Getting more comfortable with my own colostomy as well as being connected to related online groups, I have started to see many questions from potential patients on what they will deal with after they have had colostomy surgery. I wanted to take some time and relate what you can expect along with helpful tips and mistakes that I made through my recovery process.
Get Settled In
Depending on the severity of your colostomy surgery, you could be staying a long while in the hospital. In my case they had to open up my abdomen to do the surgery which left me with stitches and staples. My stay in the hospital was four weeks. My advice to future ostomates is that after surgery try to relax your mind and understand that the hospital is doing the best it can for you. You need to do your best to come to terms with the fact that you may be in the hospital for a while and accept that this is the start to the road of recovery.
First and foremost, do your best to rest and recoup. I tried too hard to get back to normal quickly, doing work, etc. I felt like this was the biggest mistake I could’ve made because it gave me more stress beyond what I was already going through. Frankie says, “Relax”.
The hospital is not the easiest place to get sleep due to nurses coming in and out at night, taking blood, etc. Do your best to nap when possible, watch movies, read some, and mess around with your smart phone. Little things will keep your mind off of what just happened.
Exercise As Soon As Possible
It’s a matter of fact that you will be in some pain post operation, you’ll be given pain medication but at times it can be just about all you can muster just to get out of bed. It’s extremely important to try and do a little bit of exercise as soon as possible.
Something as simple as walking will work wonders for your strength and demeanor. As soon as the first day after surgery, I was taking slow walks around the hallways. Do what you feel comfortable with and always make sure to have someone that is visiting you or a nurse chaperone you around the hallways.
There will be days when you feel better than others, but I can’t express enough how important it is to force yourself out of the hospital bed and to get walking. This will be uncomfortable at times but is vital in your recovery.
Be Prepared Not To Eat
As part of the healing process it will take a while for the hospitals or your doctors to allow you to eat or drink. When your doctor starts to hear bowel sounds that indicate it’s “waking up” and your stoma begins to function, then you may be given the go ahead to go on a liquid diet with things like broth, gelatin, juice, and water.
This was probably the most difficult thing for me, but I got used to it. You will receive nutrition during your eating downtime so you will be getting some sort of sustenance. This was one of the reasons I didn’t like watching TV post-op, all the delicious food commercials. Damn you Applebee’s and your delicious looking commercials!
Use Pain Medicine As Needed
Man, is pain medicine awesome, but when you’ve had a serious surgery such as a colostomy you are running a risk of becoming dependent on it.
While in the hospital the nurses would always ask where my pain level was on a 10 point scale and based on what I told them they would give me a certain amount of pain medication. After a while, they gave me a pain pump and allowed me to administer my own pain medication. This was much better for me than to bug the nurses ever hour or so.
Another mistake that I made in the hospital was thinking that I was well enough to have the pain pump medication taken away. I think that sometimes I wanted to feel better than I did and had to have the pump reconnected. Work with the doctors/nurses and they will help you decide when you no longer need it.
Breathe, Just Breathe
Another thing that helped me along the way was sitting up in a chair and just breathing. My breathing became somewhat shallow and my doctors were afraid that I could develop pneumonia if I didn’t target my breathing more.
My nurse practitioner gave me a spirometer to breath with that had a round bead within it. I had to make the bead stay within a certain area while breathing out. This allowed me to strengthen my breathing and aided in my recovery. I used it as much as possible.
Ask Questions About Changing Your Ostomy Bag
I believe the hardest thing that I dealt with was changing my colostomy bag. I was fearful and my stoma was the second most painful area I had (next to the staples and stitches).
The great thing I had to my advantage was a great nurse who specialized in ostomies. She was very caring and walked me through all that I needed to know in regards to caring for my stoma. The smell when the bag was removed the first couple of times was a little shocking, but it’s something that I don’t even notice now and just takes some getting used to.
What I would suggest to you is ask all the questions that can possibly come into your head about changing the stoma bag. I was afraid in the beginning, taking care to dot every i and cross every t when changing my bag and it is something that IS very important. After you change multiple pouches, the process becomes second nature.
More than likely for the first few weeks out of the surgery you may be setup with a home healthcare nurse that will help you through the process. It took me about three or four changes before I became comfortable doing it myself. It is a learning process, lean on those that are knowledgeable to help you.
One thing to warn ostomates is that learning to change your ostomy bag can be frustrating. Different types of skin and different ostomy products may not be perfect for your situation. It is a guaranteed that you will have an issue where your bag doesn’t stay on as well as it should, there may be smells that you notice, or you may have a blowout where feces escapes. This WILL happen, and can be a tough thing mentally to deal with. You have to do your best to laugh it off and try again. Always carry an extra set of ostomy products where you can easily get to them and a possible change of clothes either in your car or a bag that you carry with you. You’ll get through it.
Recovering At Home
After four weeks in the hospital, being released from the hospital was an awesome feeling. I was lucky enough to have a good support system in place plus an at home nurse that came a couple of times a week.
My advice on being at home is much like it was in the hospital. Don’t try to do too much too fast. You will be advised to be wary of doing anything too strenuous, especially be careful picking up items that are more than ten pounds.
Try to rest as much as possible, get some walking in, enjoy your ability to start eating food again (although I would stick to soft foods such as mashed potatoes and mac & cheese for a while), get out and do a little walking, and start to get the process down of changing your ostomy bag.
Another mistake that I made was not taking advantage of my time at home. I spent one week resting at home and then when back to work. I think now that if I would’ve felt much more comfortable going back to work if I would’ve spent a little more time at home.
I hope that this helps some of you put your mind at ease regarding what you will experience after your ostomy surgery. I want you to know that there are lots of us out there who have gone through what you will, and are willing to answer questions and provide support. Best of luck, and be well.