While having coffee with a client a few weeks ago, we struck up a conversation about stoma surgery. I explained how my life changed drastically when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in my early 20s (I’m now in my 40s).
After numerous flare-ups and multiple surgeries, I eventually had most of my colon removed and a temporary ileostomy.
Sadly, there were numerous complications, and after my fifth operation, I had had enough. I asked my surgeon to do whatever it took to fix me, and that is when I had my first stoma.
I was not ready mentally for this change. I refused to acknowledge I had a bag. I even stopped eating and got severely dehydrated. I must be honest, my kids saved me. They were the ones that kept me going and that is when I rushed my doctor for a reversal. Within six months, however, I was back on the operating table, having my second stoma.
My experience following ostomy surgery was one I will never forget. But, my personal experience with ostomy surgery isn’t what I’ll be talking about in my blog today.
Why, you may ask?
Because just like no two snowflakes are the same, everyone’s experience with ostomy surgery is unique, and no two experiences will be the same.
Instead, I’m going to talk about what you can expect post ostomy surgery and give you a few tips on how to cope in the first few days and weeks following ostomy surgery.
What Will The Stoma Look Like?
Before you undergo ostomy surgery, your doctor will have explained (hopefully at length) what a stoma is, why you need it, and how it functions.
For those who don’t quite understand the terminology of “a stoma”, this is for you.
What Is A Stoma?
Simply put, a stoma is an abdominal opening that can be connected to either your digestive or urinary systems to allow waste (urine or faeces) to be diverted out of your body.
It looks like a small circular piece of pinkish flesh sewn to your body (weird, I know, but that’s the best way I can describe it). It is basically is a piece of your colon protruding from your stomach (depending on what type of surgery you have). It may be flat against your body or protrude outward.
You will wear a pouch over the top of your stoma, which can be closed or have an opening at the bottom. Because your stoma lacks nerve endings, you should experience no discomfort.
Some ostomates, however, do complain of skin issues around the opening of your ostomy, like chafing and redness. These concerns should be discussed with your healthcare provider.
Why Would Someone Need A Stoma?
There are many reasons why you may need a stoma. Common causes include bowel cancer, bladder cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (as in my case, Crohn’s Disease), diverticulitis, or an obstruction to the bladder or bowel. A stoma can be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause.
There are three main types of ostomy, so read…
When a part of your large bowel or colon is pulled through from an incision made on your abdomen to form a stoma.
When part of your small bowel (the ileum) is pulled through an incision made on your abdomen to form a stoma.
When your bladder is removed, and a small piece of your bowel is pulled through an incision made through your abdomen and sewn to your stomach to form a stoma.
After Ostomy Surgery
When you look at your stomach for the first time after surgery, you may get a shock – so be prepared!
Your stoma will look quite big (mine looked a lot bigger than I had anticipated). This is perfectly normal following surgery, and as it heals, you will find that the size of your stoma reduces by around two-thirds (as mine did). This usually takes about six to eight weeks.
Everyone’s stoma is a different size and you’ll have to cut your flange/base for your stoma bag to fit. However, your stoma therapist will be with you all the way till you are comfortable doing it on your own.
I found, in the beginning, eating one or two marshmallows helped with reducing the output and made for a lot less mess when changing my bag. For directions on how to change your bag, this YouTube video may prove helpful.
When Will Your Stomach Start Working Again?
While this is not a set-in-stone answer, generally, it will take a few days for the stoma to start to work, and at first, the output may be quite watery with a pungent smell.
Again, as your body heals, the consistency will become thicker, and the odour will reduce.
You may also find that your stoma produces some noisy gas. This will settle.
Once you are well enough and your doctor is confident that your surgery went well and that you can manage your stoma, you will be able to return home.
What To Eat Following Ostomy Surgery
While you are recovering, you may be given a diet to follow to allow your body to heal and start to work again properly. It’s best to eat mostly bland, low-fibre foods for the first few weeks.
- Eat small, frequent meals. Try to have six small meals throughout the day instead of 3 large ones.
- Eat slowly and chew your food well.
- Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
- When you add foods back to your diet, introduce them slowly.
Fitting Clothing For Ostomates
Some of the clothes you’ll be able to wear again in the future won’t be comfortable at first. Your body will be tender and sore after surgery, and you will live in baggy, comfy sweatpants.
While this will be your go-to outfit while you’re healing and lounging around, once you start to feel better, you’ll be able to wear “normal” clothes again.
You can order ostomate-specific underwear online by shopping here.
VERA SA: Ostomy Underwear is different from regular underwear because they are high-waisted and have a front pocket that “holds” and “conceals” your bag.
Possible Complications Of Stoma Surgery
There are a few possible complications that one may experience following ostomy surgery. Should you be concerned about anything, don’t ever hesitate to call your doctor.
While everyone’s experience with ostomy surgery differs, know that you’re not alone. According to the Western Australian Ostomy Association Incorporated, there are around 3 million ostomates in the world.
Colostomy bags are used to treat Crohn’s disease, colorectal cancer, diverticulitis, and a variety of other conditions in people of all ages.
- Eat the right foods and drink enough water.
- Ask your doctor if you have any concerns about your ostomy.
- Find the right clothing (in particular, underwear) to conceal your ostomy, and, most of all,
- Be patient with your body and give yourself time (and permission) to heal.
Vera SA is a proud partner of CANSA and The South African Society of Ostomates.
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