It has been a few weeks since my last post and this is partly laziness, but mostly since I have found myself concentrating on getting myself "back on the horse", as they say. I'm now roughly two months on from surgery and I can now honestly say that I am feeling the benefits. Every day I am now thinking to myself "wow, all of that was actually worth it". I don't have any symptoms of pain in my stomach like I used to get several times a day, I have energy and drive and, most significantly, I don't get mad dashes to the toilet like I did before - doing a poo is altogether more controlled and civilised, not to mention blood free! (sorry I hope you are not reading this over breakfast...) I'd now like to say a little about what I have gotten up to over the last few weeks.
Experimentation with ostomy products
I have read that in days gone by the products available to ostomates were very limited and only partially effective; having a stoma was really very difficult to manage. Thankfully nowadays there is a vast range of available products and my main challenge has been in finding a combination that suits me. Ultimately the goals are fairly simple; the ostomy bag should stick well, be comfortable and the seal should last a long time (a few days is good) before needing replaced. This seal is the all important part to avoid leakage of the contents onto your clothes and each manufacturers seals are slightly different; it is a case of trying every one to see what sticks best with the least irritation to the skin around your stoma.
Then there is the choice between a one-piece and a two-piece system. In a one-piece system the sticky part is attached to the colostomy bag permanently meaning that whenever you change the bag, you also change the seal. This has the benefit that you are inspecting the stoma and surrounding skin more regularly which may help to identify any problems with irritation excoriation etc. The frequency of seal changes may however be detrimental if the act of peeling it off is a source of irritation. In a two-piece system the seal is separately attached to the body first, then the bag is attached to this by way of a mechanical connection (some are a bit like a Tupperware box lid, others have an adhesive ring). The benefit of this system comes if you can get the seal to last a while, therefore you can change the bag without peeling back the seal. For me the two-piece system has been the route to pursue and I have indeed found something I like where the seal lasts up to 5 days, whilst I change the bag every day.
At this point I must add a section on the economics of all of this. In the UK we very lucky to have the National Health Service and financing the cost of ostomy supplies is something us ostomates need not worry about. Almost all commercially available products are offered to the patient free of charge via prescription by a GP. Furthermore there are several companies which offer a service to manage the prescription requests and deliver the products to your home, making it even more simple to get supplies. This is truly an amazing service and I cannot fault the NHS one bit here. Unfortunately the same service is generally not available to overseas ostomates and it is common to find that either the individual (or their health insurance policy) bears the financial cost, which will be in the thousands of £GBP per year.
In my last post I explained how my physical strength had diminished post surgery; I found it difficult to carry out even menial tasks. Things have changed a lot now (for the better) and despite being told not to push my abdominal muscles too hard I have been able to go walking, swimming, play golf and do some gardening. I even went for a sauna a week or two back which was absolutely fine. I'm hoping to go cycling in the next couple of weeks because my tail end scar has healed really well. I returned to driving about 5 weeks after surgery (the main consideration is whether or not you can carry out an emergency stop safely).
This is not to say that I am back to full strength yet (as was evident as I wheezed my way up a local hill last night). However to be getting back to my normal physical activities, with progress in my physical ability increasing every week, I can say without doubt that the surgery has been well worth it for me. In this respect managing Alf (my stoma) is actually a pleasure. It sounds really daft, but I see him as a little being who has been placed on my body to stop the pain and discomfort of the last seven years (stupid I know, but maybe its just my way of rationalising it).
I must confess that I have used my recovery time to indulge myself with a few treats. Firstly my wife and I finally got around to getting a little cat (something we've been planning for years). Her name is Islay (silent 'y') and she is just a little bundle of joy to us (most of the time). There is a caption competition for the picture below so please leave a comment!
Secondly I treated myself to a new digital camera (for the "photography-philes" it is a Canon 60D digital SLR). I've always been keen on photography but never taken the plunge into non-point-and-shoot photography.
Lastly, my wife and I celebrated our 3rd wedding Anniversary this weekend by returning to the hotel at which we tied the knot for a night. We also visited the lovely town of St Andrews and my wife was able to convince me that I should take photographs of the ruined cathedral rather than of The Old Course. I also think I (only just) managed not to make her feel like a photography widow for the weekend.
(Picture taken on my new Canon 60D...)