How To Have a Not-Terrible Colonoscopy Prep

And Now for Something Completely Different!  With the recent death of Chadwick Boseman, colonoscopies are on many people’s minds.

Colonoscopies are not something anyone looks forward to.  Once you get over the squeamishness of what happens in the actual procedure, then you’re hit with all the negative commentary about how horrible the prep is.  

I’m here to tell you: Colonoscopy Prep Doesn’t Have to Be That Bad.  

Before my first colonoscopy, I did my research.  A lot of research.  And I’ve compiled it here for you.  If you’ve got more fantastic hints and tricks, please share by leaving a comment at the bottom of this post.  

Note: I am not a doctor or medical professional.  I am not giving medical advice.  Please talk with your doctor about if these tips and tricks are appropriate in your case. 

An Overview of Colonoscopy Prep

Colonoscopies get a picture of the lining of your colon, and so the goal of colonoscopy prep is to have your colon completely empty and 100% clean for the procedure.  

Generally, prep starts three days to a week ahead of time when you begin to eat very low fiber.  No raw fruits or veggies; no dried fruit; no whole grains, nuts, seed, popcorn; no stringy/fibrous meat; no corn/broccoli/cabbage/beans/peas.  Check with your doctor about whether to stop your vitamins and supplements, and if you need to change how you take your prescription medication.  

The real prep starts the day before your procedure.  You will eat nothing solid, nothing with milk, and nothing red, blue or purple.  Only see-through liquids are allowed.

The night before your colonoscopy is when you normally begin emptying your digestive tract.  Typically, this involved both pills and drinking large amounts of thick liquid at several points over a day or so.  And everything starts coming out.  Without much advanced notice.  Occasionally with noises or force you’ve never experienced before.  You’ll know your succeeding when what comes out is nothing more than clear liquid.  

Enjoy Your Time

The first thing to do to make colonoscopy prep not-so-bad is to get yourself in the right frame of mind.  You get a whole day to yourself, to do what you want to do at home.  Live it up! Schedule for a time when you can be rid of any other obligations in your life.  Fully block off a couple of days from any work.  Make sure you have no family obligations these days, too.  (Find someone else to shuttle the kids and help with homework, get take-out for dinner, etc.)  

And then imagine:  If you had a whole entire day to yourself at home, how would you like to enjoy a relaxing day?  I enjoy flipping through magazines, so I bought a stack for my day. Queue up a day-long binge-watching session.  Work on an art project or hobby.  Sort your closet if that feels good to you.  Write. 

Plan a handful of things that you would really enjoy, things that feel a little indulgent, things that make you feel comfortable and cared for. Plan things you will look forward to so that you can hardly wait for the day to arrive. Just make sure all of them are things that can be dropped at a moment’s notice, and can be interrupted often.

Prep for the Prep

Talk to your doctor and pharmacist about items you need for the prep process.  There are pre-packaged prep packs out there which are top-of-the-mind for doctors because it helps ensure people are ingesting the proper things, and that they are not going to ruin their colonoscopy by having a grape popsicle or tomato soup with a dollop of milk.  

But, if you ask, many doctors are also comfortable with giving you information to make your own prep kit.  If your doctor thinks that is an acceptable option for you, and you’re willing to be very careful in curating your own kit, I highly recommend it.  

The Medicine

If you’re creating your own kit, make sure to have everything in place well before it’s needed.  I started a basket of prep stuff and added to it over a couple of weeks.  Your doctor will give you a list of the medicine you’ll need.  Likely you’ll need some laxative tablets, quite a bit of Miralax, and maybe some magnesium citrate.  You’ll mix the Miralax with liquid, and you’ll need to keep hydrated over the day, so you’ll be buying lots of drink options.

The Gatorade/Powerade

Pack your basket with interesting clear liquids that are not purple, red or orange.  You’re going to need at least a gallon of gatorade/powerade etc.  My tip here is to get 32oz of at least three or four flavors. In the weeks ahead of time, you may want to try many flavors to decide on which you’d like to use.  Use a different flavor each time you drink the thick stuff.  That way, if you end up with a gag reflex during one session using one flavor, you won’t have to drink that flavor again. Save your favorite flavor for the in-between times, and using other good flavors for the thick stuff.   

Other Clear Liquids

Put yourself in the mindset of getting indulgent about these other clear liquids, too.  The’ll be the only thing you’ll be ingesting for a day, and ahead of time you won’t know exactly what you’ll be in the mood for, so overbuy and be prepared.  Most clear liquids are sweet.  You should be well-stocked with kool-aid and other fruit flavored drinks (but no orange juice, nectar or thick juices).  Have a selection of carbonated and/or non-carbonated soft drinks.  Mix up some jello or buy the cups (no red/orange/purple colors).  

You will also want to make sure you’ve got some non-sweet options.  Get several kinds of clear broth or bouillon.  I’ve heard of people who strain their favorite chicken soup to satisfy their clear broth portion of prep.

