My Change of Life(style): What Happened When I Stopped Irrigating
Most women go through their "change of life" gradually, over a period of years. I experienced that transition also, but the change I'm describing now was quite different from the one programmed by Mother Nature. This change in my lifestyle occurred almost overnight, because I stopped irrigating my colostomy.
Thirty years ago I had surgery for rectal cancer resulting in a sigmoid colostomy. Before I left the hospital, I was taught to irrigate my colostomy. "You'll want to do this daily or every other day," the ET nurse said, and I did as I was told. Over the years, I managed my altered elimination process as best I could, trying new techniques now and then, acquiring improved equipment occasionally, adjusting my diet as needed, and always learning, learning, learning--especially learning how to communicate with and listen to my body. I made good use of one of the most common methods of learning anything: trial and error. Sometimes I mused about what it might be like to not irrigate, but a small voice within cautioned me against tampering with success, so I continued with my usual colostomy management procedures.
Enter calcium. During an annual physical examination, it was determined that I had rather severe osteoporosis, the weak-bone disorder. I always had been conscious of needing calcium in my diet, but every time I attempted to increase the amount, for example by taking calcium tablets or Tums daily, I experienced constipation extreme enough to put me in a bind (literally!) and make my irrigations miserably ineffective. My simple (and simple minded) solution was to discontinue the added calcium.
With my new diagnosis of osteoporosis came the doctor's strict orders to, among other recommendations, ingest 1500 mg of calcium per day. I decided to do this by consuming calcium-rich orange juice, soy milk, skim milk, plus soft calcium "chews" that successfully imitate delicious candy, hoping to skirt the constipation problem by avoiding the more obvious calcium supplements I had tried previously.
Well, as we've been told, "You can't fool Mother Nature," and so it was I could not fool my body. "Calcium is calcium," my body said, "and I'll react the way I've always reacted to an increased intake of that mineral." This time, the doctor's order and a mental image of my bones crumbling led me to a different plan of action. After a week-long struggle with futile irrigations, I did not quit taking calcium as I had done before; I quit irrigating my colostomy.
Suddenly I, a 25-year "expert" in my personal colostomy management, became an insecure novice needing help, advice and encouragement from ET nurses and fellow colostomates. My learning began anew, and I heard my body's message loud and clear: "Now listen up and pay attention to my needs, address my problems sensibly, and we'll get along fine."
As I adjusted to the physical and management changes I was experiencing, I realized my thoughts and attitudes were changing too. I no longer had "mono-bathroom phobia," a term coined years ago by a newspaper columnist who said she was reluctant to stay in homes where there was only one bathroom--and she didn't even have an ostomy!
Since I no longer had to spend two hours or more in the bathroom while irrigating, I felt differently about early morning appointments or late night meetings. Why, I could be out and about at 7 a.m. without having to arise at 4 a.m. to do so. (I had learned early-on during my irrigating years that not only could you not fool Mother Nature, you couldn't hurry her either. Even a covert wish for the process to go faster would usually shut down the irrigation completely--an impressive demonstration of the mind-body connection!) Having company in my home no longer posed a problem for me. Although I have more than one bathroom available, it had been awkward when I, the hostess, would disappear for hours at a time. Long-distance train travel, a favorite mode of transportation for me and my spouse, became much more pleasant to contemplate--no more need to spend hours jostling around in that teeny tiny Amtrak restroom. Another travel plus: less ostomy gear to carry on.
Additional issues that are no longer issues: sharing a bathroom in a Bed and Breakfast or in a college dormitory or an Elderhostel is not problematic any more, and the thought of visiting a country with questionably pure water is not so worrisome.
There were advantages to irrigating, of course. Once a day and that was that. I greatly appreciated the clean-pouch condition that I experienced for many years.
As I move along this new path in my ostomy life, I sometimes speculate whether I would choose to resume irrigating if I could do so successfully. I'd have to weigh seriously the pros and cons and listen to advice from my body. I wonder what I would decide!
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Content last revised 2005-04-15