Just when I thought I’d experienced pretty much everything I was going to with this cancer stuff. Then, without warning, my guts are hanging out. Literally. (Yuck. Even the name – “prolapsed stoma” – sounds disgusting!)
I’ve been doing really well lately, feeling better, gaining weight, keeping busy. Then, last Thursday I noticed my stoma seemed to be “sticking out” a bit more than usual. It was about time to change the ostomy bag anyway, so I went into the bathroom, removed the bag and – gasp! – there was about an inch of, well, intestine protruding out of my stoma. Let me just say this is not something you want to see (don’t worry, there are no photos for this post!).
It wasn’t painful, other than emotionally. I will admit I pretty much freaked out. I did have the presence of mind, though, to immediately phone my surgeon’s office. I got Dr. Brown’s nurse, Blanca. Usually she’s very helpful and sweet. Perhaps I caught her on a bad day. Between sobs, I described what was happening, and her rather un-sympathetic response was, “Well, that happens sometimes. If it gets worse, you should go to the hospital.”
I was choking back tears of panic. She asked me to hold a moment. When she returned, she said she’d been able to speak to Dr. Brown between patients and he suggested I lie on my back to see if the intestine would go back in on its own. She said he wasn’t too concerned if it was only protruding about an inch. If it got to be four or five inches, then I’d need to have it looked at.
I hung up in disbelief. My guts were literally hanging out and my surgeon wasn’t too concerned? However, I did as he suggested and laid flat on my back in bed for a while. It wasn’t long before the intestine began to sink back in (where it belongs, thank you!). While I laid there watching and waiting, I couldn’t help but think there has to be something symbolic about having one’s guts hanging out. But, for the life of me, I couldn’t come up with what it was.
When I finally felt like it was safe for me to get up, I went right to the computer and Googled “stoma prolapse.”
Not a good idea! I saw all sorts of gross photos of intestines popping out of stomas several inches and more. I tried to just read the text and not look at the pics, but it was impossible not to notice them. Besides, there wasn’t much explanation in the text that seemed helpful either.
Fortunately, my three-month check-up with Dr. Brown happened to be scheduled for today. I went to his office hoping to get some answers to my burning questions:
• What causes this to happen?
• What can I do to prevent it?
• Will I need surgery?
His answers were (in this order):
• Don’t know.
• Hope not.
Okay, I may have paraphrased a little. Basically he said they don’t know why stoma’s prolapse, although he believes it’s often related to a stomal hernia. He felt around my stoma as I was reclining and then lifting up as in a crunch, and said he thought I might have a small stomal hernia forming. (Oh, joy…)
He said there was really nothing I could do to prevent another incidence of prolapse. And there wasn’t much I could do to prevent the hernia from increasing. He said, “You could lie on you back all the time and never use your stomach muscles, but I don’t think you want to do that…” And, as for surgery, he said he did not like to operate on stomal hernias unless it was absolutely necessary. Ditto for prolapsed stomas. If I had a persistent prolapse of many inches, he said we would consider surgery then.
Well, thank God for small favors! I am so disinclined to have more surgery (unless it concerns life or death), I was at least comforted by this last bit of info.
So, for now, I guess I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. And keep trusting that it was a one-time incident…or at least that if it should happen again it won’t be any worse.
I left Dr. Brown’s office and had a chocolate milk shake – to reward my inner cry-baby for not making more of this than need be.
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Okay, I can’t stand not including a photo. So here’s one I took tonight of my new neighbor. His name is Billy.