On March 11th 2015 I was admitted to the hospital for the first time. And although I missed out on going to the Junos, as long as I was better in time for my best friend’s engagement party in June I was okay with it. I started counting days and weeks on a calendar for how long it would take for my puffy face to go down, so I could not only attend, but also look good for the party. And then I was admitted again in April and discussions around surgery started to put a dark cloud over my timeline. But when I was admitted AGAIN in May I had to prepare myself for the very real possibility that although I had planned the celebration I might not be able to go. As I came to terms with accepting that conclusion it didn’t matter because the REAL event wasn’t until next year: The wedding in Costa Rica. And surely I would better by then….
By September when I realized that medical treatment had not worked and I needed surgery, I told my doctors I had one condition: I needed to be fully recovered in time for March 2016 so I could stand beside my person in Costa Rica. If I needed to have a bag on this trip, as daunting and devastating as that sounded, I JUST needed to be there. And if I was healthy enough to not shit my pants the entire time and have enough energy to stay awake for a full day, then that was a bonus. Even if it meant having an ostomy. So with my new doctor, we had a very clear goal. And she stuck to it.
Preparing for the trip:
Leading up to the trip I had several people ask, “Well how are you going to cover your bag?” and “How are you going to hide it?” At first I thought about these questions very narrow mindedly and considered one piece bathing suits, beach cover ups, wraps, staying out of the water entirely, hiding in my room the whole time…
But then I decided NO. I was finally healthy enough to enjoy myself, why am I going to limit how I spend the trip, worrying about what other people think and worrying who was going to stare? This is me, and this is my new body. So I am going to vacation the same as any other 26 year old.
The only thing I did was purchase pouch covers in 4 different patterns just to make them slightly more visually appealing and make the bag look more like an accessory. I ordered these from The UndercoverCompay from Etsy. They also made the bag hang a little bit shorter and also minimized the bulge if it started to become full. That was really the only thing I tried to hide.
As I packed for the trip I pre-cut more than enough flanges to take in my carry on in case I had a leak or needed to change on the airplane or in the airport. Everything needed to be precut since you can’t take scissors through airport security. I had read enough literature a head of time that I was able to adequately prepare. Otherwise I might not have taken that into consideration. Between my carry on and checked luggage I packed enough supplies to change the bag twice a day if needed. Obviously that is overboard but for my own piece of mind, completely necessary.
Our week in paradise:
I terms of my ostomy, the week was like any other week. Aside from the added sweat and moisture from swimming, which required a couple of extra pouch changes, my stoma held up well. The food and drink did not have any effect on the output, my skin did not become irritated and I felt great. In fact, while everyone else seemed to be suffering from tummy aches and diarrhea, I was the only one who didn’t. The temperature was extremely hot, and with the amount of alcohol consumed I was pretty diligent about staying hydrated and drinking a lot of water.
The only major difference that I wasn’t used to yet was the seasonal change in my wardrobe. I was slightly concerned about wearing lighter and fewer clothes, but like I said, I just embraced it. I was well aware of the washroom locations including the one on our catamaran boat. However having my own single room definitely was worth the privacy and I am thankful I was given that opportunity. I was slightly more hesitant about excursions or strenuous activity but I was mainly there to relax and celebrate my person so I opted out of any crazy adventures. Other than that it was a normal vacation just like anyone else’s. When people asked, I answered. When people stared, I ignored. When people continued about their own business, so did I.
I think my attitude going into the week is ultimately what saved me. I could have purchased cover-ups or one piece bathing suits or made a conscious effort to hide my pouch. But I think I would have spent more time worrying about it that way. My decision to be completely open about my new life, (and extra baggage) makes those uncomfortable situations more bearable, not only this week but every week.
To all my ostomate friends: Own it. Be proud of it. Embrace it. Talk about it. Educate people about it. And continue on.
To all my other friends, especially those on the trip: Thank you for allowing me to own it, show pride in it, embracing it with me, learning about it, and continuing on with me