Thursday, 15 March 2012
I’m drinking a salty lassi; you know what that is, right? An Indian drink you can get at most establishments that will supply you with curry and nan breads. One of the things about having a bag is that you have to take in extra salt; the usual amounts get washed away or diluted or something, and we have to top it up. The advice is to eat a packet of crisps a day, but I’m not a big fan of crisps and when I was lamenting this fact to my lovely IBD nurse, she asked if I liked lassis. I love lassis, as it happens; and it’s the salty ones that I really love, but neither husband nor I had a clue how to make one. It was an occasional exotic treat when the husband and the teen had a takeaway curry – the thing the restaurant made that I could have. Luckily for us, my IBD nurse knew exactly how to concoct a lassi and so it has become my daily drink. Luckily, I’m a bit obsessive like that, and can easily eat or drink the same thing every day for years. There usually comes a time when I completely go off it, but it does take a while, and so far I’m doing okay. We’re over 18 months in and most days I’ve drunk a lassi. There is a reason I’m telling you this, I promise.
And on that subject, I have somewhat of a confession to make. You know that three and a half years I spent in bed before finally agreeing to have an ileostomy? Well, four weeks of it was spent in Australia. I should explain – we have very dear friends in Melbourne, quite a few of them, and we try to get out there to see them every few years if we can. We have close friends who have a place at the end of their garden that we stay in. There was a point, after I’d been in bed for two and a half years, when we felt kind of desperate for a way out; thought maybe, perhaps, there might be something kind of mad we could do that would help things. For some reason, we decided that thing might just be a trip to Oz.
I did fine for the first couple of weeks – I was probably flying high on the fact that we were there. we spent Xmas in the sun for the first time ever, which I have to tell you was weird; I will never forget walking around a supermarket in 34 degree heat, listening to ‘Let It Snow’ playing through the speakers. Though I did feel a wee bit smug knowing it actually was snowing back home. I wasn’t being like a totally healthy person, you understand. I was injecting myself with a drug for my Crohn’s once a week, resting a fair bit, but I was managing – with the help of mouthfuls of opiates – to get out and about. To walk in the sun, visit the beach, swim in the sea. And then it all started to go wrong; the third week was tough – I was fighting hard; saying yes to invitations and finding myself having to go straight back to where we were staying ten minutes after we arrived. By the fourth week, I was in bed, wondering how the hell I was going to cope with the flight home. When we left, I couldn’t imagine how I’d ever manage to go back – I said goodbye to people I love, knowing I might never see them again, and this included a friend I’d shared a flat with when I was younger, who was there when I was diagnosed, who lived with me and my Crohn’s pretty much at its most revolting because it was undiagnosed; unsurprisingly, a friend I consider one of my very best. Those goodbyes were probably the most horrible of my life so far, not including the ones to people who were dying. The flight back included an 8 hour stopover in Hong Kong and it was a nightmare; totally horrific; quite the worst flight any of us had ever been on. By the time we got back, all three of us doubted we’d ever make that journey again. And I was back in bed, sicker than ever.
It was several months later when I had to phone our Australian friends, each of them individually, and tell them I’d decided to have the bag. They’d all known me long enough to know what a huge change in thinking that decision was, but they were all encouraging; concerned about the surgery; all the usual things that we can expect from good friends. Nobody screamed that I shouldn’t do it, or even reminded me that I’d always sworn I never would. The calls made me think about all those ‘last’ things – the last time I’d got on a plane without a bag of poo perched on my belly; the last time I’d swum in the sea, unencumbered by any extras; the last time I’d worn those clingy summer dresses I’d sat on the beach in. All those lasts I’d blithely sailed through without a second thought to their poignancy. Why would I? I was the chick who was never going to have an ileostomy.
You know the next bit, of course; the surgery, the recovery, the fantastic new life – that’s about where we were up to, I believe. I was going to the theatre, wandering round the shops, generally acting fairly normal, if you don’t count the necessary periods of rest. Oh, and the bag of poo that had to be managed, changed every couple of days, and generally dealt with. But all those leaks and things aside, I was starting to realise I could live a life I’d thought I’d never be able to enjoy again. And that was pretty damn great.
So, you may well be able to imagine how thrown I was when my dearest friend from Australia called to say she was planning on doing a trip to Europe and wouldn’t it be great if we could meet up somewhere neither of us had ever been? And wouldn’t it be even better if we could get out dear friend in the US to come and meet us as well? We’d all been close a hundred years ago when we were young and the world was full of possibilities and we’d all lived a life of indulgence in and around London’s West Hampstead. We were all older now; married with teenage children and living far less selfish, debauch lives. It was 20 years since we’d all been in the same room, and though I’d been lucky enough to see both of them in the meantime, they hadn’t seen each other. This would be the trip of a lifetime; something none of us had ever dreamed we’d do, but here was our opportunity; I was up for it, right? Well, of course I was, in theory. When would we do this thing, I asked and she suggested early June. She was visiting her brother in Germany and then we could meet somewhere – any ideas? I’d always wanted to visit Barcelona, so I suggested there and we agreed and said we’d ask our American friend but thought she’d probably say yes, so it was a done deal; we were going to all meet in Barcelona in June.
On paper that sounds fantastic; what could possibly be wrong? Well, where do I start? There was the second surgery to think of; when was I going to have that? I was pretty sure I wanted to have it, and I don’t like waiting around when I’ve made decisions. And then there was the flight – I’d have to fly to Barcelona. Alone. With my bag of poo. Who knew how that would behave on a plane? And apart from that, I hate flying. With a passion. It scares the hell out of me; I’m one of those insane people who has to mentally guide the pilot for the entire journey and that’s after taking an ill advised high dose of valium. Also, I’d never flown alone. I was in my forties and I had never, once, flown without having someone with me. Now I was going to have to do it for the first time and I was going to have my bag of poo with me, and for fuck’s sake, what was I thinking? I couldn’t do this. It wasn’t going to be possible. But I couldn’t not do it, either.
I tried to be positive. I’d be with my two best friends in the whole world. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was going to see my Australian friend one more time. And we were going to be in one of the most amazing cities in the world; one I’d always wanted to visit; one that served food that was universally safe for me to eat.
Husband and teen were hugely encouraging – of course I could do it. They’d take me to the airport, I’d take my drugs, and the next thing I knew I’d be with my friends. It would be fine. I was feeling so positive about it that I actually let them convince me. I started thinking about the things I would see, the things we would do, the places we could visit. We were all laughing and planning my big adventure and then I realised there was a huge problem we hadn’t thought of – I was pretty damned sure there wouldn’t be anywhere to get a lassi in Barcelona. Either I couldn’t go, or I was going to have to eat salt. I’d done it before, on occasion – a teaspoonful of salt, gently licked at like I’m some kind of horse. It wasn’t nice exactly, but it wasn’t a reason not to go …