Expect More – Take Control of Your Health Care

Part 3 in Series

By Jeanine Gleba and Keagan Lynggard-Hysell

The Choice is Yours

Having the right ostomy supplies for your individual lifestyle and stoma type plays a huge role in the quality of your life. As a new ostomate I fell victim to the common misconceptions that daily leakage and skin irritation were normal occurrences that came with the territory of having an ostomy, when in reality I was going through unnecessary struggles due to the fact that I wasn’t using the best products for my individual situation.

For those unfamiliar with my story, shortly after my diagnosis of Crohn’s disease in 2005, I was rushed to the Emergency Department with a bowel perforation and underwent my first ostomy surgery. After the operation, I endured many complications due to several different infections and the severity of my disease. I was hospitalized for a consecutive 8 months and would face 5 more surgeries within that first year of my diagnosis, all resulting in either a colostomy or ileostomy. Being in the hospital for essentially the first year of having a stoma, I was limited to the ostomy supplies provided by the hospital. Once I made the transition home and was receiving home health care I continued using the same supplies I had been using in the hospital simply because it was all I had ever known.

For the first few years of living with my ostomy I was isolated by the insecurities fueled by daily pouch leaks, chronic skin irritation, and the fear of experiencing a leak or unexpected odor in public. It wasn’t until I got to the point where my peristomal skin was so excoriated and I could no longer keep a pouch on for longer than a few hours that I finally made an appointment to see a WOC nurse.

During my appointment, not only were my skin issues addressed, but my WOC nurse introduced me to a new ostomy appliance and accessories that would work best for my individual stoma and lifestyle. I was given a product catalog which my WOC nurse had marked with tabs on the new products we used that day so I could order them for the upcoming month as well as any samples of other supplies I was interested in trying in the future. That day, I left my appointment feeling comfortable and confident in my new ostomy appliance.

As time went on, I no longer experienced the daily leakage or skin irritation that I had with my previous appliance, and this drastically improved my quality of life. I was no longer worried about odor, or ruining my clothes, I felt more confident in public and was able to participate in the activities I had once restricted myself from doing out of fear that my ostomy appliance would not stay on properly.

As ostomates, we are fortunate that manufacturers continue to improve our ostomy supplies. For the last 13 years that I have been living with my ostomy I have benefited greatly from product innovation and feel confident in the ostomy appliance I wear today.

As an ostomy patient advocate, I am often invited to share my story with nursing students, WOC nurses, as well as other health care professionals. By providing the patient perspective, I encourage them to educate their patients on the supply options available and that a patient’s ostomy appliance plays a huge role in their everyday life.

It’s important to remember that our stomas may change, our bodies may change, and more often than not- our ostomy supplies may change- and that is okay! The most important thing to remember is to seek out the most optimal pouching appliance for you so that you may live the life you love and want to live.  The most important thing to remember is, whatever works best for you and your individual stoma.

Know that you have Ostomy Product Choices

As listed in the UOAA Patient Bill of Rights, ideally before patients are discharged from the hospital they should be informed of the pouching  system that has been prescribed to them as well as have an understanding of the ostomy supply ordering process.   In addition to the pouching system prescribed, patients should be provided with information on the supply choices available to them once they are home.

When in the hospital, your ostomy supplies are included as a part of your treatment of service. To keep costs down, the hospital only has a small selection of ostomy products from a particular manufacturer vendor that they contract with.  As a result patients are initially limited to whatever ostomy supplies the hospital uses. Know that you are not locked into any pouching system and that you have many choices to find the ideal system for your stoma and lifestyle.  (It should be noted that many patients stay with their initial hospital brand and are very satisfied with these supplies.)

Before you leave the hospital be sure to get the product codes for the specific ostomy supplies used while in the hospital. Request that extra ostomy supplies be sent home with you upon discharge to ensure you have enough on-hand until your first order arrives at home, or until your first home nurse visit if you will be receiving home health care. Don’t forget to ask about being enrolled in one of the discharge programs that are sponsored by ostomy manufacturers.

It is completely normal for your stoma size to change in the weeks following surgery, so what was initially prescribed in the hospital might need to be altered.

As always it is strongly encouraged that you work with an ostomy nurse to find the best products to meet your needs and particular situation. Manufacturers’ also have WOC nurses available to discuss any issues or answer your questions if you do not have a WOC nurse/OMS available in your area. Their services are free of charge and they are dedicated to helping you.

