6th year stomaversary

 

Today marks 6 years since stoma surgery and it always gives me a jittery feeling thinking back. It was such a long and difficult journey which I wasn’t sure I would survive, so remembering those times can be unsettling.

APRIL 3rd 2016

12.30pm I was being put to sleep and for the following 7 hrs approximately, I was having my life saved. Around 8pm I remember waking up with an NG tube down my nose and my family around my bed on the high dependancy ward.

The next three days are a slight blur, but I remember snippets of things that are vaguely daunting and just a bit scary. Tubes and wires, the awful NG tube scraping my throat so that it was painful to swallow. The central line in my neck that needed resiting to the other side.

Then ten weeks on the ward, the most difficult of all my hospital stays. Sepsis and rectal catheters, high temperatures, another NG tube but this time for feeding me. Tears and depression, fear and exhaustion. Scar opening up and needing packing, more tears wondering how on earth I am going to cope, seeing my stoma for the first time.

Then a turn for the better, with light at the end of the tunnel. Sunshine, a better future. Getting acquainted with my new side kick Tomas, feeling better and stronger each day. Feeling well.

This is just a very short version that began on the 3rd April 2016. A lot has happened since those early years with Tomas the stoma, good bad and downright painful but I think we make a great team.

 

It’s not all bad

 

Cut the bag, size to fit

Making sure there is no shit

Coming out the edges, under the bag

All my hard work, my shoulders sag

Do I change my bag? Or just my seal?

whatever it takes to for my skin heal

 

Tomas just laughs and poo’s some more.

I try to catch it before it lands on the floor

Nothing to lose, I grab the bag

My son then walks in and starts to gag.

Get out I shout, whilst holding my belly

OMG mum, that really is smelly.

 

I slam the door shut and get back to my job

It takes all my strength to try not to sob.

The bag it on, my skin starts to sting

Just in time as the phone starts to ring.

Leave me alone, I am cleaning my stoma

For doing all this I deserve a diploma

My knowledge is vast regarding my poo

And everything else to do with the loo.

 

This is why I shout out about my condition

And having it done isn’t a terrible decision

Despite the poo and sometimes the pain

And the fact that I wouldn’t go through it again

I am left with a blob that I have to look after

But it helped me to live and overcome a disaster

I no longer have to rush to the loo

And there are many more things that I now can do.

So if you are worried about having this done

Just remember you will feel like your life has begun.

Tomas travels again

My latest travels took us to Spain and with all the preliminary faffing with covid papers and tests etc we were on our way. Tomas behaved reasonably well, actually with what I threw at him he behaved amazingly well. We went for two weeks with my husband and friends and I ate the equivalent of a small house, not to mention the alcohol. I daren’t weigh myself yet until I settle back in to my normal routine back home.

I ate everything and anything, and waited to see if it affected me and my digestive system. Seafood, copious amounts of bread ( it was usually complimentary so I had to eat it ) things I knew I should have chewed better but forgot until it was already on it’s way. So all in all, Tomas was amazing it was just me who wasn’t.

I use social media a lot and it seems that with all my friends and groups of ostomates, I always expect to see someone on the beach with a stoma, but in six years I never have. It has always been just little old me, and this year I felt vulnerable and stared at. i kept tucking my bag into my bikini bottoms whenever I got up off my sun lounger to go to the toilet or the bar because everyone seemed to be looking at me ( I am not paranoid) and usually I walk tall and proud but this time I didn’t feel confident and I can’t explain why, maybe next time I will be back to being confident me. The photo at the top was taken on a secluded beach with just some of my closest friends and husbands so I felt happy to keep my bag out then.

We went to the mud flats to have the healing and cleansing salt water pool muds rubbed onto our skins and then washed off in the water, it was quite an experience and I actually enjoyed it. I made sure Tomas and bag were covered so that the mud wouldn’t get on to them and it seemed to work, I just felt the need to change my bag later that day.

I shall keep raising awareness and showing my stoma bag off ( when my confidence lets me) and I want others to know that you can still live your life the way you want to and get out there in the big wide world.

 

OSTOMY AWARENESS DAY 3RD OCTOBER

I am all for raising awareness and feel that it is important to show a stoma in all its glory, otherwise there really isn’t any point telling people what it’s all about without the fine details.

People are curious and have never seen a stoma, yes they can look scary and unusual, believe me I didn’t want to look at mine for weeks, and in hospital my stoma nurse changed my bag a few times with me looking away. But after I got used to it I would have people ask me questions about it and I was more than happy to oblige. ( I assume if someone didn’t want to know about them then they wouldn’t read my blog).

