I've read so many posts about people who are afraid to travel after stoma surgery, so I’ve put this post together to put those worries to rest. Just DO IT is my primary advice but let's unlock some of the most frequently discussed issues.
Most pat downs won't even discover your stoma pouch, especially if you make sure your bag is changed/emptied before passing through security. If you go through a scanner it should alert a security officer to your stoma. Most officers should be happy with your explanation (read on for what could happen when they aren’t), then you board your plane, and all is well.
There’s no need to worry about the change in air pressure because your bag will not expand. If you have to change your bag whilst on the plane (considerably easier than a bus or train) ask the flight attendant for the baby change toilet so you can use the shelf.
If you ever get caught out, stay calm and get creative. I've been around the world with my naughty stoma, travelling alone. I once changed my bag behind a tree in the National Fjord Parkway, New Zealand! Another time, I was on an Australian cruise when the ship’s toilet system was blocked for 21 hours. I decided to pee in the shower and was of course able to just change my bag; unlike those without a stoma! I've never been so grateful for it – an advantage at times!
Top tips from SecuriCare
Your travel bag should include enough stoma pouches to last your whole trip, with a few extras just in case. It’s a good idea to also pack dry wipes or swabs, cleansing wipes for your hands, anti-diarrhoea and re-hydration tablets. We also advise on taking disposal bags, drainable pouches for ease of emptying while travelling or in case you have an upset tummy, and any accessories you use such as ostomy deodorant or motion management sachets. If you use the SecuriCare home delivery service, you could receive a complimentary travel pack.
My worst stoma-travel experience was here in the UK
I’ve only ever had one bad travel experience – and it was actually very funny. At the airport my bag was taken off the security scanner and I was publicly questioned about my stoma products. I tried to give the security officer my medical card which was signed and stamped by my GP, explaining everything, but he waved it away gruffly saying he didn't “have time to read it”.
After going through my bag he decided to search me so took me to a room and brought another male guard as a chaperone. This big guy had a full beard (a detail you'll enjoy at the end), and the stress of it all caused a huge rapid fill of my bag. I asked if I could empty it but was told that people often wanted to use the toilet once they were told they were going to be searched - so they could dispose of illegal items.
I showed them my very full bag and they were interested in the belt - telling me to remove it. I said, “You really don't want me to remove this,” because I knew exactly what would happen!
They insisted and as soon as I removed it a pressurised liquid stream of output arched skywards. It splattered across their trousers and boots, hit the table and chair and flew higher attaching itself to their faces and shirts. Did I mention the full beard?
I waited maybe 45 seconds until it eventually stopped. I looked up at them and said, “You didn't have time to read my travel card, now you’re going to have to go home, deal with your uniforms and get a bodily fluid clean up in here. I can see you're having a sh*t day and I call that karma boys!”
I still made my flight even after the clean-up, and I giggled all the way.
Afterwards, I of course wrote to the airport Customer Services asking them to contact Colostomy UK to access training for their staff, to ensure this never happens again.
So here’s what you can take from the above experience – however nervous you are about flying with your stoma, just remember, you’re unlikely to ever projectile poop on 2 security officers, and that’s pretty much as bad as it can get!
If you do ever get asked to be searched at the airport, please remember that you can request for a qualified medical practitioner to be present and you should never feel pressurised into being searched without them. You can also download a SecuriCare travel certificate (PDF) for more information and to take with you on your travels – unlike me, if the security officers try to ignore your certificate, make sure you stand your ground and tell them it’s your medical right for them to review it. After all, you’re doing them a favour as well as yourself!