Hello from Laura! I would like to tell you a short story. It starts when I went in to ostomy surgery as a result of Ulcerative Colitis (UC) on December 18th, 2011, and continues on to when I was discharged on January 6th after an extremely trying initial recovery – and then keeps going today!
Every year, when my “stomaversary” comes around, I take a minute to reflect on where I was in 2011 and the years after surgery. I also always make a point of treating myself and doing something I couldn’t do before surgery (usually for me, I celebrate with a long run and eating a slice of pecan pie). I wanted to share some of my key moments since ostomy surgery, and I encourage you to also take a minute to reflect on your journey during your stomaversary – and to treat yourself to activities or foods you couldn’t do or have before surgery, to remind you of how far you’ve come.
Without further ado, here are some of my most memorable moments:
- The morning of my surgery was so surreal. My dad and I went to Lincoln Park at about 5:30 in the morning to walk my dog. As we drove to to University of Chicago for my procedure we listened to a “Relaxation Before Surgery” CD my grandma had sent me. My fingers tingled with nervous anticipation as I tried to meditate with the CD. Unfortunately, I do not remember my last “normal” bowel movement, which kind of upsets me, since it’s been about five years since I’ve had one.
- The next memorable moment was being rolled on the gurney into the operating room. I remember trying to make jokes with the transporter to distract myself. Soon, I was laying on the operating table and was told to count my breaths while I inhaled the sedative. I remember counting to two.
- Waking up was one of the fuzziest and oddest memories. I don’t think I even opened my eyes, although I was conscious. I remember feeling a dull pain at the far end of my abdomen, where later I’d see my largest scar is. I remember just saying “ow,” hearing a beep and a kind woman’s voice telling me to let her know when I needed more pain medication. I have no concept of how long I was in the recovery area, but I do remember thinking thank goodness I’m awake.
- I wouldn’t be awake for long. The second night (after having a very successful healing day, full of walking the hospital floor and admiring my new stoma), I started to feel really “wrong.” I was hot, didn’t have a concept of where I was, and started to vomit. The last thing I remember is a doctor coming in with a few nurses (which scared me, because I’d had enough hospitalizations at that point to know the more people in your room, the worse off you are) and inserting a very painful NG tube into my nose and down my throat. Later, I would semi-wake up in the Intensive Care Unit and felt as if I was being stung by bees all over. It turns out, three med students were trying to put an arterial line in me. They believed I had SIRS (Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome) or sepsis. To this day, we haven’t been told exactly what had happened, but we were told I’m very lucky to be here.
- I “woke up” around three or four days later (not recollecting anything in between) and was about twice my usual size. They had pumped me with fluids in order to save my life. That day, they had me leave the ICU and I was put back on the surgical floor.
- The rest of the stay had some ups and downs, including a PICC line, a second NG tube, and also meeting my role model. Steve and I exchanged looks and smiles through our hospital doors every day for about a week. The day he was discharged he came into my hospital room and shared his story with me. In short, he has Cystic Fibrosis and had underwent a double lung transplant and never takes any day for granted. He talked to me about “living for Carrie” (his donor), positivity, and to never stop smiling. This turned my world around.
- My healing had ups-and-downs and re-hospitalizations, but seven months after surgery I felt so incredible. I didn’t even remember if I felt this great before being diagnosed with UC. My life wasn’t perfect, but I was already traveling, hiking, jogging and back at the gym. Every day I learned something new about myself, my ostomy, and people’s ability to cope and persevere!
- Every new experience became an accomplishment. My first time overseas after surgery went so smoothly; my first boyfriend after ostomy surgery loved me for me and told me how beautiful and strong I was; finishing university was something I wouldn’t have been able to do with my colon still inside of me; and most importantly, I am able to LIVE my life. I am here, I am experiencing, I am grateful.