Turning 40

I couldn’t stop smiling as I sat in the stands at Coors Field. I was attending a Colorado Rockies game for my 40th birthday, and the evening had been amazing so far. Planning to ride our bikes to the stadium (to avoid traffic and the parking fee), Doug and I had parked our car about a mile away.¬† Just as we were about to unload our bikes from the roof rack, a massive storm blew in and we watched lighting streak across the Denver skyline as hail pummeled our car. Once the storm ended, we jumped on our bikes and cruised downtown, breathing in the wonderful spring smell of rain-soaked ground and blossoming trees.

We arrived at the stadium an hour early, so we stopped to enjoy drinks at the Irish pub next door. I was halfway done with my Strongbow Cider when the waitress surprised me with a free birthday shot. I have no idea what was in the fruity purple concoction, but she assured me it didn’t have gluten in it, so down the hatch it went. This was a little more than I would normally drink on a mostly empty stomach with my ostomy, but hey, it was my birthday. Time to throw caution to the wind. My stomach wasn’t empty for long. As soon as we walked over to the stadium, I indulged in one of my favorite treats. I hardly ever eat hamburgers due to having celiac disease (and the fact that they are not that healthy), but Coors Field has a special gluten-free concession stand. Soon I was in my seat, huge burger in hand and eagerly anticipating the game.

Nature even provided some pre-game entertainment for my birthday. Perched on the balcony railing above me, a male house finch was singing his heart out. Over and over he belted out his melodious tune, and I kept thinking that there had to be a female baseball-fan-of-a-finch listening somewhere in the stands. I hope he finds her. There are certainly many great places to tuck a nest in the stadium and then the pair can watch every home game as they raise the next generation of Rockies-loving finches.

If this amazing start to my birthday evening wasn’t great enough, things got even better. The Rockies were clobbering the opposing team in one of the best games I had the pleasure of watching. In between watching unbelievable plays, my mind cycled through memories of being at the stadium so many times before.

It was on a previous visit to Coors Field that my final UC flare first made itself known. I am sure many IBDers know the feeling of thinking they have finally found the magic bullet of probiotics, diet and medication to keep their illness in control, only to have their body fail them yet again. It was during a night similar to this one that I was having fun watching the Rockies when one such disappointing moment came. I got up to use the restroom during the 7th inning stretch and noticed a tiny speck of blood from my intestines on the toilet paper. My heart sank. I left the bathroom and tried to focus on the rest of the game, but all I could think about was the fact that my four-month remission was over and my UC was back. At the time, I had no idea that those initial specks of blood would turn into the massive flare that would cost me my colon. When I look back at my photos from that evening, I see a woman who is blissfully unaware of the major life change that is about to happen. If you would have told me that night that I would have an ostomy a few months later, I would have said you were out of your mind.

Sitting in the stadium on my 40th birthday, I realized that I still had no idea what was around the corner. But if there is one thing I have learned in my 39th year, it is that this uncertainty is okay. Tomorrow would be on its way soon enough, but right now I was enjoying watching the players slide into bases and hearing Doug yell GO TODD at the top of his lungs every time Todd Helton was up to bat. Right now I was having fun singing Take Me out to the Ball Game and seeing the people around me laughing and goofing around with their friends and family. Right now I was smiling as I blew out the candle in my birthday cupcake and made my wish for the year. Right now I was happy that my ostomy had allowed me all these moments.

For me, turning 40 wasn’t something to be sad about. It wasn’t about all the things that I hadn’t done or about goals not yet achieved. Turning 40 was about celebrating all the things I had done. It was about lightning and skyscrapers, house finches on balconies, bike rides through puddles, baseball players getting out of pickles and every other great memory I have from that day and all of those before.

Cheers! Alcohol and the ostomy

One of the questions I see posted on forums often revolves around the ability to drink alcohol with an ostomy. Though every ostomate is different in what they can tolerate, I thought I would share my experiences. Now I will say straightaway that I am not a big drinker. Months can go by where I don’t drink at all. I even sometimes have beers in the fridge that reach their expiration date. Crazy, I know. However, even though I don’t drink that often, there is nothing like cracking open a cold beer after doing a successful climb, relaxing with a brew at a baseball game or enjoying libations at a special occasion.

Enjoying drinks with friends is something I hoped I could still do after surgery, and I am happy to report that I have no problems drinking wine, beer, or other alcoholic beverages with my ileostomy. Here are a few of the things I notice:

  • If I drink on an empty stomach, I get pure liquid output that rushes through my system, and I can get dehydrated. I make sure to always eat a meal when I drink alcohol. When I do eat food with the alcohol, my output isn’t affected at all.
  • Even when things don’t rush through, I notice that alcohol still dehydrates me. Therefore, I make sure to drink a lot of water. Last night, I had two drinks and drank two 12 oz glasses of water with each one.
  • I can drink wine, beer (as long as it is gluten-free due to being gluten intolerant) and any other alcoholic beverages. I notice no appreciable differences in the way they affect my stomach or output.
  • Some people find that carbonated beverages like beer can cause gas which makes their pouch puff up. I have not found this to be the case and notice no difference from the normal “poofing” I get everyday.
  • The effects of alcohol seem more pronounced now that I have an ileostomy. I am very careful to assess my transportation options before I drink any alcohol.

Last night there was much reason to celebrate. My friend, Sarah, had passed her prelims and is now a Ph.D. candidate for her Graduate Degree Program in Ecology. Her final next step will be to complete her doctoral dissertation on the research she is doing on elephants in Africa. She even started an organization to help the Tanzanian people form a personal connection with the wildlife in nearby Ruaha National Park in hopes that it will lead to a local ethic of conservation. Sarah is a super inspirational person, and had worked so hard to reach this milestone. Celebrating over margaritas and beer was most definitely in order.

Amanda, Sarah and I celebrating after Sarah aced her Ph.D. prelims.

I often write about how meaningful the small things in life feel after being sick. It felt so good to be sitting there in the bar last night, laughing and enjoying drinks with my friends, basking in the camaraderie and hearing stories of hard tests and accomplishments reached. I looked around and saw everyone at the booths and tables around me smiling and having a fun time. It was one of many moments this year when I had the profound sense that everything is wonderfully normal and good in my life again.

Packing for a trip: could GORP come along? (feat. new video)

It is crazy what goes through your mind before surgery. Of course, I was worried about all the big things like how painful surgery would be, and how well my stoma would function, and if I would have any complications. But many times, other goofy little worries would pop into my head that should not have been on my radar screen. One of those was whether or not I would be able to eat GORP.

GORP, or good old raisins and peanuts, was a staple of my wilderness diet. I would create all sorts of great mixes with dried fruit, nuts and a variety of chocolates and candies. Yet nuts and raisins are both on the list of foods to be cautious with when you have an ileostomy. I feared that I would never be able to take one of my favorite treats into the wilderness again.

Continue reading “Packing for a trip: could GORP come along? (feat. new video)”