People of the North

A focus on those with a story to tell

Alison Barton-Simmons

Alison Barton-Simmons

This time last year, I couldn't imagine worrying about a worldwide pandemic, never mind how that would affect my ability to get hold of ileostomy bags for my stoma. It wasn't even on my radar.

I had a hysterectomy in November 2019 because of endometriosis. It had got so out of control I needed a bowel resection too. I knew prior to the operation that there was a very slight chance of needing stoma and an ileostomy bag if I got an infection. It seemed a very slight chance. The doctor’s thumb and finger were practically touching when he showed me how much of a chance there was. I acknowledged it and filed it away mind. Days after the op I ended up with a bad infection and was taken back into surgery to have a temporary ileostomy to bypass the join in my bowel and stop the onset of sepsis.

So that was that, and I spent Christmas and the early part of 2020 getting used to this new way of life but feeling better and better by the week. I'd learnt which ileostomy bags suited my stoma and body the best and had cracked getting all my supplies from my local pharmacy via my doctor. I had a list of things I needed every day to make this new lifestyle work: bags that stick to my abdomen to catch the waste, special paste rings to fit around the stoma to stop the area getting sore (think nappy rash), sprays to loosen the adhesive to make getting them off less painful, wipes to clean the area and loperamide tablets to make the output less liquid.

By this stage I'd heard of Covid and had followed the news. It seemed to be spreading across the world but so had Bird Flu, Swine Flu and Ebola. I naively didn't realise the effect this was going to have.

Prescriptions for my bags - the piece of kit that means I can function normally - was taking longer and longer to arrive at the chemist. I would be sent 30 at a time that could last anywhere between 30 days and 60 days. I waited 3 weeks for a delivery in March and again in April and was advised to put another prescription in straight away once one had arrived. I wasn't told that the problem was down to Covid, but there was a possibility that a component of the bag came from elsewhere in the world, and that was causing the delay.

I did have to use back up bags - that I had cut my stoma shape out of after I first had the op. The shape of your stoma can change dramatically, so the bags didn't really suit the shape anymore, but I had to make do. But the worry and anxiety around Covid, home-schooling my children and not being certain I could get hold of what was essentially a lifeline, was difficult.

I wasn't asked to shield because of the issue, but it did make me more mindful about washing hands and wearing a mask. If I had caught it and been really poor       ly at home, there may have been the expectation that a family member would have to change my bag for me. We would have got through it with humour and love. But I wouldn't have been comfortable with that level of expectation of someone else.

I am grateful that while it was an ongoing worry, I was able to change the bag whenever I needed to. And while Covid stopped me going out and adventuring, the bag didn't. I could put a mask on, a change bag on my back and a hand sanitiser in my pocket and go wherever I wanted within reason.

I hope to have the ileostomy reversed later this year, but this all depends on hospitals and whether it is safe to go ahead. I'm happy to wait; it's no threat to my life and bag prescriptions are easier to get hold of now.



20 July 2020



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