*Editor’s Note: Elephant is not your doctor or hospital. Our lawyers would say “this web site is not designed to, and should not be construed to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment. Always consult a health professional before trying out new home therapies or changing your diet.” But we can’t afford lawyers, and you knew all that. ~ Ed
Colonoscopy prep sucks, there’s no way around it.
Google it. Nausea, diarrhea, drinking three bottles of literal window-cleaner-flavored poison salt, peeing from your butthole all night, and fasting. Not to mention the idea of a camera snaking through your inner, unexplored tube territories as the cherry on top. And then awaiting the results.
I’ve compiled a list of tips for us first-timers with a sense of humor and a sensitive stomach to survive our first scope experience:
1. Bring a friend and bond.
As much as we are scared to be a burden for people, most trust is built through breakdown. Bring a friend who you somewhat trust, or want to be closer with to your prep experience. This is an acceptable opportunity to ask for help in a tangibly miserable time. You’d be surprised at how excited some friends would be to help you stay hydrated, sleep next to you, or drive you to your appointment.
Many of us are just waiting for the chance to show up for someone and prove how much we love them. Give your friends a sense of purpose and show them that you trust them by actually trusting them in this hard moment.
2. Make your home feel more homey.
If you are in a fresh living situation (like I am right now), this is a wonderful opportunity to really settle into your new environment. Familiarize yourself with the bathroom tiles, the kitchen ceiling.
Find the places that give you any semblance of peace. For me, this was the kitchen floor right in front of the stove.
The bowel prep gives you the license to drink from four different cups at the same time, which is generally inconvenient for everyone in the house. It also gives you privileges to uninterrupted bathroom time, no questions asked.
This is also an opportunity to glean pity and attention from your roommates, a quick exercise in stripping away any façade and getting real with your shared human experience of nausea and bowel movements.
3. Use the fast as reflection time—think of it as a harmless and free tripping experience.
If you fast regularly, maybe you already knew this. I never fast so I was shocked at the peace of mind that came 10 hours into the fast. My body started operating on a different time scale, like an old tree. I only wanted to make slow fluid gestures and lay down. My mind sometimes jumped to toast and eggs but then I let it wander to the bird sounds outside my window and quiet conversations with my friend.
This is a beautiful time for our bodies to rest and not have to expend energy on metabolism. Let the trippy experience of brief hunger take your consciousness wherever it wants to go. You literally can’t move around too much or be running errands during this time (unless you’re a machine or if you don’t care about getting in a car accident). So, relax and enjoy the swim.
4. Reframe the bowel prep as a pipe clean-up, a fresh start!
Think of this experience as a really intense, trendy juice cleanse! Except we don’t need to buy any fancy celery drink online.
If you’re getting your first scope, this is really the first time that you have the opportunity for your colon to be totally spick-and-span. When else in our lives can we clean out our digestive tract so well that we can poop out clear liquid? Really quite amazing.
This is a fresh start for whatever we put into our bodies next. Think of all the crap you ate last week: weird processed cereals or that danish that was free at work. Think about what you want to put into your body tomorrow…what do you want to keep in there, sticking to your walls?
It’s a gross process, and feels like an eternal inferno of sleepless nausea. But at the end of it, we have a sparkly colon and some nice photos of it. Not too bad—modern medicine is beautiful.
5. Listen to your body, we are instruments!
During the prepping process, you’ll hear the carnival of your body. We often hear people say “listen to your heart, listen to your body” and that’s a nice concept but it’s kind of abstract. The scope prep is literally throwing a bassoon and a bunch of wind at a billion chimes. You’ll hear uncontrollable sounds emanating from your abdomen, your throat, your orifices. It can be quite orchestral! Sometimes, you won’t even understand what you’re saying. Let your body do the talking, for once.
6. Embrace your inner child.
During your colonoscopy prep, the circumstances allow you to be a free-range child. You can throw a tantrum (not recommended, but acceptable). You can pamper yourself with baby wipes. You can take naps. You can drink from a straw. You can even poop in your pants. You can stay in bed all day and roll around. You can drink apple juice. You can watch a spider build a web on a flower pot for 20 minutes and not think about your bills.
Honestly, therapists should recommend this for reconnecting with your younger self. You’ll notice a lot of the same patterns from your childhood resurface. Those could include feeling abandoned, embarrassed, or hungry. They could also include positive feelings like being taken care of, delight in the little things, and a sense of wonder.
7. Consume lighthearted entertainment (avoid the news).
I know it seems like we should always be plugged into the world’s woes and celebrations but looking at the news may make you even more nauseous. Instead, try watching a cheesy documentary about the secret life of fungus. Something that keeps your attention, but doesn’t make you feel sad. If anything, it should be uplifting that so many other life forms suffer all the time, too.
8. Light your special occasion candle—you will need it.
Many of us save our candles for romantic evenings. This is an intimate evening of prep for you and your body. Light a candle in the bathroom in a fire-safe spot to accompany the aroma of your innards. It can help you feel calm and add a sprinkle of sacredness to the experience. This night is worth the slow burn.
9. Make it spiritual—at risk of sounding pretentious.
We often separate spirituality from our bodies and minds. Medical procedures are also spiritual in their nature. The fact that you are clearing out your body’s extraneous gunk and then allowing yourself to be examined in such an intimate way is so brave, and sort of a right of passage in the Western world (if you’re over a certain age, so I’m starting early).
Preparing for a colonoscopy is kind of like preparing for a birthday. There are many different ways you could approach the event. You could just “see what happens,” you could read every online review of the experience and freak out beforehand, or you could treat this as a journey of the spirit.
When we fall ill, the foundations of our beliefs and identities start to shake and quiver. We quickly discern what is important and what is ego mumbo jumbo. We quickly realize how resilient we are to face pain, and how reactive our bodies can be. Notice how this process changes your demeanor. What is important to you in the throes of the prep? Who do you want to call? How do you want to exist in discomfort? We can learn a lot about our tendencies and our true strength in moments of perceived powerlessness.
One way to mark the beginning of a spiritual rite is in preparation for the event. I prepared for my scope by reorganizing my room, cleaning the kitchen, warning everyone who may be present or affected (roommates/coworkers/friends), and crowd-sourcing support. This way, when the sh*t hit the fan (which I swear it nearly did), I didn’t have to worry about outstanding obligations or expectations. I could just focus on the task at hand and explore my inner reactions and meditations.
Remember, you do not have to suffer through this alone. It really can be a heart-opening, life-changing, and relationship shifting experience. Still, I would not wish it upon anyone.
That’s all for now. I have to go back to drinking magnesium citrate two hours too late.
Please note: Of course there is fear associated with getting a scope because there’s a reason that we need one—it’s not just for fun. It can be scary to anticipate the results, which this post doesn’t really address. For that point, I’d say—only time will tell, be present.