How I Managed a Stoma for 12 Months
When I walked out through the hospital doors that cold winter evening, I felt a bit more confident about managing my colostomy.
The initial after-surgery shock soon wore off and with the learning of and adaption to my condition, I had decided to quickly accept and learn to live with it.
After a long four-week stay, I had learned how to take care of my stoma and fix, drain or change a colostomy bag.
But when I got home, a bit of that confidence was lost. There were no nurses around to help you, pamper you, and take care of you. No more confidence building pep talks, about how easy it is to live with and manage a colostomy.
The First Few Weeks At Home
I had expected the emotional stress because I had been prepared for what to expect, apparently, this feeling is a normal post-surgery mood. All I thought about was my stoma and how my lifestyle may be altered because of my colostomy.
It took a few weeks to totally adapt to the life of living with a stoma and with the benefit of hindsight; it truly was a passing phase.
I found myself learning and researching more about a living with this condition and as I discovered better and more efficient ways to manage myself, I knew I was now in full control and able to tackle any unexpected situation.
Living with an Ostomy - My 9 Major Challenges
The first few days at home, wearing, changing and managing colostomy bags was a great challenge and it really took some getting used to.
Eventually, we all got along fine together, colostomy bags, stoma 'button' and I. but before then, issues encountered and its associated worries include:
- Knowing the right time to change a colostomy pouch
- Dealing with odour every time you change or drain a bag (ostomy deodorants never worked well for me)
- Worrying about bag ballooning or leaks
- Wondering if a blow-out is imminent
- Worrying about running out of supplies (it can be a disaster if you run out of stoma bags)
- Bleeding around the stoma ring
- Loud farting sounds that emanate from the stoma
- How to dispose of used bags (I preferred the drainable bags)
- The feeling of self-consciousness
How to Change Your Colostomy Pouch
Managing My Stoma At Home
The first week I was 'in and out' of the bathroom, checking, sniffing, worrying about the fluid scanty stool. I soon discovered that bags I can drain worked best for me.
The ease of draining loose stool from pouches through the drainage opening was super.
The Velcro tape tabs were always strong and secure contrary to my initial thoughts that they may pop open.
Of course, this never happens because the ends are folded over a couple of times before being secured with the Velcro.
1. Eating and General Diet
I barely ate any food, hoping that eating much less will ensure the stoma bag is filled with little stool as possible, but that wasn’t so wise because I had to eat well. I was just out of the hospital and needed to build up my body mass, strength and stamina plus I needed to put on some weight. I had lost about 10kilos.
I bought a smoothie maker and ate mostly blended foods for breakfast and dinner which consisted of fruits, vegetables, and nut mixes. But I soon stuck to a simple diet eating most foods I love but in moderation. I was bent on ensuring that waste was expelled with ease and at a reduced amount.
I had to modify the way I dressed and that certainly bothered me a bit. I stored away my tight fitting clothes (I’m a bodycon outfit fan) and opted for looser fitting apparel, especially loose around the waist.
Trousers, shorts, and casual pants posed a problem initially but I soon found that low-rise pants worked better for me as it allowed my colostomy bag to hang out unhindered by waistbands.
I love Palazzo pants and these were a favourite for that first couple of weeks. They were loose and free and looked good on too.
I brought out my loose tops and also bought some new fashionable loosely fitting blouses, designer T-shirts which I sometimes tied into a knot at one side, and bust-fitting but flared short jackets.
I also invested in long scarves and chic fashionable wraps. I’d drape them over one shoulder and casually throw it over the other in that chic lady-like way.
Shirt dresses and shifts worked beautifully and concealed the fact that you have a stoma bag on.
It wasn’t easy for me to sleep soundly at first and there was the horrible thought that lying on my stomach might burst my bag and splatter its contents all over my sheets. I had to learn to sleep on my side and eventually inculcated that way of sleeping within a few days of my arrival at home.