Stomas can look very different from person to person as the reasons for having a stoma vary too, mine is an ileostomy where I had my entire colon removed and my small bowel ( Ileum) was bought through my tummy. You can have a colostomy where you will have some large bowel left ( Colon), you can have a urostomy ( which is for your urine) there are still some more for example a jejunostomy where the part of the small bowel called the jejunum would be bought through. These are the main types but you can have many others.

 

Some protrude out more than others like mine, this is handy when you have an ileostomy or high colostomies because your output is much looser, a lower colostomy will usually have thicker output much like normal poo but most are made in the same way, this diagram is excellent showing how an end ileostomy is made from INSIDE OUT OSTOMY LIFE

These photos were from a previous blog post from some very brave and wonderful people.

For some of us having a stoma it isn’t the end of surgery, we often have our rectums and anus completely removed too, ( Barbie or Ken butt ) to make sure our disease has gone and doesn’t cause problems. Like me you might develop fistulas and sinus tracts which is not uncommon with Crohns disease and ulcerative colitis. As you have probably read before I have had surgery to remove a perineal fistula by having an IGAM flap. ( a large piece of muscle from my thigh and buttock was placed into my rectal dead space and a flap of blood rich skin was sewn over that part ) I also have a stomal fistula which will need surgery in the future.

So if you know someone with a stoma of any kind, remember that they have usually been through a few tough surgeries to get to the point where they look and feel well. You cannot see anything so please don’t judge us if we need the disabled toilet or can’t walk far due to fatigue. These surgeries are life saving but there is usually a cost to that.

 

The wrong thing to say to an ostomate

This week I have seen some comments on other stoma advocate’s posts that have upset me. I don’t mind the odd joke about my stoma as I am very open and a lighthearted joke or two lightens the mood. I can laugh about it quite happily with my friends and family.

But get me a stranger being rude and unkind and it makes me think that it is what everyone really thinks deep down. People commenting with the puking emoji on seeing a stoma is one of those. But the very best of the bad bunch is one that my friend The spoonie mummy mentioned on social media this week. It was from Twitter and the person concerned is a nurse in America I won’t be naming though, they can’t help being an arse ( excuse the pun)

Comments such as ” I can deal with anything in the nursing field…but a trach and an ostomy I just can’t do” ( puking face)

(A trach is short for a tracheostomy which is an opening created in the neck through to the windpipe so that a tube can be inserted to help with breathing, it is a different type of stoma hence the ending of ostomy.)

” I gag every time I hear I have a patient with one ” ( puking face).

” They are both nasty as FK to me and stink sooo bad” ( puking face)

What are their mentors teaching them? I hope these comments are seen by their employers so that they can decide if nursing really is the job for them.

Now don’t get me wrong , I can assume a lot of people might find stomas difficult and even scary, but putting such things on social media for the world to see really does make me feel sad to the point that I think if they feel like that then does everyone? Am I kidding myself that I can change the negative thoughts of people by being an advocate for raising awareness? These kind of comments really sets things back a few steps, but we must push through them or we end up hiding.

A similar comment on another post by Mr Colitis Crohns of eight puking face emojis this time from a primary school teacher. With the added poetry of ” F…ing gross”. Can you imagine if your child had a stoma and was under her care? hmmmm.

You may think, why are you telling us if it can be upsetting? well I think it is important to know that our job is to teach these ( luckily only a small few) people that their words and thoughts are inappropriate and really don’t help new stoma patients to overcome their fears. Exsisting ostomates are slightly more thicker skinned and we need to be the voice to let the world know that having a stoma of any description is perfectly fine and not dirty, smelly or any other discriminatory remark that these people think.

I have also read on an Australian site that there was a case that found a comment relating to the physical manifestations of a disability ( in this case a stoma ) at a workplace, the person had comments from her boss that were classed as discrimination, and acting in an insulting manner, so I urge these people to think before they speak.

Just as an extra note, I know you get derogatory comments in all walks of life not just stomas.

 

Hitting the wall

This is a bit of a “woe is me “post, apologies in advance.

 

I have always been very confident about my stoma and scars but this last surgery has knocked me for six. I am feeling very body conscious and not just with stoma and scars, I am now finding fault with other body parts too and I think I haven’t got over how my body has changed. Having a stoma has made me feel well but because I feel well, I have gained quite a bit of weight which I hate and am still trying to to get fit by going to the gym. I feel better for it but am not seeing a difference which is disheartening.

