Saturday, March 11, 2017
Traveling with an Ostomy
Traveling with an ostomy is manageable and even enjoyable but it is faced with risks. There are risks of inconvenience in regards of restrictions when flying, restroom access, and appliance welfare. Recently while traveling to visit my Great Uncle for a week, my mother experienced an intensive week of ostomy issues – specifically, appliance issues.
We decided to fly to arrive to our destination and was as any flying ostomate, she was faced with the typical TSA regulations of traveling with ostomy supplies and restroom restraints. Fortunately, she didn’t encounter any hassle from TSA regarding traveling with her ostomy supplies and wasn’t selected for a body scan or pat down. You may find the UOAA's travel tips for ostomates helpful for additional guidance, particularly when flying.
We were away for a full week and my mother packed enough supplies for 5 days worth. Typically her ostomy appliance wears for 3-4 days per change. With your typical run, 5 days worth of supplies was expected to be plenty. However, fate shouldn't be tempted. When something can go wrong, it seems as though it often will do so. And so was the case for my mother.
Her activity didn't particularly change out of the norm from her usual activities. Rather, her activity lessened if anything. While away she was unable to participate in her regular exercise classes and physical therapy sessions. She bathed normally and used the same products she typically uses during an ostomy appliance change except for one product that she occasionally uses. She even followed the procedure exampled by her ostomy nurse. And yet, her ostomy appliance leaked five days out of the seven days we were away.
We brainstormed about what was being done differently, what needed to be done differently. The only difference were the two days that instead of a regular shower, she took a sponge bath. Nothing that we could think of should have been causing such an excessive increase of appliance leaks. With an ostomy you are meant to be able to participate in activities, even strenuous, physical activities. You are meant to be able to shower daily. You are meant to be able to live in various climate zones.
It was Sunday evening and my mother had two days worth of supplies left and we were scheduled to return home on Tuesday. After four days of consecutive appliance leaks and desperate for a lasting appliance, my mother opted to forgo a regular shower Sunday night and instead take a sponge bath in the morning. Miraculously, she awoke Monday morning without any appliance leak. She had two days worth of supplies remaining, one for each day of the trip remaining if needed. Monday day and night passed without incidence. We thought she was in the clear but remained concerned about what would happen if her appliance leaked while traveling home. There wouldn't be time on the plane to an appliance change and the tight quarters of the lavatory would make a change highly difficult even if timed were allowed. But what should she do if a leak did occur? We brainstormed once again and I suggested she use her medical tape to tape a Ziploc bag onto her skin with the appliance safely tucked away into the Ziploc bag and paper towels wrapped around the appliance itself. This would allow for the appliance to remain contained. If needed, she would be able to cut the bottom of the Ziploc bag and attach a pouch clip to even allow for emptying of the pouch.
Tuesday morning arrived and the night passed without issue once again. All of the appliance leaks had occurred during the night. We successfully completed our first flight of the day with just one more flight remaining after a layover. Once again, we thought we were home clear. Twenty minutes prior to our flight boarding the feared but unexpected occurred. Her ostomy appliance leaked. She headed to a terminal bathroom to hastily adorn her makeshift Ziploc bag appliance container. I watched the clock to check on her progress and update her of the flight status at the 10 minute mark. At 8 minutes, we were called to start boarding the flight. She finished her process and we headed toward the plane. Unsure of the makeshift container, her appliance remained intact for the remainder of the flight and drive home.
In spite of the difficulties, our travel was worth it all. Next time though, my mother will pack more than enough supplies in case of such a rare occurrence again. And perhaps know the local ostomy resources ahead of time.
This is my life with Familial Adenomatous Polyposis and Short Bowel Syndrome. I was diagnosed with FAP as a child, underwent total colectomy at age 9. I experienced life threatening complications resulting in 4 more surgeries that year and developing medical PTSD. I had an ileostomy for 6 years before having it reversed into a straight pull-thru that also resulted in life threatening complications requiring an additional surgery the following year. In 2021, I required my 8th surgery to remove my gall bladder due to gall stones and FAP. This surgery exacerbated my at the time undiagnosed Abdominal Migraine which is now being treated.