Guest Post: Another Kind of Coming Out Story

IF ONLY. But no, my prep drink didn’t make me feel like this.

So, today I’ll be writing about my colonoscopy.

Now wait, please don’t close this page! I promise not to dig too deep…er, I mean, I won’t get too mired in…oops, well, let’s just say I’ll try not to say a whole lot about poop. My real interest right now is actually in the “bowel prep.” Specifically, why does this particular prep drink taste like bubblegum flavored vinegar with two cups of salt and a bad egg? I’ve had this test before and the prep, while icky, wasn’t as foul as this one. With some ice cubes, a slosh of ginger ale, and a straw, I could almost pretend it was a new summer drink that I wouldn’t be ordering again.

Meanwhile, what the heck is it doing in there in order to leave a person empty as a kid’s Halloween bag on November 2? (I could make a tootsie roll joke, but I won’t.)

The SUPREP kit contains two 6-oz brown bottles that look benign enough. I’m supposed to drink one in the evening and one the next morning (mixed with 10 ounces of water each time)—that doesn’t sound too bad. And then, for the next hour after I down the stuff, I’m to drink 32 ounces of water every 15 minutes, in four 8-ounce servings. There’s even a little chart on which I can mark off each one as I go. That’s so helpful!

Now, let’s talk about the “drink” itself. The label reads: sodium sulfate, potassium sulfate, and magnesium sulfate, oral solution. I want to make an observation here, based on recent experience. This is not something anyone should be taking orally, and the only thing it solves is the problem of not being nauseated. I felt so ill after drinking it that I thought maybe I should have just accepted my gut problems as a part of me I didn’t like, like my nose. It was truly that awful. Sour, bitter, sweet like fake sugar, medicinal, heavily salty. Sort of like Red Bull. And (my fault) room temperature. Undrinkable.

But in the midst of all this unpleasantness, trying to ignore the nausea, reminding myself that colonoscopies save lives and all that, I am wondering what all these sulfates are and what each one does. I want answers. Can’t help it—that’s how my brain works in a crisis.

Before I get into those details, though, let’s talk about the water requirement. I’m no whiz with numbers, but I find out quickly that 32 ounces is a lot of liquid for a petite person such as myself, and 15 minutes is a blip in time to get it all down. I usually save my roaming-the-desert thirst for roaming the desert. Plus, I’ve been on a liquid diet all day, which makes me cranky, not thirsty.

My eyeballs are floating after the first two glasses—remember, I already drank the 16-ounce prep—and suddenly the timer is going off and I realize how behind I am. (I said behind.) The second 15 minutes has started and I’m barely halfway through water round #1. Already I’m a balloon. And I’m oddly nervous. Its like having pages to go of a test and the teacher calling out “pencils down!” (We used to use pencils in school.) But failure isn’t an option: To start this test over another day is unthinkable. I keep drinking.

Meanwhile, how about those sulfates? Here’s what I find out in between visits to the WC. (And yes, this is from Wikipedia because, as you can imagine, my time at the computer is limited.) Sodium sulfate is the white salt of sulfuric acid. It is used, among other things, in making detergents, explosives, dyes, batteries, and in the paper pulping process. It also has laxative effects, though how someone at the detergent, explosive, or paper factory found that out is unclear.

Potassium sulfate is another crystalline salt mostly used in fertilizers, which makes it sound toxic, but as a nutrient, which makes it sound almost healthy. One of its roles is to help regulate water flow in the cells and leaves of plants. That seems relevant.

And finally, magnesium sulfate is yet another inorganic salt a chemical compound rather than a nice organic salt like the others. It contains magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen and, like its potassium brother, it is mostly used in agriculture—as a drying agent. Maybe, then, it balances out the effects of the sodium sulfate. You find it in Epsom salt, so feel free to take a bath in it. (Apparently it makes crops grow better and can be used in the removal of splinters.)

Together, this salty chemical slurry that is clearly inedible unless you are a fern is dynamite at regulating water in order to transform and get poop out. Really, really fast. It’s like it scares it out of there. Poop, be gone! Very effective.

I’ll leave it there. (I wouldn’t want to muddy the waters.) Maybe it’s for a good cause, but the Suprep prep kit really, really ruined my day. And as a new morning approaches I look forward to a second bottle of solution, another gallon or so of water, and then the test itself—for which I will be asleep, thank the bowel gods. Good times.

On a positive note, I learned a little chemistry and, better yet, I’m back to my high school weight!


Jennifer S. Holland is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Unlikely Friendships and Unlikely Loves, about unusual animal relationships. Her new book, Unlikely Heroes, comes out this month. She is a regular contributor to National Geographic.

Photo: Sheftsoff, Shutterstock


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9 thoughts on “Guest Post: Another Kind of Coming Out Story

  1. Jeez!!! I had a colonoscopy a few years ago and it was nowhere near as unpleasant as you report. I was given a sachet of powder(??) and mixed it into rather a lot of water.I think, from memory, about 6 litres? I was told to drink a litre of this every (can’t quite remember) 2 or 3 hours.I know I stayed up all night!
    Next day, I was driven to the specialist’s clinic. What do I remember most? After the scope, I was offered instant coffee or tea bag tea and a pappy white bread, over-processed ham sandwich. At home, we never eat crap like that!
    I do wonder why they dosed you with ag.chem. stuff????

  2. It really is a shame this experience is so rarely available to younger people. Imagine the anticipation of English teachers awaiting the annual “My Colonoscopy” essay from adolescents…

  3. Oh, Jennifer! I’ve been having a rough day, and your entertaining description of your even rougher day has made me laugh and given me new fortitude to get through it all. Thank you. May the bowel gods smile upon you.

  4. Fantastic, Jennifer! Exactly right. I did this for surgery last December and it was exactly as you described. Way worse than the prep for the colonoscopy I had a few years ago. It’s not even clear if this xtreme prep is totally necessary. But if they slip and cut a hole in your gut, it apparently makes them feel better that you won’t have quite such a massive peritoneal infection–just a little one. I made the mistake of staying in a motel the night before, so all this in a grimy motel, by myself, on Christmas. Up all night testing the commode for efficacy and then up at 6 am to report for duty at the hospital.

  5. Thanks, all. And apologies for my chemistry flub. Hopefully the text is correct now. That’s what I get for relying on a semi-reliable source (and for not knowing my compounds/salts).

  6. You missed a great opportunity by choosing to let them put you to sleep. By opting for the minimum amount of anesthesia, you could have interacted with the doctor during the procedure, asked questions and, if lucky like I was, get to watch the entire procedure on a color monitor. An added benefit, minimum, or no, recovery time!

  7. Jerry, I actually did it that way once…it was quite interesting, actually. But this time was less routine and I wasn’t given the choice.

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