I had hoped to update regularly whilst in hospital. Unfortunately the signal on the wards where I was staying was absolutely terrible; so that wasn’t possible. I couldn’t even FaceTime my kids regularly. Instead I took lots of pictures to document my stay, now I finally feel up to sharing My Stoma Story with you via a series of blogs; starting with my first night in hospital…
Day 1: 13.6.17.
Rather than turning up the morning of my operation, as I did with my hysterectomy, it was decided at my pre op I should arrive at hospital the day before my surgery. Due to my health issues my surgeon and I thought it best I do a bowel prep in order to clear me out ready for life with a stoma. As horrible as that was, I’m so glad I did it and I’d recommend anyone else take the same approach. Clearing out meant I could concentrate on getting used to my new stoma without having the pain and difficulty of getting any remaining stool out of my colon. It was this clearout, and my need to remain hydrated throughout (thank you POTS) that landed me in hospital a day early.
I’m not going to lie, I arrived at the hospital completely terrified. But that calmed as soon as I was on the ward and settled. The nurses were friendly and the other ladies in my room seemed really nice. There was four of us and we chatted most of the afternoon away. My husband and son stayed to settle me in before leaving for the school run, it was then the serious business of preparing for my operation began.
First off the stoma nurse arrived, she drew two ominous black dots on my bloated stomach. One of these would become my new stoma, we wouldn’t know which until after surgery. It suddenly dawned on me that after the surgery my stomach would never be the same again. It’s strange to look down on your stomach and know that in less than 24 hours your entire anatomy will work in a completely different way. That this relatively ‘simple’ surgery would change your life drastically. I looked down at those dots for a long time, contemplating the journey ahead. Little did I realise quite how much things would change.
Marks are put on both sides of the abdomen in case internal scarring prevents the bowel from being pulled through to the surface in one particular spot. The same part of the bowel will be pulled through regardless of which side it comes out at.
Even though these marks just look quite haphazard, they’re actually pretty carefully placed. The nurse had me sat down and stood up, I also wore my favourite jeans in order to try and avoid their wasteband. The nurse will try her best to mark the surgery site so it is easy to access whilst being comfortable with your usual wardrobe. Obviously placement can never be guaranteed though, it all depends on what the doctor finds inside.
To try and take my mind off the daunting task ahead of me I arrived at hospital with a bundle of goodies. My friend had kindly bought me a colouring book and pencils, I’d also filled my iPad with all the remotely interesting free books I could find. But most importantly I had a plastic cup which had been lovingly decorated by my daughter. Not only the cup, but the box too. Love hearts, kisses and words of love adorned each side of the box. I read them over and over, reminding myself constantly of the people who I was truly doing this for.
Of course I wanted to feel better in myself. But it was my need to be more involved and present for my little family that really drove me to have this operation. My husband and children are my world and I want to be as well as possible for them.
Lunch arrived at around twelve thirty. My nerves were running riot and the meal they offered me did not appeal. I couldn’t even force down this soggy short bread and ice cream. Luckily I still had a pastry left over from breakfast which was just tasty enough to be worth feeling nauseous for. If only I’d known that within minutes of my meal I’d have my cannula placed and be told I was no longer allowed anything solid; I may have thought differently about my lunch!
Two hours later and it was time to start the dreaded Picolax. For anyone who hasn’t tried it, this stuff is basically liquid dynamite! Created to clear out the bowel quickly and efficiently, most people choose to sit as close to a toilet as possible when they take it! The nurses on the ward, and some of the patients, looked at me with pity as I struggled to gulp down the putrid mix. To me there is little on this planet that tastes worse than Picolax, I literally feel it hitting my stomach and starting to pummel its way through my bowel. Keeping this stuff down is definitely not the easiest task for me!
