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When My Ileostomy Leaked in the Middle of a Business Meeting

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….wait. Wait. Wrong story. Three years ago in a moderate-sized town in the US, I pooped my pants at a business meeting. That’s not entirely accurate — to be more specific, my ileostomy leaked during a business meeting. But I might as well have pooped my pants.

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

In 2012, I decided to have my colon removed because of ulcerative colitis (a form of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD), which is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system incorrectly decides to attack your large intestine. I had tried some pretty heavy hitting drugs, but nothing could be done to heal my ulcerated colon. So I chose to have it removed. Since I wouldn’t have a large bowel anymore, I couldn’t poop like a typical person. So surgeons created an ileostomy. An ileostomy is created by pulling the end of the small intestine outside of the body so you can “poop” again. You put a bag over the ostomy and attach it to the skin via adhesive and… voila! No smell, no mess and you empty your bag when you go to the bathroom.

After some healing from this surgery I went back to work like any person. What was not normal about me, however, was my ileostomy. The company I worked for was just one of several companies contracted out by another company who was, in turn, contracted by yet another company. There came a time for a large group meeting involving all of the companies on the project as well as those funding the project. The different companies took turns presenting their progress.

I was sitting at the large conference table in the back of the room, people beside me and people behind me. My stomach felt a little cold. The people at the front of the room continued to present. I ignored it for a minute. But I couldn’t for long. My stomach still felt a bit cold. I discretely touched my shirt to check my ostomy. My stomach was wet! I’m sure my eyes got huge. I discretely as possible headed for the restroom, which was across the building. Once inside the stall, I quickly undid my pants and discovered that my ileostomy had pancaked. I didn’t have a small leak, I had a huge leak. “Pancaking” occurs when the opening of your ostomy falls behind the portion of your ostomy bag attached to your skin. Output tries to escape from the body and instead of going into the bag it goes between the bag and the skin. As you output more, the output in the way gets pushed outward. In effect you create a giant poo pancake between the bag and your body. In other words, this is horribly embarrassing. And messy.

My year of battling IBD had resulted in me being “prepared for the worst” — so I always had ostomy supplies. I also always had a change of clothing. But this was no mess to be cleaned up in a public restroom. I tried to clean myself off as well as possible given this situation.

I wanted to just leave right from the restroom, but unfortunately my computer and bag was still in the meeting room. In order to make it back to the conference room, I had to walk back down the hall and ask the receptionist to please let me back in behind a secured door. I entered the room, whispered to my colleagues that I had to leave, grabbed my bag, and left. Fortunately I had two coworkers at this meeting and I didn’t have to present. But even if I had been the only person there, there was nothing that could be done. This was the equivalent of vomiting on yourself and I needed to get cleaned up.

You probably think, “I would have died of embarrassment.” And I was pretty embarrassed. I don’t know if anybody knew what happened, even my coworkers who knew I had an ostomy. I’m not sure if there was any smell… I don’t think there was or I would have noticed the leak earlier. This was one of the many small steps on the way of learning how my ostomy workers and what it “feels” like. I don’t think I could have done anything different in this situation, aside from take my everything me to the restroom. I wasn’t slacking off as this was a medical issue. And I was as discrete as possible.

What this situation taught me was that “sh*t happens,” both literally and figuratively. I tried my best. I came prepared. This was about the worst time something could happen. Yet it did happen, and I came out alive and no worse for wear.

While this incident was discouraging, I strongly stand by my decision to have my colon removed and acquire the ileostomy. I can’t emphasize this enough. Many people think their life will end with an ostomy, but this is far from the truth. I’ve returned to all of my old activities. My life is so much better with my ostomy than when I had my disease-riddled colon! Plus, I haven’t had a leak in two years! I always travel prepared with a change of clothing and a complete ostomy change kit. This reduces the anxiety I might have had otherwise.

If you have trouble with your ostomy, there are resources for you. There are wound, ostomy, and continence nurses who specialize in stoma care and to help with your ostomy system. I recommend searching for one at Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society.

Originally published: July 21, 2016
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