All seems well surrounding my stoma

I am relieved to report that when I woke up this morning, the pain I was experiencing around my stoma yesterday was gone. As it was my appliance changing day, I showered without my pouch and wafer on and palpated the area around my stoma really well. Everything felt fine–no pain, swelling or weirdness of any kind. Whew! I am confident now that what I was experiencing was just a sore muscle.

It is interesting that normally I get a bit excited about sore muscles the day or two after a workout. It is usually a sign that I worked hard during an athletic activity and took things to “the next level.” However, when I feel such soreness in the muscles around my stoma it doesn’t make me feel good; it makes me fearful. I don’t know how to get over that. I guess whenever those muscles get sore from a workout and then the tenderness resolves as it did today, I will get more confident that all is okay.

I did end up going out for a run today. I still felt a few minor twinges of soreness around my stoma as I was bouncing down the trail, so I kept the pace extra slow and only ran for 30 minutes. Tomorrow I work and have my local ostomy association monthly meeting in the evening, so I will take another rest day from running. Hopefully by the following day I can start going out each evening again. I am finding that out of all the activities I am returning to after surgery, running is coming back to me the slowest. Even short runs tire me out so much more than hiking all day up big peaks with a pack did over the summer. I hope that this starts to change this winter. I am really yearning to get back out on some of my favorite trail runs, but they would still be too hard at this point. Didn’t I just tell myself to be patient yesterday? Darn, I already forgot!

When to be patient? When to push?

It is obvious when reading my blog that I am happy with my ostomy and super thankful for the surgery. However, there are still days on which the fears capture me. This morning when I woke up, my abdomen was unusually sore to the touch in about about a 3-inch perimeter around my stoma. It has been a while since I have had ostomy-related pain of any sort, but I was instantly taken back to those days after surgery when I was desperately trying to sort out what was normal pain and what might be something serious. I had a short period of intense anxiety issues after my surgery due to some complications (I hope to write a little more about this in a future post), and this morning I was back in that place for a moment.

My stomach clenched up and my head spun in a storm of worry thinking about all the things that the pain could be from. I knew the pain had nothing to do with a blockage, my output was completely normal in consistency and quantity. In a moment of rational thought, I remembered all the exercise I had done during the week. Two nights ago, I had upped my workout at the climbing gym. It was the first time I had ventured onto more vertical routes– still easy but slightly more strenuous than the slabby ones I had been doing. This week I also went from running every few days to running 30-45 minutes each evening. The runs I had been doing previously were short mileage-wise and slow, but last night, I felt carefree and energetic, and I ran faster than at any time since surgery. It was invigorating to fly down the trail at a brisk pace and with no rests. I couldn’t wait to go again today.

But now this pain. I really hope I didn’t overdo anything and cause injury. Tomorrow is my appliance-changing day, and I will get to take a better look around the area. In the meantime, I am actually relieved that the muscles on the other side of my abdomen are starting to hurt as are my calves. That means that the pains around my stoma are likely nothing more than sore muscles too. I am going to guess that they just came on sooner and fiercer because that side is much weaker. I canceled my run for the day and went for a speedy walk instead.

One would think that a year after surgery, especially with all the hiking I have done, that my body would be ready for such a workout. When I am feeling so well and healthy, it is incredibly difficult to know how hard I can safely push myself. The little pieces of colored tape marking even the 5.7 rated routes (an easy-to-moderate grade) at the climbing gym keep tempting me, as do the steeper trail runs. How will I ever know when I am ready for these? I wish that there was some kind of manual that said 365 days after surgery you should be able to do A, B and C. Seeing that there is a much higher likelihood of going downstairs and finding a sloth sitting at my dinner table holding a fork in his three toes than acquiring such a publication, I will have to continue to proceed through trial and error.

I hope tomorrow when I poke around my stoma that everything feels great, and that I can slip on my running shoes once again and hit the trails… albeit with the pace turned down a notch. Patience, Heidi, patience.

Another view of Heidi’s story

My name is Doug, and I’m the lucky one who is married to Heidi, the champion of the effort called Ostomy Outdoors.

When Heidi started this blog six months ago, I didn’t imagine that I would be writing in it myself. You see, I’m not an ostomate. But I live with an ostomate, and I’ve become intimately familiar with a whole new world of experiences, vocabulary, and feelings related to ostomies, surgeries, and recoveries.

We digitally recorded a happy moment between a painful wound-packing session and a slow recovery walk last winter.

I found out from Heidi that it’s not just people considering ostomy surgery who are reading this blog and watching the videos. Some readers are people like me: intestinally healthy friends, family, and acquaintances of those who have IBD, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and/or ostomies. So, I figured it was time to diversify the writing a bit on Ostomy Outdoors, and try to provide not only a different perspective for this readership, but possibly serve as a sounding board for the “others” who are in the lives of readership.

Continue reading “Another view of Heidi’s story”

From keeping track of BMs to logging the running miles

Snow is soon to fly in the mountains, and my peak ascending opportunities are going to be more limited for a while. I have turned my attention to getting back into running, something I have been neglecting while preparing for and carrying out all of our backpacking and summit trips this summer.

