Whether you’re a newbie or long-standing ostomate, there are always new and exciting things to learn about ostomy life. Here are 16 things that might surprise you about ostomies, none of which have to do with poo. (There, we’ve fulfilled our obligatory mention of poop).
1. Ostomy bags have come a lonnnngggggg way.
The first ostomy bag wasn’t so much a bag as a sponge. You had to strap it to your stomach and drain it constantly—a setup that just screams convenience, right?
Then came glass bottles (for optimal comfort, obviously) and then leather pouches, which sound somewhat better but still fairly medieval. Imagine going to the local... leather smith?... and being like, “Hey, I’ve got a weird project for you.”
Next came the first rubber pouch, but don’t get too excited. This was like military-grade stuff, so thick and heavy it could've maybe deflected bullets. That was in 1920.
The ostomy bags we know and love today didn’t grace us with their existence until around the ’70s. To ostomates back then, that must have been pretty groovy.
2. The word “stoma” is a Greek word that means…
Just think about that for a minute.
3. We have our own version of Victoria’s Secret.
Not only have you dodged the glass bottle, you live in a glorious age of ostomy intimate apparel! Woman AND MEN can buy underthings for jazzing up those scantily clad times. Or just wearing, you know, for yourself.
4. OSTOMY BAG COVERS ARE A BIG THING.
Because if you want to cover your bag in flowers or Minions or scary flames, that’s your prerogative!
(How about a different cover for each day of the week? Scary flames for Mondays?)
5. Some of us wear the bag sideways.
YouTube star, Rebecca Zamolo, breaks down the reasons why she does this in a handy video, and apparently there’s a secret enclave of ostomates who wear it this way.
Note of caution: consult your ostomy nurse or doctor before attempting. Some recommend against it — best to ask before going horizontal.
6. The variety of ostomy products out there will BLOW YOUR MIND.
Let’s again emphasize how far we’ve come since the sponge era.
Today, there are enough companies that each could sponsor an NFL team. (Wouldn’t it be fun to watch the Hollister's play the Nu-Hope's?)
There are nighttime pouches, mini pouches, opaque/clear/gray color choices, convex wafers, oval or round openings, drainable and closed-end pouches, hypoallergenic, one-piece and two-piece systems, vented or filtered pouches, cut to fit flanges or pre-cut, and 100’s more (not to mention all the accessories)… seriously, someone needs to create a periodic table of ostomy products to get this all sorted out.
If you’re new, you may need to go on a bit of spirit quest to determine what’s best for you, but that’s what experimenting’s for.
7. Speaking of experimenting…
You can totally order free samples from most manufacturers, so let someone else fund your spirit quest! Plus, a marvelous vegan stoma person upkeeps a fairly comprehensive list of all of the manufacturers that dish the free goods.
8. Former NFL placekicker Rolf Benirschke had an ostomy.
Napoleon did, too. It didn’t seem to stop him from conquering most of Europe.
9. Teddy bears wear ostomy bags too.
OstoBear and Awesome Ollie are teddy bears with a stoma and an attachable ostomy bag! So perfect for our little ostomate friends who need lots of encouragement and practice... a cuddly companion who’s just like them.
10. There are LOTS of people who have an ostomy.
If you’re brand new to this whole “intestines outside the body” thing, you might feel like you’re the only one -- but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In the United States alone, there are over a million people with an ostomy walking among us and an estimated three million ostomates worldwide according to our friends at 11 Health.
So world domination may not be happening anytime soon, but together we can really make some noise.
11. Where did ostomies come from anyways?
Only sporadic accounts of ostomy surgery can be found before the 1700s.
ANSWER: It was Monsieur Littre who in 1710, first suggested that a surgically created colostomy may preserve life in infants born with an imperforate anus. Littre performed an autopsy on a baby who had died from complications of imperforate anus. His observations caused him to suggest the following:
It would be necessary to make an incision in the belly, open the two ends of the closed bowel, and stitch them together, or at least bring the upper part of the bowel to the surface of the belly wall, where it would never close.
Source: Brooke, B. (1980). A History of Stomas: From King Stephen to Dr. Turnbull. The Newsletter of the World Council of Enterostomal Therapists, 1(2), 1-3
12. Calendars featuring ostomates are absolutely a real thing!
In the digital age, why is the paper version so popular?
To see your 'mates' all-year-round, of course.
The Colon Club is ON THE RISE with its new 2018 calendar. This amazing publication provides unparalleled support and features young adult colorectal cancer survivors, their scars and inspiring journeys.
13. Urostomies are for peeing.
This type of surgery is for the bladder. It means having a stoma and ostomy pouch on your body to collect urine. It's also called an ileal conduit (pronounced eye-lee-al con-dwee).
And just in case you didn't know already... urostomates are wonderful, incredible, fantastic, fabulous, magnificent, awesome, spectacular people.
14. Some people have two ostomies.
We couldn't have said it better ourselves — rock on Rachel!
15. There is a famous owl with an ostomy.
Thank you, Matthew Mewhorter, for creating Cancer Owl to help people going through colon cancer treatment feel a little more connected. Your talent and comics are a gift to the world.
16. The whole world celebrates ostomates every three years!
The International Ostomy Association stages World Ostomy Day every three years. It was one grand hurrah in 2015 when the theme was “Many Stories, One Voice” and the hashtag #MyOstomyStory dominated the Twittersphere. Give that a search sometime you have six spare hours.
We can all look forward to global bag-folk solidarity in October 2018!