Surgeons have always seemed like Formula 1 racing car engineers to me. There is an air of enthusiastic positivity to get “ the bonnet up and see what’s wrong in there”. The day before my surgery, my surgeon came to see me. Surgeons are not known for their bedside skills, mainly for the reason that they can sometimes see you as an organic machine to be sorted.
He informed me that when I woke up from the anesthesia , that if I had a colostomy on my right side, he had successfully removed the cancer, and this was a temporary measure until I got my plumbing re-connected in about 6 months’ time. On the left side, and the colostomy was permanent. Surgeons always pepper their information with statistics and percentages, and this was no different. Having no idea what to expect or how the colostomy would affect my life I simply shrugged my shoulders and in rhetorical question said “What choice do I have”?
Now, under my clothing, I must be closer to some of our Simian or Neanderthal ancestors than many other people. That much is also clear in the large torso, short legs, and long arms. I have always maintained that my extreme hairiness was a major factor in me staying warm in winter. The surgeon chuckled as he examined me, and mentioned that it would take a while getting me hair–free, so maybe he would schedule an earlier pre-op.
The mechanics of colostomy bags and how they attach is relatively simple. An adhesive ring or manifold fits over the exhaust pipe from the bowel and the attached bag collects the waste. How many of you have put an adhesive plaster on a leg or arm, and then had to remove it taking the hair with it, or it would not stick at all? Like the ECG pads that I would get on occasion during chemotherapy and the Nurse would advance on me waving a shaver for my extremely hirsute chest.
When I started wearing this surgical appliance, it became clear that it was made for people who were hairless.
I became extremely nervous about its efficiency, as the adhesive was not designed for rapidly re-growing hair around the Stoma – as the exhaust pipe is known – whether it would leak, at inopportune times, whether asleep, out walking or whatever.
I also noticed my wife would hug me very carefully from the opposite side! So I was interested to hear on BBC Radio 4 a commissioned piece from War Photographer Giles Duley, who had been in Afghanistan, and had stepped on an explosive device , and lost two legs and an arm. He said;
“ I had a colostomy after my injury and that was worse than everything else for me in terms of the intimacy with my partner… in just my day-to-day nervousness when I was out if it started leaking.” He says that a colostomy affected him more than losing both his legs and that the large majority who have lost both legs have similar problems but go unseen. He says it has a “big psychological impact”
Fortunately for me I had my plumbing re-connected, but the aftermath and difficulties that are experienced by folk who have had this operation are seldom discussed or talked about, despite the huge impact on people’s lives.
How I coped following the re-connection is another story entirely.