The Stoma Bag is a lifesaver for many people. It allows the removal of a diseased organ in order for people to live a fuller, healthier life. For me, this little piece of beautifully designed plastic and material has been life changing.
For people who are not familiar with the topic (like myself 3 months ago), it can be quite difficult to understand the concept of pooping or peeing into a bag attached to your skin. Yes, it sounds pretty crazy. I’ve found a lot of people are completely baffled by the idea and so they avoid talking about it. It’s a natural thing to do if you don’t understand much about a situation and don’t want to offend, but as a result it’s become this elephant in the room. I would like to use this post to break it down, so that you feel confident to ask people “how are things with your bag” or “how’s the Stoma?”. So far I haven’t met anyone with an ostomy who would be offended by this.
Types of Stomas can broadly be categorised into the 3 types.
- Ileostomy: where the small intestine (ileum) is to be diverted and carries poop
- Colostomy: where the large intestine is diverted which also carries poop
- Urostomy: where the Ureters are diverted which carry urine
Why do people need a Stoma? Ileostomies and Colostomies are formed most commonly due to bowel cancer and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. These Stomas can be temporary OR permanent, depending on the disease. Urostomies are required for bladder cancer, severe urinary incontinence and damage to the pelvic area. This procedure is always permanent.
The Stoma has no nerve endings therefore no pain/discomfort is felt when pooping or peeing, and for that reason it is actually difficult to tell when it’s happening! A healthy Stoma will be pink-red, moist and shiny.
Bags for all 3 types of Stomas generally have the same features. Here is a bag used for an ileostomy. Meet the Hollister Moderma Flex, one piece drainable ostomy pouch, soft convex, flexwear barrier. I have used it to show you the basic principles of most bags:
There is a huge variety of designs to suit different lifestyles, I have been completely amazed at the market for these products. The design takes into account things like: body shape, stoma size, stoma shape, activity levels, preference of material and skin reactions to different materials. I heard a very interesting fact about a bag I tried post surgery – Ted Baker had a temporary Stoma and after experiencing the products available, he used his skills to improve the design of a bag for a company called Coloplast.
Wearing a bag for the first time…
After surgery, when I was asked to get out of bed for a walk by the lovely Healthcare Assistant, I told her I was too scared to move away from my bed in case it “fell off”. Obviously, she laughed. Then reassured me that it would have to be extremely full before that could happen! It’s such a strange and scary feeling relying on this piece of sticky plastic and material to stop you pooing (or peeing) all over the place.
In the UK, there are 3 national stoma patient support organisations. They are: Ileostomy and Internal Pouch Support Group (IA), Colostomy Association, Urostomy Association.
Each of these organisations has a lot of information on their websites, so if you know someone with a Stoma and want to find out a bit more, visit their websites. These organisations also run local support groups. 11 weeks post surgery, I attended my local Ileostomy and Internal Pouch Support Group which was fantastic. If you are nervous about attending on your own, perhaps taking a friend or family member will be helpful for you but also for them to learn more.
Online information/forums and local support groups are only two of the many activities these organisations do. Upon receiving my most recent newsletter, I came across a service by the Colostomy Association called Stoma Aid. People in the UK often end up with many unused Stoma supplies, especially when first trying to find the right bag and fit. Companies will happily post out free samples of several types of bags. Stoma Aid allows these bags to be redistributed to people with Stomas in developing countries. Many of these people cannot afford bags and have to improvise with tin cans, plastic and bags which is truly horrendous and isolating, particularly when you have no control of the output. If you have an ostomy or know someone with an ostomy and unused supplies, find out how you could help someone: http://www.colostomyassociation.org.uk/index.php?p=233&pp=189&page=Stoma%20Aid
Here are some of the different types of bags I have managed to accumulate so far!
So, if you have managed to get the end of this blog post and are thinking you haven’t met anyone with a Stoma, you are more than likely wrong. Around 13,500 Stoma surgeries take place in the UK every year! Although this is major surgery, once recovery time is complete, people go on to live normal lives and in much better health than prior. It’s a surgery I will forever be grateful for.
Shehnaz Bashir RD