Having stoma surgery can be an incredibly stressful and a worrying time. Emotions can often be in a whirlwind whilst preparing for surgery, that we give little thought about how we may feel afterwards whilst we are recovering.
Our focus is often on the physical elements of recovery such as how will our pain be managed, but it is important to take the time to think about how you are feeling and the emotions you are experiencing on this journey. No matter what the reason for your surgery or how successful the outcome is afterwards, we can all agree that surgery is traumatic, not only for the body, but also for the mind.
Healing can be a slow and gradual process which can’t be rushed, take the time to rest and be kind to yourself during the recovery phase. Recovering from stoma surgery is a different journey for each person and it may take longer for some people than others.
Follow our simple steps during your recovery which will help you get the balance right; help you stay positive and aid the recovery process.
Ask the right questions before surgery
Your recovery time will very much depend on the type of surgery you are having. If your surgery is an emergency, you may not get the chance to prepare for it properly, but if it is planned surgery your surgeon may give you some pre-operative and post-operative instructions to follow.
Make sure you ask the questions you need answering before your stoma surgery, such as what the risks are, how long your stay in hospital might be, how long you will need to recover at home, how much time will you have to take off work and when you can back to other activities. Knowing the answer to these questions will help you feel more prepared.
Preparing for how you may feel emotionally after surgery
Most ostomates will experience a process where they have to come to terms with the bodily changes that will happen after stoma surgery. Adapting to a new stoma can have huge psychological effects and a stage of trying to adapt to how your body has changed.
For those ostomates who have planned stoma surgery, you may have the time to set some expectations of how you will feel after surgery. Your stoma care nurse will help guide you with what your stoma may look like, where it will be positioned and what to expect from the output. If you have suffered with bowel disease for a while prior to the surgery, you may find that you are relieved the symptoms of diarrhoea, cramps or constipation have now eased.
Yet, for those who experience emergency stoma surgery, it is lifesaving surgery and therefore there is no time for preparation. It can often be an unexpected shock to wake up to find you have a stoma.
Talking it through together
You may feel you want to talk about the surgery and how you feel, so open up and talk to your partner and loved ones.
Try not to feel embarrassed or feel that people won’t understand, tell them how you feel and how it has affected you. It can also help your partner; family members or carers help to understand what you are going through so they can provide you with support and encouragement you when you need it the most. Your stoma care nurse will support you in the weeks and months after your surgery so there is plenty of time to talk things through and ask more questions.
Stoma support groups, such as the Colostomy UK, Ileostomy and Internal Pouch Association and Urostomy Association are national charities who also provide support and advise to people living with stomas, their families, carers and friends. They are easily accessible if you want to talk with someone who has a stoma.
Counselling can also be offered to those who feel they have a traumatic experience and need additional support to help them through.
Resting over the first few days is so important for the body to heal and to take the time to gather your emotions. Yet it is also important to become as mobile as possible straight after stoma surgery.
You may be encouraged to sit out in your chair on the days immediately after surgery and to start gently walking soon after. Take it steady and try not push yourself too far, too soon. Mobilising helps to get the lungs working fully again, prevents chest infections and gets your bowels working quicker. It will also help you to feel more positive.
In the weeks following surgery try to slowly increase the distances you are walking. Listen to your body and if you feel tired… stop and rest. Try walking around your home and garden to gain confidence and increase your muscle strength. Your surgeon will guide you in the weeks after surgery and it is wise to get the green light, before you venture on long walks.
You’ll find that with time you will be back to walks with friends and family, enjoying the great outdoors and the beautiful scenery that the UK has to offer. Walking has some fabulous health benefits and is also good for the mind, body and soul.
Read more about exercising with a stoma here.
Setting realistic goals
The important part of setting goals after your surgery is to make sure they are realistic. Try not to push yourself too much during the recovery phase as you may face disappointment if these goals are unachievable. Start by setting only a few goals such as:
- Getting moving at your own pace
- Choose and activity which you enjoy
- Try changing your pouch alone in the comfort of your own home
- Empty your pouch before you leave the house
The most important part of setting these goals is to celebrate your success in achieving them!
Discover more mental health advice for ostomates in our advice centre.