I just celebrated my 5-year anniversary of having a colectomy. My colon was removed due to severe ulcerous colitis (UC). In addition to the removal of my colon, I also had an ileostomy, which is a surgery to make a temporary or permanent opening called a “stoma.” A stoma (I call my stoma “Steve”) is a pathway from the lowest part of the small intestine, the ileum, to the outside of the abdomen.
I had just turned 50 years old in 2016 and I was rushed to the hospital due to a severe flare-up of my UC. I awoke in Singapore General Hospital (SGH) after a 9-hour operation. Coming out of a morphine haze, I looked down at my abdomen to notice a large bag. The doctors had told me about it beforehand, so it wasn’t a complete surprise, but to see it hanging there like a wet rag was rather disturbing.
In truth, my stoma “Steve” was the least of my problems. I had lung infections and pneumonia to deal with, not to mention I was vomiting copious amounts of blood. It took 5 grueling months, but eventually, I skipped well wheeled out of Singapore General.
Here are five things that I have learned since I started rocking the bag.
- The human body is amazing in the ways it can adjust. My weight had slipped down to 30 kilograms and I was unable to speak, walk, or eat. In a relatively short period of time (12 months), I almost completely recovered. I was walking, talking miracle. Modern medicine really is marvelous. In an earlier time in history, I likely wouldn’t be alive, and I certainly wouldn’t have the quality of life that I enjoy now thanks to wonderful companies like Convatec and Hollister
- Where the mind goes, the body will follow. That’s why so many people recommend focusing on positive things like inspirational stories, meditation, life coaches, laughter, bag jokes–just a general celebration of life. The body soon catches up to a great attitude. Like the saying goes: “It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you respond.”
- Nothing is as bad as it seems. I thought my life would be over after getting my colostomy bag. I thought I’d be unable to travel or swim, that I wouldn’t have fun anymore, that my company would close, and, worst of all, that people would stare at me everywhere I went. I constantly ruminated over what I might do in different situations—wouldn’t the bag destroy my life? No. In fact, the bag gave me life. My fears about wearing a colostomy bag never came to pass and now I get to use a disabled toilet, guilt-free.
- Focus on the benefits not for the negatives. Ironically, I am healthier now than I have been in the past 30 years. Living with UC is no picnic, and after suffering from this debilitating disease for 15 years, I can honestly say that I am celebrating every day.
- Practice deep love and deep gratitude. Sometimes when I bend over and tie my shoes, get up from a chair, or lie in bed I become overwhelmed with love and gratitude that I can still do the simple things in life. Now when I get stressed or worried, I simply stop and remember those 5 months at SGH, and that puts everything into perspective.
I thought my life was over but in fact it was a new beginning!