Having any kind of Ostomy surgery is pretty evasive to your body, so you need to give yourself plenty of recovery time.
Each kind of operation can carry different recovery rates. These range from around three months, to (in my case) six months.
I remember my doctor telling me prior to the operation that she was going to sign me off for six months and that I should possibly expect more time, to which I gave her one of those looks which could loosely be translated as “you are kidding right?”
She was right though!
So, what should you expect during your recovery period? It is important for you to remember that we are all different, we have different recovery rates, different operations, and different tolerances to certain drugs. I have based this blog on not just my own circumstances, but also those of some others.
When you wake from the anaesthetic, you will be in the high dependency intensive care department for a day or so whilst the specialist nurses keep a very good eye on you. It was while I was here that I developed a post-op bleed that required urgent attention to save my life. This though is very rare, but thanks to the constant monitoring I am here typing this today.
You won’t really remember much about the first day or so after the operation as you will be floating on fluffy clouds thanks to the drugs administered. They can give you a self-administered morphine injection (which is what I had) when the pain gets a bit drastic, you just press a button to administer your own pain relief.
They could also give you epidural pain relief (and this is supposed to be better in some respects). But me being the brave man I am, I begged them not to do that!
A few days after the operation you will start being a little more aware of your surroundings. Getting out of bed will be practically impossible at the moment, especially thanks to the catheter and tummy drain being fitted. On the bright side, the nurses give a great bed bath! – appreciate it’s not so much fun for females though!!
You will also discover that the doctors will try to take you off the morphine as quickly as possible, and start you off on paracetamol. It’s not really as a cost saving measure, more so because morphine is a highly addictive and dependent drug. The paracetamol they supply will be in liquid form as your body is still not yet ready for solids. Another drug they could supply is Oramorph, but this is really liquid morphine, so would not be dispensed unless necessary.
It would be around day three or so that you will notice your new stoma bag will need emptying. Brace yourself though and feel very sorry for the doctor because when they empty it, out will pop the most foul and obnoxious smelling liquid ever. (This soon settles down)
It always fascinated me how it fills up because you cannot actually feel it doing so. Your new stoma has no nerves.
Daily blood tests will also be commonplace. If you hate needles, you will begin to hate the mornings!
After a few days, you will be encouraged to try to get out of bed and walk, if only a short way. I struggled with my attempts at first, but soon got back into the stride of it.
You will be encouraged to drink hospital tea and to try and eat something – I struggled with both to start with. After all, no-one drinks hospital tea unless you absolutely have to!
Around this time, the Stoma nurse will also be encouraging you to not just empty the stoma bag itself, but also for you to change it yourself. This (for me) was the worst time as you will see your new addition for the first time. However, the sooner you can get to grips with this, the better.
The body drain and catheter will probably come out after 5 days or so … prepare to wet the bed! There is nothing you can do to prevent this. For a day or so you will have no bladder control at all, but then just as suddenly your body will remember it is not big or clever for a grown man to wet the bed and get away with it…
The body drain is not a nice experience to have removed, the wound is normally not stitched, but covered with a loose covering.
Once the doctor agrees you are cluttering up the ward, and the Stoma nurse confirms you can change your appliance without problem, you will be discharged back into the community along with a month’s worth of Stoma supplies and some painkillers. The district nurse will be asked to look in on you within a day or two of you leaving hospital just to make sure things are ok.
Now you are home, the real rehabilitation begins, you will realise you are very weak and practically incapable of doing anything except watch television, you really won’t have any strength for a few weeks.
I spent my time researching different stoma products to obtain samples – it kept our postman busy for a while!
The output you will produce will be enormous in liquid content. I was asked to measure mine for a week (not a pleasant experience!). The amount however is not as worrying as it seems – prior to your operation, your intestines and colon absorbed most of the moisture back into your body. As parts of you are missing, naturally your output will be very watery. Your body will made adjustments though so as time goes on, your output should thicken slightly.
The most important thing to remember when at home for the first few weeks is that you cannot drive, cannot lift, must drink plenty of fluids, and you get bored easily.
You will ache for a while, probably feel sorry for yourself and wonder why you agreed to the operation. The last part is the easiest to answer – you had a very low quality of life, could not go far from a toilet, and probably had no social life. Although you cannot see it at the moment, you have just got your life back.
Looking at your Stoma for the first time can be very daunting, and probably a little upsetting. It’s nothing to be ashamed at – in just a few months’ time you will wonder what all the fuss was about. I remember my doctor telling me that in a year’s time I would not remember the pain I was in prior to the operation and you know what … she was correct. It’s hard to remember back, but I know in my heart I made the right decision to have the operation, and so have you.