I am proud to say that I recently had my first colonoscopy. Although I’m 43 – and thus, seven years away from the age when colonoscopies are first recommended – there is a history of rogue colon cells in my family. And, my college roommate was recently diagnosed and underwent treatment for stage-2 colon cancer. I felt like I had gotten enough hints from the universe that it was time for me to follow the advice of my mother’s doctors and come in to get a baseline for colon health.
I know that a colonoscopy falls pretty low on the spectrum of medical procedures in terms of risk and invasiveness. And yet…
I found it to be a lot more trying than I had anticipated. Some of that was my fault (more on that in a minute). And some of that came from my attitude of, “How bad could it be? Katie Couric had one while hosting the Today Show!”
I came away wishing I had had more of a guide through the process. Here then, are some strategies I learned along that way that I hope will help you sail through your first colonoscopy. Your doctor may recommend a slightly different prep routine, but you get the gist!
My top 4 colonoscopy tips:
1. Set an alarm for the morning before
The brochure my GI doc provided me about the prep for the test clearly outlined that I shouldn’t eat anything solid for a full 24 hours before the test, and nothing with nuts and seeds for five days before.
I woke up that day before, went downstairs, and had a bowl of granola. With nuts and seeds. Oops.
Take it from me – you want to set an alarm for first thing that morning to remind yourself not to eat, because if you’re anything like me, your morning routine is pretty much on autopilot. Or, put a post-it on your refrigerator the night before.
I called the office and confessed. They said I could simply drink an extra bottle of magnesium citrate and would still be cleared to have the procedure the next day. But trust me on this one, you do not want to have to drink any more of that stuff than is absolutely necessary. Please, learn from my mistake on this one.
2. Make your prep more palatable
Speaking of drinking magnesium citrate, refrigerating it and then drinking it over ice makes it a lot easier to swallow (literally). I got the lemon flavor – it tasted like salty Sprite.
3. Stay in the moment
It was while lying on the gurney in my hospital gown that I learned for the first time that I would need an IV during the procedure. I have a strong aversion to needles, and as the nurse inserted it, I watched my blood pressure go up 40 points on the monitor. At that instant, I started using a simple breathing technique that helps you focus on each individual moment instead of whatever alarms may be going off in your brain.
It’s as simple as this: inhale, exhale, pause. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
4. Clear your calendar for the day of your procedure
My procedure was over by 9:30 a.m. and I was home by 10:30. I thought I could lie on the couch and catch up on some work. But I was definitely tired (from waking up a few times during the night to use the potty) and loopy (from the anesthesia). I really couldn’t even read anything thought-provoking. As evidence, when I did get up at the end of the day to get dressed to pick my daughter up at school, I put mascara on my eyebrow. You’ll want to make arrangements for that entire day, so that you won’t need to use any mental power.
Have you had a colonoscopy and have other strategies to share? Let’s amass as much in-the-trenches wisdom here as we can for those who come after us!