I have decided I want to begin training for the 2012 Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s Team Challenge half marathon. I know I won’t be ready by this December, so I plan to work up my strength and endurance and then join the organization’s formal training group next fall. I am super excited. I did several 5K and 10K runs, including one trail running race in my pre-surgery days, but never a half marathon.

In the past, some of my worst ulcerative colitis flares happened when I was training for races. I believe running aggravated my colon. I knew where all the restrooms were on my running routes. Sometimes on routes where no bathrooms were available, I can remember speeding up on the last mile, bursting through my front door and barely making it to the bathroom on time. On trail runs, I used to bring toilet paper and supplies in my waist pack to dig an emergency hole in case I really had to go. Gone are those days! My appliance adheres really well through exercise with no leaking issues to date. As long as I empty before I head out on runs, I will be good to go for hours.

I was looking through a little spiral-bound book that I kept my journal entries and notes in during my hospital stays. I thought it was interesting that last year around this time I was keeping a log of my bowel movements in it to report to the doctors and nurses in the hospital during my final flare. Now I am starting up a running log. What a change!

A log entry in my notebook on day nine of my hospital stay in the fall of 2010.
Keeping track of my running distances and miles as I begin training again in the fall of 2011.

Transformation of the tresses

No, I am not growing a winter coat like all the elk, deer and mountain goats I have seen on my recent outdoor excursions. All the hair I lost after my final UC flare and surgery is finally growing back! I was never sure if the losses to my tresses were due to the myriad of drugs I took for the disease, the rigors of surgery, malnutrition, and protein loss due to the flare or just stress in general, but between 3 and 7 months post-op,my hair fell out in mass quantities. Everyday, innumerable strands would plug up the shower drain, make my fleece jacket look like a Chia Pet, fill my comb, and make me wonder how there could be anything left on my head.

One day this summer when I had my hair pulled back, I noticed a transformation. All over my head were tiny sprouts of hair coming up. In the ensuing weeks,  it began to look like I had a second short hairdo hiding underneath my remaining long locks. Though I am sure it will take over a year for these strands to catch up to the rest of my mane, I am happy to know that some day I will be wandering the mountains with my thick braids again.

So, if you have lost some of your hair after surgery, fear not. It does return!

Here comes the new hair!

Memories of harder times

Last year at this time, I was just beginning my downward spiral into my final severe Ulcerative Colitis flare. Each day of the next few months will be an anniversary of something UC-related, and the flashbacks to those harder times will be abundant: there are the dates of my multiple ER visits, the admission for my 16-day hospital stay, my first Remicade infusion, the day I came to realize that surgery was my best option. It seems like reminders of my past illness are lurking around every corner. But then so are reminders of my amazing recovery.

Healing physically and regaining strength follows a fairly logical and direct path; recovering emotionally is a bit more circuitous. Sometimes it is hard for my brain to grasp all that has happened in the past 12 months. How in the world did I make it through the tough events of the year to get where I am now? It all seems to have gone by so fast, and I don’t believe my mind has fully processed everything yet.

Waking up from surgery on November 8th, 2010

Continue reading “Memories of harder times”

Pacing Yourself After Surgery

One of the hardest things in recovering from surgery and getting back into outdoor activities is knowing how to pace yourself. There are times in the months after surgery when there are clear lifting restrictions and guidelines, which provide easy-to-understand parameters for your activities. However, once those restrictions are lifted and you are feeling ready to get back to your normal sport routines, the path isn’t as clear.

Though it may seem like I am doing a lot of outdoor activities since surgery, I have paced myself very slowly. I started out with many short walks. When those felt good, I moved on to longer and steeper excursions. On the hike to Mt. Elbert covered in this video, my legs got extremely tired on the hike out, and I thought perhaps I had overdone it. Still, within three days, my sore muscles had completely recovered–a sign to me that the hike, though strenuous, was not at a level that pushed me too hard. By the next weekend, my muscles were feeling great and ready for a new adventure.

The following is a list of additional things that I am doing to prevent injury:

  • I always wear my Nu Hope hernia prevention belt when I do any outdoor activity beyond a short, flat-terrain day hike when I am carrying no significant weight (say 10-15 pounds).
  • I have my husband, Doug, help me lift my heavy backpack on to my shoulders. Once it is resting on my hips, I am better able to handle the weight without straining my abdominal muscles.
  • I use hiking poles to help with my stability as I get stronger.
  • I leave for hikes extra early to allow myself the ability to hike at a slower pace with more frequent breaks.
  • I pay very close attention to my body. So far I haven’t witnessed anything more than normal post-workout muscle aches. However, if I feel something more significant, I will back off and give my body more time to adjust to the next level of activity.
  • I am working with a physical therapist to strengthen my core muscles using very mild and low-impact exercises that are safe for the level of healing I am at.

My goal for the fall is carrying out a week-long backpacking trip with a few peak ascents. Hopefully with my training regime, I will be ready for this challenge.