It was September 2014 and I had been feeling ropey for a little while. “Chest infection” said a GP. “Stress because of the death of a very close friend” was another suggestion. “Adverse reaction to antibiotics” was a third alternative as I became sicker and was unable to keep food down.
Eventually on Wednesday 24th September I had a scan and two hours later I was admitted to hospital. Less than a day after that, I had an emergency operation to remove a substantial blockage in my large intestine. The plan was to join the two ends of what remained and all seemed to be going well, as by the Friday I was taking slow walks around the ward. By Saturday the repair had torn, I had severe peritonitis and after a second emergency operation my wife was told that I probably would not survive the night and that she should get our two sons to join her.
After five days in intensive care and five weeks in hospital I defied the odds and went home. I had lost over four and a half stone, was very weak and had an ileostomy which I had never heard of (colostomy yes) and hadn’t expected. I felt that life as we knew it had come to an end. No more travel (we had taken early retirement to do just that), no more rich food and drink, no more rough and tumble with the granddaughters, no more visits to my beloved Twickenham for rugby internationals – in other words no more of all the things I really enjoyed; instead, just an interminable round of bag emptying, bag changing and leakages.
How wrong could I be? The stoma nurses were great in helping to sort out leaking bags. My wife, Jo, was just fantastic in making me feel loved, wanted and normal. Her patience and understanding were invaluable. Family and friends were wonderfully supportive and I gradually grew stronger.
Three months later we went away for a few days to the Cotswolds and I survived, even though my wound had not fully healed and was being dressed every other day. Christmas was spent with one of my sons and then in February a corner was turned.
My wound healed and life started improving. With a nervous son and brother to watch over me I went to Twickenham to see England vs Italy, thoroughly enjoyed it and drank a few beers! Two more visits to Twickenham followed and a visit to Wembley to see Bristol City play. We went to Center Parcs and I cycled round the park with Sophie my granddaughter and even went down the flume with her (my son couldn’t bear to look!). We started travelling again; Lanzarote for 10 days in May and then Canada and Alaska in June, a belated 60th birthday treat for my darling wife. And my appetite has returned!
I think I have been lucky. Care in the hospital was very good, I didn’t need chemotherapy and my first six month scan came back all clear. Life has returned to near normal and whilst there are occasional accidents with the bag, they are few and far between and we cope with them without the dramas of the early days. Bag emptying and bag changing are simply parts of the usual routine. With a little thought and preparation there is very little I can’t do. We have joined the local support group, Stevenage Ostomistics, and it is supportive to meet other people in the same situation at our monthly meetings or at the pub for our petanque sessions. The bag is just a bit of a nuisance. I sometimes call my stoma: “that bloody thing”. My wife more accurately calls it: “our life saver”. She is right and life is just great again.