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Monday, 20 December 2010

Pants, pumping and happiness.

A sample from the goody bag.

“. . . and what kind of stoma do you have?”

He’s a big man, very big. He’s standing next to a panoramic display of pouches, flanges, creams, powders, tubes, and boxes.

“Ileostomy” I answer smartly; sure of my answer.

“Come this way” he threads his way with surprising speed and agility through the milling throng of blue rinses, and sports jackets to another all encompassing display. He picks up a pouch and cradles it before me with true zeal.

“Now this. . .” he holds it up as if presenting a bottle of vintage wine “ . . . this features the AF300; the most advanced air filter on the market; filtering double the amount of air per unit of time than our nearest competitor. It’s also the pouch with the thinnest profile available, and features a unique closure unaffected by water. . .”

On the back of his rather hairy hand he has a flange taped, and is more than able, and certainly pleased to demonstrate the unique locking system. This man believes!

A woman enters the hall, lets call her Harmony, and makes a sonorous declamation “The floral display demonstration will start in two minutes in the aerobics studio”

We balance our plastic beakers of mulled wine on our Styrofoam plates full of sandwiches, volauvents and crisps as Clare and I survey the building. One of the main reasons I have accepted this courteous invitation is to get a look inside. It’s a Victorian pumping station. It used to contain two massive beam engines. It used to look something like this but now it’s the backdrop to wedding parties and the like. (Probably not funerals I don’t suppose.) Today it’s hosting a “day out” for people with stomas to enjoy “The Funny Footmen”, floral arrangment demonstrations and a wide range of surgical products for the ostomate, and a free lunch (Yes, I know).

After registering (Having your name ticked) and being given a goody bag (red with tube of mysterious cream, a biro, some post it notes, some sample fresh wipes, and two adhesive discs with an unknown purpose) we look around the room. I’m 54, but I’m quite surprised to see that I can’t see anyone my kind of age. If only I had a the uniform sweater with Pringle written on it

Climbing the thin winding stairway passage (hmm) to the top floor we are greeted by another floor full of v necked sweaters and sensible shoes grazing to the sound of a violin and a guitar.

There are various displays around the room, and I spot one that has a leaflet about reversal surgery. I hover near the table looking at the information on offer. A woman approaches me. I mention that I might be having reversal surgery sometime next year.

“ . . . and what kind of Stoma do you have?”

“Ileostomy” I say, quick as a flash.

“Oh. . . well this a colostomy organisation”

“ah . . . well it’s the reversal thing I’m interested in”

“Different with a colostomy”

“Oh.” I feel slightly odd about this conversation. “Oh well. . . “

“Not the same at all.” she fixes me with a beady eye. “Take a leaflet – if you’d really like one”

I do, Clare stows it away in her large carpet bag.

Moving on to a display of a local suppliers, a friendly woman approaches and asks if I’m happy with my suppliers. Just to clarify; there is quite a complex relationship between manufacturer, supplier, GP and one’s self. Suppliers will supply you with anything from any manufacturer, but they have to liaise with your GP via a series of prescriptions etc. I’m telling her that I’m happy with my supplier when Harmony makes another declamation:

“The floral display demonstration is scheduled to take place in the aerobics studio, but if anyone has difficulty with stairs we will move it to conference suite 6. Please come and speak to myself about this”

Then without breaking rhythm she moves towards the guitar and violin and starts to sing in a very loud operatic kind of way. The woman I was talking to is open mouthed.

“I didn’t know she could sing. . . “ The woman from the supply company is clearly dumbfounded by this transformational moment.

There’s a display of underwear, and I nudge Clare excitedly. Not that these are sheer and naughty; well cut and sturdy is nearer the mark. You, dear reader, may be in the enviable position of casually picking from a plethora of pant designs in your local shopping mall. Not so for us “baggers”

At the risk of getting into too much detail the high wasters I’ve got are good at the top end and keep everything under control. But down below . . . they aren’t – how shall I put this- they aren’t designed for a man, unless you’re a snooker player.

These look properly designed and cut. The sales rep brandishes a truncated torso model wearing the pants and encourages me to put my hand inside the pants to feel the hold they provide. I am slightly hesitant about this and slip my hand inside the pants.

“No; right down. . . go on! Right down to the crotch!” he exhorts me. They are very tight, well made. No labels and very smooth seams. In fact now that I have my hand in there I realise these are really quite superior.

“Wow! I’ll take some of these” I’m truly transported.

A couple of forms filled out and I’m looking forward to a delivery of sample pants.

It was exactly a year ago today that I went into hospital and had the surgery. The year since has taught me not to be scared and that happiness is a good pair of pants.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

There is more

Summer 2010, Tenby, Wales

It was the 29th of November last year when I started this Blog. I was fearful of the future, robbed of the present, hating the past. In desperate need of some way to escape from the trap that I was in.

My problem, my fear, was that the only way out meant I had to submit psychologically and physically. Notice the word submit. In my heart I knew I was beaten by a disease that seemed perfectly formed to distress me by attacking the very areas in which I have always been vulnerable.

The medical institution as I saw it: monolithic soulless architecture, inhabited by people I could not relate to, and who had the power to punish, to humiliate, to violate me; all of this reminded me of going to boarding school at the age of 7.

My disease, as it seemed, making me disgusting and robbing me of dignity, centred on a social taboo, turning me back into a baby. Reducing me to a weak and repulsive middle-aged man with little future.

The only “cure” available involved, disfiguring and medieval brutality, usually reserved for the scaffold, thinly disguised by a word that hid the truth. Not a colectomy really, I was to be disembowelled. Literally.

My family, my doctors, my friends wondered why I didn’t just head for the operating theatre and get on with it. I was scared, lonely, angry, and, frankly, stroking the cat of death.

That was a year ago. A year ago to this very day I posted a video on you tube to try and laugh in the face of death.

What I did not know was that I could get through it all, and that even at the bottom of the shittiest bucket there is something good if you are prepared to look for it.

I’m coming up to the year mark since the operation. I have learned a lot about myself and about others who have kindly and with insight commented on this blog. I've also grown through the life experiences of others that I have followed. Take a gander at the blog roll and read how people have strength and humour and intelligence, and how they deal with the problems they have.

I also found out how much my life impacted on my family and started to understand how difficult it has been for them as well.

And . . .if you too have to face the operation, I can only say that my experience taught me that the fear and loathing was worse than the reality. There is a future and it is full of possibility and colour.

Ahem . . .  I thank you

(Steps down from soap box and packs up; heads away across the park)