My brace has now come off but I am now picking issues with scars and lumps and bumps. When I have tight trousers or leggings on I can see where the muscle was taken from my buttock and thigh with an indentation. I hadn’t realised the scar would be so long either and wasn’t really told. I also hate the way my abdomen scar really dints in like another belly button lower down. There isn’t anything I can do about either which is frustrating.

My stoma is causing issues again with leakage in the middle of the night due to the fistula, my skin is also reacting with the bag causing an itchy rash. I am scared to have the surgery to repair it and can’t afford the time off work.

All of this is just so damn tiring, I want my mojo back and am hoping that spring / summer will be a better time.

 

Living with fistulas

A fistula is an abnormal hollow tube that forms and links two organs of the body. I was originally told I had a perineal sinus tract ( an abnormal tube that is closed at one end) but they later found it to be a fairly long and wide fistula.

I have an unusual fistula, because I don’t have a rectum but have a fistula there that connects to the top part of my lady bits near my cervix. It is unusual because when I google it they don’t seem to be very popular AFTER rectum removal. A fistula connecting the two is called a recto/vaginal fistula but mine doesn’t come under that heading. My surgeon called it perineal/vaginal fistula, and although it is awful to live with ( especially 3 years down the line and two failed surgeries) if I still had my bowel then bowel contents would come out of my female parts, so there are some things to be thankful for.

This is a ( very) basic diagram where my fistula is in red so you can get the idea what is happening with me.

Needless to say, I leak out of both bits more or less constantly. It seems to come in waves of severity. I think the fistula kind of drains, then fills up then drains and so on. Sometimes it leaks just yellow fluid, others it can leak the fluid with blood or/ and  pus ( grim, believe me I know how it sounds, but I also know how it feels) If they don’t drain properly or close up temporarily then an abscess can form and you can become quite unwell. A surgical thread called a Seton is placed into the fistula to keep it open and draining and sometimes if they are tightened regularly then the fistula MAY heal. ( Although if you speak to people who have this they might not agree that a fistula can be cured this way)

They are notoriously difficult to get rid of and my upcoming flap surgery in October is the last resort really. There are no promises that it will work and I can only hope that it gets rid of the damn thing. The flap surgery I was having for the perineal sinus is pretty much the same, I will be having my buttock muscle used to fill the dead space in my pelvis after the fistula has been removed. So a plastic surgeon does the difficult bit this time. I asked him what would happen if it didn’t “take” the flap graft and he said ” You have another one” hmmmm.

I am very scared of the recovery for this operation and just hope it goes as smoothly as possible. If anyone has had this type of surgery I would be grateful for any tips.

 

I often mention my stomal fistula on here which I have had since the original surgery. This is where an abnormal link occurs from somewhere in my small bowel to the skin surface just at the base of the stoma. This time my poo does come out onto my skin around the stoma. Now this is quite difficult to manage and live with too. Apart from the fact that my skin has to be protected, I find it hard to cut my base plate to exactly the right shape AND to place it in the correct place. I have tried quite a few things and know in my heart that I will be having surgery to get rid of that too. Fistulas are not very common with ulcerative colitis and are more usual in Crohns disease, so I often wonder if I had Crohns of the large bowel, as I was told it was once ,then they said Crohns colitis then back again until it was settled on indeterminate colitis. Of course as with most things fistula can develop from other reasons too.

As you can see quite clearly, my fistula looks like a mini stoma and that connects somewhere inside along the length of the small bowel. It is tiring to look after two fistulas and I would like to be able to get on with my life without them. My stoma is great in every other way so surgery comes with worries too because I have no other problems with it at all so could I be causing more issues that isn’t there now… decisions decisions.

 

The annoying and weird stuff about having an ileostomy

WARNING – STOMA PHOTOS

Although my life is better with a stoma there are obviously some things that are not so much. My first pet hate is the dreaded itch and it you don’t have a stoma then let me explain….

Sometimes your output ( poo ) leaks a bit under the baseplate, it can’t always be helped as there is always a small gap around the stoma so you don’t strangle it, ( believe me, I have wanted to strangle it a few times ) and this means that the poo burns the skin which starts off by causing the most painful itch that you can’t get to unless you remove the bag, and it can go on for a good while. Your skin eventually gets used to being burned by your poo and the painful itching stops, but it leaves very sore skin.

( The bobbly bit is a fistula where I get output from when I shouldn’t )

Also for no obvious reason your skin decides it doesn’t like the bag you have been using for the last 6 months, and reacts to it by being red and sore too.