Soon those looks of pity turned into confusion. Why wasn’t I running to the toilet? An hour passed. Then two. Three. Four. It was almost five hours before the Picolax had ANY effect. Even then it was not the bowl shattering poonami they were expecting. ‘Luckily’ they had more Picolax for me to drink. By round two I was exhausted and looking nine months pregnant. My POTS meds had worn off and I was walking like a weird chicken zombie hybrid. This was turning into a long night.
As I speed shudder shuffled to the loo for the umpteenth time the lady from the bed opposite me chimed up, ‘You know I couldn’t understand why you called your husband your carer when you arrived. But looking at you know I completely get it.’ Thanks. For anyone thinking of pointing out my inadequacies in future, regardless of motive, please don’t.
The night wore on; even with my earplugs, cushion and sleep mask, I was in no way able to sleep. Yet it wasn’t my stomach tying itself in knots or the possibility of a river of molten lava spewing forth from my nether regions without warning that was the issue; unfortunately I’m pretty used to those symptoms. No, the issue was my nerves over my impending operation, aggravated by a series of conversations I had had throughout the evening with my bedfellows.
You see, the lady opposite me had stomas. Stomas which she didn’t exactly love. In fact, she believes many of her current health issues relate back to her previous stoma surgeries. (Due to my preoccupation with my own problems, hunger and exhaustion, I didn’t fully understand the timeline of her declining health. However, it did seem to me that her main issues pre dated the stomas.) Though I felt sad for her that she held so much resentment and mistrust towards doctors, I tried hard not to let her experiences colour my own.
What I did find upsetting was when she bragged about chastising another patient for having her ostomy bag on show. Telling all of us in earshot how disgusting it was and how she feels the new movement to try and normalise stomas just encourages people to stare. Which they will, because it’s weird and disgusting.
Her words really shook me. To the point I closed my curtains and sobbed silently to myself. Totally oblivious the woman carried on talking about how gross it was of anyone to see a bag, even with a cover on. We should all respect others and keep it hidden! Another patient popped her head around the curtain and sat with me a while. She had seen my upset, and even though she wasn’t quite sure what a stoma was, she wanted to help. ‘Ignore her’, she said. ‘It’s her age, she’s a prude, people won’t really think like that.’ I nodded in agreement. Wiped my tears and told her I was fine.
But I wasn’t fine.
The very next day I’d be having surgery to have one of those ‘disgusting’ bags. I knew that thanks to my issues with pain relief I wouldn’t be able to stand anything over my tummy, my bag would be on show. My see through bag that was surely much worse than a regular fabric covered one. Would she be on my ward then? Would she chastise me too, at a time I’m most vulnerable? My mind wandered further into the future. To my holidays and summertime. Should I hide my bag? Would a cover not be enough? Would people really stop and stare like the woman had said? She had lived it. So surely she knew? Or was she just paranoid thanks to already hating her extra appendiges?
Question after question swirled through my mind. Worry after worry. Too tired to colour I attempted to take my mind off things with mindless games on my phone. I tried to block out the worries that crept in and gnawed at me. I tried, and I failed.
Like with all other difficult nights I’ve lived through, the darkness eventually passed. As the sun rose I finally closed my eyes and managed to catch a few precious hours of sleep. It was then, as I closed my eyes to try and make the hours pass faster, that I vowed to myself I wouldn’t let anyone’s issues define me. Nobody else’s opinion will affect what I wear and how I live my life. In a matter of hours I would be getting operated on. An operation I was sure would improve my life. No way would I let anyone else’s negativity impact me. Yes, my nerves were still there. But now my determination had returned, for that I was stronger.
To anyone else facing surgery and going through similar emotions as me, I say this: Fear is not a sign of weakness. To find something terrifying to the point of sobbing your heart out yet still go ahead with it is a sign of true strength, not weakness. Never beat yourself up for being afraid or upset. Just work through it and continue on your path with determination.
To be continued…
* Please note that my experiences in hospital may not reflect your own. I am simply documenting my journey in the hopes of spreading awareness and alleviating any fears I may be able to.
Check back soon to hear all about surgery day and my early recovery.