Travelling with a stoma

We caught up with Orla McDade from IA Northern Ireland who’d recently returned from travelling overseas in December 2017.

In November 2016 Orla went to Australia for a year and we did a Q&A with Orla to find out how she got on. This article was originally printed in IA Journal 239 (March 2018).

Travelling with a stoma can be a big worry for many, even going away for a week or two can be a concern but how do you manage for a year! Let’s find out how Orla got on…

Q: What was your reason for surgery and generally how do you manage with a stoma?

Orla: I had an emergency sub-total colectomy in 2012 to form an end ileostomy as a result of Crohn’s disease, which I was diagnosed with in 2009 at the start of my university studies. I then went onto have a proctectomy in 2014 to make my ileostomy permanent. Having surgery gave me my life back and I wouldn’t be here otherwise, my health has continued to improve over the years following surgery.

Q: How long did you go for and how did you manage travelling around?

Orla: I left home in November 2016 to head to Australia on a one year working holiday visa, unsure if I’d even like it enough to stay. However, the year flew in and before I knew it my visa was expiring. I lived and worked in Sydney mainly, spending most of my time at Bondi Beach. I arrived just in time for the heatwave summer in December 2016, which was a huge struggle to deal with just being Irish, never mind having an ileostomy!

However, I had taken plenty of oral rehydration sachets (Orla used Dioralyte) and tried my best to keep hydrated throughout drinking plenty, ice lollies, isotonic drinks, and having a cold shower/swim when possible to cool down. I must admit it was very tough at times, especially when I worked in a shop with no air-con and a tin roof, with temperatures reaching over 50 degrees celsius at times.

I would agree that I did struggle with hydration a lot in the severe heat, especially when I was taking part in exercises classes too. Dehydration just creeps up on you before you know it, so it’s so important to always try to stay on top of it.

I travelled from Sydney up along the coast to Brisbane and back in a campervan, with no toilet in it and I was extremely worried. However, staying on campsites which were well equipped I had nothing to worry about and absolutely loved it!

I went snorkelling out on the Great Barrier Reef, I had no issues at all with my bag staying on despite being in and out of the water all day long. The only issue I faced was being sea-sick, although I don’t think this was stoma related and it settled once anchored.

I have had my ileostomy long enough to know what foods to avoid, such as popcorn after learning the hard way (16 days in hospital with a blockage) so I didn’t have any dietary issues when in Australia.

I left Australia in November 2017 to make my travels home, with six weeks of South East Asia first. I visited Bali, Lombok, Gili Islands, Kuala Lumpur, the Philippines, and Vietnam. It was a jam packed itinerary and exhausting at times, with a slight bout of “Bali Belly” along the way, unsure if it was something I ate or perhaps some ice cubes that were in a drink. However, a few days rest and some isotonic drinks and I was good to go again. Other than that, I was very lucky to have no issues at all with diet, despite all the weird and wonderful foods that I ate along the journey.

Q: How did you manage with stoma supplies whilst you were away? Any problems with entering and leaving the different countries?

Orla: My supplier was good enough to send my supplies out to me each month and I had a very supportive boss who allowed my supplies to be delivered to work to ensure I didn’t miss the delivery. This was a huge relief and made my time in Australia living with a stoma so much easier. I had no issues at all entering or leaving Australia with security but made sure to keep my supplies in my hand luggage at all times. On my journey home, I entered over eight security checks at airports and never once had any problems, my stoma went unnoticed completely.

Q: Did you need treatment whilst away and how did you manage that?

Thankfully I didn’t need any treatment at all whilst away, I feel very lucky!! I went to visit the GP once during the extreme heatwave in Australia as I wanted to ensure I was keeping hydrated well enough, this was all free of charge through the reciprocal healthcare system with the UK and Australia. I am very health conscious so I feel a healthy diet, exercise, and making sure I didn’t eat any of the foods that I know can cause a blockage for me was very important, and staying hydrated is no.1! If there were any other problems, the good outweighed them as I can’t even them remember now.

Q: Any tips you would give others planning to travel with a stoma?

First thing to do is sort your supplies, make sure you have easy access to them and more than enough to last. Sign up with a doctor if you plan to stay for a while, even if it’s just a few months. Know how to manage your hydration levels & keep on top of it!

Make sure to avoid the foods that have or could cause you a blockage, better to be safe than sorry!

Most importantly, JUST DO IT!! It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, and I don’t think I was as half as afraid when going in for surgery! But I am so so glad I did it, for me it was a personal test to myself after having to rely on others for so long due to ill health.

Enjoy it & embrace it!

IA: Great advice from Orla for anyone thinking about travelling. Don’t let it hold you back just make you sure you plan in advance! We also send congratulations to Orla and her fiancé who became engaged on her return over the Christmas 2017 period.