Surviving the first couple of weeks after stoma surgery

Andy Fletcher
Andy Fletcher
I often think back to the early days of my operation and wonder if I could have done things differently to maybe help speed up recovery, make life for myself easier, and so on.

Operations to create stomas come in various forms – some are created temporarily, others permanent. Some are created as a Colostomy, others an Ileostomy, so the notes I write here may not necessarily be completely relevant to you, but I hope that they will help guide you.

Being informed that you must have a stoma created is pretty scary stuff, for some people (like me), it was a life saver, for others, the reasons can range from having a cancer, a diseased bowel system, Crohns, Ulcerative Colitis …. The list is endless, but we all share a common reason – it was created though necessity.

I often think back to the early days of my operation and wonder if I could have done things differently to maybe help speed up recovery, make life for myself easier, and so on.

I had pretty much of my entire bowel system removed, and so as a result, recovery was exactly six months, and so my recovery period was longer than most. However, if it helps you, here are my thoughts.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

I was in hospital for almost two weeks, and very weak when I left. The day following discharge, I told my (ex) wife to go to work as I would be fine. That was a big mistake!  I was so poorly I could not even lift the kettle to make a cuppa. Nobody wants to be waited on hand and foot, but it was offered and I wish I accepted.

Don’t lie to community nurses!

A community nurse came to see me the day after I was released from hospital. I exaggerated that I was fine, and as a result, I believe my recovery time was set back. As I had not just most of my intestines removed, but also all of my rectum, my backside was sewn up. This “spotted” with blood every time I sat down or stood up. If I was honest about this, maybe the nurse could have suggested something. Instead, I said I was fine, and bled and bled for weeks – so much so that I ended up needing a transfusion.

This was completely preventable if I had only been honest.

Don’t rush to do anything

As I mentioned earlier, when I was let home, I was very weak. That didn’t stop me from trying (and failing) to push a hoover around the hallway. I just had no strength. Doing this helped create my hernia – a big bulgy mass making the area around my stoma larger than it really is. In short, don’t do anything at all for a couple of weeks. You just had pretty evasive surgery, and your body needs time to recover, whether you want to admit it or not.

Obtain samples

You were probably discharged from hospital with a week’s supply of stoma bags – these were also probably “clear” bags, so you can see the contents. This is great for hospital staff who can easily monitor output, but not nice for you to observe. I spent a fair while telephoning around for samples. Remember, it’s not just stoma bags you may need – covers, deodorisers, remover sprays and wipes and so on.

You may not think you need to sample a remover wipe, in my case, I can’t use anything with Aloe Vera in it  and some wipes come soaked in the stuff, sampling allowed me to find one I preferred.

Changing the stoma pouch

The frequency of changing a stoma pouch is a personal thing, some people choose to change daily, some weekly, and others at periods in between. For me, I change daily.

However, in the first couple of weeks, I was changing twice daily, maybe more.  The bonus with this is that it allowed me to become really proficient at changing – but the downside is that it gave me incredibly sore skin.

There was no need for me to change twice daily, it was a drainable pouch after all …. I put myself through a lot of pain for no reason whatsoever.

In conclusion, all you can realistically do after having surgery is to rest, put your feet up and get bored watching daytime TV. You may feel lazy doing so, but you are giving your body the best possible help with recovery and this is my biggest single mistake I made. I thought I was invincible, and not very manly to sit and do nothing at all - the result is that I made a longer recovery period than I should have, caused myself lots of unnecessary pain, and made myself look silly!