In 2019 I hadn’t been getting on well with the colostomy bag and was getting fed up with having to get up in the night to change the bag. My team of colostomy nurses recommended that I try irrigation and after joining a colostomy irrigation Facebook group and asking some questions decided to give it a shot. In early January 2020 I completed my first irrigation with the aid of a stoma nurse and I’ve continued ever since.
The irrigation process doesn’t always go to plan, I still have to change bags on occasion but it has given me some extra freedom particularly when it comes to enjoying running.
What’s My Process?
After waking up at 0530 I head to the bathroom to layout out the irrigation equipment and start at 0545. I use approximately 1 litre of water which flows out into a bowl on the floor. I continue for around 45 minutes and read a few chapters in a book and then usually stop by 0630 and often that’s it but as I then head out to work it can continue to come out and fill the bag. Even after a year I still haven’t mastered when it’s completely finished.
For the first few months I was irrigating daily to get my body used to it and then I tried switching to every other day and ever since it’s largely continued that way. I fit in the irrigating with running so sometimes if I need to run in the morning or go for a long run in a Saturday I’ll tailor the irrigation schedule around those runs.
The one time I’ve had an accident since irrigating was on a 20-mile run on the second day of a 48 hour irrigation cycle. That was messy so now I make sure that if I’m going on a long run I will irrigate on the same day and if it’s a much shorter run I find I can run without irrigating beforehand.
What are the Positives?
Due to needing to invest time on a regular basis to maintain irrigating, it’s important to focus on the positive aspects so that you can try to forget about the effort required. The biggest positive is being able to stop worrying about any unfortunate accidents or having to change the bag regularly. I still need to change the bag on occasions and I have had one or two accidents but overall it’s not the same as not irrigating.
Being able to head out for a run on the day of irrigating and on the second day without worrying about needing to change the bag is a game-changer. I still take a spare bag with me on longer runs (over half marathon) but I’ve only need to change once. This was a main driver for irrigating so being able to head out the door for a short run without even thinking about it adds a bit of normality back into my life.
What are the Negatives?
Time. Time is the biggest negative when it comes to irrigating. At first I was irrigating daily and chose to do so in the morning and this meant getting up earlier to allow for up to an hour to fully complete the irrigation process before heading off to work. I quickly discovered that I could irrigate in 30-45 minutes so it’s not a huge inconvenience but some days you really have to force yourself to get up and do it and I like to maintain the routine 7 days a week which means getting up at the same time on the weekends.
When your getting up close and personal with poop there are going to be occasions when it’s going to get messy. I’ve already had the spectacular accidents when you think the irrigation has completed and you remove the equipment only for you to paint the bathroom in poop water!
There are also occasions when the irrigation doesn’t go smoothly and I experience discomfort in the abdomen which can last an entire day. Thankfully this has only happened on a few occasions and I’ve never been able to pinpoint the exact cause.
After a year of experiencing the benefits of irrigating, I don’t think I’d ever go back to not doing it. You have to be committed to doing it regularly and taking a hour out of your day but the benefits far outweigh that inconvenience.
If you have a colostomy and haven’t tried irrigating I would highly recommend trying it.