When you are ready, feel free to experiment with different manufacturers  or different types of products. It may be helpful to order a product catalog from your medical supplier, so you can see the different products available and what assortment you have to choose from. Also, either you or a family member can call the manufacturer’s toll free 800 number and request product samples, or ask your supplier for a sample.

Know Your Pouching System

In the ostomy world, it is wonderful to know that there are many different styles and types of pouching systems available, and that manufacturers are continually improving their styles and selections.  Manufacturers listen to ostomy nurses and to patients as they seek to improve the lives of ostomates.

It is good to understand the basics of pouching systems and then advance your knowledge as you become familiar with your own system. Once you gain confidence in the terminology, you can begin to explore options for yourself.  Please use this link to learn about the different types of options available. Another excellent resource is here.

Know Supplier Options

The major manufacturers do not sell supplies directly to ostomates. Furthermore, ostomy supplies are rarely available for purchase in chainstore pharmacies such as CVS or Walgreens. Before you begin ordering ostomy supplies, itis important to do your research (read online reviews too) and carefully consider your options when choosing your supplier (Under Medicare these are known as Durable Medical Equipment providers.). Some things to consider when choosing your supplier: affordability (reasonably priced), reliability (on-time delivery) and reputation (quality service).  You should also know the answers to these questions before deciding on your supplier:

  • Do you want to shop at and support a small local medical/surgical supply house or order from the convenience of home through a large mail-order house (aka national online vendor)? There are pros and cons to each but typically national vendors carry a wider range of products, many (but not all) accept Medicare assignment and due to higher volumes can offer lower pricing.
  • Do they accept your health insurance?
  • What are the prices before and after your deductible is met?
  • Do you have to submit the claim for reimbursement to your insurer or do they directly bill the insurance company for you?
  • Do they carry all of the products that you need for your unique pouching application system?
  • Do they stock and keep current with the latest available in ostomy technology and do they suggest new products?
  • If you are on Medicare, do they “accept assignment”?
  • What is the return policy or how do they handle product issues such as defects or incompatibility?
  • Do they only ship in quantities for 30 days (1 month) or also offer 90 day (3 month)?
  • Do they charge shipping?
  • Do they impose their own quantity limits on supplies?
  • How long does it take to receive orders?
  • Do they help rectify insurance denials and work on appeals?
  • Do they work with your doctor to renew your prescription or if you need a change to your supply order?
  • Do they have personalized customer service with helpful reps knowledgeable about ostomy supplies?
  • Do they offer free ostomy nurse consultations to give you tips and guidance?

Tip: Be sure to have a back-up supplier in case your normal provider has a disruption in service or is waiting for your type of supplies on back-order.

Know what Information is Needed to Order Supplies

It’s helpful before you place an order to have all of the information about your pouching application system ready. The most important thing to know when placing an order is the order number for your particular supplies and accessories. The order number will tell the supplier what kind of pouch and accessories that you use. If you are ordering for the first time or switching suppliers,  be sure to know the type of ostomy appliance and any other accessories that you use. Include the pouching system product, size, and product number. Download the UOAA Know Your Pouching System (Appliance) Checklist tool to have handy.

 

Conclusion

Knowing your current ostomy appliance and accessories, where and how to purchase them, that options are available in product selection, and that you have a choice in all of these decisions helps to make you in control of your ostomy health care.  In addition, utilizing the resources available to you through your ostomy manufacturers, suppliers, and ostomy nurses will help provide the best experience with your supplies.

It is important that you are able to advocate for the right ostomy supplies that work best for you and your individual stoma so that you can feel confident and live well with your ostomy.

Please note: UOAA does not endorse particular products, manufacturers, or suppliers, and is not responsible for any content expressed in sponsor websites.

Skin Hydration Beauty Tips for Living with an Ileostomy

BY ELLYN MANTELL

As a self-avowed makeup and skin care junkie, I strongly believe that looking good is greatly related to feeling good. In fact, makeup and attention to my skin has helped me to get through the years of misery that led to my eventual ileostomy four years ago. As I reflect back, I remember asking my husband to search my handbag for lip gloss when visiting me in the hospital with peritonitis, as soon as I was brought into my room post-surgeries and the like. As soon as I felt well enough to walk around my house, I was applying my skin care regimen and blush, so everyone knew I was fighting my way back. My suitcase, always at the ready for another surgery, contained my stash of the perfect lip color to brighten my pale face for visitors, including my physicians making early morning rounds. Somewhere along the way, I recognized that my ability to heal had a great deal to do with the colorful smile I could put on my face!

