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  • Writer's pictureMaria H. Drzaszcz

All the deets on that first colonoscopy

courtesy photo

We’ve all heard the stories, read the headlines, even watched videos on social media; colon cancer among other cancers are on the rise in younger Americans. So much so, that in 2021, the screening age was lowered from age 50 to 45 for colonoscopy. I went and reluctantly got mine recently and was relieved when it was all done. I will share some tips for those of you who may be due for one soon. Also for those of you who are overdue, this serves as your reminder. Just do it! It’s really not that bad.

First and foremost, a gastroenterologist or GI doctor will be the one performing this screening. My process was somewhat easier, as I was already being followed by a GI for something completely different. For those that have never been to a GI doctor or don’t know where to start, the first step would be asking your primary care doctor particularly if you are getting close to 45 or are having concerning symptoms. Most of us are probably aware of the Cologuard test aka the mail away poop box, however I think most GI and oncologist doctors agree that colonoscopy is the way to go, no pun intended.

For two days before prep day, you will be advised to eat a “low residue diet.” A low residue diet basically means a diet low in fiber. So no nuts, no seeds, no raw or uncooked fruits or vegetables. I personally stuck with more bland stuff such as chicken, fish, white bread and rice. You will also be told to avoid anything red, purple or orange as it can stain the colon.

This takes us to the day before the procedure itself, prep day. Typically you will start your prep around mid-day and finish by the evening. Each GI practice will have varying prep instructions. Mine consisted of three different laxatives starting at 1 p.m. and ending with the mother lode 64 oz. of Gatorade mixed with an entire, yes entire bottle of miralax in the evening. You will also be on a clear liquid diet the day before the procedure. Stock up on broths, jello and ice pops (no red, orange or purple). You will not be able to eat any solid food until after the procedure is done.

Stay hydrated on prep day. This is pretty important, as you will be losing a large volume of fluid and electrolytes through the multiple bathroom trips. I figured after everything, I’d have terrible cramping, bloating and even be nauseous or dizzy, but I was not. Not even in the slightest. I did not even have a need for the Depends I purchased. You will want to stay close to the bathroom though. You will have multiple bowel movements and towards the end of the clean out, you will be passing all liquid stools.

By the time the prep is done, you should have no solid stool or particles. It will be like peeing out of the rectum and in some cases it will be the same color as the solution you drank, which is how you will know you are ready for procedure day. That night I had to finish all fluids by midnight, so again drink up in between to avoid severe dehydration by the next morning. I would suggest purchasing some A&D ointment or diaper rash cream as you may become a bit sore down there with the frequent stools. Wet wipes are helpful as well. Surprisingly, I was also able to sleep that night. The trips to the bathroom tapered off into the overnight hours.

This brings us to procedure day. You will be given sedation so will need someone to drive you home. Your procedure will most likely be done in a surgery center type of facility or a GI suite. The morning of your procedure, nothing by mouth either. Not even water. Certain heart or blood pressure meds may be permissible to take that morning, but check with your specific doctor.

Once you arrive, you will be given an IV, chat with an anesthesiologist and the doctor doing the procedure and off you go. You will be given a nice sedative in which many people, including myself agree is a great little nap. When you wake, it’s all done and in best case scenarios you are given a clean bill of colon health. To me, a bit of discomfort during the prep is well worth the peace of mind given.

One last tip, go slow afterwards when you eat that first big meal. It may be worth skipping over anything super heavy, fried or spicy. Also use caution with coffee. Your colon has been through a lot and it will take some time to build back that gut flora. It took me a little less than a week to be back to normal. Everyone’s responses will be different.

Remember colon cancer can be cured when found early and a colonoscopy is your best chance at this. If there’s anything suspicious, it will be biopsied during the procedure and then you can come up with a treatment plan promptly. If you’ve been putting this off, read everything I wrote again and tell yourself it is really not all that bad. Then go and just get it done. You’ll be happy you did.

Maria H. Drzaszcz, a Hammonton resident, is a registered nurse with 14 years critical care experience and is the proud mom of three young children.


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