed pan and I fell asleep next to it, never needing it at all.
There was also the time I was being wheeled from the procedure room to recovery and I was screaming, “They see me rollin’, they hatin'” the entire way. Like an asshole. Brian said it was funny, though.
After my most recent procedure, I only felt doped up for a few minutes once I woke up in recovery, and then I was totally coherent and felt fine and wasn’t bloated or anything. I even went to the I Heart Radio concert at Madison Square Garden that night…though I left before the main acts because I was a tired adult.
8. It’s not a big deal and it shouldn’t feel scary or intimidating.
Is it pleasant? Not really. But colonoscopies are super important for your health, whether you have an inflammatory bowel disease or you’re a certain age or you’ve been feeling sick and aren’t sure why so your doctor suggested getting one. It really is the best way for your doctor to get a good look inside your intestines. So suck it up, buttercup, and start drinking the non-red Kool-Aid or Gatorade or apple juice (which is my go-to prep juice).
P.S. YOU GOT THIS.
ANY TIPS OR TRICKS YOU’D LIKE TO ADD? OR ANY QUESTIONS?