It is my belief that although we ostomates can live a very full and fulfilling life, some things will just take a little extra attention, and looking our best may be one of those areas. With that in mind, I am planning on contributing information about beauty and fashion, and have named my blog/post/column Beauty and the Ostomy! Look for it in the next Phoenix Ostomy Magazine. In our case, the ostomy is not “the beast” but the beautiful incarnation of our body to heal itself and our spirit, and our appreciation of our stomas is parallel to Belle’s appreciation for her Beast!

What does an ostomy do to our system that impacts our facial appearance, you may be wondering? I believe that our loss of fluids, particularly for ileostomates, is major, so we need to talk about moisture and hydration. Although I am always looking for new products to rejuvenate and enhance the aging skin, I am very aware that all ostomates need to be mindful of how to get well-needed moisture and hydration into the skin, regardless of our age.

From childhood, my skin has always been on the dry side, and I accepted that reality into adulthood. But a very lovely aesthetician informed me that with proper treatment, I could have much healthier skin, since skin that holds moisture, has more of a chance of fighting illness. The glow of healthy skin reveals a canvas ready to be painted or just admired by itself. Whether valid or not, I became determined to make some important changes, and I truly believe good skin care yields results, and that is wonderful!

How Do We Absorb this Very Valuable and Sometimes Unattainable Moisture?

Like anything worth doing, there are steps to absorbing moisture. First, we must drink lots of fluids, primarily water. Many beverages do not add hydration, and may even leach hydration from our bodies. Some believe coffee, tea and soft drinks are culprits. I believe, however, that in moderation, they are fine, as long as lots of water is added to the daily diet. I love hot water, with or without lemon, and drink it all day, along with cold water, with or without lemon. UOAA’s Diet & Nutrition Guide even has recipes for hydration drinks and more ostomate specific information. You may be interested to know that fatigue is lessened, especially midday, by binging on water, rather than a fattening treat.

In caring for our skin, ostomates should use a gentle cleanser most nights, but 2-3 times a week, an exfoliant is a great addition to the routine. The exfoliant can be chemical (vitamin c or acids) or natural, such as grainy or mealy. The skin will glow and the new soft skin will let you know your skin is ready to receive moisture!

Serums are a vehicle of introducing treatment to the skin, and can add vitamins, minerals, usable acids, etc. Every day I read more and more about the addition of serums to beauty regimens, and since they are light and easy to apply, I use them morning and night.

Next, we need to use moisturizing products, and there is a myriad from which to choose. Lotions are lightweight, and wonderful for younger skin, which requires less hydration and may be producing much-needed oils, whereas creams are recommended for the aging skin.

Lastly, sunscreen every day, and oh, by the way, sunscreen, even when it is cloudy! The debates go on about what is the appropriate designated number of SPF (Sun Protection Factor) but my sources tell me 30-70 is best, taking into consideration that any less than 30 isn’t worth the product, and any higher number than 70 is just loading on more chemicals. And if we are in the sun for a long period of time, we should reapply as the day goes on. Be sure to wash off sunscreen and all makeup before bed, apply a night cream for optimal hydration…and let your skin breathe and rebuild during sleep!

(editor’s note: Peristomal skin issues are a whole different issue beyond beauty regiments and critical to medical wellbeing the link above has more information on that topic.)

Please write to me at ellynmantell@aol.com with any beauty and fashion questions you have. I am very interested in what interests YOU!

Basic Tips for Changing your Ostomy Appliance

 

By Wendy Lueder

 

If you feel overwhelmed by changing your appliance, please know that your feelings of anxiety will diminish over time. I know it can be difficult at first but it will become more routine with practice. Knowing just what you’re going to do can be helpful so here are some basic guidelines that you may wish to use.

