Let's talk about the most favorite topic of every 50-year-old... That's right, colonoscopy!
My doctor gave me a couple of years of squirm room due to my back. That in and of itself had me a little squeamish and worried. When the hammer was finally lowered and I was directed to Nike-like "Do it now," the first few plus-50- and 60-year-olds I talked to scared the living daylights out of me. Then two very trusted and close friends told me, verbatim, "Piece of cake! Don't worry about it! You'll be fine!"
Thus began my own pipe-cleaning adventure!
I'm sharing this experience not with the intent of filling any TMI quotas but with hope what I've learned may help others facing their own plumbing services fears and preparation.
I fast every month not only for religious beliefs but also because I believe it's healthy to flush the body on a regular basis. We clean the outside of our bodies, just like we clean the outside of our cars. It only makes sense to clean the insides once in a while, too. (NOTE TO SELF: When's the last time you vacuumed your car?!? It's probably time again. I think I still see traces of the last trip to Moab on the carpet, even though such red dirt brings back many wonderful memories and inspires future dreams...)
Because fasting is fairly easy for me, I didn't think that part of the preparation would be difficult at all. I planned to start the clear liquid diet a day early to assist with the pipe flushing because others I'd talked to insisted the actual flushing is the most unpleasant part of the entire experience.
The day before my two-day liquid diet began, I ate only things I know I can digest and process easily. Homemade almond hazelnut milk in the morning (normal for me almost every day), and two boiled eggs and Cream of Wheat for lunch after a rigorous and muddy mountain bike ride. I'd planned to skip dinner because I didn't think I'd need it, but the pedaling changed all that. My body demanded a bit more attention, so for dinner I devoured whole wheat and quinoa pasta with tomato basil sauce and no cheese. The eggs I had after my ride were the only dairy products I consumed for three whole days and 10 waking hours Procedure Day until after the Dirty Deed Not Done Dirt Cheap.
In advance, I bought three different varieties of no-sugar-added, no-high-fructose-corn-syrup juice to provide plenty of flavor (and nutrition) options during my two days of fluid. Apple, peach mango and white cranberry apple all tasted wonderful for about the first 24 hours. Because Day One was my own thing and not part of the official plan, I thought a non-clear fluid might be beneficial and nutritious. I'd been wanting to try a green veggie drink, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I deliberately selected one with lime because limeade was on the allowed list and I couldn't find a commercial limeade without too much sugar. Just reading the word lime gave me cravings.
The drink I chose contained the juices of celery, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, kale and parsley. Along with some lime. No artificial anything, and no preservatives. Perfectly healthy, right?
My first sip was a bit of a shock, thanks to the kale's bitterness. After just one sip, I thought I'd never do such a concoction again, so I quickly took another sizeable gulp, knowing if I didn't down this stuff pretty quick, the remainder would be wasted.
The second gulp didn't seem so bad, and by the third sip, I thought I could tolerate this if I ever have to do another liquid diet. My goal was the nutritional value without clogging up the pipes, and I think the juice served that goal very well. Did you know this stuff has only 35 calories?!?
I did think after drinking about half the bottle something seemed to be missing. I finally decided the drink was nothing more than a glorified liquefied salad without dressing, and the dressing and spices were what was missing. So, if I ever do the green stuff again, I'll probably infuse a bit of fresh garlic and/or basil or perhaps even rosemary just to make the drink more palatable for me.
In retrospect, though, next time I get a craving for limeade, I'll just make my own!
I can't promise I will ever make my own spinach/kale/cucumber shake, but we'll see. Perhaps I'll have another craving somewhere down the road. For now, I prefer the texture of an unliquified salad.
By the middle of Day Two of the all-liquid diet and a full day of nothing but clear liquids, I was so sick of the sweetness of unsweetened apple juice, I didn't think I'd ever touch apple juice again as long as I live. I wasn't overly hungry, but I was starved for something not sweet.
The Lizard took me to the grocery store to pick up a small carton of clear chicken broth, also on the allowed list. That fulfilled my tastebud's needs, but in retrospect, it needed a bit of salt. When I have to do this again, I will make sure I have some clear broth on the shelf so we don't have to make any special trips.
I also spent both days of liquid drinking plenty of plain old water and a few cups of warm herbal tea, my favorites being lavender and chamomile before bed and peppermint whenever I couldn't take the flavor of apple juice anymore.
At the end of Day Two, it was time for the official pipe cleaner, the $42 prescription most people abhor. (They were right!)
Before the procedure, I thought drinking 48 hours of fluid in one hour was the most difficult part of the entire experience. Now, days later, looking back, it's the second-most difficult segment, but I'm trying not to get ahead of myself here.
If I have to do this again in the future, I will avoid all fluids for about two hours before that first wash because I just didn't have room in my tummy for all that water!!! I felt like a walking, slushing, splashing swimming pool. That was miserable!
The prescription warns you may feel bloated (No kidding!) or nauseated at first, and I found that to be exceptionally true. Once the fluid began doing its job, the nausea faded, and everything went smoothly. Everything. Hopefully that will be as gross as I get with this diatribe.
I think the extra day of fluid aided in the comfort and quickness of the preparation. Except for drinking all that fluid at one time, this part really was easy and not a big deal.
I do have one word of warning for anyone wondering what they can do to make this process easier for themselves - chafe. Take all precautions. In advance.
