Rebecca Cook

Oct. 30, 2020
Rebecca Cook, a unit clerk for wound care team at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, helps patients learn how to live with an ostomy. Photo by Molly Blake, UCHealth.

Sending patients home with answers

When Rebecca Cook started working at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital five years ago, she helped package patient discharge and care instructions. But she quickly recognized something different in the faces of patients going home with an ostomy: anxiety.

“I knew I could do more for them,” Cook said.

She approached her supervisor, Mark Yoder, wound care nurse manager, with an idea of doing more for ostomy patients. Yoder didn’t hesitate to endorse the idea.

“She’s personable and friendly, and I knew she would immediately connect with patients,” said Yoder. “Our nurses train the patients on how to care for themselves, but Rebecca aimed to address the change in body image that is equally important and far more challenging to deal with.”

Cook’s goal?

“I wanted to help them learn how to really live with it,” said Cook.

She learned as much as she could about product lines, including bands and belts that can be worn to protect the stoma and pouch, but also while working, swimming, during intimate moments and while playing sports.

“We do live in Colorado and people want to know if they can ski, swim and hike,” said Cook.

She is now a veritable expert. Twice a week, having amassed a trove of samples in different colors and fabrics, undergarments, pouches, adhesives, plus care and travel kits and more, she gathers it all and meets with patients. Cook encourages patients to try things on, feel the material and ask questions – especially the embarrassing ones.

“I am fine talking about poop and all kinds of other bodily functions,” she said.

Afterward, she helps patients sign up to receive more samples from various companies that make ostomy-support products. It’s no different, she said, than finding the right fit for a pair of shoes or bathing suit. Human bodies come in all shapes and sizes.

“Whether they are going to have it for six week or six days, they still need to live,” said Cook. “I want them to go home with answers, not questions.”

Before going into a patient’s room, Cook thinks back to when she was a patient following a 2014 stroke that left her temporarily paralyzed on her right side. It was frightening and confusing and left her feeling helpless. Knowing ostomy patients are likely feeling many of the same emotions, Cook always takes a moment to gauge the situation before going to work. Sometimes it takes a minute, but she tells them about her stroke, recovery and a simple mantra that got her through dark days.

“I remind them they aren’t victims, they are survivors.”

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About the author

Molly Blake is a communications specialist for UCHealth. She joined the team in 2019. Molly spent much of her journalism career freelance writing for various publications including The New York Times, NBC news, alumni magazines and more. She is the proud spouse of a United States Marine Corps veteran, and wrote extensively about their life in the military.