People want to be different, and they want to stand out of the crowd. Most of the time—but not when that difference is based on a health issue or disability. Then, people may fear to stand out, and sometimes withdraw from the company of others. The difference can lead to unhappiness.
People who wear colostomy bags may have some of these fears, whether they’re young or old, independent, receiving home health care or in a nursing facility.
Colostomy bags are usually placed in an obvious place, potentially visible when clothed and unclothed. They announce to the world a previous medical issue, and someone might feel they remind others of a bodily process we’d rather not have on our mind.
But maybe there’s a way to turn that bag into an asset, or at least make sure it’s not a liability. Here are some tips and ideas for making sure you remain a vibrant part of your community and can wear your colostomy bag discreetly and stylishly.
The Bag Itself
The location of the bag will influence what you can wear and how you wear it. Some stomas are at or above the beltline, while others are below it. If you have not yet had your colostomy, you do have some influence in where it will go. Speak with your surgeon before they operate.
Belts and tight clothing can interfere with the smooth functioning of your colostomy bag. Whatever style of clothing you wear, make sure you have a good flow into the bag.
Using the Bag
One way to avoid backsplash while emptying your bag is to sit “backward” on the toilet, facing the tank. You then can float some toilet paper on the surface of the water and on the seat. Empty down onto the paper itself. Backsplash can also be avoided by flushing just as you empty the bag.
Use an electric razor to trim any hair around the stomach. Most of us have a little hair on our abdomens and the hairs can either make sticking more difficult or cause discomfort when removing the appliance. An electric razor avoids cuts.
It’s more pleasant to change the bag without active output. Changing just after waking is the best time—you will have gone an extended period without eating, and the output will probably be slow enough to allow a change.
Changing your appliance while showering has several benefits. You may be able to shower bagless because if you shower after waking, output will be minimal (and washed away). You’ll also have a few more minutes without the bag, which can boost your mood.
There is a lot of ostomy appliances and equipment on the market. Don’t hesitate to accept free samples. Your ET nurse may be able to get you free samples as well.
Keep yourself and your bag clean. A washcloth and plain water or a sterile saline wipe will keep your abdomen clean. Avoid baby wipes—they may leave a film on the skin which interferes with your wafer adhering to your skin. Rinsing your appliance after emptying is probably a good idea. Squeezable bottles or even turkey basters are perfect.
Take advantage of opportunities to empty your bag—it will help with comfort. Also, remember the pouch itself is not the first thing people are looking for—many times people won’t notice it until you call attention to it.
You will find the right rhythm of living to take care of yourself with little to no extra fuss. Remember that everyone goes to the bathroom; you just manage that ordinary task a bit differently. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and no one needs to know what’s going on.
If your stoma is at or above the beltline, you might want to consider a stoma guard. Made of hard plastic, they provide protection from seat belts, tight pants and belts, and other impacts. Frequently, they will allow you to tuck the pouch inside your pants or skirt.
They’re probably not needed when you’re at home relaxing. They certainly will protect your stoma from sudden affectionate bumps from pets or grandchildren.
Both men and women may want to consider high-waisted pants. The stoma will be below the belt/waist, and thus not subject to pressure or flow constriction. You’ll have to decide if a high waist works for you—most folks probably don’t want to look like Pee Wee Herman or Urkel.
Women might want to consider maternity pants as an option. Because they have an elastic band across the front, they may be more comfortable than ordinary pants.
If you’re going to wear your pouch under your clothes, you might want to consider going one size larger with your pants (and shirts).
Suspenders might also be a stylish option with pants. Some suspenders clip onto the pant waist, while others button to the pants, especially for more formal ones. Most tailors can add suspender buttons to pants.
The location of the stoma may influence your choice of underwear. A higher stoma will allow you to wear the underwear normally. Some underwear, for both men and women, is designed with an inner pocket to keep your bag away from your skin and in place.
There’s no reason to avoid going to the beach or pool with a colostomy bag. You’ll want to take steps to secure the bag and to make sure it can handle the water, but you’ll still be able to enjoy the water.
Men may want to consider high-waisted swim trunks, especially if your stoma is low. If the stoma is higher on your abdomen, high waisted trunks will not be as flattering—you don’t want the waist at your chest! You’ll want to consider an ostomy bag wrap to keep it in place, as well as ostomy bag covers to add a bit of flair to your beach attire.
Loud and Proud
One way of handling any issue is to look it squarely in the face, accept it and then have fun with it. Colorful bag covers are the way to go, regardless of where on your abdomen the stoma is.
Many businesses now sell a variety of pouch covers in all colors and patterns. Some, like C & S Pouchcovers, even include a set of patriotically themed covers, allowing you to celebrate all our national holidays in style.
People of all ages wear colostomy bags, and many have lived fruitful and adventurous lives. Even in retirement, you should not let your bag get in the way of enjoying life. Whether you’re living independently or have home health care make sure you discuss with those around you how you want to handle life.
And then enjoy it. Don’t let this be an obstacle to seeking out good times for yourself, or being with others.