Wednesday, September 18, 2019


Chapter 1-Bagging It
 Friday Nov.13/2016. one of the luckiest days of my life. I survive a 9 hour colon-rectal operation that saved my life. Unexpectedly I was assigned a senior surgeon who heroically attempted to perform the surgery laparoscopic-ally,despite the scarring of 2 previous surgeries in the same area.I will forever be indebted to her for her highly compassionate and professional care..Now, some 3 years later, I am considered cancer free.
For those of you(most I assume),unfamiliar with the inner workings of colon-rectal surgery,both my colon and rectum were removed to be replaced by an ostomy.. In my case I had a clostomy.A colostomy is a surgically created opening from the colon to the abdominal wall to allow the elimination of feces.In my case it was a permanent one.I am now an official bagger. Despite being told prior to surgery that this is a possibility,it is another matter dealing with it.Simply stated my body had been shocked and traumatized both physically and psychologically.I was left literally holding a bag.
 Suddenly overnight I became a member of a club I knew nothing about.I realized I had a steep learning curve to climb and set about learning .To my surprise, an estimated 1.3 million people   around the world have an ostomy.In North America alone,over 750,000 people live with an ostomy.In Canada,approximately 13,000 new ostomy surgeries are preformed each year. Suddenly I did not feel  alone adapting  to this life altering surgery.
 During the first days of hospitalization, you are extremely weak and your only concern is to diminish the pain.At times,during those first days, I was given  a strong narcotic that caused me to have visual hallucinations.I saw bugs everywhere in my room, Fortunately my training as a psychologist allowed me to recognize I was having hallucinations,I informed the nursing staff who substituted non-narcotic pain medication,which quickly ended my hallucinations. Immediately after surgery I was placed in a room were an elderly man was in the final hours of his life.Friends and family took an opportunity to say good-bye. I requested a transfer to another room, where I would become intimately familiar with my 2 room mates medical issues.Sharing a room is a forced intimacy and bonds are quickly formed. You have a choice,either go with the flow, or be miserable fighting the tension.I chose to go with the flow and developed 2 new friendships.
Despite my usual assertive and confident personality, when faced with a  situation where I am dependent on others, I become very passive and highly respectful  of the medical personnel. Twenty Four hours post surgery, you are expected to stand and walk.At times, it is a lesson in perseverance, a trait I posses to the maximum.
 For the next few days I did well, as liquids and soft food were gradually re-introduced to me. I was cautioned by a very wise senior nurse to go slow as often there are complications with the re-start of the bowel after major surgery.In fact, I was feeling so well, I stopped my pain medication and begin seeing friends and family, including my children and 1 year granddaughter.It was quite a scene walking through the corridors of the hospital,tethered to  my devices,being led by a very curious and active 1 year old.
Despite my promising  progress after 4 days I had a major complication.My bowels,as predicted by the senior nurse, would not restart. The Doctors had no choice but to place a tube through my nose into my stomach to drain it.Unfortunately, for me,  many years ago I suffered a broken nose when playing hockey that resulted in a deviated septum.Unfortunately I did not remember which side was broken.After 2 failed attempts to place the tube  into my right nostril I can tell you with certainty  that the right side was broken.Fortunately the third attempt was successful and I began to feel better immediately.
After 48 hours the tube was removed and on day 7 I was  re-introduced to liquids and soft food.My surgeon was happy with my progress and I was released to a senior home.
 Anticipating my vulnerability and weakened condition I had made arrangements to be transferred directly to a senior resident near my home,which had been highly recommended by a friend who had recuperated there after a recent surgery.
I was placed into a private suite,with it"s own washroom, located on the.medical ward,where residence needed additional care.In my case I was checked every 6 hrs.including taking my vital signs, for the first 48 hours I was there.The staff was exceptionally caring and compassionate including putting on my socks when I was unable to do so.
