Aftercare Instructions

Many of us don’t get proper aftercare instructions after fistula surgery. A friend in my support group shared photos of her aftercare instructions, and they were so good that I had to type them up to share with all of you. I turned them into images so that they can be easily saved and shared from most platforms. Please feel free to save and share them!

Please note that these instructions aren’t perfect, just the best I have seen so far, and they won’t apply to everyone. If you are unsure about your aftercare, I urge you to call your surgeon’s office to have them answer any questions.

(All of this information comes from a handout by Alberta Health Services)




Finally Fistula Free

Hellooooo fistula warriors!

I have not been very active on here lately as I am going through a new health ordeal (adenomyosis and endometriosis! ugh!), and am navigating my way through all of that. I hope to soon be putting up some new stuff here, and have lots of ideas, so please stay with me!

I am excited to be able to share a new fistula project with you. Fellow fistula warrior Jen and I have been working on a project called Finally Fistula FreeOur goal is to provide a space where people going through the fistula nightmare can come to find success stories. We are currently collecting stories from people who have healed from their fistula, and want to share their journey with others. If you (or someone you know) has healed from a fistula and would like to share your story, please send us your success story at finallyfistulafree@gmail.com, we would love to hear from you and share your experience.

Part of breaking through the stigma of this health problem is being able to talk out loud about it. Speaking from my own experience, writing about my journey in detail has been empowering, and has enabled me to help others. I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone, even if that means just reaching out and joining a support group (I run a great one on Facebook: Fistula Support Group, and Jen runs a wonderful group for women: Abscess/Fistula Support for Women), or openly speak about what you’re going through with family or a close friend.

You can check out my full success story on our new blog here: Through the Tunnel of Doom and Back Again, and on the home page you will find Jen’s amazing journey, as well as our first contributor, Mary’s story. We hope you enjoy it, and that it brings some hope!

Be Back Soon!

In Solidarity,

Leah R. Chatterjee

Fistula Friends: Some Crohn’s and Ostomy support!

You know, sometimes the universe has your back. I’ve been wanting to write about Crohn’s disease and ostomy tips for quite some time, but it’s hard to write authentically about what you don’t know. I could easily gather a lot of info, and provide you with an article you could’ve written yourself with enough Google searching, but that’s not really what this blog is about. It’s about helping you through this with some guidance from someone who’s been there.

That’s why I’m so excited that Jen connected with me recently. She writes a really wonderful blog on Tumblr that covers a lot of ground, and has especially great info Crohn’s and ostomy tips. I particularly love her attitude about it all, and I think you’ll find it refreshing. 

Jen’s Crohnic Crohn’s blog!

Jen also pointed me towards this wonderful blog that has great info about ostomy products, tips, info on IBD, and has some great tips for diet and nutrition (especially if you’re vegan): 

The Veganostomy Blog

I would really love to give extra voice to these topics (Crohn’s, ostomy, IBD), and I think a great way to do that is to interview several people in the community and share their stories. If you are interested in participating in this (and you may do so anonymously if preferred) please contact me directly at leahruthe@gmail.com

So much love and solidarity,

Leah R Chatterjee 

Need Support? We’ve got your backside!

This disease can be so isolating, can feel so hopeless, and can be extremely hard to talk about. We have been building and growing a great online support group on Facebook over the past few years. Thanks to some really open and lovely people, it has become a really wonderful space to find support, advice, solidarity, and understanding.

If you think that could be helpful to you, please check it out!

Fistula Support Group (the group I run)

*** Edit, I recently met Jen, who runs a great support group just for women! Here’s the link to that group:

Abscess/Fistula Support for Women
New post coming soon!

Big Love,

Leah R Chatterjee

Fistulotomy: a brief explanation

  
1. A probe is inserted, and the surgeon will cut open along the entire length of the fistula, from the internal opening to the external opening.

2. The surgeon will then flush out the contents of the now-open tract, and flatten it out.

3. Finally, the surgeon will sew the skin edges of the tract to keep it flat, and ideally the fistula will heal over the course of a month or two into a flat scar.

What in the Bloody Hell…

 

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There’s no getting around how painful and disgusting living with a fistula can be. I am fairly certain that my period was the most dreaded part of those three years of fistula doom. For those of you who have never experienced living with a fistula, let me paint you a picture:

One day, after a painful ordeal with an abscess, you learn from your doctor that you have developed what is called a “fistula.” A lame explanation accompanied by crude drawings ensues, and you learn that there is currently a tunnel connecting your rectum to an area right near your vagina. You are now constantly leaking fecal matter. Your life becomes a constant battle to keep your nether regions clean, to manage pain and discomfort, to maintain a shred of dignity and some semblance of sanity. To make things extra fun, your doctor places a giant rubber band in your ass, which hangs down and wreaks havoc on your butt cheeks and surrounding tissue. As if all of this wasn’t horrific enough, you are a woman. Once a month your uterus sheds, and suddenly an already unpleasant aspect of womanhood becomes HELL. Now, not only are you leaking fecal matter, dealing with chronic pain, and have a giant rubber band sticking out of your ass, but you are bleeding all over the place. You become intimately familiar with all of the adult diaper options. You try to come to terms with a new normal.

