Thursday, 9 August 2012
After last week’s leap into what was a particularly horrible bit of the present, in which we lost our lovely baby cat and cried a lot, it is quite a relief to take this week’s post back into the comfort of the past and return to the chronology I originally set up all that time ago. Given that I’d been home for just about a week by this point, it is really the discomfort of the past, if I’m honest, but in it our little cat Luka was still alive and appeared to be healthy, so I guess it’s swings and roundabouts. Which is a stupid phrase, as most kids enjoy both, and most adults find the two make us feel equally nauseated. Surely the point is that one should be good and one not so much – maybe swings and serial killers would be more appropriate. Anyway, whichever you choose, it’s pretty much that.
I’d settled back into my routine of pethidine three times a day, sleeping (with the cat on my lap) every few hours, sitting perched on my pressure cushion when I wasn’t in a lying down position, and having food and drink brought to me, without much complaint, by husband and teen at regular intervals. It was winter, it was cold, and good telly is scheduled at that time of year, so all in all, things could’ve been a lot worse. The one thing I did have to do on my own, without anybody’s help, was get to know my new stoma.
You may recall that as well as tearing out my rectum and sewing up my anus as I slept the sleep of the anaesthetised, my surgeon had also refashioned my stoma. It’s not that it was out of fashion before, but it had prolapsed and did occasionally grow to the size of a donkey dick. He couldn’t fix that without major problems and a lot more surgery, so as a compromise measure, he’d opted for the refashion in the hope that it might help. In the hospital, it had appeared a little bit miraculous; I’d not needed the whole palaver of bag changes that I’d got used to, and I’d got a good day or two more out of each bag. Of course, when I was in hospital, I wasn’t eating proper food; all my nutrition went directly into my body intravenously, so my bowel – or what was left of it; more properly, my ileum – didn’t have a whole lot of work to do, or any variety of foods to deal with. My skin was clear and untroubled by the seemingly completely benign effluent that trickled gently from my stoma and into the bag. I had the best behaved, most beautiful, lovable stoma in the whole of ostomyworld. Or so it seemed. And then I went home.
For the first few days, I ate carefully – I didn’t feel particularly hungry, and all tastes seemed harsher and stronger than they should. I mostly ate shepherd’s pie, because it was mashed and mushy and appeared to be mostly harmless. I ate it every day for the first few days. Except for the odd meal where I ate chicken soup that my mother brought over for me, as Jewish mothers should. She’s not generally a stereotypical Jewish mamma my mother, but in this case she was, and I was very happy for her to be so. She even convinced me to force a bit of chopped liver down. You’d think my stoma would’ve been happy with such offerings; certainly, the rest of my body was.
My first bag change had been easy – I’d literally managed to whip off the bag, wash, dry and spray the area, then put on a new bag. No pastes, no powder, no waiting for creams to dry. I was in a whole new world, and I liked it. The second bag change was a bit different. My skin started to itch, which we ostomates know is a sign that things aren’t completely right. It can be the warning sign of a leak, or it can just mean the skin is suffering. In this case, it was a bit of both. My skin was getting red and a bit bloody; it was most definitely sore. I did a quick bit of online chatting with fellow
ostomy folk and decided my best option was to order seals. Washers, they’re called actually, and that’s kind of how they work – like plumbing washers. Only they’re not metal, they’re soft and rubbery and made out of a substance I couldn’t name if my life depended on it. You push them down over the stoma and stick them to your stomach, then you put the bag over that, and lo your skin is protected. This seemed to work, and was still a lot less hassle than all the faffing about I’d had to do before. It wasn’t as simple as the ‘hallelujah’ moment I’d had in the hospital, when it had been so easy, I’d almost felt the clouds part, the angels sing, and the sunshine bathe me in a ray of perfect light, but it would do.