 The dining room was located 30 feet from my room.The food,prepared by a former chef of a foreign embassy, was outstanding,equivalent to any 5 Starr resort.The food was nutritious,tasty,and fulfilling. If  one did not like the designated meal you were free to substitute something to your liking.At times I was joined for meals by my family,arrangements quickly made to accommodate them.
 Most of my meals I was seated with a retired judge, who turned out to be a delightful companion.
 With time and exceptional care I began to re-gain my strength and mobility such that with the help of the recreation coordinator, we organized a Grey Cup party for the residents.
After 10 days,with the help of the staff, I was read to go home to continue my convalescence.
 .The first person to teach you about the care of your ostomy is a nurse who specializes in this area and is called an endoscopy nurse(ET)Teaching you to care for yourself is initiated 3 days post surgery..Before you leave hospital, you are expected to empty and change the bag attached to your abdomen.The ET nurse assigned to me had a PhD and was highly competent and compassionate..Despite my initial fears and anxiety I soon begin  the task of  learning how to take care of my ostomy. No doubt I was motivated by the desire to have a full and active lifestyle in this new body I had  acquired.
 After discharge, the task of teaching me fell to the community health nurse associated with the Community Care Acess Centre(CCAC).At first, like all timid students I was reluctant to engage,preferring to observe her do the work.Gradually,with supervision,I was able to perform the necessary tasks.One day,home alone , I had a major failure of my ostomy. What to do?
I felt like crying and giving up,but I knew I only had 2 choices.Attempt to get help or try to fix it myself.With considerable trepidation and anxiety I followed my training and was successful in re-attaching my ostomy.It was a day to celebrate! Not unexpectedly,when I told the nurse I was quickly terminated.
 What is daily life with an ostomy?After adapting to the physical appearance of a bag sticking out of your abdomen,distorted body image,and attending to cleaning and changing it on a daily bases,there remains a huge psychological adjustment.
 On a practical basis, one no longer has control of one's bowels.You have to learn new sounds and bodily cues that indicate an event will occur. Understandably,ostomates(people with ostomys),initially become very anxious when leaving the security of their homes.This loss of control is a major adjustment.Gradually with time one learns to trust ones perceptual skills.
Three factors make an adjustment difficult.Firstly the body is adapting to this radical change in the colon and rectum.Secondly,nutritional requirements, eating habits and hydration all must change.Thirdly,stress has a major impact on the system. Forthy,weather and exercise has a huge impact on the system. One must especially be aware of the proper hydration under these circumstances.
After 3 years of living with an ostomy,just when I began to feel comfortable with my ostomy it decides to go into overdrive, as if to tell me it's in charge. When my ostomy acts as if its on steroids I need to restrict my activities Although I have medication to control it, I am very reluctant to take it because of fear of  blockage.When travelling I reduce my intake before flying.
For the most part I cope reasonably well and have an active life style .Psychologically, it is important to see the big picture,that I am truly blessed to be alive and well . I try to enjoy life one day at a time.
During this life changing experience I  have received incredible moral and emotional support from myfamily and friends.You know who you are. I am extreme thankful and grateful for your presence in my life.
People come into your life for a reason.Shortly after I terminated contact with the CCAC nurse I received a telephone call from a representative of the firm I buy my health care supplies.After the usual chit-chat we discussed the specifics of caring for my ostomy. Over the phone and latter by E-mail she coached me in ways to simplify care of my ostomy. Ever time I change my ostomy I think of the good fortune of being contacted by this very caring and compassionate health care provider.
Bagging it means living with the danger of overflow, wind sounds emanating from strange parts of your body and other awkward and embarrassing moments.Recently I was playing bridge with my buddies, when suddenly a crescendo of noise,not unlike the wind blowing,emitted from my stomach.After an awkward silence, I said,"Excuse me".No one said a word and we continued on our game.
To live with a bag is to live with uncertainty,social embarrassment,and other unknown challenges.One needs to think about the bigger picture.I AM ALIVE,Well And Active And For That I FEEL TRULY BLESSED.

Count your blessings and be grateful for all the caring and compassionate people in your life.