So, how does one cope with having a period while living with a fistula? My first piece of advice? Ditch your tampons. If your doctor hasn’t already told you this, I’m telling you now. Inserting a tampon while you are leaking fecal matter is a great way to ensure that bacteria and fecal matter will enter your vagina, which will open you up to all sorts of infections you do not need to add to your plate. If your fistula is rectovaginal, that whole area is going to be super tender and extra sensitive anyway, so you definitely don’t need a big, abrasive chunk of cotton up in there.

If you are a diva cup user (or whatever “cup” brand you prefer), the same applies. Ditch it for now for the same reasons.

Here are your options, and what worked for me:

-overnight pads with wings

-overnight pads with wings on an adult diaper for super heavy days

-for those who wish to be eco-friendly I highly recommend GladRags. They are washable, reusable pads, and are actually really good for lining your underwear for bad leakage days even when you’re not on your period. There are also a few shops on Etsy that will custom design reusable pads for you.

-frequent washing. Invest in a squeeze bottle with a spray nozzle. Clean your vagina and bottom regularly throughout the day.

-Sitz Bath every chance you get. Scroll further down for my entry on Sitz Bath and hygiene.

-ask your gynecologist about the possibility of skipping your periods altogether with birth control. This may not work for those of you who are sensitive to medication or hormones, but it is a viable option for some.

-Meditate. Seriously. Do this all month long. It really helps.

Fistulas are life-disrupting, painful, fairly gross, and can often turn in to long-term struggles and multiple surgeries. I received an e-mail from a woman who is dealing with a colorectal fistula, and she wanted to know more about how to deal with her period during all of this. I thought about it, and nobody ever gave me ANY advice about how to handle a menstrual cycle while battling a fistula of doom. Women with fistulas are constantly dealing with what I call the “Silence Factor.” Nobody wants to talk about periods, about tampons, about menstrual blood, and nobody wants to talk about anything relating to the rectum. Our reality, though, is that we have to navigate through life with these added complications that most people don’t understand, and are uncomfortable hearing about.

I’m here to deliver this very important message: You have nothing to be ashamed of. You are not gross. This shit is really hard, painful, isolating, and really depressing, and you are a warrior who is surviving it.

YOU HAVE NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF.

If you are a woman, or a person who has periods, and you need to reach out to someone who has been there, please shoot me an e-mail at fistulasurvival@gmail.com. Sometimes it can take me a while to respond, but I will respond.

In solidarity,

Leah Chatterjee

Advancement Flap Surgery

One of the most common surgeries available to close a fistula is called the advancement flap surgery. If you have a colorectal fistula, there is a good chance you will hear about this option somewhere down the line. I’ve sketched my own depiction of the surgery here:

  

What you are looking at is the fistula from the inside of the rectum. Simply put, the surgeon will cut a piece (or flap) of tissue near the fistula hole, and stretch it over the hole like a patch. Sutures are used to keep it in place.

Here are several questions you might want to ask your doctor before you decide to have the surgery:

1) What is the state of my tissue in that area? Is it in good shape for surgery? As we get older our tissue can weaken. If you have had multiple surgeries in that area, the tissue might not be in the best shape. Your doctor should know whether or not the tissue is good enough for a strong flap, but asking is always a good idea.

2) Am I clear of all infections? Any kind of infection can compromise healing. If you feel something might be “off,” have frequent diarrhea, or stomach cramps, ask your doctor to run some tests and stool samples. You know best what your body feels like when it’s healthy, so don’t be afraid to insist on lab work before going in for surgery. 

3) What can I do after surgery to help the healing process? Ask your doctor about how to properly take your antibiotics and pain medications. Ask about what foods to eat, and what foods to avoid. It is very important to eat well after this surgery, and to be conscious of eating foods that will pass through the rectum easily. 

4) How can I best manage my pain and physical discomfort after surgery? Every person is different, has different levels of pain, and different reactions to pain. This surgery can take time to recover fully from, and there will be at least a few days of serious discomfort and/or pain. It is important to prepare for this beforehand.

