The real deal on colonoscopies.

colonoscopy prep

The real deal on colonoscopies – What a colonoscopies are really like – Colonoscopy prep, the procedure, and the recovery.

Today I am going somewhere I have never gone before. I am talking about colonoscopies. Yup, brace yourself.

March is National Colorectal Cancer month. I have 2 very good friends going through chemo and radiation this week and early detection has been key. They have excellent chances for long and healthy lives because they were screened early. If they can go through that, then I can talk about this.

A colonoscopy is an cancer screening exam that sounds a lot worse than it actually is.

The jist – you have to completely empty your bowels (the prep) and then a gastroenterologist uses a camera to check your large intestine (colon and rectum) for polyps, lesions, bleeding, and inflammation. Yes, the camera goes where you think that it does.

I get it. Believe me. These tests are not always fun, and more than a little bit embarrassing. But they can save your life.

I have some GI issues, nothing major, and I going to leave it at that. (No need to really go there.) But enough to warrant a colonoscopy. I am 37, so a little on the young side to have this as a standard screening procedure. My doctor felt that it was necessary, so I did it. Typically, you start being screened at 50.

Truth be told, the actual procedure wasn’t what was freaking me out, it was the prep.

There is something that you need to know about me. I am totally modest about this area of my life. I don’t talk about it. I pretend it doesn’t exist. And it completely makes me blush. In fact, in almost 11 years of marriage I have never tooted in front of my husband. This is just a frame of reference.

Anyway, my GI doctor sent me home with detailed instructions and a script for some serious cleansing solution.

2 days before the procedure I had to cut out fruits, seeds, and nuts. No biggie.

The day before is a little more challenging. Clear liquids only. I wasn’t really hungry, but because I couldn’t eat, all I could think about was pizza. And doughnuts. And ice cream.

My procedure was scheduled for 9am the following day, so at 5pm, I had to drink the first solution.

If you have ever had a baby, you know how gross the glucose tolerance drink is right? Imagine that, but salty instead of sweet. It doesn’t taste good. You mix the solution in a big glass of water and then you need to chug a ton more water in the next hour. (TIP – make sure the water is really cold, it goes down easier.)

The warnings on the box and the paperwork from the doctor are pretty specific. Once you drink the solution make sure you are close to the bathroom. Heed this warning. They aren’t kidding.

About 10 minutes after I drank the salty stuff, I felt the first tummy rumble. You have about 14 seconds after that to get to the toilet. Once you sit down, don’t plan on getting up anytime soon. The solution triggers bowel-clearing diarrhea. And it is no joke.

The purpose is that you need to have a completely clean colon so that the doctor can see everything. If there is residual poop or food particles still there, they might not be able to get a clear picture and miss polyps and lesions. You really don’t want to have to do this again, so do it as instructed the first time.

After about an hour, I felt better. Keep drinking fluids. This solution works by flushing liquid through the bowel forcing out anything in there. You can get dehydrated, so make sure that you drink a ton. It will really help after the procedure too. I ate popsicles, drank lots of fancy water, and ginger ale.

I went to bed early, because 4 hours before I needed to leave for the hospital I had to do it again.

I woke up at 3am, drank the second gross drink, and did it all over again. I really was shocked that there was anything left after the first round, but lo and behold, there was.

Here is where it gets TMI – you know you did a good job when straight up clear water comes out.

I slept for an hour or two, got up, showered and headed to the hospital. I felt kind of groggy. At this point, I hadn’t eaten anything in 24 hours and have absolutely not a thing in my system. You can’t even drink water until after, so I was feeling weak and cranky.

My husband had to come with me because they put you out so you can’t drive for the rest of the day. They checked me in and got me started right away. They took me back, changed me into a gown, and got me ready for anesthesia. They started an IV and covered me in warm blankets. The nurses were great and made me feel really comfortable and at ease.

They wheeled me back into the procedure room and got going.