Anyone who knows me knows I'm a bit of a rebel who likes to challenge myself and overcome odds. Yet this next stop probably involves a degree of selfishness on my part. I didn't want to lose more than a day of vacation to medical tests, so I carefully stacked all the annual stuff I could into one day.
5 a.m. - Wake and Take. Liquid Horror, The Sequel. Better because I hadn't consumed anything all night long, but still a pain in the tummy and still the second-most difficult segment of the entire process.
7 a.m. - Done. Yes, prescrip took only two hours this time around. Truly a breeze.
8 a.m. - Leave early for blood sugar draw because roads are icy and snow-packed. Get there early because roads beyond neighborhood have been plowed. Wait. Wait. Wait.
9 a.m. - Vampire Treat. Could have been a piece of cake, but I'd just donated blood five days earlier (with a rougher, tougher vampire), and the easiest vein to access was still tender (READ: bruised). Nevertheless, done in less than two minutes. Results in a week or so.
9:30 a.m. - Bone Zapper. Baby crying endlessly in next room. Heart deeply saddened. Other patients eating wonderful-smelling bagels and cinnamon rolls in waiting room. Another patient shares my first name, and both of us jump every time name is called. Finally, it's my turn, and actual procedure takes about ten minutes. Results in about a week.
10 a.m. - Lemon Squeezer. My mom and I make jokes about this exercise in preparation for our individual annual adventures. We tease my dad and my husband that we have to train by laying on the garage floor and having them drive back and forth over the top of our womanhood. This procedure is never fun, no matter what, but necessary due to family and personal history. Not one, not two, but three more lemon seeds are discovered; another dose of making lemonade is required. Owie. Referring physician to be faxed results within 24 hours.
11 a.m. - Bonus Points. Home for a nap. Completely unexpected. Best part of the day.
1:30 p.m. - Pipe Inspection. I'm nervous, but I get to eat after this is done. Grin and bear it. Bare it. Nose plugged. Vein tapped. Vitals checked. Nighty night. Wheel me out. "We're done?!?" "Yes, you're all done!" Return all taps. Debriefing. Results in about a week, BUT, lookie! Photos to show you what your pipes look like on the inside! Just like highway tunnel cam! Debare it. Take a ride in a four-wheeled chair. Go to nice restaurant for salad and inhale. Enjoy.Every.Single.Bite.
Next Day - Wake. Come on, you can do it. Wake. Wake! ...um... WAKE UP! Can't move. Can't bend. Can eat. Whoa! CAN eat! Robotically dress. Very slowly dress. Do I really have to brush my hair??? Back to work. Can I stay home? Please? Move very, very slowly. Return to normal. Boohoo. This is normal???
That Night - Call Doctor. "Bloating, distention and back pain are normal. You're doing just fine. Pipe Circulation may take another day."
Next Morning - Nurse Calls. "I'm fine. Not 100%, but much better than yesterday." "Call us if you aren't 100% tomorrow. Or if you have a fever, experience nausea, still have pain or if vomiting commences."
Next Day - No Follow-up Required. Whew! Done with Pipe Cleaning for TEN MORE YEARS!!! (We think...)
Moral of the Story: I understand now why they gave me a couple of years of leeway. The most difficult part of this entire procedure was the day after. I did not want to wake up the next morning; I was so stiff, I almost could not move, and stretching did not help at all. I felt extremely bloated and assumed I was constipated. As the day wore on, bruise-type pain in my lower back, right around my kidney, became so acute, I ended up calling the on-call doctor to make sure everything was okay. (Actually, The Lizard and I both were scared to death something was wrong.) I felt as though I'd been karate kicked in the kidney.
I thought we'd have to make another run to the grocery store for some non-prescrip laxative. But the true difficulty was the opposite. All my body's natural bacteria had been eliminated. The pipes were too clean to do their job! The on-call doctor explained it could take a couple of days for things to get back to normal.
I realized that's exactly why I eat yogurt with live cultures - to internally bring everything back in line. I've toyed a tiny bit with making my own homemade yogurt using the okara from my own homemade almond milk, soy milk and hazelnut milk and have not achieved the perfect recipe yet, but I do have fresh probiotic on hand. One pill and three cups of warm herbal tea later, and everything was falling back into alignment.
I don't know if the pain and stiffness I experienced was caused by arthritis, my standard back issues or were just a normal aftereffect of such a procedure, or a combination of all three. The on-call doctor and the registered nurse who followed up the next morning both believed the bruised feeling I was experiencing was due to being blown up like a balloon for the actual procedure.
After my bike wreck in 2012, I learned back pain can lead to constipation, and constipation can lead to back pain. These devils are symbiotic and feed off each other. Perhaps distention enjoys a leading role in that fierce tug of war, too.
I didn't know what the word distention meant, so I looked it up. It's most often caused by overeating. So in this case, I suppose it was caused by overdrinking or over-inflating. A necessary evil one must face in the name of prevention.
I do feel a degree of satisfaction now in surviving my stacked day. I don't know if I will do that again in ten years or if I will spread things out a bit. I don't even know if I'll be employed and/or concerned about vacation time then!
I can tell you, though, how good it feels to be done with all of it. To have triumphed in the face of too much sterile in one day. To not have to worry about my colon again until 2025. It's not quite the same thrill as finishing a quilt, climbing a mountain or cycling up a mountain pass. But the achievement feels satisfying, empowering, refreshing and liberating, and perhaps next time, I won't be so afraid.