Your First Colonoscopy: What to Expect


This fall, after undue pressure — nay, bullying — from a friend, I scheduled my first colonoscopy. I’d recently turned 51, which is apparently the age when we up the magnification on the readers we buy, stop wearing high heels and schedule things like colonoscopies.

The first available appointment wasn’t until January, which I felt would give me enough time to warm up to the whole thing. I’m going to be blunt: I do not like the idea of anything going near my hiney. Capice? But I’m heading to Mexico at the end of the month and so looked at it as one big post-holiday cleanse. A method, if you will, of purging my tummy of all the cheese and bread I ate throughout December.

But what I’ve come to learn, much like worrying about bringing your fourth baby home only to learn the baby is the least of your problems, the actual colonoscopy is no big deal.

In the days leading up to the event last week, I was frantically searching the Internet for information about the prep, which I had no idea was such a big thing. I thought you just drank some poison the night before the procedure, evacuated your colon, and that was that.

What I was looking for was like a “What to Expect When You’re Expecting Your First Colonoscopy” or a “Girlfriend’s Guide to Cleaning Out Your Colon.” How-to books are what got me through pregnancies, breastfeeding and teaching myself how to cook and garden. I don’t know where I’d be without Dr. Spock, Martha Stewart and the Silver Palate ladies.

I guess I like to be told what to do.

So I decided to write one myself. Okay you guys, here’s what to expect for your first Big C:

  1. THIS IS A TWO-DAY EVENT: I had no idea that the poison-drinking started a full day before your procedure. Originally, my colonoscopy was scheduled for the morning after I was going to see one of my favorite writers, Kelly Corrigan, give a reading at my local book store. I figured I’d go to the event and then come home and clean out my colon. Sound thinking. But, like, a week before I decided to actually read the big packet of paperwork the doctor’s office had sent months earlier and learned that I was supposed to drink the first of two bottles of poison the afternoon before the procedure. “Maybe,” I thought, “that just alerted your colon that a big reckoning was coming later that night.” So I called the doctor’s office to ask and the receptionist started to laugh. “Honey,” she said, “you are not leaving your house once you drink that.” Who knew? So I decided to choose Kelly Corrigan over my colorectal health and rescheduled for the spring. But then through some scheduling magic, the office called back and offered me a spot the day before Kelly’s appearance and I hope she could sense the squeaky-clean colon vibe I was giving off in the audience as she read.
  2. YOU NEED TO ELIMINATE THINGS FROM YOUR DIET A FEW DAYS BEFORE: Really, you’re encouraged to eat like a 14yo boy for the few days leading up to the Big C. Carbs and sugar are dandy but you’re supposed to lay off stuff like seeds, nuts and raw broccoli. I’m down with that kind of prepubescent eating, even though in my every day life I’ve started ingesting way more quinoa and kale than hot dogs and Doritos. Like a good rule follower, the kids and I went to Bobby’s Burger Palace the day before The Purge and I not only enjoyed French Fries and onion rings but topped it all off with a Nutella Banana shake for good measure.
  3. CONSIDER A PRE-CLEANSE: Okay, eating that giant meal the night before The Poisoning was stupid so I decided to pre-treat my colon and took some Ducolax before bed (the Internet, and my doctor, says that’s okay). Good call because it started moving things along before the freight train came through later that day.
  4. YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO EAT FOR A WHOLE DAY: This was way worse than the colon cleanse. I am terrible at denying myself anything, much less food for an entire day. I drank a ton of water and sipped some bone broth I’d bought, but by dinnertime I was lying in my bed delirious. I kept thinking about how a friend confided that she’d cheated a little on her prep day and ate a pancake. And her sister had eaten a bagel. I furiously scoured the Internet for data supporting this idea and naturally, found a study claiming it was better to eat a little something. “Say no more,” I thought, and went downstairs and made two pieces of sourdough toast with butter that I savored like it was a 5-star meal. I knew my colon was clear after the first go-round of poisoning and felt confident the second round at 12:30am would push out the toast and apparently, it did.
  5. BUY SOME HARD CANDY: I’m not gonna lie to you — that poison tastes horrible, but not the way I’d imagined. I thought it was going to be thick and brown and taste like some allegedly healthy concoction I’d bought at the health food store a while back to help fight off a cold. Now that tasted like legit ass. But the colon prep I drank (and ps, every doctor seems to have a different way/formula to do things) was clear and super sweet but then also insanely salty. My advice: drink it a little chilled as fast as you can and then have something tasty to suck on after to get rid of that flavor from your mouth. I gagged like crazy when I drank the poison at room temp at midnight. Also, I’ll never eat Wurther’s again.
  6. FIND SOMETHING TO TAKE YOUR MIND OFF OF YOUR SITUATION: After I drank the first round of poison I pretty much took to my bed for the rest of the day (when I wasn’t in the bathroom) and watched TV. In fact, I binged the entire second season of Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None,” which I highly recommend, except if you’re prepping for a colonoscopy. It turns out, the lead character is a big foodie and travels to Italy in the first two episodes to learn to make pasta. It was torture and probably what lead to the eating of the toast five hours later. 
  7. FORGET MULTITASKING: After I drank the first bottle, I decided I’d start up some laundry and pretty much got one sock in the washing machine before I had to turn around and run to the bathroom. Later, I went back and put another sock in and then had to race back to the john. Pretty much, it took a really long time to get that load going. Plan on spending at least an hour post-poison near a toilet and have some reading material or an iPad on hand and obviously, since you’re old like me, glasses to see anything you’re trying to look at.
  8. FORGET SLEEP: My poisonings were slated for 12:30pm on Monday and 12:30am before my 8am Tuesday procedure. I dozed a little before the second dose and then was up until about 2am, when things started to calm down. I came home after the colonoscopy and passed out for a while.
  10. THERE WILL BE GAS: Apparently, you get pumped with air to allow the doctor to check out your colon but all that air needs to go somewhere. I had asked the doctor prior to the procedure if she’d make sure to try to get it out of me (which I’d read about on the Internet) and although she said later that she did, I experienced a lot of gas pain throughout the entire day. Lying on my stomach helped but Tums and a bowl of plain yogurt and banana did not. I felt fine the next day
  11. THINGS I WISH I COULD FORGET: By the time the day of The Big C arrives, you are anxious to get it over with and happily don your thin gown with the opening in the back and present your arm for the IV if it means you’re that much closer to eating. It was over an hour before they finally wheeled me back to the room where the anesthesiologist strapped the oxygen over my ears and up my nose. While we chatted, the nurse asked me to roll onto my left side, which was unfortunate because up until then, I thought I’d be blissfully unaware of the reality of what was about to happen; but then she began tucking a pad under my hiney (which had become exposed when the gown fell away after I rolled over). But the indignity is quick because before you know it, you’re konked out. I remember the doc injecting something into my IV and I immediately felt a weird taste in my throat. I said something about it and then the next think I knew, I was coming out of the sedation haze and talking about fresh pasta in the recovery room.
  12. YOU DON’T LOSE THAT MUCH WEIGHT: At least I didn’t. Maybe two pounds for all that suffering. That Nutella shake probably didn’t help matters. I still have a lot of denying of myself to do to feel good about putting on a bathing suit in like three weeks.

