Sunday, January 08, 2017

Colostomy Irrigation.

I ocassionally speak and write (sometimes irreverently) about my experiences of bowel cancer - particularly colostomy irrigation of which I am an enthusiastic champion. Because it has changed my life, I try to persuade fellow-ostomates to give it a go as well. It's always surprised me that so few British ostomates do 'give it a go' as opposed to the US, where I'm told most do. Perhaps it because all the equipment in the UK is free, while in the US, it has to be paid for. Colostomy irrigation has very little cost. I'll write a paragraph on how I acquired my colostomy, and another paragraph on what irrigation involves. It seems strange to me that so few people know what's involved - probably lot of people think bowels cant be mentioned in polite society. That's an attitude that leads to a lot of people dying before they should.

In 2002, in consultation with my surgeon, Mr Hunt, we decided on an Abdomininal Perineal Resection to remove a cancerous tumour. It was a big op, around 5/6 hours. Only a 5% chance of dying though. It involved removal of the lower part of the bowel, the rectum, and anus, bringing the cut end of the remaining bowel out though a small incision in the abdomen to form a colostomy. Looks like a cute little opening rosebud, about an inch across. It's quite radical surgery, so unsurprisingly it takes a while to settle down. That part of our bodies we sit is not 'flat' so just pulling the skin across and stitching it up needs time to recover. And I found infections developing in the space where bits of me had been removed. Had no bother with either of these issues for years now. Most people attach a colostomy bag to collect the excreted waste. I did not like that, and when my colostomy nurse suggested trying irrigation, I decided to give it a go. Soon became used to it. Changed my life and I'd never go back.

So what's involved. It's so simple and straightforward. A flexible polythene bag, which will hold near 2 litres is hung on a peg in the bathroom. I use the end of the curtain rail. In hotel rooms, it's usually the top of the nearest door!! I pour about 1600 ml of warm water into the polythene bag, allowing it to run down a tube and into the bowel through the colostomy. For me gravity is sufficient, though pumps are available for those who prefer it. And then you just let it all run out into the loo. I usually sit on an adjacent comfortable chair, with my mobile and IPad to work on - or read the paper. Have to remember not to use face-time. Takes around 40-60 minutes. To start with I was disciplined and did it every day at exactly the same time. But now I irrigate when it's convenient. Lots of grandchildren etc. making demands on the bathrooms in our house. Usually it's every two days but if I've not been eating much, it can be three days. So I live with more control that most people have, and never have an active stoma when I'm working, or speaking in public. For me, it's as easy as it reads.

I know it doesn't work out so well for all ostomates, but I cannot understand why those it would work for don't give it a go. Changed my life, and I'd never go back to using colostomy bags. To those who have read this far, I hope you've not found my post too gruesome, and you now understand what colostomy irrigation is about.  It's so much less complex and intrusive than Brexit or the Wales Bill!!

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