Mandy welcomed Becky and I into her small treatment room. We’d been told by the lady who checked us in that she was the “angel” in this department.
Becky sat on the treatment bed. I stood. The air seemed heavy and and the walls felt close.
After some initial hello’s we got right to the goal of the meeting – to learn about an ostomy, should I need one after surgery.
Having done no research on this very likely addition to my surgical recovery process, I went in feeling extremely ignorant about what it all entailed.
I had assumptions. I thought that they surgically created some sort of valve that then supported a collection bag. Turn it on and off as required. But, no such thing.
Depending on the doctors decision in surgery, and the pre-defined spot for the hole determined by Mandy, the small or large intestine is bent, folded and cut open in order to attach it to the hole in my skin. Sewn together actually. The intestine just meets the skin and forms the outlet for all the waste. It’s called a stoma.
Mandy showed us the diagram and picture of what it would look like. Becky sighed and lay back on the treatment bed, and I started controlled dancing anxiously between both feet. I was experiencing that distinct pre-faint feeling. I kept moving and breathed deeply. It looked really weird. A red colored skin attached to the white colored skin.
“So no valve?”
“No” said Mandy. “It’s just the stoma. There are no controls. It just comes out as the intestine pushes it.”
She then went on show us the ostomy bag that gets stuck to the skin surrounding the stoma using cutting edge adhesives. She explained the process of filling the bag and to frequency and method to empty the bag. She explored the options and the possible issues that might come with it.
Becky asked about gas. With a bit of a chuckle, Mandy responded, “Yes, that too. It all comes out.”
“Is there a charcoal filter?” I wondered aloud.
With confidence, Mandy pointed to the tiny charcoal filter on the bag and described how it worked.
“Yes, here it is. So there is no smell”
“Normally, with the way it is now I can control it. If you have to fart, you hold it or excuse yourself. But you’re saying there is not control when gas happens? What do you do?” I asked awkwardly.
“You just muffle it with both arms.” She demonstrated the position and continued. “No one will know.”
We laughed together, but it struck me in that moment how I much want this process to be simple. But it is not. I want the easy surgery without the need for 2/3rds of my rectum to be removed. I want to avoid the ostomy. I don’t want to deal with all this right now. It’s almost surreal. I’m healthy. I feel fine. And, I am likely going to need to wear one anyways.
I’m brought back to focus as Mandy reminds us that thousands of people live their lives with an ostomy bag. And she confirms that the technology has improved over the years.
With no more questions we exit her room. While I believe her colleagues admiration, and respect her knowledge and expertise, I secretly hope I won’t have to meet her again.
But now I am ready, just in case I do.