Thursday, 8 November 2012
That Sink In Feeling
In a week where the world breathes a sigh of relief at the Americans making a better voting decision than we in the UK did last time round; where the cuts in our country are so bad that a disabled man went on a hunger strike outside his local DWP office; a week when a woman with Crohn’s disease, seemingly unfamiliar with the concept of remission, claims to have cured herself by eating tree bark (she has a secret recipe which she now wants to sell for millions to a pharmaceutical company)… In such a week, I feel I should be writing about something big. Something important. But there are people with more knowledge than I doing that. About all these things. So I’m going back to what I know best: my own story. Though I am quite cross about the tree cure thing…
This week, we are having our bathroom done. I say this week, we were also having it done last week and the week before. Workmen actually ripped out our entire bathroom, with a view to putting in a new one, three weeks ago. It was going to take a week. For the first few days, I was going to stay here and busk it – we have a tiny, unheated downstairs toilet – and then I was going to spend a week at my mother’s, coming home to a bright, shiny, perfectly functioning new bathroom. I should add that, all this time, I was having a horrible, painful, evil flare-up of my Crohn’s. I was on morphine which made me sick, then started eking out the few pethidine I had left from my last surgery, and which my GP has been told not to give me any more of. It’s a mess that I will only be in a position to sort out when the flare-up is long gone and I am well and strong enough for the fight. One of the ironies of chronic disease in today’s NHS. Maybe I should just go out and chew on a few branches.
A new bathroom is a lovely thing for anyone. For me, it was kind of a necessity. Our old bathroom worked – well, mostly. The toilet was old and tired and the flush took about 5 goes before anything significant would disappear into the waste pipe, and the tiles had swans on them. You know the kind of thing, white tile, white tile, white tile, swan. Then every so often, a series of tiles depicting a couple of swans on a lake. Horrible, hideous, chocolate boxy stuff, but not exactly dangerous. Just aesthetically unpleasing. Oh, and all the metal bits were faux gold. Faux gold taps on the sink and bath, a faux gold shower and attachments, faux gold hooks on the back of the door where we hung our towels. Nasty and tacky but again, not exactly functionally problematic. It wasn’t the prettiest of bathrooms – it was actually the ugliest one we’ve ever lived with – but it had been kitted out professionally enough and we’d lived with it for 11 years so we barely noticed it any more. Every now and again, the horror of the swans would upset one of us and we’d shout a bit, but then it would pass and we’d laugh and remember how much worse things could be. At least everything worked, if you don’t count the multiple toilet flushing thing.
And then I got my bag. And every two days I have to change my bag. It’s not horrible or upsetting or nasty or – usually – even particularly pooey, but it is a bit of a faff. And in that bathroom it was a lot of a faff. I hadn’t really thought about it much; it was just the way it was, and we weren’t in a position to do anything about it, then one day my mother was over and generally criticising. It’s ok, she’s my mother; it’s allowed. Sometimes criticism can lead to positive change, and this was one of those times. She was telling me how dusty it is in our bathroom, and asking how we cope with it (we live on a main road; it can’t be helped) and then she said, looking around the golden room of swans, ‘How do you change your bag in here?’ And out it came; a monologue of moaning about how difficult it was. How I had to perch the waste bags on the closed toilet seat, along with the dry wipes, how I put the fresh bags (always have more than one ready in case of error) on the side of the bath or, when it was on, the radiator (heating them up makes them stick more easily), how the sprays, powder and seals had to be laid out on the toilet cistern, and how, if my stoma decided to gush in the midst of a change, I had to sweep everything off the toilet seat sharpish so I could angle my stoma over the bowl and let it do its stuff. It was less than ideal. In fact, saying out loud how less than ideal it was made me feel a bit upset. A touch helpless. A few weeks after that, we found ourselves in a position to get a new bathroom.
Two days before they ripped the old bathroom out, I woke at 6am in a panic. I couldn’t stay in the house without a bathroom; what if I had a leak in the middle of the night? A bad one? It rarely happens these days, but it was bound to happen when I had no means of sorting it out. No shower. No heat. Just the tiny, freezing downstairs loo with half a sink in it. I had to go to my mother’s sooner. I had to go the day before the bathroom was no more. I would have to spend 10 days at my mother’s instead of a week.
