“What’s that smell?” Mat says, sniffing at the air as he stands behind my shower chair and massages shampoo into my hair.
“Oh I think it’s tea tree oil” I say, breathing in a big whiff of something that definitely isn’t tea tree oil.
“No, it’s not,” he says from behind me.
He sniffs again, “are you pooping?”
With very little grasp of what my ostomy is doing at any time (apparently there isn’t a whole lot of sensation in your intestines), I look down to discover a brown projectile coming from the hole in my tummy. It sprays over the shower wall in front of us.
“Oh God” I say, “yes I am”.
I look back at him horrified. “How do I stop it?”
Mat begins to laugh, and in my panic to try and stop the flow I find myself doing the same, but the more I laugh, the more dramatic the stream becomes, and the more dramatic the stream becomes, the more I laugh.
“I think it’s stopped now,” I say, gasping for breath as I watch the tail end of it wash down the drain.
“I am so sorry,” I say, lifting my head from my hands to look back over my shoulder.
“Don’t be silly,” he says still laughing. “That was brilliant. I think I’ll tell this story at our wedding”.
Later that afternoon, we have a check-up with my colorectal surgeon. Sticking his finger in my bum, as usual, he asks me to tense and release a few times before confirming that the shower pooping scene was to be Clive’s final hoorah.
“It feels like you are ready to have your colostomy reversed”, he announces, walking back around to my front and ceremonially tossing his gloves into the bin. “Now what do you think about that?”
The honest answer is that I don’t know. The memory of being told I had been given a colostomy soon after my accident hangs like a surreal painting I cannot make out in full – a gut wrenching sadness at this sudden impact on my dignity, a final blow on top of everything else – but I have really gotten used to the little guy, and have become so dexterous at managing him that it’s hard to imagine my life as it was before.
I’m sure this sudden pang of nostalgia is a direct result of always sort of knowing this wasn’t forever, and I recognize that the involuntary trumps from my tummy may be amusing while playing board games with friends, but would be quite a different affair when sat in a board meeting or at a lunch with an important client. But it’s still quite amazing that something that was at first so alien and loathsome to me, has become more like an old friend over the last four months.
Clive has taught me how quickly human beings are able adapt to a new situation, he has helped me to heal, and allowed me to be nursed back to health without the added complication of diapers. He has humbled me, and taught me a big lesson in acceptance and gratitude.
But it is time for Clive to go, and I am booked into my surgery for just one week’s time.
In the interim, I continue with my sphincter muscle exercises to prepare myself for using them again, which apparently show on my face because whenever I do them Mat says.
“Well done, you’re doing your sphincter exercises again”.
The night before I drink four litres of bowel blitzer over the course of an hour, until Clive is spraying water into the bag at a rate my mad toilet dashes can’t keep up with.
As soon as the sun rises, Mat and I head into the hospital for the now familiar routine of snuggling under a heated blanket, nurses mining my veins for an IV line, submitting to a very unnecessary pregnancy test, smoking the lung-opening hookah pipe and having the heart monitoring wires scattered across my torso. Then it is time for the lengthy courtship of surgeons, nurses and anesthetists who wish they hadn’t asked about previous surgeries and drugs I am currently taking.
A couple of hours later, I am finally pushed into the operating theater and lifted onto a hard gurney amidst a room full of nurses and surgeons talking each other through their plan of attack.
“What music do you want Lucy?” the very friendly, but slightly creepy anesthetist asks me.
“Something chill”, I say. “How about ‘Fire and Rain’ by James Taylor?”
The music starts and so does the singing. Apparently I’ve picked a very popular song, as one by one the nurses and surgeons all start to join in, until the anesthetist is leaning over my face singing surrealy down at me as I drift out of consciousness.
“I see sunny days that I thought would never end”.
I wake up and grab at the pain in my tummy.
“How do you feel Lucy?” my surgeon is standing over me.
“I’m in quite a lot of pain,” I whimper.
“OK, I’ll send in the nurse with more morphine”, he says, “everything went to plan”. He smiles and leaves me to drift back to sleep.
When I wake again I am in a ward on my own. I glance down at my tummy and see that it is horribly swollen, with two small puncture wounds and a dressing covering the site where my colostomy once was.
I wonder where Mat is, worrying about him pacing the corridors with no idea what’s happening.
“Where is my husband?” I call to a nurse walking by, “can you find him? He doesn’t know where I am”.
The pain cuts through me.
I wake again with Mat beside me. Everything is dark.
We need to get you up for a walk”, he says. “Doctors orders”.
The last thing I want is to get up for a walk. I roll my eyes at him.
“Come on. Or you won’t be allowed out in time to pick up T.Rex”.
T.Rex is our eight-week old corgi puppy who arrives by plane from Kansas City tomorrow. Although the doctors said I will need at least three nights in here before I recover, we made him promise that if I manage to ‘pass solids’ before then, he will let me go early.
This was exactly the reminder I needed to get myself moving.
By the following morning I am feeling a lot better, and indulge myself in the familiar routine of Curious George and CranRaspberry juice. Hovering over a breakfast of pancakes and bacon, I look up at my nurse for his approval.
“Most people just stick to jello and ice cream for the first day”, he says, taking his cue, “but I know you want to see that puppy, so if you think you’re ready go for it”.
I shovel it in hungrily.
After a couple more walks and a big lunch, I start to feel an unfamiliar bubbling sensation from my lower bowel.
“I think it’s coming!” I say excitedly, hurrying for the loo.
Emerging triumphantly and a little in shock a few moments later, I sit on the edge of the bed to compose myself.
Mat looks at me and raises his eyebrwos, eager for news.
I smile and give him a double thumbs up, “I think it’s time to go and pick up T.Rex”.
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