Next thing I hear is someone saying “Eric, Eric, open your eyes.”
“Eric, the procedure went well, we’ve repaired your bowel and given you a stoma”
“Stoma?” I thought as I reached to wipe my eyes and felt the tug of the cannula in my hand, bringing me back to a painful reality.
Looking down at my stomach, I was wrapped up in cling film like Christmas leftovers, with tubes and wires protruding out of me.
Although I was on strong pain medication, my body felt like I’d been put through a meat grinder. In order to repair my bowel & create the stoma, my small intestine had been redirected through a small opening in my stomach wall.
This would allow me to do ‘Number 2s’ through the opening into disposable bags attached to my stomach.
Although this procedure saved my life, I was shocked to see the stoma opening for the first time. I expected a little opening the size of a pea or something but was shocked to see a 2-inch hole, with part of my bright pink intestine slightly protruding out.
It was now that I really wished I had listened to the surgeons when they were explaining what was going to happen during, and after, the surgery.
I found this change to my body really hard to take as I thought I would be seen as a sort of freak, and unattractive.
How could my wife find a man with part of his intestines exposed, and a bag attached to his stomach, remotely attractive? What do I do about work, sport, general day to day tasks?
These thoughts plagued me while I was in hospital, although my wife Mandi was supportive as always and took everything in her stride.
I was in a very dark place while in hospital and being in the same ward I was in exactly 10 years earlier for a kidney transplant made things worse.
“Why me again?” was all I could think. “What have I done to deserve these life changing conditions?”
However, one of the saving graces was when I met my stoma nurse, Margaret. A stoma nurse is assigned to patients who have had surgery, whose role is to guide you through the process, and provide information and support.
Margaret showed me how to change my stoma bag, and reassured me that there wasn’t anything I could have done to avoid getting diverticulitis. In addition, I was told that over 13,000 stoma operations are carried out in the UK each year so I felt less alone in my plight.
After a slow and painful recovery, I was discharged seven days after the initial procedure but was readmitted three days later as the infection had spread. I was put on a strong dose of antibiotics and monitored closely, before discharging myself a week later.
It’s was such a relief to get home, to spend time with my wife and sleep in my own bed, and although I was full of stitches and not very mobile, I was home.
On returning to hospital and getting checked over, the surgeons were happy with my progress, as the infection markers had reduced sufficiently for me to become an outpatient.
Now came the hard part, coming to terms with my new friend ‘Stanley’ the stoma. Yes, I named it! The easy part was dealing with the physical aspect, my body would heal naturally, and I would get used to dealing the day to day physical challenges in time.
But mentally I was still in a dark place trying to come to terms with this dramatic lifestyle change. Although Mandi was very supportive, empathetic and understanding, I couldn’t really talk through my experiences with her.
Being a stubborn man, I wasn’t comfortable in talking about my condition and being a black man, I was less inclined to talk about my mental state. This is sometimes seen as a systemic problem across the black community. It’s a well-known issue that we don’t speak freely about our health issues as it’s seen as a sign of weakness.
Writing this blog, and sharing my story is the first step of coming to terms with having a stoma. It’s taken me six months to get to this stage, but I will get there by raising awareness for ‘Ostomates’, organ donors and those suffering from invisible illnesses.