Husband’s brother is a plumber who lives near Wales. He came to stay for a week, to do the plumbing. For free. Because he’s a good and lovely brother and knows we’re not exactly rolling in money. Unfortunately, the contractor who was doing everything else took to not turning up, and at the end of the week, brother in law had to go home with the bathroom barely started. He felt terrible. We felt angry. Each morning, waking in the warmth of my mother’s house, I’d tentatively ring home, nervous of what the answer to my ‘has anyone turned up?’ question would be. So many mornings, the answer was ‘no’. It seems, ‘I left my phone at a job/my girlfriend’s/the pub’ is the new one size fits all excuse. For 3 days, the contractor was ill. Then he went on holiday for a week. Then, when he got back last weekend, he told us his aunt came off her bike, which necessitated him not working for a couple of days. Perhaps he’s a part-time doctor. Who knows?
After two weeks, I came home from my mother’s. We’d got on fantastically well, but we’re a mother and an adult daughter; I didn’t want to push it. And, most importantly, the sink was plumbed in by then. So was the toilet, but it’s the sink that was everything to me. I chose the sink carefully; I didn’t care too much about everything else in the bathroom, but the sink … oh, the sink is the sink of my dreams. It’s wide. Really wide. The sink itself is normal sink size, but on either side there is space. Masses of space. It takes up almost an entire wall – it’s not a huge bathroom – but I had to have it. Because of all that space.
The night I got home was a bag change night. There was no radiator yet, and the hole where the extractor fan will go was open, leading directly to the cold outdoors. But the sink was in. My dream sink. And I was desperate to give it a try. I gathered all the necessary accoutrements, including the radio (I hate to do a bag change in silence) and entered what will, one day, maybe soon, be a fine bathroom. It was just me, a loo, an unplumbed bath, and my beautiful, working, huge sink.
On the left of the sink, I put the sprays, the seals and the powder, leaving space to stand over as I powdered and sprayed the stoma itself. The bags I put on the right, along with dry wipes and the waste bag, open and ready for discarded bags and used wipes, and I was done. Everything I needed was on either side of my beautiful new sink, just as I’d fantasised. The toilet was unencumbered, the bath was full of workmen tools, but that was it. I didn’t have to perch anything on the edge of anything else, because I had my dream sink. I apologise if this doesn’t mean anything to you; if I’m wanging on and on about this sink and you’re thinking that perhaps spending 2 weeks with my mother hasn’t left me unscathed at all, but mentally scarred in the weirdest of ways. If, however, you have ever had a bag, or have one now, or just know enough about it for whatever reason, then you’ll get it. You might even be a bit jealous; craving a dream sink of your own. I can tell you where to get one if you want, but you’re not having mine. I’m keeping mine forever.
As I write, the bathroom is still not finished. Every morning, husband gets out of bed stupidly early for a man who works at night, to be ready for the workmen to arrive at 8.30 as they always promise. And rarely do. We’re getting closer. The tiling is done, the bath is plumbed in, but not yet sealed, the shower is in over it, but not the screen door; plumbers – the plumber we have to pay for because our free, husband’s brother one had to leave when nothing else had happened – plumb, you see. They don’t put in doors, or seal joins. This one did put the radiator in though, so now the bathroom is unfinished but warm. And the toilet still works.
It’s annoying, and it’s irritating, and I have only had to live with it for a week, whereas husband and son have been coping with the aggravation and living in a house full of dusty tools and alien lumps of metal for 3 weeks now.
But it will be done, and it will be lovely, and in the meantime, I already have my sink. I have changed my bag at that sink four times now, each time more glorious than the last. And that flare-up? I think – whisper it – that it is almost gone. A bit of residual pain, but I have energy and I’ve been out during the day for hours at a time without having to pay for it in agony and tears. You know how I did that? It’s not a secret I need to sell to Big Pharma; it’s quite simple and often works on a flare-up if it’s not too serious – I rested. I was never tempted for even a second to try sucking on a tree.