At the hospital, it was a different 'kettle of fish'. There were always nurses around to help you out of nasty situations that may occur.
When you are in bed with your partner, the last thing you wish to happen is a burst or leaking bag whilst asleep.
4. Partying and Socialising
My first outing was (funny enough) a dinner at a restaurant, just a couple of weeks out of the hospital. The food looked really good, but I barely ate for fear of the farty gas noises that always came on unexpectedly.
Another fear I had on that day was the fear of my colostomy bag filling up rapidly (this always happened after a meal) or some leakage. It wasn’t an easy outing at the time though I was all smiles and cheery and 99% of the invited guests never knew a thing about my condition.
My next outing was a party, and I mean a disco party where we practically danced all night long. I was a bit apprehensive about attending, but I'm quite brave and strong enough to face major challenges. I decided to face this one too.
I was dressed to the 'hilt' and had a wonderful time, and for a few hours, I forgot all about my stoma and colostomy bag. I had ‘armed’ myself with two extra bags in case I had to have a change sometime through the night.
I never needed to use them.
Ii had to travel by air six weeks after I left the hospital and I definitely wasn't looking forward to that.
It was a six-hour flight and I was going from a very cold climate into a very hot and humid one. From the time I left home to the time I got to my destination, I'd be spending ten hours in airports and in the air. That thought made me panic briefly, but it had to be done.
I had my colostomy supplies in my hand luggage, the deodorant, wipes, and ten colostomy bags (yes, 10! I laugh when I remember now) all neatly packed in a zippered designer colostomy supplies bag.
I had to pre-cut the holes on the bag’s face-plate because scissors were not allowed in any hand luggage.
Any ostomy patient will know what it’s like changing a colostomy pouch in any public toilet. The odor spreads like ‘wildfire’.
But changing or emptying a pouch in an airplane's toilet is something else entirely. The odor was so consuming and the deodorants couldn't hide the smell. I was like . . . “Oh well, it’s just too bad”.
I had to change three times before I got to my destination.
One thing was for sure though; I was getting more adept at this and spent less time than I would have if I had to use a toilet the normal way.
How to Empty an Ostomy Bag
Back to My Regular Lifestyle, Even with a Colostomy
After fully accepting my condition mentally, I must say that I found that it beats having to use the toilet the normal way.
There were a few times when the urge to go the normal way occurred and at first it was alarming. After talking to my doctor, I was assured that it was normal. Because of the accumulation of mucus in the rectum despite its being idle, the urge to expel something occurs occasionally.
My doctor advised I try to expel the mucus build-up by sitting on the toilet and bearing down lightly and that if something doesn't pop out I should use a very mild suppository that will aid its expulsion.
In no time, managing my colostomy became second nature. In fact, it gave me a new lease on life.
I had come to terms with having a stoma, and my initial reaction and shock after my surgery had been replaced by happier thoughts.
Still, only a couple of people knew I was walking around with a colostomy bag on.
And because I watched what I ate and kept to a simple diet, I hardly experienced constipation, leaks, or blowouts.
In the space of twelve months, I only experienced blowouts about three times.
Ballooning was a much more common occurrence and usually happens whenever I consumed fizzy or alcoholic drinks like sodas, sparkling wines, or champagne. When this gas build-up occurs, I just sneak into the toilet and let out the gas through the end drain of the drainable colostomy bag and I’m all done in two minutes!
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Intimate Relationships with a Colostomy
Living with a colostomy wasn't so bad after all. After the initial three months, I was beginning to enjoy my colostomy bag. I used the modern colostomy bags in skin colour and they looked so neat.
With only 9 months to go before my reverse colostomy, I was as happy as can be.
And because my husband was my pillar of support, adjusting was easy. When he first saw my colostomy pouch attached to my abdomen, guess what he said - "it looks so sexy". I didn't think so then, but who was I to argue?
© 2010 AloBeDa