I should know better. Every time I chose a guiding word for the year it always turns out to be more of a “be careful what you wish for” situation than a celebration. This year is turning out to be no different. I think maybe I picked “embody” in part because I was ready to move on from some of what I’d been experiencing: being stuck, being tired, feeling disconnected and homesick for myself. In that sense, embody seemed the perfect intention, the best guide, and while it’s been harder than what I’d hoped for, I suppose it’s still the right word, still the most accurate.
The past year was hard on my body. Menopause and a worsening of the arthritis in my hands, limiting my energy and my movement in ways that were super frustrating after the previous two years of burnout, grief & loss, and a global pandemic. I’d also been having digestive issues since May, but thought it was new medication I was taking, but the fourth time it happened, it clearly was something that wasn’t going to go away on its own — and it didn’t, instead required a hospital stay and medication. The new year began with the promise of a colonoscopy and the possibility of surgery, and then I got COVID, which is taking forever to recover from. Seriously?!
I’ve learned a few things worth sharing. In particular about colonoscopy prep but also about health issues in general and the things that have helped me navigate them. So often, especially with things related to menopause and digestion (i.e. poop), we are embarrassed or even ashamed to talk about them, anything to do with blood or waste we avoid as topics of conversation, especially in public. I get it. I don’t really want to talk about it either, and yet, not talking about it makes each person who has the experience (and it’s a lot of people having them) feel unnecessarily alone, confused, and unprepared.
What I can tell you about getting a colonoscopy:
(This is specifically in relation to prep using polyethylene glycol 3350 and electrolytes oral solution — GoLytely, Colyte, NuLytely, TriLyte, etc.)
- Don’t avoid it. They say “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” for a reason. It’s easier to stop something from happening in the first place than to repair the damage after it has happened, if the damage can even be repaired. Colon cancer numbers in people under 50 are rising. While we are on the subject of preventative health screenings: if you can (because access and affordability of these things isn’t equally available to all), if you can, have a primary care physician who knows your history and can be your advocate, get a yearly physical with bloodwork, get your teeth cleaned and checked every six months, go to the dermatologist once a year and have them check your various moles and bumps, and women please please please keep up with your pap smears and mammograms.
- Drink your prep with a straw, suck on a hard candy or cough drop in between cups. My prep required me to drink 13 cups of gluck (I know that’s not a real word but it’s the right one in this case) in the span of two hours, and another six cups the next morning. The taste wasn’t so bad, because it came with a pack of lemon flavoring and I was allowed to add Crystal Light lemonade powder to the mix, but the consistency in combination with the flavor got to me. Straws and something to suck on in between to get the taste out of my mouth really helped.
- Stay hydrated. The prep’s job is to suck all the water, etc., out and expel it from your body until you are left with nothing. To not feel extra and unnecessary discomfort requires replacing the liquid lost. I made sure to have Gatorade and Vitamin Water and tea on hand and to drink it throughout the day to stay hydrated. I’m convinced this kept me from getting the nausea and stomach pain that is a potential side effect.
- Have wipes and A&D ointment. And use them from the very beginning. If you wait until you need them, it will be too late and you’ll experience unnecessary additional discomfort. The best scenario would be to also have a bidet.
- Try to stay off social media and out of the kitchen. I never realized how many posts and ads there were in my feeds related to food. Since I was fasting, on a liquid diet and so hungry, seeing these or spending too much time in my kitchen just made things harder.
- Distract yourself the day of your prep. Keep busy, whatever that looks like for you. For me it was walking the dog, doing laundry, watering my plants, getting all my supplies and spaces ready, listening to podcasts and watching TV, taking a nap.
- If you can, take the day of prep and the day of the procedure off. Build this necessary down time in to your schedule, whatever that might look like for you. Try not to be responsible for anything other than taking care of yourself. And again, I acknowledge that to do so is a privilege not everyone has. Whatever it looks like, just be so so gentle with yourself.
- Schedule your procedure for a time of day where you will have already been awake for six hours. This is because drinking the prep solution and the aftermath happens in two parts — the evening before and six hours before your procedure. This means if you have a morning appointment, you will have to wake up in the middle of the night to complete the second step, and I’ve heard regrets from people who’ve done it that way. That said, I can see that for some people getting the whole thing over with sooner rather than later might be their preference.
- Plan to be near your bathroom. When your body starts evacuating, it happens hard and fast. You don’t want to be far from your facilities. I made up the futon in my practice room to sleep on rather than the couch or even our bed because it’s directly across from our bathroom and I wouldn’t be disturbing anyone else getting up so often. I’ve even known people who’ve made themselves a bed on the bathroom floor to be closer. Just know you will have a few hours of making many and frequent trips, so plan accordingly.
- Cultivating mindfulness practices is helpful. My experience with meditation, breath work, and mantra was such a help to me. This was true during my recent hospital stay as well. Essentially these practices helped me to stay calm and present with myself, to work with any discomfort or chaos, to know when to ask for help and be able to do so. These things are already stressful enough, so anything you can do to mitigate the stress, to keep from generating more suffering is worth trying.
- Have a colonoscopy buddy. Okay, I didn’t and wouldn’t plan this but a friend just so happened to be doing prep for her own procedure at the same time. It was nice to be able to message each other, to be connected to that support, to be able to share in the misery. I was also lucky enough to have a person “in house” to take care of me, again another privilege not everyone has.
- Plan for a lighter, easier to digest meal after your procedure. Plan to take it easy on your system for the next few days. It’s been through a lot and even though as you fast on a liquid diet you might dream of cheese burgers or pizza, your system may not be ready so soon. I ate mashed potatoes, chicken breast, green beans, and a banana for “dessert” that night and it was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. On Tuesday, I’m going to order a pizza and make a cake to celebrate, to honor all I’ve been through the past few months, and then I’ll go back to focusing on eating lots of fiber and veggies.
If this is something you are scheduled to do, may these tips be helpful. May you experience as little discomfort as possible, get good results, and recover quickly. If you have any hints to add, tips or things to avoid, kind and gentle reader, please share, leave a comment. May we all be safe, healthy, happy, and well, whatever our circumstances.