First swim with my stoma – the best feeling in the world


This weekend I felt truly free for the first time since my hospitalization six months ago.The bizarre thing is that although I have been feeling more human than I ever have during the 13 years I have suffered from IBD, ever since my operation I haven’t felt truly myself. It hasn’t been because I’ve been mourning my large bowel, or feeling unattractive – having my bag doesn’t make me any less attractive, if anything it has given me more confidence than I’ve ever had in my life – it’s because I haven’t been able to swim.

My lovely family - fish and chips at the fish quay

My lovely family – fish and chips at the fish quay

I know that might sound ridiculous, of all the things that have happened and I haven’t been able to do since the operation – from the very start where I couldn’t walk, wash or eat properly to struggling to comprehend an intimate relationship with my ostomy bag – that I would find the inability to swim the most restricting thing. But I really have.

Before my operation it didn’t matter how much pain I was in, how much blood there was or vomiting, all I wanted to do was to swim. Nothing would stop me getting into that water, putting my head down and going hell-for-leather down the middle lane. No amount of pain, blood and guts would stop me swimming. Swimming gave me exercise, focus and a way to get rid of stress. When I swam I felt the whole world drift away, any worry from work, home, hobbies, community projects just fell off my shoulders and into the pool and my mind would be free, unable to focus on anything apart from the repetitiveness of counting the number of lengths and, sometimes, annoyingly, dodging screaming kids.

Although some people would argue intensive exercise is not good for people during a UC/Crohns flare-up…from my experience I would argue the opposite. Running, jogging, hiking and dancing have always helped to give me focus on something other than the pain, and to ease stress – usually the trigger and exasperater of my particular disease. My main problem has always been over doing it. Usually by the time I’ve stopped swimming I’m sweating, which is something that’s puzzled a lot of people – just how do you sweat under water?

Anyway, normally swimming post surgery is not a problem. Ok its advisable and necessary to wait for any open wounds to heal and to not over do exercise in the first few months after an operation, and to basically take it easy – you don’t want to suddenly decide to become Michael Phelps over night. For me it wasn’t about fear but a great bit gaping scar that just would not heal and could not be submerged in water. Even a shower caused chaos – but there was no way I was going without them.

As I told you in the previous blog entry, despite still having my fistula pumping out gunk (into a bag, no hygiene risks here) my surgeon gave me the green light to submerge myself last week. He said I would be “fine” to swim and bathe, but to be sensible. So naturally at the first opportunity I went shopping for swim suits that flatter my new figure…only to be left almost crying on Chester’s high street as I realised no where stocked nice swim suits or high-waisted bikinis in the depths of Autumn – there’s simply not the demand.

The perfect coat shopping at Fenwick's in Newcastle

The perfect coat shopping at Fenwick’s in Newcastle

I was even left disappointed by Next’s catalogue range. I’d pictured lowering myself into the glimmering waters wearing a 50s inspired high-waisted bikini or a more Victorian ask bathing suit with stripes and all that jazz – I’m so nostalgic at the moment, I blame it on Mad Men – but the two viable options in the catalogue left me feeling far from inspired. It was a shame as I had been pinning my hopes on Next after a few tweets from ostomy societies and ostomates recommending them for their fab costume range.

Anyway, despite not being able to find my dream confidence-boosting costume my boyfriend booked us both a hotel with a swimming pool for our trip to visit my sister in Newcastle for her birthday. So after a rest on Friday night following the long drive I donned my very old post surgery swimming costume and went for a morning dip. Although my swimming costume didn’t exactly flatter my new body, with the lycra clinging around my ostomy bag, it didn’t really draw attention to it either. At first I have to admit that I was very self-conscious about it, pulling a towel around my waist to hide my stomach and bag, but once I got into the water I couldn’t have cared less.

Once in it was like I was alive again. I tentatively lowered myself in terrified that my bag might float off my skin or my fistula bag would fill up with water and fall off. But once I was in I had no concerns, but trying to stop myself going mental doing hundreds of lengths and giving myself a hernia. It was tempting, I was soon back into my natural rhythm, but after 20 blissful lengths I forced myself to give in – exhausted and realising I was working muscles that, well, hadn’t been used in months.

Very hungry after my morning swim

Very hungry after my morning swim

I’ve never been happier. I went swimming again on Sunday morning, doing 30 lengths at a fantastic pace, racing in between crowds of kids and generally getting back to my own good old self. I can’t wait to go swimming again, but with everything that’s going on now I don’t think that’s going to be for a while.

