Archive for The Incontinence Issue

Just Keep Swimming

One thing that I have found essential to my healing journey is exercise.  Exercise releases feel good endorphins, keeps my weight down, and allows me a great way to beat stress without medication.

Prior to my trauma, I thoroughly enjoyed swimming as exercise.  As a college level competitive swimmer, I was used to tough workouts and long hours in the pool.  As you can imagine, fecal incontinence and swimming laps in a pool DO NOT MIX.  In fact, there are signs posted everywhere that any fecal matter in the pool will result in a pool closure for all patrons.  Besides the obvious fact that a leakage would affect other’s enjoyment of the pool facility for the day; there was no way that I was getting into a pool if there was a chance that I could have an accident.  Obviously this proved a huge loss, emotionally and physically, as I thought about all of the times I would miss in the pool.

Through physical therapy, but, prior to my Interstim surgery, I gained some control of my bowels that would allow me a pretty good idea about when my leakages may occur.  It was at this time that I began to swim again, albeit cautiously.  Even though I felt good about going into the pool again, my plans could change in an instant if I was having a bad day with my sphincter.

Fast forward to now.  Interstim has allowed me complete freedom in the pool.  I no longer foster feeling of uncertainty and grief when stepping into the chlorinated goodness that was my second home prior to trauma.

It turns out that swimming is one of the best exercises I can do with my Interstim implant.  The low impact exercising has allowed me to stay in shape, engage in great workouts, and have fun again.  I could not have imagined this 6 months ago.

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Throughout my ordeal, the one thing I have longed to hear from the medical professional whose actions and inaction caused my plight  is “I’m sorry, I understand.” Because of legalities, bedside manner in this regard has essentially gone out the window.  As OBGYN’s are flooded with lawsuits and threats of legal action, true empathy is rare to find vocalized in the medical community.

I am not saying that everything was my OBGYN’s fault, however, I am saying that her empathy could have been a powerful beginning to my healing journey.  For my OBGYN to relay the understanding of the loss that a 27-year-old must feel when she no longer has rectal function and control would have gone a long way with me.  Instead, I received a firm statement of “this is normal” from my OBGYN when I conveyed my inability to control my bowels.

In advocating for others, I hope to be that voice that “victims” can hear when the medical community remains silent.  So, here it is from my mouth to your ears “I am sorry for your situation.  I totally understand.  I will do everything I can to help you on your healing journey.”

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Can YOU imagine?

Sometimes, when I explain incontinence to people, it’s hard for me to really understand that they can actually “get” the impact that this condition has on one’s life.  To suddenly lose the ability to function in an area that you take for granted is a nearly impossible situation to truly understand unless you have gone through it yourself.  So, I will try my best to explain my fecal incontinence to you:

Put yourself in this frame of mind:  Your worst day with diarrhea.  We’ve all experienced this.  Now, imagine that this happens every day, without warning, and instead of liquid shots of stool, you are passing full size bowel movements.  Now, imagine that you try to make it to the bathroom, but standing only allows gravity to assist you in passing more stool.  Now, imagine that you do make it to the bathroom sometimes, but lack the sphincter sensation to finish a bowel movement so it slowly leaks out throughout the rest of the day.  Now, imagine that this is happening at work, in the car, while you are taking care of your kids, grocery shopping, at church, etc.  I think you get the point.  It’s defeating.

That’s why I am so grateful and will continue to pass the word on about Interstim.  I can always imagine the incontinence issue, because I went through it.  I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.  I hope that you who only have to imagine it in your lifetime can gain empathy for those living with the situation with my above examples.  I hope that you who do more than imagine, who live with the incontinence, have success with Interstim. 

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Where’s the Cheese?

Before Interstim, before hope of recovery of the sphincter, I had become resigned, but not comfortable, with my new way of life.  Every day, I would wear an overnight pad (changing it of course when I had accidents).  I would often wear this pad backwards, placing the longer part towards the back.  Every day I would carry an underwear change, wipes, and extra pads in my purse.  Although I never explained the whole process to my daughter, she would realize that these things would need to go into my purse prior to us leaving the house.  She’d ask me if I had my underwear and my “cheese.”  I never corrected her on the “cheese” part, needing some sort of levity to the situation at hand.  But, now that you think about it, overnight pads wrapped in orange plastic do like surprisingly like slices of American cheese!  I am grateful that I can place real slices of American cheese in my purse (with an ice pack of course) and leave the pads at home now. 🙂

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The Incontinence Issue

I never thought much about going to the bathroom until I couldn’t go effectively.  I guess that is how it is with most things you take for granted.  You don’t know what you have until it’s not there!

A third degree tear during childbirth caused my incontinence.  This tear was caused by many things.  The use of forceps, a large baby, and a sunny-side up position of the baby at birth.

Fecal incontinence is when your sphincter just isn’t working anymore and you tend to leak stool, have total accidents, and constant smearing.  This just is not fun for a woman in her late 20’s!  Not only is it not fun, it’s not talked about.

The shame of incontinence and the taboo of the topic is rampant in our society.  How many women do you know that are under 80 that talk about their bowel movements easily?  I’d like to take away that shame.  Fecal incontinence is a real problem for women with tears from childbirth.  It’s a real problem with a real solutions if you know where to look for them!

Testing and Treatment are available once you start down that right path.  A rectal surgeon, and a physical therapist are invaluable resources to get the ball rolling.  Testing, although not pleasant, provides you and your treatment providers with valuable information about where the weaknesses are in your sphincter muscle, possible nerve damage, as well as a host of other medical maladies related to sphincter function.  Treatment depends on exact damage diagnosis and will vary from patient to patient.  I found treatment in diet modification, extensive physical therapy, and most recently, medical intervention that implanted a sacral nerve stimulator to restore function of the sphincter.

More Details in Future Posts,

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