5) How should I keep the area clean? After surgery the area will be tender, there will be some bleeding, and keeping the area as clean as you can is important. (In this seton band article I give tips on keeping things clean)

According to most literature currently available, the advancement flap surgery has a success rate of about 70%. Many studies reported causes of failure were often due to the presence of Crohn’s Disease. I would advise that you not get too caught up in numbers. Do your research, talk to your doctor about concerns (don’t be embarrassed, colorectal surgeons have heard it ALL), and get a second opinion if necessary. 

Best of luck to all of you on the fistula journey. As always, feel free to contact me with questions or comments. I will do my best to get back to you in a timely manner. Please remember that I am NOT a doctor, just someone who has lived through a 3 year fistula, and has accrued what I hope to be valuable knowledge and experience on the subject. 

Leah R. Chatterjee

Quit the Butts for Your Butt!

I have been thinking about how to write this for a while now. How does one write an entry about quitting smoking without the BS shaming, the guilt-tripping, the clichés and facts that everybody already knows?

Before the Fistula of Doom descended on my life like a gloomy fog of despair, I was a very heavy smoker. I’m talking 1 to 1.5 packs a day heavy smoker. In fact, one of my greatest fears was that I would never be able to quit. I had tried unsuccessfully countless times to stop the nasty habit. Unfortunately, I loved smoking. I loved every part of smoking (okay, not the smell), and over the years I had come to rely on it as a coping mechanism for pretty much everything. When I first got the fistula I started smoking even more to deal with the pain and distract myself from the poo leaking out of the tunnel. My doctor encouraged me to quit, citing all of the obvious reasons that smoking was impairing my healing process.

IMG_8857

 

I already knew, as most smokers do, the risks involved in smoking. Even after reading about how bad smoking is for your intestinal system, how it slows almost all healing processes, how it is especially bad for people with Irritable Bowel Disease, I still did not quit. I thought about it a lot, but it just didn’t feel urgent.

Fast forward to a year later, and something changed. I got scared. Really scared. I had a rubber band (seton band) hanging out of my ass, was still leaking poo, still rocking the Depends and copious amounts of gauze. The awful red donut was still my major accessory.

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I was terrified that I would never heal. To top it all off I got a c diff infection (please see my earlier blog on C. difficile), and was not having success in getting rid of the persistent disease. I finally told my therapist, “I will do anything to get better. That includes quitting smoking. Please, help me stop.” I really meant it, but was nervous, skeptical of my own will power. With the help of my therapist, I worked out a plan to taper off of them…VERY SLOWLY. I cut back by one cigarette a day until I was down to 3 a day, then cut back one a week, until I was finally down to just chewing gum (I eventually quit that, too, after a year of gum chewing). It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. It was a painful, messy, grumpy, tearful affair, but I did it. All because of my deep desire to get better.

I’m sharing this, not to give myself accolades for my achievement, but to let you know from one smoker to possibly another that it is possible. I am not joking when I say that there was a point in my life where I did not think I was capable of quitting. I thought surely it would be what killed me. The truth is that smoking wreaks havoc on your entire system, not least of which is your circulatory system and your digestive system. If your fistula experience is anything like mine was (don’t worry, plenty of fistulas are not as wretched as mine was), you are looking at possibly several years of multiple surgeries. You want to be as kind to your intestines and colon as you possibly can (trust me when I say that you will suddenly be more concerned about what you put in in relation to how painful it is coming out). I absolutely have to say this obnoxious line:

You really ought to quit.

Making the decision is easy enough. I recommend seeking out some kind of support if you know you are going to have a hard time. Checking in with my therapist weekly was a huge help, and the one thing I did different when I finally managed to quit. I had someone to hold me accountable, and even on weeks that I messed up it was good to have someone reminding me that it’s okay to screw up. If therapy is not an option for you, there are a lot of online and in person support groups that are free. I highly recommend the tapering off method, especially if you are a heavy smoker like I was.

As usual, I recommend looking into natural remedies to ease the anxiety of quitting, such as flower essences (Bach Flower Remedies are good and fairly affordable, and their website has pretty great explanations of what each essence is good for), meditation, exercise, breathing exercises, etc. I definitely used Nicorette for the first 8 months, but when I quit the gum it was the natural stuff that kept me from going backwards.

Three years later I can tell you that the rumors are true: you do feel a hell of a lot better after you quit. Every body is different, but mine felt a significant difference after 6 months. One year later I could really breathe. You know, big, deep, full breaths that you forget you’re capable of. Truth? I still get cravings sometimes. It’s so much easier to write them off now, though, and I don’t miss being a smoker one bit. Good luck!

