The ‘Hell’ That Precedes Ostomy Surgery

In Patrick Mott’s article (“ ‘Ostomates’ Coping with a Taboo Topic,” Aug. 20), nurse Jenny Oberschlake is quoted as saying that for some the post-ostomy surgery period is ". . . hell. All of a sudden they have no control.” I want to point out that for others, the “hell” and “lack of control” came prior to ostomy surgery.

I underwent a conventional ileostomy on Dec. 18, 1978, after having lived with ulcerative colitis since March, 1974. By the time I had ostomy surgery I was ready for it, both physically and emotionally. I feel that there are four factors which contributed to my positive outlook.

First, I knew that ostomy surgery was a possibility even before the colitis was confirmed by lab tests. After examining me, my doctor offered his diagnosis, then a prognosis. “Surgery” and “wearing a bag” were the last things he mentioned. All through the 3 1/2 years I suffered with the disease, the doctor’s final words nagged at the back of my mind. By Thanksgiving, 1978, I knew that I’d had enough. Wearing a bag had to be infinitely better than the life I was living.

Second, when I finally entered the hospital on Dec. 11--exactly one week before surgery--I was given an ileostomy bag and belt to wear around my waist so I could get used to the feel of having a bag on my side. So all that week, through the blood transfusions, the myriad of tests, the apprehensions and doubts, I wore the bag. And it helped. There was no sense of shock at first sight when I woke up after surgery. Also, I had two pre-surgery visitors, both ileostomates, who came as part of the Ostomy Assn. of Los Angeles (OALA) visitor program. The two women were able to answer many of the questions I had about life as an ostomate.


Third, coping with an ileostomy is at the bottom of my “things I have to cope with” list. I have a severe hearing loss and hear next to nothing without the use of hearing aids. Wearing contact lenses or eyeglasses will correct my vision to 20/60 at best, but the correction won’t do anything for the nearsightedness or the fact that I can’t see a thing in the dark. Since ostomy surgery, I’ve developed allergies to just about anything within breathing distance. As far as I’m concerned, the hearing loss and the night-blindness do more to limit my social life than the ostomy. I could say that I don’t ski because the ileostomy gets in the way, but the truth is that it’s the combination of the hearing loss and the eyesight that keeps me from hitting the slopes. And it’s the hearing loss, not the ostomy, which presented the greatest obstacle to my post-surgery search for employment. It took two years following my recovery before I found a job; I have now been with the same company for five years.

The fourth factor in my road to ostomy recovery has been the support and