One day you’re not feeling well, it gets worse, so you end up in the hospital and before you know it you’re leaving with a whole new body accessory. Something you’ve only vaguely heard about and probably never seen in real life. A stoma; an appendage on the outside of your stomach (that perhaps saved your life) is now with you every waking and sleeping moment.
So, how do you deal with it?
The hospitalization whether planned or emergency has already knocked the stuffing out of you. Recovery takes time and mostly happens at home, hopefully surrounded by caregivers in the form of nurses, specialists, friends, and family. Each one giving advice, a shoulder to lean on and telling tales of other people they know that enjoy a full and active life with an ostomy bag. However, you are the one that suddenly has something dangling from their stomach. Something that needs a lot of care, attention, and emptying.
All the kind words, support, and good medical attention don’t take away from the fact that your life has changed — beyond all recognition. It almost becomes a case of rediscovering everything that you took for granted. It starts with going to the bathroom differently. If the bag needs emptying, it needs emptying. Delay is not an option, as many nightly visits to the bathroom make you keenly aware. A full night’s sleep is a thing of the past, but something to take into your stride since the ostomy saved your life. A small price to pay.
All the nice clothes, suits, tight dresses and other outfits you used to wear now require a little more thought. Sharing stories on World Ostomy Day helps normalise what stoma patients go through every day, which is great. The ostomy bag should be viewed as no different than a hearing aid, a prosthetic limb or hopefully even spectacles. But, most of us are a little conscience and if we ourselves aren’t too self-conscious it seems other people are as well. Forever pointing out that the bottom of the bag is peeking out from under your shirt or other clothes. People tell you out of a sense of duty, but it does make one feel unnecessarily self-conscious. Trust me, I am aware of the bag being there 24/7 and if shows every now and then, so be it.
Two years ago, I was gifted a new lease on life and the stoma bag is a daily reminder. It has undoubtedly changed my life, but it is not the burden people imagine it to be. A great support structure really helps and knowing that there are others going about their daily lives who are also wearing a stoma bag really makes things easier. That’s why these days when people point at the slightly inflated bulge under my shirt where my bag is I tell them without any hesitation or embarrassment, “That’s my bag baby!”