Back on the court: hosting international basketball with a stoma
Thursday, September 8, 2022
Eric Douglin tells how he bounced back from emergency bowel resection to host the World Club Basketball Tournament
It had just passed 2 am on a Sunday morning, and I just finished a WhatsApp call with another basketball coach in the USA, who wants to bring his team to compete in the World Club Basketball Tournament. Although it was a good call, and we discussed many subjects, including the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee (not sure why), I was very tired and bleary eyed, and a headache was looming through the lack of sleep. This was the third consecutive night I had been on a late night or early morning call with an overseas coach or basketball organisation, either discussing WCBT or just having a conversation about basketball in general.
Eric and a poster for his event
A transatlantic call
As I got upstairs, my wife Mandi woke up and said she was just about to come and get me in 5 minutes if ‘I didn’t stop talking laughing and recommending all of the UK tourist hotspots’. Then she said something quite profound, which had never occurred to me, since planning for WCBT 2022: ‘It’s good to see you back’. She rolled over and went back to sleep, leaving me to find my pajamas in the dark, thinking about what she meant by ‘It’s good to see you back?’ Has the wife been eating my mother’s rum-laced cake again, or had she had one too many Babychams? It took me a lot of head scratching to understand what Mandi meant, and then I had a lightbulb moment. I suddenly had a flashback to the very dark recent period of my life, which came to a head on Sunday 3 January 2021. This was the date I had emergency lifesaving surgery after my bowel unexpectedly ruptured. This was the date I had a stoma formed. This was the date that repairing my bowel would leave me with a bag attached to my abdomen to collect my output.
‘I suddenly had a flashback to the very dark recent period of my life’
An unwelcome Christmas present
It was New Year’s Eve, when I complained to my wife Mandi about having some discomfort in my stomach. Between Christmas and New Year, if it’s not nailed down, it’s hard not to eat everything going. Or is that just me? Anyway, I put the excruciating pain down to Christmas overindulgence, but the it just got worse, and my stomach bloated excessively. While I was having a bath to try and relieve the pain, Mandi looked at me and said: ‘You look 9 months pregnant; we’re calling 111’ (the NHS advice line). They advised me to go to A&E, and, after various tests, scans and x-rays, I ended up with a dire diagnosis. My options were to possibly die of septicemia with the next 24 hours or to consent to a bowel resection surgery.
There were two main thoughts running through my mind:
- What would a bowel resection entail?
- Would I have the chance to tell the rest of my family that I was going under the knife?
I had to leave it up to Mandi to tell my mother, while I contacted my children and explained as best I could what was going on.
‘it was go time’
Blues and twos
The bowel resection surgery (known formally as a Hartman’s procedure) was necessary to repair the damage, but there was a risk of complications. After a discussion with the surgeons, it was decided that, to give me the best chance, I would be transferred to Guy’s Hospital in London.
This wasn’t my first major operation at Guy’s Hospital. It was there, over a decade earlier, back in 2010, that I had received a kidney from my wife after being diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.
With no time to waste, I was strapped in the back of the ambulance and whisked across London with the blues and twos on, to have the life-saving procedure carried out. Then it was go time, and I was off to the operating theatre, where the anaesthetic was administered, and I was out for the count.
Eric with an elephant
Saying hello to Stanley the Stoma
What seemed like was only minutes later, I heard someone saying ‘Eric, Eric, open your eyes. The procedure went well. We’ve repaired your bowel and given you a stoma’. Looking down at my stomach, I was wrapped up in clingfilm like Christmas leftovers, with tubes and wires protruding out of me. Although I was on strong pain medication, my body felt like I’d been put through a meatgrinder. To repair my bowel and create the stoma, my small intestine had been redirected through a small opening in my stomach wall. This would allow me to do ‘number twos’ and let output through the opening and into a disposable bag attached to my belly. Although this procedure saved my life, I was stunned to see the stoma opening for the first time. I expected a little opening the size of a pea, but I was shocked to see a 5cm hole, with part of my bright pink intestine slightly protruding out. It was now that I really wished I had listened to the surgeons when they were explaining what was going to happen, during and after the surgery.
'I was stunned to see the stoma opening for the first time.'
Coming to terms
Initially, I worried about what I would do about work and general day-to-day tasks. However, because my stoma operation was at the height of a COVID-19 lockdown in January 2021, I was fortunate in that I was easily able to work from home. Now, in summer 2022, I am still working from home now, so my stoma hasn’t really had a direct impact on my working life. I found the change to my body harder to deal with, I was very concerned about my body image after having the stoma. It was very hard having a stoma protruding from my stomach, let alone having a giant scar going from my stomach to my groin. Initially, I wouldn’t look at myself naked, let alone sharing the image with my wife. I thought I would be seen as a sort of freak and unattractive. I worried about how my wife would be able to find a man with part of his intestines exposed and a bag attached to his stomach remotely attractive. However, as always, my wife was very reassuring and understanding, which instilled confidence in me that she saw me as the same person before the surgery. Sex took a while to get back to normal, due to the effects of surgery and threat of a hernia with overexertion, but, over time, things did get back to normal.
‘My wife was very reassuring’
I have always enjoyed basketball, and I have followed the sport since I was a teenager. I supported the Crystal Palace Cinzano team, as I lived next door to the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, in London. In 1999, I set up a club for my three sons to play in called the Bexhill Giants; we were a very successful club playing in the Sussex Basketball League. Back in the 80s and 90s, I used to watch a tournament at Crystal Palace called the World Invitational Club Basketball Tournament. It had some great teams from around the world competing in the UK, which is not known for its basketball prowess. Sadly, the WICB ceased in 1992, and since then I have wanted to pay homage to this event. In 2015, I was inspired to get in touch with the network of coaches and owners I had built up back when I used to take the Bexhill Giants team to events across Europe, and we organised the annual World Club Basketball Tournament. As now the only international basketball competition hosted in the UK, there is no other event like it. Since having the stoma, I haven’t taken part in any sport myself. However, I am currently planning the 6th World Club Basketball Tournament, being hosted in Hastings, Sussex, on 3–4 September 2022. We will have 10 teams from around the world competing. We are raising money and awareness for Colostomy UK to normalise stomas. I also collaborate with Kidney Research UK, as I had a kidney donated from my wife Mandi in 2010 after being diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. This will be the first time I have hosted it since my lifesaving surgery, and, to be honest, I am very nervous and apprehensive about how I will cope over the weekend. However, now I am back doing what I have always most enjoyed, this has kept me grounded, focused and sane, along with my family’s support.
‘The only international basketball competition hosted in the UK’
Eric with a poster for his event hosted by his team, the Bexhill Giants
I am back
There were many dark days during my recovery, and, without the support of my wife and family, I would probably not have got through this. Initially, I felt a stigma, but after a lot of research, I realised that stomas are more common than I initially thought. Writing a blog and raising awareness has helped me come to terms with it. I have learned not to hold my emotions in, to talk to people and that it’s okay to feel sad. Most of all, to put things into perspective, I was told I had 12 hours to live if I didn’t have the surgery, so I am grateful, and the stoma is a small price to pay. Yes, as Mandi said, ‘I am back’; after the trauma of stoma surgery and with my life-saving Stanley the stoma on my stomach, but nonetheless, I was back.
Eric receiving an award
Eric Douglin lives in London with his wife Mandi