Leah R. Chatterjee

Let’s Talk About Sitz

Fistula Survival Guide

One of your main tasks during this whole ordeal is going to be managing your pain and discomfort. That is why I’ve dedicated an entire entry to the Sitz Bath:

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This is a Sitz Bath, your new best friend through almost every stage of dealing with the dreaded perianal/anal fistula. This wonderfully simple device will do more to ease your pain and discomfort than anything else out there (my opinion, and probably your doctors’ opinions, and that of anyone else who has had an anal fistula). It is very easy to use, you just fill it up with the hottest water your bottom can stand, place it over your toilet seat (lift the two lids first), and sit. You can also add stuff to the water, like witch hazel, but honestly just plain water works great. You can use the Sitz bath as often as you want. Shoot, you could…

View original post 222 more words

C. Diff Say What?

While I am on the hunt for/creating my own surgical illustrations, let’s take a break from fistulas to discuss a nasty little bacteria called Clostridium Difficile (C. diff). This is a bacteria that lives in all of our intestines, and is normally kept at bay by good bacteria.

Why would I bring up this ugly little bacteria here on Fistula Survival Guide? Because many of you suffering with colorectal fistulas will undergo surgery, and more often than not after surgery you will be put on one or two antibiotics. Unfortunately, strong antibiotics (such as Cipro, which is commonly prescribed after surgery to prevent infection) can kill off the good bacteria in our intestines, which can allow c. diff to flourish and develop into c. diff colitis (I may refer to it as simply c. diff throughout this article).

This happened to me after my second surgery. I was having horrible diarrhea (more so than is usual for me even with IBS), stomach cramps, and nausea, but when my doctor at the time didn’t think much of it, I chalked it up to being sensitive to the antibiotics. I went ahead and charged forward with surgery number three, my very first advancement flap surgery. Weeks after the surgery, when I should have been healing and feeling better, I was still in huge amounts of pain, still feeling horribly sick to my stomach, and worst of all the surgery was not healing.

As fate would have it, my doctor left and I was sent to a new colorectal surgeon. Concerned about the frequency of my diarrhea, nausea, and lack of healing, my new doctor ordered a stool sample. Lo and behold, I was plagued with the dreaded c. diff colitis. In most cases, given a regiment of a certain antibiotics (Flagyl is the first one I was given), it will go away. I was in the unfortunate 20% that required almost 6 months of treatments, different medicines, and even participated in a study for a new c. diff medicine (turns out I was in the group given Vancomycin, which was not the new medicine). Eventually, the vancomycin cured me, but it was a long and grueling process.

After you have had c. diff colitis, you will need to be forever cautious when you have to take antibiotics, and alert your doctor to the fact that you had c. diff. Seriously–for the rest of your life. Be careful. I am not trying to scare you, but this is a disease that can and has killed people. Those are extreme cases, but it is not something to be taken lightly.

The main reason I bring this ickiness up is that there are certain things you can do to reduce your chances of getting c. diff. After surgery, while you are on antibiotics, here are a few suggestions I have (as usual, PLEASE CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR, this is just advice from my own experience, most of it given to me by my doctors):

*TAKE YOUR FLAGYL. Seriously, if you are taking Cipro or any other really strong antibiotic, do not skip your doses of Flagyl. This will help keep the c.diff at bay.

*I highly recommend taking a good probiotic (my doctor told me about florastor, which is a yeast-based probiotic, so it isn’t counteracted by the antibiotic). This beneficial bacteria can help combat c.diff

*Turmeric! Take lots of turmeric! It cannot hurt you, and is naturally anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and helps to improve your intestinal flora. You can get it as a capsule, or just loose powder, which can be mixed into your juice, water, or food (the powder is cheaper and found in most spice sections at grocery stores).

*Pay attention to your body. If you feel like something is wrong, it is worth it to talk about it with your doctor. If you have been on antibiotics for 30 days or longer and start experiencing consistent watery diarrhea, fever, nausea, weight loss, loss of appetite, ASK FOR A STOOL SAMPLE TO BE TAKEN. My first doctor did not order one, despite my complaints of almost all of these symptoms. You can ask for/insist on a stool sample.

For more information, I recommend this PDF:

http://effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/ehc/products/115/891/cdiff_cons_fin_to_post.pdf

and this awesomely helpful website:

http://www.cdiffsupport.com/aboutcdiff.html#What_is_Clostridium_Difficile_-_in_easy

If you have a serious case, and are not recovering, I highly recommend going to an infectious disease specialist. Ultimately that is what I ended up having to do, and that is where I was given the right treatment.

To reiterate, I am not trying to scare you. I just wish I had been aware that this even existed when I was going through the Fistula of Doom. I hope you have found this helpful! Take good care of yourselves, and always keep hope. I healed. It took a long time, but I did make a full recovery. Remember that you are not alone.

In fistula solidarity,
Leah R. Chatterjee