Thursday, 29 March 2012
Up, Up And Away
If you’re not sure what ileostomy bags look like, just move your eyes to the right a little. Or the left. Or indeed, up or down. You may not have noticed or taken in what those funny little pinky coloured things are on this page before now; they’re bags. At least, they’re the bags I use – the Sensura maxi one piece drainable, since you ask. The arrangement for getting them is second to none – I call up my supplier, tell them I need a couple of boxes, and they deliver them to me. At the same time, somebody else at the supplier sends out a prescription for my GP to sign, but fortunately they don’t have to wait for that to be done before sending out my bags; I get those within 24 to 48 hours, depending on what time I remember to call them. It’s a fantastic system, and I fear for its survival when the NHS gets sold off in bite-sized chunks to people with no previous experience of whatever bit they buy. For now, though, it’s still working, and for that I am grateful.
With just a week to go before my trip to Barcelona, my brain chose to take a rest from being neurotic about flying and started to stress about how many bags to take; how to transport them; what other supplies I’d need. My first realisation was that I only had ten bags left in my last remaining box; they come in batches of 30. Ten would generally be enough for another 20 days, assuming everything went perfectly, but I was going away; I would need loads of spares to cover every eventuality, and what about when I got back; I’d need plenty for then, too. Which is why it’s so brilliant that I can just call and order. Except that by the time I realised that, it was after 5 on a Friday evening. The bags wouldn’t arrive ‘til Tuesday. I was leaving on the Wednesday. Which meant everything would be fine and I could go back to being scared of other things. See? Insane! And every time I started being insane and my husband saw me, he’d remind me of the moment I would get to see my friends; my girlies. Of how I’d be in Barcelona airport and the Australian and the American would walk through customs and we’d see each other and we’d all be squealing like teenagers; I should be getting excited about my ‘Waah!’ moment, he told me. After that, it just got reduced to him walking past as I was frantically writing notes, or counting bags, or checking my passport and he’d just wave his hands in the air and say ‘Waah!’ and that was supposed to remind me of the wonders that were ahead and ergo relax me completely. It didn’t, but it did help.
I took 14 bags in the end (over five days I should only need two. Three at the most), two tubes of paste (I’d need less than a quarter of one tube) and countless wipes and disposal bags. I took them all as hand luggage.
And fuck, what about swimming? I hadn’t swum since I’d had my bag. I was terrified of the obvious – what if the glue dissolved in the water (why on earth would it?) and the bag came off and there was liquid poo all around me; a trail of it behind me as I swam; far worse than that stuff that goes blue when someone pees in a pool; this would be mortifying. So, despite having a perfectly nice public pool literally yards from my house, and despite swimming being about the safest form of exercise for someone whose body has been hacked about as much as mine has, I hadn’t swum. Actually, I hadn’t even had a bath. But there was a pool at the hotel – the Australian had insisted on it. And the pool was on the roof, probably with an amazing view, and how lovely it would be to all swim in it as the sun went down. So I had a bath. A long bath. And the bag was fine – more completely stuck after than it was before, if anything – so I decided I’d be prepared to swim and duly packed a swimming costume with a strategically placed green streaky pattern down the left hand side, the effect of which was that I just looked like a fat bird in it, rather than a fat bird with an ileostomy bag, which may well put people off. Off of what, I have no idea, but you know what I mean.
And so we drove to the airport, the husband, the teen and I. Heathrow Airport, which is a bit of a schlep, especially when one of you – me – is mostly silent and trying not to think of anything at all, and every now and again one of the other two goes ‘Waah!’ With slightly less conviction each time. ‘There are shops at the airport’, the teen reminded me. Which helped for a moment or two. I could buy books. And a Puzzler. I love a Puzzler on a plane journey. And in hospital, as it happens. The rest of the time, I am barely aware such a publication even exists.
All too quickly, husband and teen had eaten bagels as I looked on, not in the least bit hungry, and I was waving goodbye as I made my way to the departure lounge. It was horrible. I couldn’t bear it. I shouldn’t go. ‘Waah!’ said husband. Teen smiled wryly, and a man took my passport and boarding pass and gestured me through. Nobody even looked at my hand luggage and the man I tried to show my doctor’s letter and ‘certificate of travel’ that explains all my ostomy supplies just waved me away as though irritated by my attempts at responsible citizenship.
It was actually better once I was through all that. I bought some Bendick’s mints, a bottle of water to take my valium with and made my way to the departure gate. I was just swallowing the second pill when I realised I hadn’t bought a Puzzler. Fuck. If I didn’t have a Puzzler I’d have nothing to focus on during the flight except the flight. I walked very fast back to WH Smith, bought a puzzler and reached the departure gate for the second time feeling sweaty and stressed. And aware that I had no time to go to the loo and empty my bag before the flight. Luckily, the valium had kicked in by then so I didn’t much care.
On the plane, I was relieved to find myself sat next to two lads not much older than the teen. They smiled at me and then proceeded to completely ignore me, which was fine. A nice steward offered me nuts and when I said I didn’t want to eat anything asked if I was a nervous flyer. I said I was, and he said to call him if I needed anything and squeezed my shoulder reassuringly. As soon as we took off and were safely in the air, I tore myself away from the Puzzler and went to the loo to empty my bag. As well as the valium, I’d taken several codeine, which work as a constipator, and my bag barely needed emptying. I returned to my seat feeling pretty good. The flight was actually uneventful until the last fifteen minutes when it turned into some kind of horror film. Loud bangs and horrible juddering that I managed to cope with at first, soon had me feeling like icy water was running down my spine. I clung on tight to the seat arms, as did the guy next to me while his friend stared at us both, trying not to laugh. ‘For fuck’s sake!’ I squeaked, involuntarily. ‘Exactly’, said the young man next to me. His mate just shook his head in despair. When we landed, the steward from earlier came over to make sure I was all right. I wasn’t really, but at least it was over and we had landed safely. In Barcelona. And I hadn’t covered anyone in poo.
In the arrivals hall, I waited for the others, still shaky from the end of the flight, but so excited. Waiting for my ‘Waah!’ moment. I saw their flight had landed from Amsterdam and waited anxiously for their familiar faces to appear; for them to come running towards me, happy and shiny and all of us ecstatic to be together again, about to embark on an adventure.
I saw the Australian first. She looked stressed and worried. Then I saw the American, who looked – well, she looked like a zombie; barely awake and not focused on anything. What the hell was happening? Surely they hadn’t fallen out in Amsterdam? It turned out the American had had a horrible flying experience of her own; feeling panicky she’d taken a Xanax (like valium but, from the evidence, a fair bit stronger) and then, when it hadn’t worked within a few minutes, she’d taken another one, finally ending up practically comatose. The Australian wasn’t used to prescription drugs and had been worried for the rest of the flight, particularly when she couldn’t wake the American on arrival. Somehow she’d dragged her off the plane and got her into a seat while she’d had to get both their luggage off the carousel herself; she’d then yelled loudly to the American to follow her through customs, reasoning that nobody would suspect them of smuggling drugs from Amsterdam and being that overt about it. The plan seemed to work, and despite her barely conscious companion, they didn’t even get their luggage searched, but they were both a mess, albeit in completely different ways.
I took the American’s arm, reassuring the Australian that I knew how to handle this and we made our way to the taxis.
Things could only get better, right? Just so long as my bag didn’t leak in the taxi, we were going to be fine. We were all together for the first time in 20 years, and we were in Barcelona.