Ostomy support is vital for new as well as old ostomates. The sudden changes in a patient’s life can be overwhelming. Studies have shown that after ostomy surgery, patients may develop psychosocial problems that include:
- Suicidal thoughts and tendency
- Poor self-image
- Sexual disorders including impotence
Proper emotional support in addition to training on ostomy management goes a long way in helping patients to successfully adjust to their new health circumstances.
Sources of support
1. Family support
Many ostomates are fearful that their spouses or other family members will view them from a negative perspective after the surgery. Spouses wonder whether they are still attractive in their partner’s eyes. Reassurance and prove of acceptance from the person closest to the patient will make a great difference during the post-surgery adjustment period. How can a spouse show support?
- Avoid sudden body language change. Maintain your way of showing affection as before surgery.
- Maintain open communications and express your fears freely.
- Let the patient know that you are ready to make adjustments to accommodate their changed circumstances.
- Spouse ‘protection’ is important but overprotection does not achieve the intended results as the patient can feel no longer useful. Encourage your partner to do what they are comfortable in. Help when necessary but let them take the lead, especially regarding ostomy care as this will promote their self-esteem.
- Intimacy should not be withheld once the doctor says it is safe to engage in it. It is important to be gentle and understand discomfort and pain areas.
- Family activities and sports are a good starting point to encourage the patient to engage in other events in the community.
2. Professional support
This type of support is usually provided by the ostomy nurse or other qualified medical professional. It comes in the form of educating the patient about ostomy and its care. The support usually starts before surgery and goes on after discharge from the hospital. If the patient has a life partner, plans should be made for the two to attend these sessions.
Accurate information can help couples and family members understand what the patient is going through and be in a position to give specific support when needed. An overall outcome for family members is an enhanced appreciation of life after seeing what their kin has gone through and survived.
3. Social support groups
There are many national and local ostomy support groups. These are made up of people of various backgrounds and they offer specific support to ostomates. Common forms and sources of support include:
- Information source. These help ostomates and their families with printed and online information in brochure or guideline formats. United Ostomy Association of America is an example.
- Ostomates and spouses meetings. Here couples where one of the partners has gone through ostomy surgery meet and encourage one another in various ways.
- Conferences. These are usually organized by ostomy associations and can be in a regional, national or even international setting. Both current and former ostomates greatly benefit from these gatherings.
- Email and telephone support. A patient can get response to their questions or concerns anytime of the day.
- Ostomy product manufacturers. Although it may appear as if support from this sector has vested interests, they prove to be useful sources of information as well as facilitators on forums and discussions.
- Non-profit organizations. These are groups that source funds from well-wishers with the sole aim of supporting ostomates and their families. These groups go beyond helping individual patients and their families to include other ostomy support groups and associations. One of the aims of these organizations is to make sure that ostomates have the most recent and accurate information available.
Patients who have access to ostomy support adjust better to the post-ostomy surgery life and can lead a more productive and fulfilling life.