Community Papers

An isolating medical condition

If you are a new ostomate in the Comox Valley, you quickly discover that it is an extremely isolating medical condition.

Not many people want to talk about an ostomy and even fewer health-care practitioners really know how to care for one.

Once the surgery is over and you are discharged from the hospital, you end up trying to cope on your own. The most common reasons for ostomy surgery are: colorectal cancer, bladder cancer, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

People who have an ostomy must wear a pouch or bag to collect waste. Caring for an ostomy is not instinctive — you need expert help to deal with the many complications that can develop.

Fortunately,  Comox Valley ostomates have access to Christol James, an ET (Enterostomal) nurse based in Campbell River.  Christol takes appointments at Pharmasave in Comox on the last Saturday of each month. She is also available by appointment in Campbell River.

ET nurses, such as Christol,  provide a valuable service to patients who are about to undergo ostomy surgery or who have an ostomy.  They are specially trained in ostomy, wound and continence care.

An ET nurse is a registered nurse who has taken additional training through their professional association (Canadian Association for Enterostomal Therapy) to receive the ET designation.  Unfortunately for ostomates, ET nurses are few and far between.

This is bad news for the Comox Valley as there appears to be a growing number of ostomates knocking on the door for help and no local ET nurse to answer the call.

"I'm more or less here by default," says Christol. "There was a definite need and no one to fill it so I started visiting the Comox Valley in 2008.

"It seems the caseload just keeps growing. I have clients from Port Hardy through to the Comox Valley.  When I am away, there is no one to replace me so clients need to travel to Nanaimo or Victoria for help. I sometimes wonder what will happen when I retire."

An ostomate can face any number of care problems including: leakage around their appliance; an incorrect equipment fit due to change in physical shape; hernia development; skin breakdown or perhaps infection of the skin; stoma problems; or dietary questions regarding output.

Then there are those who are facing ostomy surgery and do not know what to expect. In all cases they need to see an ET Nurse and in some cases that need is urgent in order to prevent serious complications.

Christol is quick to point out that if she could see patients sooner lots of problems could be avoided.

In a typical week she is attending to patients in person at the clinic, consulting with other nurses who call or send her photos of conditions, speaks on the phone with patients who may not be able to attend in-person, visits patients in the hospital for pre or post ostomy surgery, and occasionally  visits a patient at home.

Much of her work is reactive and she would like to move more of it to a preventive level.

The Comox Valley Ostomy Support Group is a volunteer group that supports local ostomates and wants to see the establishment of an ET nurse position in the Comox Valley. The support group is acutely aware of the needs of ostomates and has seen an increase in the number of ostomates in the Valley.

"It is wonderful that Christol will travel down to provide this important service to our community once each month," says Ken Osmond, co-chair of the local ostomy support group.

"But it is time we had an ET nurse located in the Comox Valley.  Ostomates need access to this vital health care service daily and they need it here in our community."

For more information, contact Betty at 250-871-4778, Ken at 250-339-3791 or Susan at 250-339-6528.

— Comox Valley Ostomy Support Group

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