In the end, I am glad I did it. The doctor found two little polyps that she removed for biopsy but felt confident they were benign.

While I joke that I did it to lose weight for a trip, the truth is that I learned recently how a colonoscopy can save lives. This fall, the husband of my good college pal — the guy she dated way back when, who played football and remained the perfect specimen of health all these years later — was diagnosed with rectal cancer following a colonoscopy. He’s going through treatment now, which sucks, but imagine if the mass had remained undetected? Honestly, if that dude can get cancer, we all better get ourselves checked.

So if you’re old and over 50 like me, schedule your colonoscopy today. Peace of mind — not to mention your colorectal health — is worth suffering through a couple of bottles of poison and a day with (practically) no eating.

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12 thoughts on “Your First Colonoscopy: What to Expect

  1. I kinda knew this only from watching my husband go through it. Luckily, I’m not quite 50 yet, but edging ever closer.

    And yes, they ARE important. My father-in-law died from colon cancer – he’d never been screened. By the time you notice the symptoms, apparently, it may be too late.

  2. I JUST had my first one last Monday …. but I cheated and waited until my almost 62nd birthday (in two weeks). My bad!! My appt was scheduled for 9am Monday morning, so I started the prep at 4pm on Sunday. My husband made a big prime rib dinner for me and the kids but he didn’t realize that I couldn’t eat it – so I sat with my mug of beef broth. Ten cups of tea, 5 containers of lemon Italian ice, 3 mugs of assorted broth, two helpings of Prepopik (which tasted like very weak Tang) and and 128 oz of water (more water than I drink in a year) later …. I was ready! The actual colonoscopy was quicker and easier than I expected and when I woke up … the doctor said ‘see you in five years!’

    • Sharon! I”m glad you got your butt (literally) in there finally and all is well! Laughing about the amount of water that you drank because I had the same reaction about all the water I drank on my prep day, cause it’s something I NEVER do! Happy you could relate and thanks for chiming in!! 🙂

  3. My doctor said, absent family history or other risk factors, the fecal test was sufficient for the first go-round, so I packaged up my poo and sent it in. It wasn’t… fun, but it didn’t take 2 days, either. And all came back normal.

    • Wait, that’s a thing? Who knew? I’m going to investigate this, next time around. In the meantime, glad your pooper is normal 😉 and that you read and chimed in. 🙂

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