First Post-Op Date
When the doctor who diagnosed me mentioned the possibility of surgery, he told me it was a long way off. That I wouldn't need it until after 40 because my case wasn't that bad. Yet, 4 years and 2 months later, I found myself getting prepped for my total colectomy. Life was not going at all as I had planned. I was a newly single mother with no career, no savings, no plan, and no colon.
I had been single for precisely 6 months by the time I had my surgery and before my hospitalization had just started to date again. I had signed up for a dating app because I heard that that's what the cool kids did. Or you know, what the non-cool single mothers with physical and emotional baggage, did. And boy did I have baggage. I felt like damaged goods, and I had no real direction. Everything I had worked so hard for was gone. My life was unrecognizable. And now, I was preparing to go under the knife to come looking like a less green version of Frankenstein's monster.
My health began to worsen after meeting someone new
Within three days of me putting my profile up on the site, someone reached out to me. We seemed to have a lot in common. We went out on one date. One perfect date. Suddenly, my health spiraled out of control. Four weeks later, while I lay in recovery, feeling sorry for myself, my phone began to buzz. There was a notification through the dating app, a message from that guy. He was wondering where I went so abruptly. He asked if I was interested in him at all.
I stared at the message for a very long time. There was no way I could explain my absence without telling my whole story. Or I could just let him down gently by lying and saying I wasn't interested. OR I could just ignore the message. But I didn't want that karma. After everything that had happened over the past year, I needed all the Karma I could get. I took a deep breath and began to type. I told him the entire story from my hospital bed. His response was, "Let me know when your doctor says you can go out for dinner. I know a really great place." Then he sent me flowers with a note that read, "Can't wait to meet you. Heal up!" Apparently, Frankenstein's monster had a date.
Adjusting to an ostomy bag
The next few weeks with my ostomy were interesting. I had my moments of passing out, leaks, and watery output. I had not gained any weight, and I felt tired all the time. The bag felt so heavy and strange. I was not comfortable with my ostomy. I felt clumsy, and I was so afraid of smelling. And when you have a potty training toddler, you aren't sure if it's you or the little person. However, I made strides. I was changing my bag on my own. I was gaining weight and was able to stand and walk without assistance after a while. I was also shopping, going out to dinner and the movies. The first 6 weeks post-op taught me a lot about myself and the beautiful village of loved ones I was surrounded by. I was also talking to the guy. He would check in every other day to see how I was progressing, which was sweet. It was nice after everything I had been through emotionally to have someone show interest in me and the state of my health.
Dating with a new ostomy bag
Then at the 10-week mark, he asked if I wanted to go out for the evening. Like to dinner...on a date. He was asking me out on a date. I had not been on a date since a month before I was hospitalized. In fact, the last time I went on a date was to dinner with him...and then I disappeared. So, perhaps I owed him one. But no one outside of family and close friends had really seen me, spent time with my new little friend and me. Eventually, I would have to get back to social life. I need to just rip the band-aid off. So, I agreed to the date. Of course, not without a list of what some possibilities were based on what I had experienced over the past few weeks. I suppose I was trying to protect myself from embarrassment and disappointment. I think I was also trying to give him an out. He was unphased, and we set a date.
Crying over my ostomy and support from a friend
I had never been more nervous in my life. It was the first time in months I had worn makeup or heels. I fought the urge to put on dark-colored pants and a long top, instead opting for a short, fun yellow dress with black polka dots to blend in with all the beachy folks on the warm summer night. I spent the first 30 mins switching from looking at his eyes and the spot where my ostomy bag was making an indentation in my dress. I was grateful he had a prix fixe, so I didn't have to obsess over the menu. Halfway through, I was failing miserably at this date. I excused myself and went to the bathroom where I cried. I cried and called my best friend.
It was the smartest phone call I've ever made. She let me cry it out for about 3 minutes, then she said, "You are funny. You are brilliant. You are beautiful. You are worldly. You are an amazing mother. You are an awesome friend. You are not your ostomy. You are not damaged, you are healed. Go be you." The most important thing you'll need post-op besides your ostomy supplies is the support of people who love you unconditionally. You need a cheering section. After a chat with mine, I cleaned up my face and walked back out to what ended up being one of the best dates I've ever had. It's literally in the top 5, and I remain grateful for the experience and lessons from that night.
The unknowns of life after surgery
The hardest part of having life-altering surgery is the unknown. Not knowing who or what is to come. Having to adapt to your new life and the complications and blessings that come from it. There is no real easing into it. You go to sleep with one life, and you wake up smack dab in the middle of your new one. You have to hit the ground running, and no matter how prepared you are, there are a few things you will never prepare for. The variety of emotions is one. But the most important thing is to remember who you are. Your ulcerative colitis, your ostomy, your j-pouch, those things do not make up the foundation of you. It's not who you are at the core. It's just circumstantial additions to your life. You are much more than your disease and your challenges. And that person is someone who everyone sees. People will always see you before they see your ostomy.
Do you keep a food diary to help manage symptoms?