Monday, September 19, 2016

Not-so-great Moments in Stoma History

So, I’m traveling again.  

This time it's an extended solo trip, with a focus on the outdoors and being active, rather than sightseeing, which was the focus of my trip to Europe July.  This trip is about getting out amongst it -- hiking and backpacking -- seeing natural.  And to clear the head, get a nice break away from work, recharge the batteries, and do some thinking.

It's a long trip -- 45+ days -- which is the longest trip I've been on since my around-the-world trip in 2007 (3 moths).  It's been a lot of fun so far.  Just chilling -- watching nature go by for a few days while camping on the Alaska marine ferry from Bellingham to Skagway, driving the Al-Can down from Whitehorse, and hiking in Banff, which is where I am now.  It's been great.  Just great.

But, this trip is different from my big 2007 trip in that I had to bring my stoma along.  Damned thing follows me everywhere.  (And for those of you who are wondering, no, I don't have a name for it -- I think naming a tumor or a stoma is just plain odd.)  I don't too many concerns about stoma care and feeding on this trip since most of the trip I would get too far from modern amenities -- mostly day hikes and 1-night overnight backpacking trips.  But, that hasn't kept my stoma from creating a few surprises (headaches).

Two days ago I was staying at a hostel in Banff and was getting ready to irrigate.  I was happy that the common showers and bathrooms were located together, so that I could quickly move from one to the other without others seeing me and  asking questions about my irrigation setup.  So, after showering after a lovely hike, I got things all ready to go in the bathroom stall, delivered the one-and-half-liters of body-temperature water into my stoma, and then sat back, ready to let nature do its work for the next 30 minutes.

Ninety-nine times out of 100, irrigation goes flawlessly -- water exits the stoma into an irrigation sleeve attached to my abdomen (via an adhesive -- it's just a big sticker), and everything winds up in the toilet.  When that 1 time out of 100 where things do not go right, it gets messy.  Usually it's the irrigation sleeve adhesion failing.  And when that happens, when the effluent starts pouring out of my stoma, it can be a mess.

Which is what happened in the hostel.

Halfway through irrigating, I could tell bottom part of the irrigation adhesive failed, so while some effluent made its way down the irrigation sleeve, a good amount squeezed out the bottom of the seal, and all over my gym shorts.  (I almost never wear shorts while irrigating, but this time I did.  Maybe it was because I would have felt odd sitting completely naked on a toilet in a common bathroom.)  By the time the irrigation was done, the shorts were completely soiled.  Which left me in a jam.  The only clothes I had with me was a t-shirt, a towel and the shorts, and the towel was not big enough to wrap around my waist so that I could make it upstairs to where my room (and clothes!) was.  Well, at least without making a scene.

So, I was a bit stuck.  How do I get to my room?

I came up with the ingenious idea of just "washing" my shorts in the toilet.  At least well enough to get the waste off of them so that I could walk upstairs.  I must have flushed the toilet 25 times, and god knows what everyone else in the bathroom was thinking.  But, at this point, I didn't care.  So, I cleaned my shorts (mostly), cleaned myself up, got back to my room, put on clean clothes, and, lacking access to an incinerator, promptly chucked the shorts.

That was two days ago.

And then yesterday ...

Yesterday was another great hiking day.  Did an awesome hike starting in so-so weather that eventually turned into a heavy wet snow snowstorm.  But, the stoma angle is that, even after irrigating the night before in the hostel, my body began kicking out waste right at the end of the hike.  Way more waste than my stoma cap could handle.  It was a 30-minute drive from the trailhead to Lake Louise, and by the time I get there, I knew I had a bit of a steaming pile in my lap.  Again, I couldn't just drive home and deal with it there.  I found a public washroom and dealt with it there.  Big mess, lots of cleaning up, lots of flushing, lots of confused guys in the bathroom I'm sure, and me chucking the completely soiled Be-Band. 

Not sure what set that off, as I usually get 30 hours of a quiet stoma after irrigating.  I'm placing the blame on the overly greasy breakfast I had at the hostel.  Extra greasy food can shoot through me pretty quick and have created messy stoma events before.  Maybe I've learned my lesson.


So, stoma joys on my vacation.  Is it a pain?  Yes.  If I don't want to deal with any stoma output while I'm walking, hiking or backpacking, I have to irrigate.  And that takes time.  And after doing this for six years, I've grown weary of the task.  And even then, when you think you've done everything right, you get events like those above I just have to freaking deal with.  I can get pissed, but getting pissed doesnt solve any problems.  It's more just frustration when it happens.  It's just stoma overhead.

And when I get sick of it, I ask myself, do I regret having this stoma?  For the most part, no.  I made the decision to take out the best insurance policy I could for not having a cancer recurrence, and I'm living with the consequences.  All of the stoma bullshit I have to deal with is the insurance premium I pay for peace of mind, knowing that I've done everything I could to still be here today, to still be here to do the things that I want to do.  If I wasn't here I couldn't hike, backpacking, cycle, do anything outdoors, or spend time with friends and family.  Not only does would that suck for me, but I'd hate to leave that hole behind for those whose lives I'm a part of.

If I had gotten a J-pouch, or any of the non-stoma surgical alternatives, who knows what quality of life I would be leading.  I'd probably be running to the bathroom 10 times a day, or squatting in bushes every mine or so on a hike.  I think I have more freedom with a stoma, given how good modern stoma medical supplies are, than still have just part of an anus that could only partly control keeping waste in when I need it to stay in.

So, all in all, I'm good.  I'm OK with this.  I'm going to have more stoma problems in the future.  But at least I'm here and living my life the best I can.  I wouldn't trade it for anyone else's.

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