If all goes well my life as an ostomate comes to an end on Tuesday, April 9th when my ileostomy is reversed and my colon starts to be used again as God intended.
I would be lying if I said that life as an ostomate was easy. There were many challenges, the most difficult and dangerous one being dehydration. In fact, I ended up in the emergency room and a several day stay in the hospital about two weeks ago because of the norovirus and the fact that I didn’t realize I was having diarrhea until it was almost too late.
I had noticed during the day that my output was hiring than usual and that I was thirstier than normal. Because I happened to be at a church conference I more or less ignored this and kept attending to the business at hand. I was drinking, but I didn’t take any additional loperamide HCI (aka Imodium) or other medications that might have slowed down the fluid loss. By the early evening I was starting to feel a little unwell. So, I had some applesauce and rice krispies. I ate a banana, I took the loperamide and drank more water. But it was too late. Chills set in and then came the cramps.
It started with a leg cramp and I thought I had been sitting in the chair funny. So I tried to walk it off. Then the other leg cramped up, then my abdomen – I realized something was horribly wrong and thought I might actually be having another heart attack. So I went to the nearest phone by my bedside and reached for it as I collapsed into my bed thinking “Oh God, this is it.”
I woke up next to my bed, phone in my hand and buzzing at me, items from my nightstand scattered on the floor around me. I was so out of it I didn’t realize that I had actually passed out. I managed to call my sister, who was just getting home from helping my mother – who had also fallen ill (we surmised later that we both caught the norovirus from the same source).
We got to the emergency department of the University of Michigan Medical Center quickly. In hindsight we probably should have called an ambulance as the cramps hit again and I passed out not twenty feet from the entrance.
Pro-tip: want to pass by the waiting room at the Emergency Department? Pass out in their parking lot. I was whisked in pretty quickly. After receiving the excellent care that I am used to from Michigan Medicine I was re-hydrated and my cramps stopped. No cardiac event, but my kidneys had shut down from the stress – that’s how badly I was dehydrated.
Moral of the story?
Ostomates – always pay attention to your fluid intake and output. This can literally be a matter of life and death.
Everyone else – for pity’s sake wash you hands after using the restroom. Norovirus is easily spread in the most minute traces of fecal material. This spread is easily preventable by properly wetting your hands, sudsing with soap for an appropriate amount of time (try singing “Happy Birthday” to yourself a couple times) and drying. When you skip this step you may think you are somehow avoiding germs by not touching things in the bathroom, but you are making the rest of us sick when we shake your hand or come in contact with you later. Especially those of us with lowered resistance due to a compromised immune system. Like all of us with Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, and who knows how many other invisible diseases and the medications we are on.
Please, please, wash your hands. The life you save might be mine!
I’ve learned a lot during my time as an ostomate and I have a greater appreciation and respect for those who cannot have theirs reversed. I hope in some small way I’ve helped you to better understand this experience as well.