  1. To start, wash your hands!
  2. Set out your equipment within easy reach on your bathroom countertop. You will need: an old bath towel on the floor and Kleenex tissues (without any lotion!) to catch any unwanted output while changing; plastic bags for clean-up; a washcloth if you don’t shower; clean bath towel; pencil and stoma measuring guide; scissors or x-acto knife if you don’t use the new “moldable” skin barrier wafers; a skin barrier wafer; Stomahesive or HolliHesive paste or product such as Eakin Cohesive Seals (preferred by this writer) a new pouch; a tail closure if you use a drainable pouch that doesn’t have the built-in Velcro closure ; hair dryer and finally, a swivel make-up mirror.
  3. Empty your pouch as normal. DO NOT rinse your pouch out when emptying. This only reduces adhesion. If you get this advice, ignore it. Rinsing out pouches is an obsolete suggestion that is totally bothersome and no longer valid for modern ostomy equipment. Empty your pouch while sitting comfortably and normally on the toilet. Put some toilet paper in the bowl first to avoid any splashing. If you use a tail clip, carry an extra one with you in case you accidentally flush yours down the toilet
  4. While holding a corner of the tape that holds your appliance to your body, gently push your skin in toward your body to remove the appliance. Pushing your skin inward is far less harsh on it than if you pull the appliance off and away. Try it and feel the difference. You only need to use an adhesive remover if: A) you have worn the skin barrier wafer a very short time and the adhesion is still very strong and/or B) your skin is irritated or tender and can be easily damaged. I personally prefer the spray adhesive removers as they leave less residue. However, I only use them if I have worn the barrier for less than two days between changes.
  5. Put the old pouch, wafer and other waste (not the tail clip!) into a plastic bag for disposal. Sealable sandwich bags work great. My favorite product is Ostaway x-bag which is a black, opaque, leak-proof, odor-proof zip-lock bag made just for this purpose. See www.bagitaway.com or call 1-800-774-6097 (Mon-Fri 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern).
  6. Clean the skin around the stoma with a washcloth and warm water or by getting into the shower and using your hands. Be gentle. Do not use scented or cream soaps as they will diminish adhesion of your skin barrier. Any waste coming out of the stoma will merely wash down the drain.
  7. Pat your skin dry with Kleenex and for best results use a hair-dryer on low setting to complete the job. The cleaner and dryer your skin is the better your skin barrier will adhere.

Measure your stoma with a measuring guide (usually supplied in the box with your skin barrier wafers) using the make-up mirror placed on the countertop to get a better look. This is especially important if your surgery is recent as your stoma will become smaller over a period of months.

For all Skin Barriers except StomaHesive Wafers measure right up next to the stoma. For StomaHesive Wafers add an eighth of an inch space between the stoma and the wafer hole. Only this brand of wafer is “stiff” and could damage your stoma if it is too close. All other types of skin barrier wafers are more flexible and won’t damage the stoma if placed right up next to it. If your stoma is oval take two measurements, one each of the larger and smaller diameters.

  1. Trace the correct size and shape onto the back of the wafer with the starter hole in the middle. Cut out the hole either with your scissors or more easily by using an x-acto knife.

There are new moldable skin barrier wafers that you do not need to cut but merely manipulate to create the correct size opening. This is especially helpful if your stoma is oval and is highly recommended by this writer. Follow the manufacturer’s directions to create the perfect size opening for your unique stoma.

  1. If you use paste, peel the paper from the wafer and apply the paste only by the width of the tubes opening around the cut circle in the wafer. Allow alcohol to evaporate for approximately thirty seconds. Unfortunately paste is poorly named. Paste is really merely caulking and has no adhesive property.

If greater protection is needed than paste can afford (such as for ileostomates who have a caustic output), try using an Eakin Cohesive Seal or similar product instead of paste. these seals have the consistency of silly putty, and lasts far longer and will not wash away from heavy output.

Small dabs of paste or small pieces of Eakin Seals are great to fill any dimples in your skin that you may have. The flatter the surface of your skin around the stoma, the better the seal. Do fill in those dimples if you have them.

