As I speak, I'm following directions as given on several closely printed pages from a doctor's office.

As I speak, I'm following directions as given on several closely printed pages from a doctor's office.

The directions are lengthy, specific and repetitive, in the manner of instructions that have been re-written, re-worked and reorganized many times. They begin calmly and reasonably enough "Water, clear fruit juices (apple, white grape) or broth" then slide into capital letters and multiple exclamation points, like an exasperated mother: "NO SOLID FOODS, BEER, WINE, MILK OR MILK PRODUCT!!!" A person gets the feeling that whoever wrote these instructions has had it up to here with patients calling the office to ask, "Well, how about ice cream? Can I have that?" or just assuming that if white grape juice is OK, so is a nice Pinot Grigio or a liter or two of Chardonnay. "It's a clear liquid, right? And really, practically a fruit juice."

As you may have guessed, I'm getting ready for one of those outpatient hospital procedures famous for being a breeze compared to the preparation of the day before. This isn't my first such experience, so I feel like an expert, probably because lightheadedness brought on by the liquid diet has skewed my thinking.

The first rule is stay off the Internet. It might seem like a good idea to see how nameless strangers fared during their days of procedure-prep, but trust me, you'll end up feeling like you spent the night in a Bangkok bus station. People who wouldn't tell their co-workers what they were doing on their days off will describe their most personal experiences in lurid detail on random message boards: Tales of dehydration, nausea and horrible over-the-counter mixtures you never heard of because those aren't the ones your doctor has told you to use, while you read as if transfixed, your eyes round, your mouth ajar.

Now, what's the point of that? Turn off the computer. Focus on your own experience. You're the only one you know undergoing procedure preparation today, right? Everybody else in the whole wide world is happily engaged in other things playing with puppies, eating chocolate, frolicking in sunny meadows. For heaven's sake, curl up in a comfortable chair, cry a little if you feel like it and think only of you.
The second rule is come on. It's not that bad.

Really. It's one day of drinking juice, eating Popsicles, spooning up Jell-O and maybe sipping broth as a special dinner course. Couldn't we all benefit from a day away from what these instructions call Solid Foods? Our entire digestive systems will thank us for it. I hear mine thanking me right now, in fact. It has a sort of growly voice, but I'm pretty sure the general tone is appreciative.

And finally, the third rule, which is of course it's terrible but it's so adult.

Remember when you were, oh, say 13 and you longed to be taken for a person much older, a person who had car keys and make up and plans for Saturday night? Well, now you're older, and you have all those things and more: You have an appointment, which you made yourself like the big girl you are.

Nobody wants to do this big inconvenient thing, of course, anymore than people want to have root canals or hip replacement surgery. They do it because the alternative is worse, because it's the right thing to do, because they value their health more than they value the chance to eat SOLID FOODS, MILK OR MILK PRODUCT every last day of their lives. Having the test that means devoting the day before it to test prep is pretty much the most grown-up thing a person can do. It's more adult than getting a driver's license; more sophisticated than ordering a cocktail; more worldly wise than what's her name, Lindsay Lohan.

I'll take it. With a chaser of magnesium citrate.

E-mail Margo Bartlett at