Oh, my favorite part is the recovery nurse came to meet me before we got started. She is a nun and was wearing a full habit. Can you imagine how freaked out you would be if you woke up and there was a nun in full habit standing over your bed? I would have thought that I was legit dying right then and there. But really, she was just there to let me know that she would be taking care of me afterwards.

The anesthesiologist came in, told me what to expect, and they made sure it was really me. The GI did the same thing. That is always reassuring.

They had me lay on my side, said goodnight, and the next thing I know I am waking up in the recovery room. There is nothing better than drug-induced sleep.

All said and done, I was there for an hour and a half.

The colonoscopy came back clean (yeah!) and they did not have to biopsy anything. I was given instructions to take it easy because of the anesthesia and that I couldn’t drive until the next day. I could eat light meals and was given full permission to get in bed and binge watch House of Cards all day.

We stopped on the way home for something to eat and I had some soup and toast. I came home, took a nap for a few hours and when I woke up I felt great.

So was my nervousness warranted?

Nope, not really.

Yeah, I spent more time in the bathroom than I probably have in a long, long time, but it wasn’t a big deal at all.

Colonoscopies save lives. Don’t let the prep or the idea of a camera up your bum scare you off. If I can do it (and talk about it no less) anyone can.

Just make sure that you block out some time for the prep, buy some new magazines or grab a really good book, and make sure everything you need is already in the bathroom. 🙂

All adults (male and female) over the age of 50 need to be screened for polyps and colon cancer. For more information head to the Fight Colorectal Cancer website.

Know anyone scared of having a colonoscopy? Share this post with them. If I can do it, so can they!

Oh hey there!

Well, hello there! I’m Bree Hester, the Boston-based blogger and food photographer here at Baked Bree. Here you can get lots of weeknight meal inspiration, eat more plant-based meals, and still indulge in a decadent sweet treat. Baked Bree is a place where you will find great recipes and inspiration for your next family adventure.

raspberry orange pistachio ricotta cake slices on a wire rack

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This Post Has 30 Comments

  1. Kerry

    Thank you for sharing this post. I am 37 and I have some gi issues too and I am so afraid to tell my doctor because I KNOW this is what I have to do. Thank you for making it not soooo scary. I will make that appointment! And on a lighter note – you are so good about your makeup! I have way too much and it is everywhere. I need to downsize.

    1. Bree

      It is really not scary. I am proud of you for making an appointment, it really is not a big deal at all.

  2. Flavia

    Kudos to you, Bree, for writing this post! You should feel very, very proud for helping people feel reassured about getting a colonoscopy, understanding how prevention is KEY and that the process isn’t all that scary. Thank you for sharing your story!

    1. Bree

      Thank you Flavia. I appreciate the love and support.

  3. bree

    Great post. I use to work for a gi office and explained this everyday. You did a lovely job. Thanks!
    Also where is your make-up caddy from?

    1. Bree

      Thank you! It is from The Container Store.

  4. Nathalie Lussier

    Ohmigosh – first I am so glad everything came back clean – and major kudos indeed for sharing this. I feel like if we can all open up more about these things that many of us have to go through, it takes the fear out of it.

    I laughed out loud when you mentioned waking up to a nun – that would have freaked me out too!

    Now you’re out of the colonoscopy closet! 🙂

    1. Bree

      thank you Nath! I agree, real talk is good. And yes, out and proud!

  5. Darcie

    I just had a colonoscopy, too. The diarrhea I had the night before was the worst part. The procedure itself was a breeze. They put the mask over my mouth and I had a very nice nap. I was never aware that anything was going on down there.

    1. Bree

      For sure, the prep is the worst part. But I really felt amazing afterwards. Like a really good detox good.

  6. Stacey

    I’m seriously proud of you, my friend.

    1. Bree

      thank you Lady!

  7. Michelle

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post. It is really well written even if a little close to home. Congratulations on being brave enough to do it and brave enough to write about it!