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A 22 mile bike ride – jelly legs & a bruised bum & hitting streets with Police


Until today the longest bike ride I had done since my ileostomy operation was around three miles. And that had been a struggle. Come to think about it, three miles was probably the furthest I had ridden anything in years, and that was far enough for my skinny little legs.

A quick and much needed break - no I didn't fall off

A quick and much needed break – no I didn’t fall off

So this morning me and Andy (my boyfriend) woke up to a lovely autumnal morning. It was a little cold but absolutely stunning. I woke up fairly exhausted after spending the night on reporting duty trekking around Chester City Centre with some lovely police officers as they tackled drink and drug related crime in the city in the aftermath of the last race of the season. I was with them most of the night running around, trying to keep up with their long strides, and, well trying to not get lost in the crowds of unbelievably drunk women swarming through the city’s streets.

It is a year since I did a very similar operation with the police in Chester. I remember how exciting it was, but how the whole time I was watching the drug dog sniff out wads of cocaine from revellers outside bars and clubs I was constantly panicking about needing the toilet. You see I may not have been in the peak of one of my IBD flares, but I still needed the bathroom around six times an hour, or I would be left gripping my stomach in agony and struggling not to curl up in a ball crying like a baby. I remember managing to throw the pain to the back of my mind until the break – which was after at least three hours – before getting back to the station and locking myself away in the cell-like toilet, and silently sobbing in pain as I tried to ‘let it all out’ before we hit the streets (without loo breaks) yet again. Ok, I hear you say, I should have said something, I’m sure they would have let me pay a pit stop, but I couldn’t and wouldn’t slow them down…I absolutely refused to stand in their way.

townhall_policeThis year was different. With my ostomy bag I hardly had to worry. In fact I made it from 7.30pm until I go home at 11.30pm without having to empty or change Winnie. Yes I did worry I would be caught out, and yes I did worry about needing the toilet – but I don’t think I will ever stop doing that – I’m a bit like Jason Bourne these days when it comes to rest rooms. I did panic when Winnie started going into overdrive at the custody suite while I was looking around the cells where some of the revellers would be sleeping off their booze that night. But she survived and to my relief I didn’t end up having to change Winnie in a cell with no basin and a metal loo!

Anyway, after groggily getting out of bed we made the decision to go for a bike ride. Yes we realised that the 20+ mile round trip was a big ask after hardly stepping foot on a bike since my operation, but after traipsing miles and miles around Rome that didn’t seem like such a leap into the dark for my legs. Oh, and there was a pub to be stopped at on the way…so that helped as an incentive.

I didn’t regret it one bit. The weather was beautiful and cycling along the canal was both exhilarating and peaceful. At first we were forced to weave around walkers, dogs and fellow cyclists as we battled along the canal, but then we finally found ourselves alone, apart from a few ducks and MASSIVE dogs and the scenery became simply something else. For a couple of miles we battled on despite the towpath teetering out altogether leaving me exhausted from the grassy mounds underfoot, or wheel. Then realising I was never going to make it back if we carried on, we finally went onto the road and cycled the rest of the way to the pub…a thousand times easier, apart from the fact Andy got a puncture and we had to stop every-so-often for him to pump up his withering tyre.

The pub itself, The Shady Oak, was quaint. Set on the side of the canal the views were

Waiting patiently for food - I'm screaming inside lol

Waiting patiently for food – I’m screaming inside lol

breathtaking. However the service left a lot to be desired and they didn’t take visas or any kind of cards whatsoever. It was an odd phenomenon going into a cash only pub. That’s when we realised we had cycled 10+ miles and probably could only afford a handful of chips between us!! Luckily we had a bit more and managed to share a buttie and chips – from a ridiculous menu I must add, and a ridiculously long wait of around an hour and a half!

Anyway a few other things happened, but all in all it was a magical day. Now sat on the sofa I feel proud. Ok, I’m no Sir Bradley Wiggins but I dug deep when I thought I had nothing left and managed to complete a 22 mile bike ride, which is amazing when you think six months ago I couldn’t walk up 10 steps without having to stop for breath. I feel healthy, but wobbly. In fact I can’t walk at all without my legs shaking, and my bum feels like it has been head butted by a bull. But it is a good healthy sort of pain, one that I am sure will make me walk like a cowboy for a few days, but one that I can be proud of…this is a pain that means my fitness is coming back…so, I guess I like it!

I can’t wait to do it again. It’s happened, I’ve got the cycling bug!

The last stretch - oh and there is my bessie mate in the car next to me - small world lol

The last stretch – oh and there is my bessie mate in the car next to me – small world lol