Here’s Donna from Belfast, Northern Ireland’s ostomate story.
September 2015 I began to experience a change in my bowel habits which I had put down to Irritable Bowel Syndrome which I was diagnosed with in 2008. I wasn’t concerned as I’d had bouts of diarrhoea and blood in my stools over the years which normally went away after a couple of weeks, I had always been fit and healthy and was never ill.
Four weeks later when my toilet trips were getting more frequent, I was getting mild stomach cramps, temperatures and it was starting to affect my work I knew something wasn’t right. After speaking to the out of hour’s doctor he advised me to go straight to A+E. I drove to A+E on the 2nd October and was admitted immediately. I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis and put on steroids. When these failed to work and the pain was so extreme even morphine wasn’t helping I was sent for emergency surgery to remove my entire large bowel before it perforated.
Before my diagnosis all I thought I knew about colostomy bags was that they were for old people. I was given diagrams and leaflets on the procedure and living with an ostomy but I was in total denial, I was convinced the steroids would work and I wouldn’t need an operation. Then I spent 6 weeks in hospital and lost a lot of weight. At first I couldn’t accept it, I was crying and kept thinking “why me?”
It took 3 months to recover well enough that I could do day to day things with ease, socialise, leave the house, travel. I had to give up my car, my job and living on benefits was a struggle and my self confidence took a nose dive. With the help and support of family, friends and the charity Chronically Fabulous who offered me a free makeover and photo shoot, I’ve gained some of my body confidence back My emotional state of mind is still a work in progress.
June last year I had a second operation to create a j-pouch where I spent 7 weeks in hospital with complications. I feel like the last 12 months of my life have been put on hold as I’ve either been in hospital or recovering from surgery. My ostomy bag and how it affects me is on my mind every single day. Yes my bag saved my life but I resent it for taking away the life I had before, for taking away the old me.
In April I’m having my 3rd and final operation to remove my bag. My biggest achievement has been highlighting Inflammatory Bowel Disease and overcoming all the complications it’s brought to my life. If I can have a positive impact on another person struggling with IBD then that can only be a good thing. There’s a lot of stigma attached to ostomy bags and I hope I’ve broken some of the taboos.
For a long time I thought having an ostomy bag was the end of the world. Over time I’ve realised it isn’t. If anything it’s made me appreciate life more.