By Robin Glover
Oh no! An ostomy! You’re going to be pooping or peeing into a bag attached to your stomach?? Your life is over, right? No more dating. No one will ever like you. Children will run from you! It’s so gross!
Don’t worry. We’ve all been there. As great as they can turn out to be, the idea of getting an ostomy is never really welcomed news. Add on to that, you’re probably very sick and haven’t eaten well in weeks and you’re tired and worried and feel alone. You know nothing about ostomies and are wondering what life will be like with one.
Will having an ostomy bag eventually become second nature and you won’t even really think or worry about it? Yes.
First of all, life is going to be great! You’ll feel better. You’ll eat better. You won’t be bleeding out of unspeakable places and constantly panic-stricken about finding the nearest bathroom. Your life will become more consistent and routine and you’ll end up being happy you had a lifesaving, life-improving surgery.
It’s possible that you don’t believe that right now, though. And while it does turn out to be a good thing for most, there is an adjustment period and a lot of unknowns and myths. For instance, how do I change my ostomy bag? Will I stink? What if I have an accident in public? Can I ever play sports again? Or exercise? Or go swimming?
In short– is it easy? No. Will it be fine? Yes, yes and yes. But for a little expanded information and peace of mind, we can go into a little more detail.
How Do I Change My Ostomy Bag?
You gently peel it off, wipe things off a bit, and put another one on. It really does become as simple as that. But, at first, you’ll hopefully have a specialized ostomy nurse that will teach you how to do it. After your surgery, you likely won’t have to change it yourself the first several times. But, you should practice doing it and will be better off if you make the effort to know how before you leave the hospital. It also helps to know what the standards of care should be for ostomy patients and speak out before you are discharged and sent on your way.
If you did not have access to a certified ostomy nurse in your hospital be sure to seek one out. You can also find a Wound, Ostomy and Continence (WOC) Nurse or an Ostomy Management Specialist (OMS) through product manufacturers and telehealth services.
Will My Ostomy Bag Leak?
At first, Yes. It likely will. You might even get really frustrated in the beginning because you can’t seem to put it on as well as the nurse in the hospital. Even if you put it on “perfectly” and follow all the steps your ostomy pouch can still leak. You’ll get the hang of it, though. Every ostomy and everybody is different. You’ll learn what supplies you need, where to get them, and how to use them to make sure the fit is just right.
While you might be hesitant to leave the house for a while, you’ll soon feel totally confident going anywhere you want, any time you want. And better yet? You won’t be constantly worried about being near a bathroom! There’s always the risk of a leak, though. But it won’t be a big deal. You’ll be able to detect it quickly and take care of it.
Will I Smell?
No. If the appliance is attached correctly, you should never stink. No one will be able to smell you. You can be as close as you want to other people. You can go out and be in a crowded bar and nobody will know you have an ostomy bag. There are also plenty of clothing and garment options to fit well with your pouch and conceal it from anyone ever knowing – if that’s how you choose to approach it.
If you do ever smell, that means you need to check your pouch for any leaks or openings allowing odor to escape. And if you happen to be in public, you can carry tape or any of a variety of things to sneak off into the bathroom and do a quick fix. Will it be uncomfortable or scary the first time it happens? Yes. Will having an ostomy bag eventually become second nature and you won’t even really think or worry about it? Yes.
(Quick note: The answer to a lot of questions about having an ostomy is that “you’ll figure it out” or “you’ll become comfortable” because everything will be new when you first have an ostomy bag. There’s no step-by-step guide. There will be frustrations. Maybe some tears. It’s an adjustment. Nobody just has ostomy surgery, learns to put on a pouch, and then goes about their business. You will have issues. You may have some stained clothes and probably need to change your bedsheets one or two times. But, you will figure it out.)
Can I Do Whatever I Want?
Generally speaking, yes. Of course, this depends on every unique situation, and only you and your doctor can accurately answer this question. But, in general, you’ll be able to do whatever you want. Simply having an ostomy won’t restrict you from doing anything. You might even be able to do a whole lot more than you could before.
You’ll be able to go swimming, play rugby, do mixed martial arts, teach yoga, travel the world, go on dates, and do anything you were physically capable of before having surgery. All without worrying about being in constant pain or eating the wrong thing or needing to run to the bathroom every five minutes. However, make sure to wait 6-8 weeks or until your doctor approves you for any strenuous physical activity before winning the local 5k again. (Perhaps you’ll even want to take part in UOAA’s own Ostomy 5k.)
Getting An Ostomy Is Totally Worth It
All the details about how to change your ostomy pouch where to get supplies, and when you can go back to doing the things you love will get worked out. But the important thing to remember is that having ostomy surgery is going to be totally worth it. Even if your head is spinning now about what life will be like, it will calm down.
And also remember that you’re not alone. One of the best ways to prepare is to call or visit an ostomy support and information group before you have surgery. Many others have been through the same process and are more than eager to offer a listening ear and emotional support. UOAA also offers a new ostomy patient guide and has tons of online resources to get you started on the right path.
You’ll get the hang of everything, then look back and be so grateful that you are a warrior. Countless other ostomates will tell you the same thing. That is, when they’re not busy living an incredible life they wouldn’t have otherwise.
You got this!
Robin Glover is a writer based in the Houston area. He has a permanent ostomy after being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2017.