It’s been four years post-op for me. Four years since I had much of my intestines removed. Four years since a surgery that saved my life. Four years of learning to adjust to this new way of living.
Some things I’ve learned in the last 4 years:
- I don’t miss the hospital (but I never thought I would).
- It’s such a privilege to get to eat fruits and vegetables and not be confined to tuna, rice, applesauce, and tomato soup everyday. I don’t take that privilege lightly.
- I can do more physically then I ever imagined possible. I am limited, but I didn’t know I was capable of so much. Just yesterday as I was coaching a high school soccer team, I did a dozen penalty kicks on the goalie. I hardly knew I could still do that. It’s like all my pre-sickness skills are still there, in hiding (12 years later).
- I used to bleed and hemorrhage constantly. Often 5-10 minutes after eating or drinking anything. That limited my traveling and how far I could go. It also limited how traveling looked. If I was to travel, I would need special medicine and I could not eat for 15 hours beforehand and not eat until after I had arrived where I was going.
- Not everyone keeps spare underwear and pants in their purse. I did not even think this was weird until I was at an event recently. Someone spilled juice on themselves and said, “Wouldn’t it be so great if we all just kept spare pants and underwear in our purse.” I said I did. She looked at me like I was crazy. You see, incidents happen to me weekly, if not multiple times a week with a colostomy bag. Mostly no one ever knows they happen. I have many stories..funny, funny stories.
- I’ve learned to laugh at things that happen to me because of my colostomy bag. Some others are not comfortable with “potty” talk, and that’s ok, but it’s a legitimate and substantial part of my life. There’s just some things that are plain funny. I often forget most people aren’t aware I even have it.
- Some people know me by the water bottle I carry around. I like water, but I used to hate it. I only drink so much because I have to 🙂 I will still need to receive IV liquids twice each summer. With very little intestines I can’t absorb water, so during the warmer months, I need some help getting all the water in.
- Lastly, and more importantly, I’ve learned to value nurses. For 8 years I was in and out of the hospital often. For several of those years I had to go in at least every 3 months for 5-10 days just to stay alive, along with weekly day-long infusion/nutrient treatments, blood transfusions, and other appointments. I can’t recall one not nice nurse. I can recall many doctors though… Now that I am out of much of the immediate”emergency” situations of my health life, now that I’ve been rarely having to visit the hospital and stay over night, I have such an appreciation for nurses.
You see, I appreciate you nurses. I was a lonely 17 year old. I had a friend or two and a young married couple that would visit me in the hospital as a young person. There was so much pain that no one saw. I had no words for the loneliness and isolation I felt being so alone in life. I was lonely and I was scared and I didn’t know what to do in the hospital. If I was cold, or thirsty, or needed the bathroom. I didn’t know I had a right to not be in pain, to ask for more blankets, or to have my hair washed. One nurse even painted my toes. I never had anyone paint my toes at that point. Another nurse brushed my hair and would french braid it every day. And I wasn’t even in the pediatric unit!
You, nurses, told me it was okay when I hemorrhaged and bled all over my sheets. I expected to be yelled at, but you just had compassion and said it was totally fine. One time you even brought me in a chocolate because you said I deserved a special treat for the types of pain I had to endure as a young person. Once, you said I was brave and you didn’t know how I did it all, how I held it all together. You encouraged me when I had so little of it in my life. The truth is, I don’t know either. But I do know that you nurses helped. You made the hospital a safe place and as comfortable as a hospital bed/room can be.
If a day would go by without a visitor (a day is a long, long time in a hospital), you nurses often sat at the end of my bed and talked with me, asked me questions, played games with me late at night. You listened as I read you parts of what I was learning in my bible. You sometimes shared with me some of what was going on in your life. You let me pray for you out loud. You told me about your families. You told me when you were leaving and when you’d be back.
Dear nurses, you guys are so important, you are so valued. You are so much more than the medical things that you do. You are much more valuable than you get credit for.
Dear nurses, you took an area that I was ashamed and terrified of, my heath, and you breathed dignity into it through your care and compassion, through the small acts of kindness and gentleness you showed to a stranger. Nurses, you made that young, scared, famililess teenager feel brave. You made me feel normal, regular, typical, special in a world in which I have often been an outcast and “different”.
Four years later and I am even more thankful for what you’ve done for me. Thank you nurses, for what you do. You offer healthcare, but you offer so much more too.
A long-standing, former hospital room occupier.