My Colostomy Saved My Life
Without a colostomy, I would likely not be here to write this blog. It saved my life. I am a quadriplegic as a result of a spinal cord injury (SCI) that occurred when I was 16. That was 36 years ago. I am paralyzed from the neck down and SCI impacts the operation of the bowels. In simple terms, to move your bowels you have to use some type of stimulation because the regular nervous system is unable to work on its own.
For many years, I successfully used suppositories for my bowel routine. When they stopped working, I switched to a different type of suppository and began to use numerous stool softeners. Approximately three years ago, my system began to limp along. I couldn’t fully evacuate my bowels and I was losing my appetite.
And then one day my bowels stopped working. At that point I was using multiple enemas without success. I went to the hospital. Unfortunately, I had a history of bowel obstruction surgeries, so no doctor was willing to do a colostomy because of the risk of perforation of my bowels. As an attorney with the Federal government, I was unable to keep up with my job and had to retire on disability. I was bloated as if I was expecting triplets and felt horrible and weak. My quality of life was significantly impacted and my husband was cooking as much soup as he could, and that didn’t even help when it came to my appetite and nutrition. I tried acupuncture, stomach massage, herbal tea, you name it. I was depressed, exhausted, and scared.
My gastroenterologist suggested that I go to Mayo Clinic as a last resort. I traveled from Virginia to Minnesota with low expectations, hoping that the medical team could even just figure out something to help me go to the bathroom.
To my great surprise, Mayo Clinic agreed to do the colostomy. The surgery took place in late June, 2018, and since then I have regained my quality of life and feel like a new person. I have never been healthier. I have energy for work (my husband and I started a business, Happy on Wheels, LLC), social life, and exercise.
Many factors contributed to getting it right. First, colostomy nurses are my heroes. They marked the site for the surgery, fitted me with appliances to start off with, and explained how to apply everything. They trained my attendant on how to attach the flange and we examined the different types of pouches. I left with an initial supply, but they were very clear that it would be trial and error.
The ostomy nurses were spot on about flexibility. Every person is different and trying out different appliances is a necessity. There have been accidents and leaks and I have made adjustments. I have high output and cannot change my bag independently, so I devised a way to use an irrigation bag as a regular colostomy bag during the day, and I use a smaller pouch at night when I’m in bed. Additionally, figuring out the amount of supplies needed is unknown in the beginning. For the first couple of months we were frantically running around because I would run out of flanges and pouches. After about three months, I knew what I needed was able to establish a consistent ordering system.
My advice to anyone considering a colostomy is that the surgery is not the hard part. It is the period afterward when flexibility is needed. It is a learning process and each person is different. No pun intended, but there is no one size fits all.
Don’t get frustrated if your particular appliance doesn’t work. The companies that sell supplies, such as Hollister, Coloplast and Convatec, have very helpful representatives and are willing to send free supplies to try. I encourage new ostomates to also reach out to others who can provide tips on what has and has not worked for them. I have a good friend with a colostomy and her advice has been very helpful. The bottom line is that if you are open-minded and don’t get frustrated, within six months you should have things settled and develop a routine.
Getting a colostomy was a miracle for me. I intend to advise all quadriplegics that after a certain number of years they should talk to their doctor about proactively getting a colostomy before their bowels stop working. I am a happy bag lady!