    1. Bree

      Thank you Michelle! If I can, you can. 🙂

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  9. lora

    What a fabulous and honest post, Bree- I love the Nun image. Thank you for sharing that!

    1. Bree

      Thank you Lora! It made me laugh too.

  10. Staci

    Thank you for this post. I’ve reached that magic age now and have just scheduled this appt and was WORRIED!!

    1. Bree

      I hear you Staci, I was worried too. I promise, no big deal. 🙂

  11. Holly

    thanks for sharing… I am 52 and have been avoiding the doctor because of this. Moving twice in the past 2 years has made this easy!! My only experience with this was my college roommate who passed away at 32 from complications of collerectol cancer. I swore I would never let this bother me…I mean, death is so much worse than discomfort. but at 32 it didn’t seem a real concern to me; at 52, different story…My friend made it all seem so ICK, but this was just real…thanks for helping me put it into 50 year old perspective. Time to pull up my big girl panties!!!

    1. Bree

      I promise, it is not that bad. The prep, well, it is one day of your life, right? And early detection is KEY!

  12. Yellow Tulips

    I’m a founding member of the Boomer generation and always energetic and healthy. After having my kids and keeping up with medical things until my early 40s when we moved again and, then, I didn’t. Got busy with a new job, the kids activities, difficulties in my marriage and then found myself a single mom. Not the script I wrote for myself. I didn’t keep on top of the normal medical “benchmarking”.

    Fast forward – I had an unexpected, out-of-the-blue medical emergency 2 1/2 weeks ago that ended with a 6 day hospital stay that involved removing some of my colon. I was “lucky”, though. Stage 2 cancer with no need for chemo but I have to be vigilant with the follow-up over the next few years.

    The moral is – you did it right! Continue to do what you’re doing. It goes hand-in-hand with another post you wrote advising moms not to put their needs last. A confident, happy, healthy example by you is the best blueprint for life that you can give to your children.

    1. Bree

      I am so glad that you found it when you did. And thank you for writing this, it is a reminder that all moms need. Healing vibes are being sent to you.

  13. Jane Doe

    Thank you so much for this. I’m only 23 and am having my first this Friday (only just found out today too). I was terrified but now feel much more at ease.

    1. Bree

      You are very welcome. I promise that it is no big deal.

  14. Lori Johnson

    I know you posted this years ago and I’m not sure if you’ll see this, but I’m glad I read this post. I just turned 50 and having my first colonoscopy next Monday. Even though my mind is at ease-somewhat- I’m basically worried about three things-
    1. Being put under. That just really makes me nervous. I know this is done probably every minute of every day to someone, but then you hear horror stories.

    2. Feeling something- When I had an endoscopy a few years back, I swear they started too soon. I felt it going on, I felt I was gagging. Then, I woke up. So unless I only dreamed that, I think I did feel something right at first before going into a deeper “sleep.”

    3. Worried about dry mouth the morning of the procedure. I always have water nearby and am constantly sipping. Just worried my mouth will be so dry and that I’ll start obsessing over it. You know how you try not to pay attention or worry about something and that makes it worse? This is concerning.

    Strangely, the prep doesn’t really bother me. Not looking forward to it by any stretch, but it doesn’t worry me like the procedure. I do have a friend of the family fighting colon cancer and he may not be winning. I do understand the importance of screening, which is why I’m doing it. Thanks for listening.

    1. bakedbree

      I hope that everything went well. It’s scary, but worth having done. Prevention is key.

  15. Elsa Anderson

    I appreciate that you shared your detailed experiences while preparing and undergoing colonoscopy. I like when you said that the procedure saves lives in detecting possible early cancer stages or polyps. This reminds me of my 60-year old neighbor who hardly gets a regular bowel movement. He’s kind of stubborn, according to his sons but he is undeniably in need of a medical care for possible issues and complications. I can probably have a word with his sons and have him undergo this procedure. As I’ve said, this can save their father’s life and can give answers to the issues he has.

    1. bakedbree

      Thank you! It really does save lives. 🙂

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