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Or, Tennessee Carney and the Quest for the Liquid Dulcolax

John I. Carney
6 min readMay 19, 2023

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A bottle of liquid Dulcolax next to a bag from McGee’s Prescription Shop in Shelbyville, Tennessee.

I lost my mother to cancer in 2010, and my involvement over several years, in her memory, with the American Cancer Society Relay For Life raised my awareness of the importance of colonoscopies.

When I got my first colonoscopy, in 2012, the procedure was recommended starting at age 50 unless there were other risk factors present. Now, they’ve dropped that to age 45.

In that first colonoscopy, the gastroenterologist found and removed a benign polyp. If he had not removed it, it could have become cancerous later on. That’s one of the unique things about a colonoscopy — it’s not only a test, but under the right circumstances it can actually prevent cancer.

Because they found a polyp, I am supposed to get colonoscopies every five years. (Otherwise, the interval would be 10 years.) My insurance company reminded me a few months ago that I was due for one, and so I scheduled it.

If you’re not familiar with how a colonoscopy works, the procedure itself is a breeze — you’re sedated, and don’t remember a thing. They insert a tiny video camera into your nether regions, along with a surgical tool that can cut off any polyps and retrieve them so that the tissue can be sent to a lab for testing.

However, in order for all of this to be possible, your colon, or large intestine, must be empty, and clean as a whistle. This brings us to the part of a colonoscopy that people don’t like — the prep day. On the day before your colonoscopy, you are on a strict diet of clear liquids only, none of which can be red or contain red food coloring. Then, at some point, you start taking laxatives, and you spend a lot of time in one particular room of your home. By the time you feel safe going to bed, you’re pretty much empty. The next morning, someone has to drive you to your appointment (because of the sedation) and stay there so that they can take you home when it’s over. In big cities, where public transportation is an option, there is some question about whether the driver/companion is necessary.

In 2012, I had to take a special, industrial-strength prescription laxative for cleaning out my colon. In 2017, I had to take a similar prescription laxative, but…

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John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at http://www.lakeneuron.com/dislike