Yesterday, I went whitewater rafting on my company’s annual trip. I’ve done this trip a bunch of times over the years, but this time was different. This was my first trip without a colon and—more importantly—with an ileostomy. I was extremely nervous about it. What if my appliance failed while I was on the river? While I’m stuck in a boat with people I work with miles away from camp? Ugh. I wavered about the trip all last week. Lots of hems and haws. But on Friday afternoon, I decided that I wanted to go, and I had to suck it up and just do it.
There were things that were out of my control—e.g., the effect of the cold river water on the appliance wafer’s seal—and others that I could prepare for—e.g., making sure I was ready if something went wrong. I had back-up appliances in a cooler back at camp (the cooler was necessary to prevent the wafers from melting in the hot afternoon sun). I had a triple-zip-locked back-up bag with me in the raft just in case something happened on the river. I used two clips on the end of the bag to minimize the chance of a leak due to clip failure, which would have been simply awful. I wore loose swim shorts to ensure my waistband didn’t constrict flow to the bag and cause a backup or a blowout (I was a bit concerned about my shorts falling down in a rapid, but better that than a leaking appliance). I wore a stomasafe to keep the bag from getting knocked around too much.
In the end, I had no problems whatsoever. None. My appliance was soaking wet all day. It got bounced around. It got hit with a paddle. It got scrunched and twisted as I leaned forward and back to paddle. But it held up. No leaks. I didn’t even have to change the appliance when I got back to camp. It just worked. This was by far the most intensive activity I’ve done since surgery last year, and I’m really glad I did it. I was nervous, but I was prepared, and I had a great time.
So if you’re out there passing up fun activities because you’re worried about your ileostomy, you should stop. It’s not as limiting as we make it. Be prepared, be careful, but be there.