The Colonoscopy, Part One: Prep and Cleanse

Submitted by Miss Danielle on Wed, 02/10/2010 - 8:38am.

There's a lot of information online about what happens during a colonoscopy, but what I wanted to find - before I had mine - was a personal account. I never found one, and I believe it would have helped me prepare for it better. So here I am, sharing my own experience just in case it helps other people.

The first step was a group meeting at the doctor's office where 7 or 8 people attended an information session. My doctor does this to cut down on waiting times. People were still given the option to book a one-on-one meeting with the doctor, but it would mean delaying their procedure another two or three weeks. I thought this was a great idea. Not only did it mean I could have the procedure earlier, but it provided me with people I could share nervous smiles with. Plus, some people thought of questions to ask that hadn't even struck me as relevant (like certain medications/supplements we should avoid).

We all filled out our paperwork, took our information sheets home, and were left to our next assignment: find the laxative and "bowel purgative" needed before the procedure. In my case, the laxative was Dulcolax, and the purgative was a powder called Pico-Salax (or Picolax as it's known elsewhere). You have to ask the pharmacist for it, but you don't need a perscription (at least not in Canada).

My procedure was for Monday morning. Sunday was to be spent consuming clear or yellow liquids - lemon jello, ginger ale, apple juice, turkey broth and water.

Tip one: have something you like. I hated the lemon jello, and decided to make my own with gelatin and apple juice.

Tip two: have your fridge stocked with everything you need (and extra!) the night before you start the fast. Make the jello. Have the broth in the fridge and defrosted. Get plenty of liquids. Which leads me to the next tip...

Tip three: when they say drink lots of fluids, they mean it. I thought I'd had enough - I certainly was drinking more than I usually do - but I was incorrect. It would have probably saved me from some of what came later. So drink, drink, drink.

Tip four: believe them when they tell you make sure you are home with nothing to do once you take the laxative and purgative. It doesn't kick in right away, but when it does, look out. Make yourself comfy on the couch or bed: whichever is closer to the bathroom.

The Pico-Salax wasn't too hard to drink. I can be a bit of a baby about such things, so I was relieved it wasn't a thick consistency and that the artificial orange flavour - while not delicious - didn't turn my stomach.

If I remember correctly, I took the laxative and the first pouch of Pico-Salax (disolved in water) at about 5 pm on Sunday. I didn't feel any effects until 10 pm. And it just suddenly happens.

My mother, who doesn't have any food intolerances or serious bowel/digestive problems, had said the purging process for her was intense but there was no cramping. I should also point out my mother is never seen without a glass of water close by; she drinks water all day long, and drank 3 large cans of apple juice on top of her usual water cosumption the night before her colonoscopy.

Throughout the day, I had gotten through 1 large can of apple juice (not counting the jello), one or two glasses of ginger ale, and maybe a litre of water before I fell asleep on the couch.

When I woke up at 10 pm, I went straight for the bathroom. And fast.

As someone who has slow bowel movements, this was like a science fiction event. I didn't know the human body was capable of expelling waste so forcefully, and in such great amounts of liquid! The closest I can compare it to was when I had campylobactor from a trip to India.

After the first bathroom visit, I was extremely dehydrated. I couldn't believe how thirsty I was. And weak. I had enough time to stumble back to the couch, down several gulps of water, and then race back to the bathroom. The second purge was just as forceful.

This went on for over an hour and a half, and I slept ("passed out" is more accurate) in 10 minute intervals between visits to the bathroom.

I wished I'd had more broth (5 bowls instead of 2) and juice earlier in the day. It certainly might have saved me some of the nausea and dizziness.

Tip five: have a cold damp towel ready. If you end up being dehydrated like me, the towel on your forehead or neck is a saviour.

By midnight, the visits to the bathroom had become less dramatic. Unlike my mother, I had a lot of cramping and was grateful when sleep came between 2 am to 5 am, when I had to get up to take the second packet of Pico-Salax.

I thought the procedure itself was going to be the hard part. I was so mistaken. Having a sensitive digestive system makes the cleanse more intense (my brother, who has Crohns, had a similar experience to mine).

The actual procedure was a breeze; a little strange and stressful, but much easier than the cleansing. I'll talk about that in the next post.


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