How long does it take you to accept something?
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t be terrified to see my stoma. The first time I got to see it, I was high on morphine and was desperately trying to understand what was coming out of me and what I was attached to. PICC line? Check. PCA pump? Check. Catheter? Check. Abdominal drain? Check. Ostomy bag…? Check. I felt the outline of a bag underneath my gown, curious to see it but equally scared and nervous. How much of that was down to the drugs? How much of that feeling would stick around?
I thought the battle was over, but it was only just beginning.
My ostomy surgery happened late on a Tuesday night in August 2016. I wasn’t an emergency but it also wasn’t planned; it was somewhere in the middle. The middle ground… it was a long ten days of coming to terms with how utterly shit my body now was, what was needed to do to fix it, to get better and move the fuck on from all of this. I had suffered with Crohn’s Disease since September 2011 but the agony I felt prior to surgery was months and months of confused neglect.
Fast forward to being three months’ post op; back on my feet, feeling better than I have ever felt with the illness. I’m just getting on with life but I keep having these moments. The moments when you forget – just for a few breaths, seconds really – that you have an ostomy. It feels like chills going through your body. It makes you stop, wonder and panic what is going on, but then you realise; this is my life. This is it.
It’s most prevalent when going to the loo to tinkle and forgetting you won’t be doing that first, it’s now always second on the priority list because your bag is full and is pulling slightly on your abdomen; it needs emptying. It is that pulling that confuses you; it’s so new, so foreign, so difficult to get used to. You grieve for what you used to do, for what is muscle memory and second nature. In those moments, you wonder if you’ll ever get used to this new set of circumstances – the process of emptying the bag, changing it and looking after your skin and your output.
I’m unsure if my geeky nature has helped with my recovery, my acceptance and feeling comfortable with my new circumstances. Or if it’s just been time and the support. Why do some struggle whilst others thrive? Is this just human nature?
I took interest in how my body was different, how I needed to adapt to make the best of this. Losing your colon is dramatic and you lack a large and important organ. It’s going to be a long recovery. Things will be in flux for those first six months, you’ve got to find strength from somewhere to be okay with this. That’s not always possible, trust me. And it’s okay to feel negative about this bit of your intestines sticking out of your abdomen; don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. Getting back on the metaphorical horse after a problem – be it big or small, it doesn’t matter – is the important thing.
Getting used to this new friend is not a five-minute job. Doesn’t matter if your stoma is temporary or permanent, it is all the same. You still have a stoma.
And those moments when you remember your old life, your old habits and you reflect on how and where you’ve come from; its overwhelming. But it is what makes you tough. It is what makes you.