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February 27, 2017

Ostomy Surgery Recovery: What to Expect After a Colostomy or Ileostomy Procedure

I stood at the bottom of the basement staircase, steeling my resolve to begin the climb.  What was my problem?  Heck, I’d summited plenty of mountains in my life, including an 18,200-foot Himalayan mountain right next door to Everest.  Yet here I was, lacking confidence that I physically had what it took to get up 17 steps to the main floor kitchen. 

Just over 3 weeks before, I had received emergency ileostomy surgery.  Ulcerative colitis had been wreaking havoc on my digestive system to the point where I was desperately weak and  seriously underweight. 

Getting my diseased colon removed held the promise of release from my seemingly hopeless situation.  But it wasn’t a magical, instant fix.  After surgery, it took time for my body to heal, first in the hospital and then at home.  That wasn’t always easy to accept, but I knew how important proper recuperation was for my future.    

When I think back to that time, I thankfully recognize that I had some good things going for me that aided my healing process.  I’ve combined those elements with some “20/20 hindsight” to come up with the following list that hopefully will help you with your own successful surgery recovery.

5 Short and Long Term Tips to Recovering After You’ve Received an Ostomy 

1. Be nice to your caretakers.

Before leaving the hospital, I appreciated the care that my nurses took of me.  Sure, it’s their job, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy or fun to be around sick, needy people all the time.  If you have it in you, be kind and thoughtful to your professional caretakers.  This can also help you take the spotlight off of your own pain and problems.

2. Be gentle with your new ostomy.

Due to the trauma of surgery, my ostomy was “lazy” or “sleepy”.  This means it took quite a while for my intestines to start contracting normally again and my ostomy to function as expected.  While waiting for my system to “wake up”, I developed the healthy habits of chewing my food extremely well, and introducing various foods slowly.  Your ostomy will work properly, so give it the time it needs and give yourself time to get used to having it.  

3. Be connected to “normality”. 

While recuperating, I was probably over-connected to my job via my cell phone.  But I found that through steady contact with my work colleagues, as well as visits from my family and friends, I avoided the feelings of isolation that many patients struggle with after surgery.  These connections also helped me stay focused on the life that I wanted to return to.   

4. Be okay with being dependent. 

I’ve always taken pride in being a very independent, self-sufficient person.  My health issues forced me to lean hard on my wife and in-laws (who lived nearby), who were great at finding practical ways to help before and especially after surgery.  We were fortunate enough to live with my in-laws for several weeks after I got out of the hospital.  In fact, it was their basement stairs that became my most challenging climb!

Whether your support network is composed of family or friends, don’t be afraid to depend on them while you regain your health.  And look forward to the time when you’re healthy again, when you’ll have your chances to “pay it forward”. 

5. Be patient with the process 

Realize that all good things take time.  Some people’s bodies recover more quickly than others, and as mentioned in the “pre-surgery” post, this will also depend on how healthy you were going into surgery.  Don’t rush yourself into your new, active life as an ostomate.  At the same time, don’t get too comfortable with everyone taking care of you.  Find ways to push yourself a little more each day so that your healing body can recover in strength and vitality. 

Before you know it, you’ll be climbing staircases easily and setting your sights on new mountains! 

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