Having a new stoma is a bit like having a new baby. I know I’ve made the comparison before, but it stood for this refashioned one as much as it had for its original incarnation. You’re helped with it in the hospital, taught how to manage it, and then suddenly you’re at home, alone, just you and the stoma, and you’re going to have to look after it for the rest of your life. Except the stoma’s never going to get to a point where it can do things for itself; it’s never going to go to university, leave home, get a job and eventually look after you in your old age. It’s just going to stay at that bit where you have to wake to make sure it’s okay a couple of times a night, and change it regularly to keep it from getting filthy. You do, however, only have to change it every 2-3 days; if you did that with your baby, you’d have social services sending round care workers and ATOS before you had a chance to realise you were doing something wrong. Though any child spending 48 hours in one nappy would probably have found a way to alert you to the problem before it went that far.
Another of the delights of babies is projectile vomiting. I wasn’t expecting any parallel to that from my stoma either; I hadn’t had anything like it with my first version. Stoma 2.0, it turned out, was a different kind of a beast.
I was eating more normally by this point, settling into a decent routine, and I’d had a lovely thick soup for my lunch. Leek and potato, since you ask. What I hadn’t done was fix my bag properly the day before; I’m not sure what I’d done wrong – maybe I’d changed it too close to the most recent pethidine dose; perhaps I’d been tired; there might have been a good tune on the radio as I was changing it and I’d been singing along instead of focusing on what I was doing. Whatever it was, something had been askew, or not stuck on properly, or just basically screwed up, and shortly after my soupy lunch, the cat (in his capacity as my bag puss) had agitated me to the point where I’d finally thought maybe he was trying to get me to check things out, and I realised an imminent bag change was necessary. Unless I wanted to wait a bit and change my pyjamas and bedding as well. Actually, I wouldn’t have done that – I’d have changed my pyjamas, but husband would have done the rest. Which neither the cat nor I thought was a good idea. Very unselfish of the cat, now I think about it – he loved it when we changed the bedding and he could leap in and out of the duvet cover, doing textbook, tv advert cute stuff. Just one more thing we’re going to miss.
Anyway, back to the past – to the bathroom, to be precise, where I switched on the radio, filled the sink, got all the accoutrements set up and started to change my bag. It all went fine at first. You probably don’t remember, but the newly refashioned stoma has its mouth on the underside, so I can’t see if and when it’s going to eject anything. Up to this point, that hadn’t proved much of a problem. I’d check regularly, time things carefully, and nothing much had gone amiss. This time too, everything was going to plan – I’d taken the old bag off, washed the area, cleaned the stoma, let everything dry and had got the washer stuck down. What I hadn’t thought about - and why would I? - was that once the stoma was surrounded by the washer/sealy thing, it was being supported and held in a different position. The mouth no longer faced downwards, but was raised and, as the stoma itself stood proud, the mouth pretty much faced front. Which I only became aware of when a huge, powerful, projectile vomit of a jet of soupy poo shot out like my stoma was some kind of power shower. It went all over the sink, and as I moved in shock, it went all over the toilet (which had its lid down, and stoma stuff on top of it) too; it covered the clean dry wipes and when I stupidly turned to grab the kitchen towel I keep in the bathroom for just such emergencies it sprayed the bathroom wall, too. Fortunately, the walls are tiled, and obviously the sink and toilet are easily wipeable. My instinctive response to this madness was to laugh, somewhat hysterically. I wanted to call out for teen to come and see, because I knew he’d think it was funny too, but there are boundaries and some things a child should just never see coming out of his mother, so I laughed alone. I laughed as I wiped everything down, I laughed when I realised my stomach, body and washer were completely poo-free, and I was still giggling as I put on a fresh bag and cleaned up the bathroom properly.
If it ever happens again, I’ll be ready. I’ll lift the toilet lid, ignore everything that falls to the floor, and aim my stoma at the bowl; but I’m kind of glad it happened once. And though I wouldn’t have wanted to cover him in my poo, I feel kind of sorry the cat didn’t see it. He’d have found it almost as much fun as changing the duvet. And I’d have one more bag puss memory.