( This photo is a mild soreness around the stoma, it has been more severe at times)

 

I started with one type of bag 3 yrs ago and all was well until one day I started with a reaction and it just got worse and worse, so I had to change my bag, no rhyme or reason.

I also hate it when ( again for absolutely no reason that you can think of) your output get so watery it looks like a well known water feature.

( gross I know, but thats the only word for it ). As you can imagine, changing the bag when you have Niagara falls doing its thing is no mean feat. Oh and it makes your skin red raw if it gets through your bag.

Granulation is fun, bumps and lumps of over granulated stoma develop and look unsightly (relatively speaking ). They can be uncomfortable and usually have to be frozen off with silver nitrate.

And another thing…….worrying what people think all the time, I really shouldn’t but sometimes I do. I try and be brave and ponce around the beach with my stoma cover out but deep down I am still acutely aware of folk looking. Half of me isn’t bothered and the other half, that annoying devil on my shoulder, tells me I am. It is a weird thing to be proud of my scars and showing them off, to that little voice that’s they’re saying ” should you really be showing the world ?” same with the blog, should I really be showing everyone my arsehole, cos that’s really what I am doing indirectly, or does it matter what people think? as long as I am helping people and raising awareness. I have decided to carry on and show the world because that is more important to me.

Using a disabled toilet is another thing, the amount of looks I get because I sometimes use a disabled toilet. If only they knew why, but why should they? it’s absolutely none of their business.

The fatigue….it is ruthless. I am not sure why I get it and if it has to do with my surgeries but it can be very debilitating. One minute you are like a ” normal “person going about your day, then wham, you are totally and utterly exhausted unable to function that well at all.

The strange….There are times when weird shit happens. You pass an identifying piece of food like a chunk of mushroom. I remember changing my bag and seeing two fairly large chunks slip out the end, and taking a few minutes to  identify it. You forget about that beetroot you had earlier and nearly pass out with fear when you empty your bag to see what appears at first glance to be a whole lot of blood.

You feel like you need a poo the old fashioned way, that’s very weird. You can feel gas travelling around your small bowel and it gets to that point when you would have passed wind from your bottom the normal way but it then carries on towards your stoma and you fart through that instead. Going through customs and instead of the officer patting you down and scanning the top of the bag through your clothes, asking if she can ‘have a quick peek’ !!! and when you open the peep hole in your bag she looks at you in a feeling sorry for you way, with an intake of breath through her teeth as if to say, that looks sore.

 

 

 

Meeting the TGEakin team.

I was extremely lucky to go to Belfast to visit TGEakin. You may have heard of Eakin’s products but don’t know a lot about them. Their most well known product is the Eakin cohesive seal. I have used this since just after having my surgery and cannot rate it highly enough. But there is one thing about it that is possibly better and that is the people who are part of the Eakin team.

This short video tells the story of TGEakin and how it all began.

 

Because I use the seal, they asked me to go over to Belfast as they wanted to produce a short documentary about the seal and how it helps you with getting on with life, they also didn’t want to use an actor and felt it would be much better using a “real” stoma patient who uses the product. Of course I said a definite yes to that.

All the arrangements were made, and off me and my husband went to Ireland. We had an amazing time, they treated me like a celebrity and were so welcoming when we arrived, and were shown round the factories. Tom Eakin himself came to say hello, as did his son Jeremy. The other son runs another part of the Eakin family business which you may have heard of.. Pelican Healthcare . I finally met Laura who I have emailed regularly because of my posts in ” A Bigger Life ” website but never actually knew what she looked like. I also met Kiera and Patrick who arranged the shoot. They were all lovely.

Laura and me         ( Laura deals with ” A bigger life” website)                                          

Kiera and me

Patrick, me, Jon ( hubby) and Kiera

In my protective clothing in the factory

The factory was so well organised and immaculately clean. It was so interesting to see how the products were made and how meticulous the staff were with making sure the products left the factory in perfect condition, I can see why Eakin’s seals are well liked.

The filming started on the streets with me and Jon visiting different places, and meeting friends going for coffee, having meals out and drinks. We then did the talking part in the hotel, which was the bit I was anxious about, but it seemed to go well, and I hoped they could edit it if it was awful. Sean ( the person doing the videoing) was good at making me more relaxed and I got to know them all comfortably by the end of the two days.

Here is the finished product, it is strange seeing myself in a video but it was great fun, and the fact that I am a genuine wearer of the seal. ( Oscar’s next year, must sort out my acceptance speech )

 

Visit their shiny new site at  www.eakin.eu

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