Health & Fitness

The truth about colonoscopy prep

DeathCancerNewspaper and MagazineHealthJimmy Buffett

Colonoscopy: The very word sends shudders down the spine of anyone who has drunk "the drink" -- the concoction that cleanses the colon so the doctor can later examine it. I've enjoyed three different procedures with three different preps, and I've made it my mantra to minimize the misery:

The appointment: Just pick up the phone. The test is far better than cancer would be. My first one was early, at age 45, because my mother died of colon cancer. Feel nothing but gratitude that such a preventive procedure exists.

Once you've drummed thanksgiving into your brain, your aura should be one of pride: You are proactive in your plan to remain healthy and cancer-free! You are in control -- but be sure to request enough medication for the procedure to knock you out cold.

And make yours the very first appointment of the day. Trust me on this: When you haven't eaten anything but lemon Jell-O and Gatorade for 24 hours and you've been awake half the night evacuating everything out of your system, you will want to get this over with so that you can go home and take the longest nap of your life.

The prep: I've chugged the concentrate (two 8-ounce drinks so nasty and salty you'd swear you were drinking water from a Morton salt box), I've thrown back the pills (six horse tablets every 15 minutes) and I've faced the two-gallon pre-mixed jug you have to chug. I'd have to say pills were the best: You can't taste tablets.

A friend told me to keep the giant jug refrigerated because cold kills its Great Salt Lake flavor. But my doctor's instructions were specific: Allow it to reach room temperature. When I inquired of the pharmacist about this, he told me my stomach might constrict were I to leave it cold. So much for that idea.

Pretend that you hold in your hand the only antidote to the lethal virus that has been introduced by some foreign monkey into our country. You will die if you do not drink this glass within 10 seconds every 10 minutes. You may not stop, and you may not lose it into the kitchen sink. It is your only hope.

If imagination doesn't do it for you, locate a friend with whom you feel comfortable sharing your innermost rumblings and e-mail your way through the prep. No one should have to do this alone.

Should you need more encouragement to swallow, read the fine print attached to the bottle: If you are unable to hold down the contents, your doctor will introduce it into your system through your nasal cavity. That's right -- up your nose with a rubber hose. That, in my case, was powerful motivation.

My father, on the other hand, took another tack -- he mixed his prep with straight tequila. "It's clear liquid," he protested. "What would Jimmy Buffett do?"

The bathroom: You are going to be there for a while. Light a scented candle and bring a gripping book or some People magazines.

The procedure: A piece of cake! If for you, like me, the most dreaded part is the IV, ask for a numbing agent on the arm followed by a tiny shot of local anesthesia under the skin. One minute I was awake, the next I was awake again, getting rid of gas like a trooper. Don't be shy -- everyone does this. If you don't, there isn't enough Gas-X in the drugstore to soothe your pain.

The recovery: Stock your pantry in readiness: You'll pack in food like a starving bear once this is done -- after your six-hour nap, that is. Have the bed all ready, shutters drawn. Once I slept from noon until the next morning.

The moral: Remember, it's all about perspective. The third time, I woke up from my afternoon beauty slumber knowing that the things I waste time worrying about pale next to the blessings of good health, bounteous food -- and the reassurance that my next colonoscopy appointment is not for five years.

Kathleen Clary Miller is the author of 200 essays and stories that have appeared in such publications as Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor. She is a columnist for Western Montana's daily newspaper, the Missoulian, and her monthly column Peaks and Valleys appears in Montana Woman magazine. She lives in Huson, Mont.

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount an experience or air an opinion related to health or fitness. Submissions are subject to editing and condensation and become the property of The Times. Read other My Turn columns at latimes.com/myturn.

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