  1. While leaning slightly backwards to smooth out your skin, remove paper backing from the skin barrier and apply it slowly and carefully over the stoma. Use the magnifying side of your mirror to see that you are correctly setting it in place. Remove the paper backing from the surrounding tape and smooth it out on your skin being careful not to create any wrinkles as they may latter dig into your skin.
  2. If you use a two-piece system, snap the new pouch onto the wafer. Never tug down on the appliance to see if it is secure. Instead, feel with your finger all around the “Tupperware” closure to make sure the pouch and wafer are as close to each other as can be. If you detect any space, push the pouch toward your body until you feel it close the gap. You may hear a series of clicks as you apply the pouch.
  3. If you use a tail clip, apply now. Hold your appliance in place with your hand for a full five minutes to ensure a secure seal. All skin adhesives are more effective if held in place after first application as the heat from your hand improves adhesion. If your stoma is flush to your skin, use a skin barrier wafer with built-in convexity. The convexity will gently push the skin toward your body around the stoma giving it some extra length. When the stoma thus protrudes a bit more, its output goes more easily into the pouch. The new adhesives and skin barrier wafers stay put well for days.

Some bleeding is normal when touching your stoma, but report any unusual color, size, shape, or bleeding to your Ostomy nurse. Try different products. Call your Ostomy nurse or ostomy supply companies and ask for free samples. You may have to shop around to find products that leave you feeling comfortable and secure. You should be no more aware of your appliance than you are of your underwear. Always follow any special instructions provided by your health care professional as they know your specific situation better than any general guidelines an article such as this could provide

If your abdomen is very hairy, you may want to gently shave off the hair under your skin barrier wafer. Be careful not to cut or damage your skin.

These suggestions are gleaned from years of helping ostomates cope and are just that, suggestions. They come from over thirty-five years of experience, but are in fact just the input from a layperson. I’m not a nurse, I’m an ostomate. Your healthcare professionals always know best and you need to follow their advice, not mine.
Bottom line: Your appliance should be comfortable, stay on for at least a few days between changes, odor-free (not odor resistant) and leak extremely rarely. If not, go see an ostomy nurse and change your routine until you find the products that work well for you. Best of all, studies done at Duke University verify that the longer you’ve been an ostomate, the better it gets. Problems do diminish with time and experience. You should be able to forget you’re an ostomate and get on with doing the things you really enjoy. There’s no stopping you.

Additional Tips for ileostomates only:

Try changing first thing in the morning when output is at its slowest. Many ileostomates report that eating four to five marshmallows right before changing stops all output from the stoma for several minutes. I personally have found this to be true. As marshmallows are pure sugar, please don’t try this if you’re a diabetic.
As the output for ileostomies is far more caustic than for colostomates and urostomates, don’t put off changing your appliance when needed. There are two indications you need to change, one is “itching” and the other is a “burning” sensation. If you itch, it may be merely dehydration. Drink a glass of water. If the itching continues, you need to change. If you feel a burning sensation on the skin around the stoma, change as soon as possible. The output from your ileostomy is caustic and will damage your skin. Avoid the vicious cycle of damaged skin -> poor adhesion due to damaged skin -> leakage -> damaged skin.

 

Colorectal Cancer: Be informed if you are a candidate for an ostomy reversal 

 

By Joanna Burgess-Stocks, BSN, RN, CWOCN

 

  • Not everyone who has an ostomy as a result of colorectal cancer and other diseases will have the option of having their ostomy reversed.  Some people will need to keep their ostomy for life.

 

  • Your surgeon will determine when an ostomy will be reversed. There are many factors that determine a reversal such as the extent of the disease, a patient’s overall health and treatment process (radiation and chemotherapy).  Most patients with temporary ostomies will have the ostomy for about 3-6 months.

 

  • Surgery for reversal of an ostomy is usually much less involved than the surgery that you had to create the ostomy. So if you are feeling nervous, keep that in mind. A typical hospital course is 3-4 days on average.

 

  • For some patients, interrupting bowel function with a temporary ileostomy increases the chances that you will experience alterations in bowel function after reversal of your stoma. These symptoms can include rectal urgency, frequency, fragmentation of stool and incontinence. It is important that you notify your surgeon as soon as possible with these symptoms. Treatment includes behavioral strategies based on the symptoms and includes dietary modifications, incontinence products, skin care (use of barrier creams such as zinc oxide) and medications such as loperamide. More involved but helpful recommendations are pelvic muscle retraining (PMR) to regain sphincter strength and biofeedback. This therapy is done by a highly trained physical therapist.

 

  • Some physical therapists recommend PMR prior to surgery or radiation to assess muscles and teach strategies for ongoing muscle strengthening that can be carried over after surgery. This helps to address any coordination or existing weakness prior to radiation due to chemo or post-operative recovery. If PMR is recommended after surgery, it is best to wait at least 6 weeks and with the surgeon’s approval.