Bag It Up

Tuesday 13 September

In order to isolate my bowel from further infection and expedite the chemotherapy treatment, my consultant booked me in for a colostomy operation. A specialist stoma nurse introduced herself and explained about the operation and outlined the practical aspects of living with a colostomy. Unfortunately, she chose to bring along a horror DVD showing how ordinary people cope with a stoma and resume their lives as a parachute instructor. My wife (herself a district nurse) was fascinated and watched intently, asking relevant questions. Inevitably, I started to feel a little weak – not particularly because the DVD was graphic but because, all of a sudden, it just dawned on me that this was happening to me. Not a smiling, happy face on a video but me – within a few hours.

After the traditional questions and checks, I was put to sleep by an anethatist’s assistant who seemed determined to extract my entire life history before the drugs kicked in (‘Ooh – Warwick University – that sounds lovely. Took the wife down Leamington Spa once. And then, when you left college, what did you do then ?’) and woke up in the recovery room.

I was now bombarded by a bewildering variety of nursing staff, entering my room to take my blood pressure and vital signs at very regular intervals. They even woke me up, every half hour, during the night to tell me ‘Oh yes – that’s normal, that’s good’.

After some hesitation, I peeked under my gown to see what they had actually done to me. Not much – I just had an empty, flesh coloured bag attached to my belly button.

The next morning, a nurse performed the checks yet again and announced – ‘Right – you’re going to need to pass some water’. ‘Oh – come on. There’s no rush, I’m here all week and anyway, ‘Helicopter Heroes’ has just started…’ ‘No – we need to get you mobile as soon as possible to help your recovery and you really need to pass some urine’.

I managed to get a stay of execution by 15 minutes and asked if she could help me as my bottom hurt and my stomach obviously was still very tender. I slowly summoned my strength and positioned my legs towards the edge of the bed. I paused for breath and rested. The nurse nodded and encouraged me to rise – slowly. I stood upright – not too bad, my legs still work and I managed to walk across to the loo. The nurse passed me a small trombone made out of reinforced, recycled cardboard. ‘Here – you need to pass water into this and we will measure the output’. My mind was fully occupied with the 8 feet journey to the toilet but I dutifully took the receptacle.

I stood up by the loo, poised over her precious cardboard receptacle. Nothing happened. I looked around at my surroundings; the Emergency Call button, the sharps bin, the disinfectant, the shower. Still, nothing happened. Despite drinking a lot of water, nothing was going to happen either.

I put the empty receptacle down and started on the epic journey back to the sanctuary of my bed. Suddenly, I felt a little giddy and increasingly hot and sweaty. The nurse helpfully brought a chair over, sat me down and immediately took my vital signs again. Before I could ask for my customary cup of cold water, she (unhelpfully) left the room saying ‘Don’t worry. We can try again later’.

I felt quite faint now and, just as I wondered whether a resting pulse rate of 48 was normal (normal for Usain Bolt perhaps but not for me), thankfully, my wife chose that very moment to walk in with another more helpful nurse and help me back into bed.