If there is one thing ostomates agree on, it’s that it’s time to put an end to stigmas.
I decided to write this blog after reading an article centred on excerpts from Matthew Perry’s new memoir. After learning more about Perry’s journey with an ostomy, I realised that even celebrities are vulnerable to poor ostomy care and the stigmas that VERA SA – and other organisations such as CANSA and SASS – The South African Society of Stomates are working to eliminate.
Matthew Perry was fitted with a colostomy bag for nine months
In case you haven’t heard, Friends star Matthew Perry revealed in a preview of his new memoir that his colon burst due to opioid abuse in 2019. He was unconscious for two weeks. When he woke up, he was told he had undergone emergency ostomy surgery to save his life.
“It was pretty hellish having one because they broke all the time,” he admits, illustrating that even a Hollywood star can be exposed to substandard care and the ostomy stigmas that VERA SA is seeking to eradicate
Following a diagnosis of Chron’s Disease a few years ago, I had life-saving ostomy surgery. If you have Crohn’s disease, you’re certainly familiar with the symptoms of chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, such as stomach cramps, diarrhoea, lethargy, and rectal bleeding.
Although medication can effectively alleviate these symptoms, it does not work for everyone. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, up to 75% of Crohn’s patients will require surgery at some point. I am today one of the estimated 13.5 million people worldwide who have a stoma.
The importance of a secure ostomy pouch
The most critical component of life with an ostomy is usually a secure pouch. It’s a significant problem if you can’t leave your house because you’re frightened your pouch will leak. Unless you are emptying your bag, no stool or odour will escape if you have a good seal on your pouch.
There are numerous pouch systems on the market, and no one should ever have to live with a leaking pouch.
Because of my follow-up care and emotional support provided by certified ostomy nurses, I am fortunate enough to get properly fitted ostomy pouches that do not break, smell, or restrict my active lifestyle.
According to the book, while Perry’s ostomy was only temporary, it was the impetus for him to break his long pattern of addiction.
The stigma surrounding stomas
While Perry’s determination to overcome his addiction is admirable, these words sting for those of us who have had to deal with the consequences of ostomy stigmas in our society.
Would Perry’s perspective on the ostomy have changed if he had the opportunity to attend an ostomy support group or speak with another person living with an ostomy during his nine-month recovery?
Before Perry was discharged, did he receive information about organisations that help ostomy patients? According to research, these and other standards of care can make or break a patient’s outcome.
Although ostomy surgery saves or improves lives, some people believe that dying is a better option than undergoing this procedure. Body image issues and ostomy acceptance affect people of all ages, and perpetuating these stigmas can leave deep scars.
Perry also mentions how seeing the scars from his 14 abdominal surgeries motivated him to break the cycle of addiction. Perry and those interviewing him are right to celebrate and support efforts to combat addiction. I also ask that they help raise positive ostomy awareness and share our resources with those in need.
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