My Colonoscopy Was The Nap I Didn’t Know I Needed

It’s a sad testament to American motherhood that a procedure involving a rectal camera feels relaxing, but it’s the truth.

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There are many milestones that mark aging for women: hot flashes, more chin hairs, taking a week to recover from one glass of wine. Most women also find their doctor assigning a chore list of new tests and appointments each year once they hit 40.

Always an overachiever, I actually had my first mammogram and colonoscopy before 40 due to family history and some mildly concerning test results that sent me into a Google doom spiral for days. While everything was thankfully fine, I’ve found many friends often reach out to ask me for the deets, especially about that colonoscopy. While I am more than willing to share the shitty specifics, I also tell them it wasn’t that bad. And as a mom to four young kids, it was honestly... kind of a break.

My own mom put it best: “The prep sucks, but the actual procedure? It’s the best nap you’ve ever had.”

So that “prep?” It does suck. There’s no way around that. The point is to clear out your colon so they can check for any issues, but the process is a bit messy. For a few days before the actual preparation period, I was told to eat a low-fiber diet and avoid foods with red dyes that may show up as “blood” during the test. Then, the day before, I had to swig chalky laxatives for 12 hours straight. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious about this.

Officially called polyethylene glycol, this repulsive drink goes by the brand name GoLYTELY, pronounced “go lightly.” A cruel joke, since going lightly is absolutely not what happens when you drink it. I picture some pharmaceutical bros having a good laugh as they named this med. “Don’t worry, you’ll live,” my aunt told me, which really put things in perspective: It was her early-30s colon cancer diagnosis that meant I had to get screened early. I am forever thankful that she lived, and while I have that awful mom habit of neglecting my own medical appointments, her cancer experience made me very aware that this is one test I cannot put off.

While colonoscopy prep is absolutely not fun, she was right. I lived. But wow, I was busy for 12 hours.

I began drinking the medicine while curled up in my bed with Netflix on my laptop. The nitty gritty? Yes, you will poop often — sometimes every few minutes — for hours. You can’t eat, so you’re also hungry and bitchy. I would recommend planning this prep for a time when you have other childcare or a partner at home to help if at all possible. While all of our kids have seen us in the bathroom, you’re really gonna want some privacy this time. The medicine is powerful, and works quickly. Everyone who inquires about the procedure asks me this: Will I poop my pants?

I didn’t, but I did not stray more than 30 feet from the bathroom for the entire time. I felt sort of like I had a bad case of norovirus or ate some gas station sushi, but I still was able to binge an entire season of The Crown, chat with my kids, and sleep pretty soundly.

As for the procedure itself? While I didn’t have the guts to do anything funny like some suggested (such as weird temporary tattoos on my butt; my friends are very odd), it was entirely painless and even restful, just like my mom said. The team of doctors and nurses explained everything fully, told me there would always be at least two people with me while I was asleep, and then had me count back from ten as the anesthesia took over. When I awoke from a deep and dreamless sleep an hour later, I felt more well-rested than I had in months. It’s a sad testament to American motherhood that a procedure involving a rectal camera feels relaxing, but it’s the truth. We often don’t carve out time for rest and self-care unless we are forced to.

I was also starving. The doctor suggested breaking my fast with some gentle foods since my body had just been through a lot. I should have listened, but I chose not to heed that advice and ordered Indian instead. That decision may have been worse than the GoLytely, folks.

Meg St-Esprit, M. Ed., is a journalist and essayist based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s a mom to four kids via adoption as well as a twin mom. She loves to write about parenting, education, trends, and the general hilarity of raising little people.

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