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February 10, 2017

Preparing for Ostomy Surgery: What to Expect Before a Colostomy or Ileostomy Procedure

Recently we shared an article about the importance of finding the right ET (Enterostomal) nurse.  I can’t emphasize the value of these professionals enough, especially after but even before having ostomy surgery.  In fact, if I had met my ET nurse sooner, I would still have a bellybutton!  

Here’s the short version: when my ileostomy happened as an emergency surgery (read more about my personal story here), my surgeon inadvertently placed my ostomy too close to my navel.  When my ostomy appliance was in place, it covered my bellybutton, causing it to unnaturally retain excess moisture.  

In the weeks and months after surgery, I ended up having regular rashes and skin problems.  It was a source of constant irritation, to the point where, when I went for my second surgery to finalize my ileostomy, I asked the surgeon to remove my “umbilicus” (the clinical term for bellybutton) altogether.  He complied.  

It turns out that if my ET nurse had been able to meet with myself and/or my surgeon prior to my initial ileostomy, she would have been able to recommend a more ideal position for my ostomy.  What’s that old saying about hindsight again?  


How to Prepare Yourself for a Successful Colostomy or Ileostomy Procedure

Of course, not everyone who has ostomy surgery does so under emergency conditions.  If I could do it all over again (and I definitely would because of the freedom my ostomy has given me), here are some other things I would do differently.

Schedule surgery for early in the week  

If at all possible, request that your surgery happen on a Monday.  That way, the team of professionals who specialize in ostomy care will be there all week to help you with various complications that might arise.  My initial surgery took place late in the week, and when I experienced serious discomfort that first weekend, all the nurses could offer me were painkillers.  Come Monday, my ET nurse returned and was able to deal with the cause, not just the symptoms.

Go into it as strong as possible

Your doctor has probably already told you that the stronger you are before surgery, the quicker your body will be able to recover.  Of course, this is a relative statement.  You wouldn’t need ostomy surgery in the first place if your body wasn’t having serious challenges.  

In my case, ulcerative colitis had done a number on my body, and I went into surgery feeling sick and weak.  I was in the hospital longer, and my recovery took more time, because of my physical conditioning (or lack thereof) beforehand.  Regardless of your situation, anything you can do via exercise and nutrition to strengthen yourself physically will pay dividends in terms of healing.  

And don’t underestimate the importance of having a positive, hope-driven mental and emotional outlook.  I was convinced that having ileostomy surgery was essential to overcoming colitis.  I knew that it offered me the genuine promise of a new lease on life.  Looking back, those beliefs are what got me through the hardest days of recovery.  And those convictions allow me and other ostomates I know to overcome the challenges that present themselves after surgery.  

Come back soon for the second part to this post, “Ostomy Surgery: Things You Should Know Coming Out”.  Whether you’re considering ostomy surgery, are on the verge of having it done, or are in early recovery, you’ll find direction and encouragement when you read what I have to share from my own experience.  

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