Scuba Diving with an Ostomy
Scuba diving was not something I had done before I had my colostomy, but as my husband works as a commercial diver, it was something I had always wanted to try. I was devastated after my surgery to be told by the stoma nurse and colorectal team that it might not be a good idea to try and dive with a stoma due to the pressure – and then when I googled it, I couldn’t find ANYONE who had dived with a stoma.
A few years passed, and I heard about a local GP who was very supportive of people with stomas living an active life. I asked him whether he thought I could dive with a stoma, and as he didn’t foresee any issues, I decided to take the literal plunge and book a PADI course (in the UK this is the standard starter course).
What special steps did I have to take to dive with an ostomy?
1. Contact Dive Centre. After I got the go ahead from the GP, I contacted the dive centre and asked if they had any experience of training/diving with someone who had an ostomy. As expected, they hadn’t! So, I was a guinea pig.
2. Medical Questionnaire. For all “extreme” pursuits such as diving, you have to fill in a medical questionnaire, and if you tick “yes” to any box then you require a doctor’s certificate in order to continue. The Recreational Scuba Training Council (RSTC) provide the medical questionnaire which you have to complete, and one of the questions specifically asked is “Do you have a colostomy or illestomy”? I presume they’d also want to know if you had a urostomy!
3. Contact Colorectal Consultant. The next step was to call the hospital where my colorectal consultant was based and ask if she would be able to provide a medical certificate confirming that she did not “find any medical conditions that I consider incompatible with diving”. Funnily, she also completed the same for sky diving – her secretary said she’d never had to do the statements for either before, and then was doing two certificates in one day for the same person!
4. Provide Dive Centre with Medical Certificate. They then keep this on record.
As I was used to wearing a wetsuit for my open water swimming, I wasn’t too concerned about wearing one for my scuba sessions. As I was learning in the North Sea I was also going to be learning how to dive with a dry suit.
Preparing for my first tank session
I was of course nervous before my first session, which makes me poo – happens to us all, ostomy or not! So, as I would with any exercise session, in the water or not, I was careful what I ate the night before and that morning (I stick to my go-to safe options such as porridge which I know doesn’t affect me). I put on a fresh bag, and a flange extender too, and popped on my swimming costume…wasn’t sure what to wear to be honest! It turns out you wear normal clothes underneath if you are wearing a dry suit! Which is brilliant as you can then wear comfy clothes. If you are wearing a wetsuit then you wear a swimming costume on underneath if you wish.
I donned the dry suit, which is ridiculously hard work, and then donned the scuba apparatus (after training talks and the like). The air bottles are very heavy on your back but they didn't pull on my abdomen, and your dive buddy or trainer should be able to help you with the weight of them as you walk to the water. Once you are in the weight is.....weightless! I needed extra weights but again this didn't cause any issues with my stoma.
I got into the tank, and it was time to descend (I am fast tracking this as of course it isn’t as quick as this, but all you will be interested in are the practicalities!).
What happens as you descend?
Nothing! Nothing happened to my stoma, or my stoma bag. I actually couldn’t feel my bag at all, and I was so focused on what I was doing I didn’t even think about it.
Even when out in the open water, I haven’t experienced any issues, although I haven’t gone very deep. Perhaps the bag may pop off if there is a lot of air in it, but that’s highly unlikely to be honest. I’ve since heard of other divers with an ostomy and they have never mentioned that to me.
What do you need to worry about with an ostomy?
Just making sure your bag fits, and that you don’t eat crazy things before you get in the water.
Access to a toilet before and after, which may be trickier on a small dive boat.
I did not find the suits a problem, nor the weight of the bottles on my back.
I really did not feel any different to anyone else.
How do I know that diving with an ostomy is no different to diving without one?
After I posted on my Dive Centre’s page about diving with my stoma, a lady contacted me to say that she was a diver, and had recently been fitted with a stoma completely unexpectedly. She didn’t think she would be able to dive again until she saw my post. After a couple of weeks, we met up and guess what….she took to the water again not long after that! I asked her how it felt to dive with her ostomy and she said….”It was no different”.
So there you have it!
We can fly high and we can dive deep with an ostomy!
Here are some blogs I wrote about my experiences: