Thursday, 12 April 2012
I’ve had a few complaints about last week’s post – not enough poo, I’m told. As though I’ve forgotten about poo; as if it had just gone from my not-so-pretty-as-it-used-to-be little head and I’d forgotten I was blogging about a bag of it hanging from my stomach and was just writing some kind of travelogue that you can find anywhere on the net, from any number of bloggers of all kinds of abilities and standards. It was a fair point, I suppose, but I did it for a reason.
Firstly, in case anyone really did feel I veered off-topic (and I’m not sure anybody really did – there are a lot of wags on Twitter, and if they genuinely didn’t like it, then they’re probably not reading any more anyway), let me tell you about last Saturday:
On Saturdays, I generally rest. Having Crohn’s is an exhausting way of living, and even after a good week, it’s wise to take a day out and just do nothing. Some people do it on a sofa in front of the telly, some lucky buggers probably do it sitting by a pool in the sunshine, but I live in London and I like being in bed, so that’s what I do to rest. Obviously, I have a telly in my bedroom for when reading feels too much like hard work, but what I don’t compromise on is being in bed. Which is where I was last Saturday, catching up on Corrie, having just changed my bag. Usually I check my bag an hour or so after I’ve changed it, especially if I’ve been eating claggy types of foods. Last Saturday, I’d eaten bread and cheese, followed by a Bounty bar and I’d forgotten to drink. These are the kinds of foods that can cause problems, especially without any liquid to ‘loosen’ them, and I should’ve checked to make sure things were okay, but my cat was asleep on my thighs and as anyone with a pet will know, moving when your beloved animal is asleep on you is something you just don’t do. It feels so lovely, having them snuggled there, clearly adoring you enough to lose consciousness with you around, that you just don’t want to disturb them. So I didn’t. And it wasn’t ‘til he woke up and wandered off to find somebody to feed him that I realised what my own eating had caused. Sometimes bags leak because of user error – we haven’t stuck them down properly; haven’t noticed a crease; have put them too close to the stoma so the base gaps, basically haven’t paid attention properly during the change. After a while with a bag you rarely make those mistakes any more, but there’s still a thing called pancaking. Pancaking is when the output is so thick – like when you’ve eaten those stodgy foods and haven’t added any liquid – that it doesn’t slip down into the bulk of the bag but stays around the stoma itself until there’s so much of it that it forces the base away from your belly and the bag pretty much pops off. If you’re on the ball, and thinking clearly, you can prevent this from happening by checking in time, forcing the stuff down into the bag, having a big drink and getting on with your day. But if there’s a cat asleep on you .. well, you can guess the rest. So I’d pancaked. Or, more correctly, my bag had. And it wasn’t that bad – my underclothes were a bit damp and would have to be replaced, but I wouldn’t have to change my pyjamas (I was in bed, remember) or anything. It should’ve been a quick off with the old, on with the new, and back to Deirdre Barlow. Except for the timing.
When I know I’m going to change my bag, I time it carefully. I think I’ve mentioned before that mine is an unreliable stoma with no discernible timetable; others have a different experience, but this is mine. I take codeine, I don’t eat and I time it to the second in the hope that my stoma will stay inactive for the duration of the change. Usually, this works. Last Saturday, however, I didn’t have that option, and though the pancaking thing was no big deal, the change was .. well, the change was hideous;
awful; horrific; the worst change I’ve ever had, without a doubt. I don’t want to be too graphic here – I’ve done that enough, you know the score – but my stoma was active. Active like that day Vesuvius brought Pompeii to a petrified halt. And when it’s active there’s not a lot you can do. If you get it together, I suppose you could just stand with it dangling over the toilet, but I set up all my bags and stuff on the toilet, so it took me a few minutes to get that organised; in the meantime, I was piling dry wipes on it, trying to catch up with the flow at the same time as I was wiping the floor which, thank goodness, is lino. (I live forever in fear of the carpeted bathroom.) It seemed like it would never stop, and it was like nothing I’d ever seen or experienced. I swear it never works for that long when it has a bag over it, and I was finally cleaned up and freshly bagged in just over an hour. It’s okay, I didn’t fall apart or anything – it wasn’t fun, I think I’ve made that clear, but these things happen, and at least it hadn’t happened quite to that degree before. I went back to bed, and it was as if Deirdre didn’t even know I’d been gone, so I chose to go with that same view.
That told, you’ll understand that when I talk about Barcelona and the amazing time we had, it’s pretty damn impressive stuff –at least it is to me. So I’m going to tell you a bit more. I’m going to tell you how we went to Gaudi’s extraordinary Casa Batllo, which is an apartment block he built, where some very lucky bastards still live – if you count having people wandering around in your hallways and on your roof for seven hours a day lucky, I suppose – and which is one of my most favourite places I have ever been in the small amount of the world that I’ve been lucky enough to visit. There is a lift – a creaky, cage-doored lift – which we did take down, but I walked up the stairs to the roof with its brightly coloured, crazily tiled, fairytale multitude of chimneys, and its views over Barcelona. It was a lot of stairs as well, so many that the Australian took a picture of my big arse from behind as it climbed the final few, just to prove to my husband and teen that I had actually done it. I hadn’t climbed that many stairs in more than two decades, and photographic evidence was going to be needed if anybody who knew me well was going to believe I’d done it now. But I did.
There was the day we went to Las Ramblas, to La Boqueria – the food market that is the most divine assault on the senses I’ve ever experienced, but more than that was the fact that we went there on the subway. I hadn’t travelled underground in more years than I hadn’t climbed more than one flight of stairs, and I live in London where the best method of transport is supposed to be the tube. Unsurprisingly, the Spanish system was far better than I remembered the London one being.
One night, we went to a lovely restaurant for dinner where I found I had enough Spanish to explain to the waiter that the American was a vegetarian and that their habit of putting Iberico ham on the salad was not what she was after. He understood perfectly and brought out a salad with no meat on it at all – none; and I was so proud of my linguistic skills. Until he brought out her gazpacho, that delicious iced vegetable soup the Spanish are so famous for – in a large brandy glass, garnished with an enormous lump of meat, delicately balanced on the edge of the glass, dangling in her meat-free soup. So much for the 6 months I spent learning Espanol at the Spanish Institute in Eaton Square a hundred years ago.
Of course, we went to the Sagrada Familia, probably Gaudi’s most famous creation – the huge cathedral with an exterior like melting chocolate, that towers over Barcelona and will probably never be finished. It was certainly stunning, in scale if nothing else, but it was just that bit too much about religion for me; it’s a cathedral, it kind of has to be, but it’s really not my thing. As a Jew (albeit secular), I’m somewhat freaked out by crosses, and as an atheist I don’t really engage with religious artefacts of any kind, so while I could appreciate its beauty on one level, it didn’t really touch me as the other buildings of his had, and I did find myself spending far too much time staring, gobsmacked, at a statue depicting Herod’s smiting of the firstborn. In the end, I was very happy to cross the street and tuck into a sub-standard sorbet at an over-priced pavement café.
This almost brings my tales of Barcelona to an end, but I can tell you that all in all the trip was a kind of miraculous, perfect oasis of a thing that I can keep in my mind forever, and I will always appreciate that. While I hope for more such adventures as I continue to improve my life post-ileostomy, it’s important for me to cherish them and to remember them in detail because every so often – and probably more often than I’d like – days like last Saturday happen. So, obviously I never forget about poo, but I think you’ll agree that, just sometimes, it’s okay not to write about it.