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So, You’re Getting a Colonoscopy? Here’s How Mine Went Down.

Orange drinks, scary symptoms and, well, gas.

Julie Shapiro grimaces as she prepares to gulp down a concoction of powdered laxatives mixed with orange sports drink. | Photo credit: Julie Shapiro/The Well

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I lost a dear friend to colon cancer five months ago — the same amount of time it took for her to go from diagnosis to death. It was a heartbreaking series of events that no one should ever have to endure.

I’m a busy mother of two young children, so when I noticed blood in my stool just over two weeks ago, I decided to take the opposite approach of what I would normally do (ignore it) and instead get it checked out. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States among those cancers that affect both men and women. In 2014, nearly 140,000 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 51,651 died of the disease.

My primary care physician was concerned about my symptom given my age (43) and my family history of the disease (my grandfather had it). She sent me to a GI specialist who ordered a colonoscopy. As I said goodbye I was handed a piece of paper with some simple instructions and told to follow them the day before my procedure so I would be “prepped” and ready to go by appointment time.

It didn’t seem too bad on paper—a clear liquid diet for a day that culminated in a stool softener/sports drink cocktail and then a trip to the doc for my colonoscopy in the morning.

Prep day started off strong. I ate some gelatin for breakfast and chicken broth for snack. And then more gelatin and chicken broth as I grew hungrier and started having trouble focusing. “Hanger” set in as I glanced at my watch—10:30am.

It was going to be a long day.

Two quarts of soup and three boxes of gelatin later, I had gotten over the hump and was doing OK. At 6pm it was time for step two of my colonoscopy prep — a glass of the sports drink mixed with an entire container of powdered laxative every 10 to 15 minutes until it was gone…all 64 ounces of it. This was not an easy task.

By the sixth glass I was pretty sure I was going to puke.

But I didn’t.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Ugh. Photo credit: Julie Shapiro/The Well

I sat back and waited for the magic to happen. And I waited. And I waited. By 10pm my stomach hurt so badly from the very sudden and enormous amount of fiber I had just dumped into it, I didn’t know what to do to relieve the discomfort. I began making deals with God — if you just let me go to the bathroom now, I’ll show the next idiot driver who cuts me off more compassion. I’ll stop rolling my eyes when my cousin brags about how many times she’s been to Pilates this week. I swear. I imagined I would be the first person in the history of colonoscopies to win the fight against the dreaded poop cocktail. And I worried that I wouldn’t be “prepped” enough for the procedure and it all would be in vain.

But at 4am, nature called. Or rather, she knocked down my door, pillaged my house and showed me who’s my daddy.

A few hours later and a few pounds lighter, I found myself in the office of my gastroenterologist. I was given a gown and told to undress and make myself comfortable on the bed in my little area that was separated by curtains from the other little areas of beds. I was mildly nervous about the procedure, but my doctor assured me that it would be easy and I should relax.

When it was my turn, a lovely woman came in and wheeled me to the next room. It wasn’t the operating room-type atmosphere I had been expecting. More like an examination room, but with some high-tech equipment, which helped ease my anxiety quite a bit. As I was being hooked up to an IV, I commented on the doctor’s attire, which was a jacket and tie—not the clinical scrubs I was expecting. I laughed that I felt underdressed for the occasion and he shared a funny story about the day in medical school when his professor commented on his clothes when he was…

I looked around the room and wondered when my procedure would begin and where everyone went, only to learn from the nurse who walked by a few minutes later that it was over. I laughed. The nurse said I should take a few minutes to rest and “pass the air,” which was a polite way of telling me that they had pumped me full of gas and I should feel free to let ’em rip.

“Colonoscopies are not a party, but they’re really not too bad – as long as you can tolerate the farting of strangers.”

I was feeling groggy but OK—which is more than I could say for the poor guy next to me who was having a less than easy time coming out of his anesthesia and simply could not keep his hands off his own IV.

I was offered a glass of water (yes, please) and some crackers (why not?) and told to take my time and not get up until I was ready.

My doctor paid me a visit and told me that everything was fine—a huge relief. He didn’t have an answer as to why I had bled that day two weeks ago, but we agreed that it was a smart decision to come in and get checked. Now I could rest assured that I had a happy and healthy colon.

The guy next to me let out an enormous fart. Check, please! I decided I was strong and alert enough to get up and “pass the air” in the privacy of my own home.

Bottom line…colonoscopies are not a party, but they’re really not too bad—as long as you can tolerate the farting of strangers.

Next Steps and Useful Resources

  • Learn more about colonoscopy, a procedure that helps identify problems in the colon like ulcers, inflammation or cancer. 
  • Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S.—but screenings and early detection saves lives. Take a free online risk assessment to see if you're at risk. 

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Published March 13th, 2018

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