Don’t Forget These “Clear Liquids”

For our needs, frozen treats and hard candy are also considered “clear liquids.”  Remember, this is a no-dairy diet, so no ice cream treats.  But I had a great time picking out a few frozen treats.  Lemon italian ice.  Blue popsicles.  Flav-o-Ice that weren’t red/orange/purple.  My family loved it because they got to eat all the red/orange/purple ones.  

I recommend getting several kinds of hard candy.  LifeSavers are easy.   Get some minty flavors, and also some fruity flavors (don’t use the red/orange/purple ones!).  Lots of folks like lemon drops.  Avoid hard candies with gushy centers or caramel that might have dairy.

Liquid Accessories

Make sure to have a large silicone straw like this one.  You will also want  a good, big glass that can comfortably fit each session of your thick drink over ice.  You’ll also need a pitcher big enough to pre-mix the thick stuff with your gatorade.

Other Comforts

If you don’t already use great toilet paper, now is the time to buy an expensive 4-pack. Consider having some diaper rash cream on hand. (We love the Weleda brand.) Your hiney will thank you.  Absolutely get a pack of flushable wipes (but do NOT flush them.  Throw them away.  You really don’t want your toilet backed up when you’re in the midst of colonoscopy prep!)

Getting The Thick Liquid Down

Changing your diet for a few days or a week is relatively easy for people to do. But a day without eating  puts most people in a bad mood.  And then comes drinking large amounts of the thick liquid quickly.  If you’ve done any research at all, you’ll have seen many stories of the liquid…not staying down.  

But never fear!  These tips worked wonders for me, and I hope they will for you, too.

  1. Pre-mix your drinks and chill them in the fridge for at least 6 hours.
  2. If your doctor approves, use ice in your drink.  The colder it is, the less taste it has.
  3. Use a glass that is big enough to hold your entire session’s drink (plus ice if allowed)
  4. *Really Important* use an extra-wide bent silicone straw.  Put the straw into your mouth as far as you can, and then drink fast.  The straw will cover most of your taste buds.
  5. Take a deep breath, and then don’t breathe while you take 2-3 swallows.  Take a short rest and repeat.
  6. Challenge yourself to drink it fast!  Can you get it down within 5 minutes?  Within 3?  
  7. As soon as you get it down, give yourself a reward.  Have your favorite hard candy at the ready and pop it into your mouth the instant you are finished with a session’s drink.  

Go ahead, you might need several candies.  It’s alright.

Repeat this process each time you have to get some Special Liquid down. 

Your last drink, the citrate of magnesia, is a whole different sensation but these tips can work for it as well.   

Stay close to the Bathroom.  Closer!

A few hours after your first Big Drink, you might be thinking to yourself it’s not so bad.  You might even be contemplating running some quick errands.  Don’t!  At some unknown point in time, your trips to the bathroom will increase drastically.  

Embrace the ridiculousness of this situation.  This is going to be a strange, strange day.  If you have family or housemates, invite them into the ridiculousness.  Give them rules of behavior which will allow you unlimited access to the bathroom.  Feel free to describe in great detail what is coming out of your body from visit to visit.  

Now is the time to wallow in your pre-planned movies, tv-shows and reading.  Here’s a book you might like to get to help with your distractions.

During the intensity of the cleanse, it might be wise to set up shop right in the bathroom for a while.  If your toilet seat is comfortable enough, you could just hang out there.  If not, haul a small chair in and set up camp.  It won’t last forever.  Keep drinking, keep going, and don’t freak out.

Don’t Fret

And finally, it’s time for you to go in.  If you’re nervous about…having to go while you’re on the road, there are a couple of not-strictly-necessary options.  You could buy a pack of adult diapers.  If you do wear a diaper, bring another couple with you in case you need to change.  And consider bringing an old pair of real underwear for after, as well.  You also can use disposable underpads on your car seat.  (These also could be useful for the last few hours at home, too.)

When You’re There

If this is your first colonoscopy, you may be starting to get pretty nervous by this point.  You should wear super-comfy clothes that are warm and cozy.  Do what you can to convince yourself this experience is just a very odd spa day.  

In the prep room, the bed/chair was really comfortable and the nurses gave me extra warm blankets.  They described what was going to happen, and asked if I had any questions.  And then, I got the good stuff and was out.  Not completely out, just “twilight.”  

What that means is that occasionally I came up out of my sleep thinking, “Wow.  I’ve never felt movement THERE before!”  It wasn’t painful or scary, and they were very attentive to make sure when I surfaced, I was told what was going on and that everything was going well, and I got a little more juice and went back to nothingness.  

And then it was done.  No pain, no discomfort, no aftereffects.  We went home, and I spent the rest of the day relaxing.  In 10 years, I’ll pull this post up again and plan to sail through my next colonoscopy.  

Do you have more hints or tips?  Leave a comment and let us know!

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