“Do you want to see?” the doctor asks mum, beckoning her around the back of me as I lie with my legs bent up toward my chest.
“No, no”, she says, not moving from her chair beside my bed. “I think some things should still be private”. She forces a small cough, and busies herself with pretending to read the hospital menu.
The doctor pokes at the area around my perineal tear to assess the damage.
“Can you feel that?” he asks, out of nowhere.
“… and how about that?”
I know if I don’t manage to get any feeling back there, they won’t be able to reverse the colostomy.
“No”, I mumble, in a voice so barely audible I don’t recognise it as my own.
I had forgotten about the colostomy. Well, either forgotten or blanked it out. I try and remember what happens to it, how it’s managed, who empties it and when, but struggle to recall anything more than Mat and mum celebrating the first time I ‘produced stool’ (find the fun…). I think I am pretending it’s not there.
But I’m not allowed to do that anymore, because today is the day I am to learn all about my new little friend.
“Hi Lucy. I am Michelle, the ostomy nurse,” a pretty lady walks confidently into the room and sits beside me. How can an ostomy nurse be pretty?!
She smiles and puts her hand on my leg, my bad leg. I hate her instantly. Why is she being so mean? Why is she making me do this? Forcing me to accept that this beige bag full of crap, hanging lifelessly from my body, is now a part of my life? How cruel she must be to inflict this on me.
Amazing, isn’t it, that I have these feelings about the people who are saving my life? That, in the context of my new normal, and in relation to an affliction she had nothing to do with the making of, I hate the very woman who is trying to help me through all this.
But I do. I hate her. And it takes everything I have to try and be nice to her when she sits down next to me and begins to unload her pieces of kit onto my bed.
“I’m here to teach you how to take care of your ostomy” she says. “It’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s an incredible thing really, and you are going to get used to it I promise. Soon it will be just a normal part of your routine, like cleaning your teeth or making your bed”.
“Except, it’s nothing like either of those things, is it?” I sulk.
She smiles. “Come on”, she says. “Let’s start by getting it out and letting you have a proper look at it. I bet you haven’t done that yet have you?”
I look away, defiant, as if somehow wronged by this woman.
“Can you see?” she asks, passing me a small mirror when I shake my head.
I stare into the cold rectangle and watch her peel a coaster-sized taupe sticker (the ‘waffle’) away from the skin on the bottom left side of my abdomen. The bag comes away with the waffle and reveals a small, circular pair of cherry red lips that protrude gawkily from my tummy.
I recoil and look up, trapping a tear in place to keep it from rolling down my face.
Michelle walks across the room, drops the waffle and the soiled sack into a grey plastic bag, ties it with a bow and tosses it into the bin like a seasoned nanny disposing of a diaper.
I take a deep breath and look back at the glossy lump, forcing a fraction of resolve.
“So, how does it work?” I ask the back of Michelle’s head, as she tears sheets of toilet paper into squares and dampens them with water.
“Well,” she says, without turning around. “They cut through your large intestine – your bowel – sew up the lower part, and pull the top part all the way out through a hole in your tummy, so the stool by-passes your bum and comes straight outside. Then they make your ostomy by folding the small piece of intestine you can see back over on itself, and securing it in place with a suture”.
I can’t stop staring at it. It looks like an angry alien, like something out of a horror movie.
She cleans around it with the warm, damp tissue, before measuring it with a piece of card and cutting a perfectly sized hole into a fresh new waffle. Carefully placing the waffle over the lips, she sticks it down and clips a fresh bag into place. The whole thing takes her about two minutes.
“All done”, she says with a smile. “You only have to do that every few days, and in the meantime it’s just a case of opening the bottom of the bag and squeezing what’s inside into a bowl, or the toilet when you’re well enough. It’s easy, really.”
Her smile is infectious. I find myself thanking her and asking when I will see her again.
“I’ll be back when your mum is around so I can teach her how to do this for you. But that’s only until you are well enough to manage it yourself, of course”. She gathers her kit back into her bottomless carpet bag and stands up to leave. “It was nice to meet you Lucy”.
She gives a brisk bob of her head and backs out of the door, leaving me with my musings and the small mirror still cradled in my good hand.
I aim it down at the bag.
“I suppose you’re not that bad are you”, I say out loud, wondering if I have actually gone a bit mad. Probably.
Fuck it. If it’s going to be around for a while it may as well have a name.
“I shall call you Clive”, I tense my lips and nod.