Sunday, March 15, 2009

Little black circles

It’s Thursday and Chestnut Ward has a giddy, holiday camp atmosphere today. The nurses are all happy and relaxed. It turns out there has been an outbreak of diarrhoea on the ward, which means no more new patients can be admitted until the danger has passed. So when a patient is discharged, no one replaces them. Out of 20 beds 9 now lie empty. The diarrhoea has almost halved the workload. One nurse can’t stop giggling, which is slightly unnerving when she’s injecting you in the stomach. “It’s amazing, it’s so quiet, it’s so nice, I’m so happy,” she chuckles, shaking her head like she can’t quite believe it’s actually happening to her. I too can share some of her joy, 9 fewer snorers, sleep-talkers, coughers, whiners and whingers means more undisturbed sleep for me. Who’d have thought a dose of the trots could spread so much happiness.

The stoma nurse is holding a flaccid flesh coloured bag thingy against my stomach. She moves it up a bit, down a bit, leans back a bit, squints a bit, and ask me how it feels for size. For a moment it’s like being measured up for a suit. I half expect the stoma nurse to have a mouthful of pins. She doesn’t, but she does have a big, black marker pen, which she uses to draw a circle on my tummy where the bag had been positioned. “This looks about right,” she says, admiring her work. The black circle is about the size of a 2p piece, and as I look down at it, sits about 3 inches to the right of my belly button. It’s there to show the surgeon where to put my stoma. The stoma, I have just been told, is what they call the opening that will be created through my stomach. My new bumhole, basically. Creating a stoma here is called an ileostomy, which is the operation I am having tomorrow. Yes, THE OPERATION I AM HAVING TOMORROW. As the week has gone on, it has become clear that surgery is really my only option. I’ve been back on intravenous steroids for 6 days now, and frankly, if they pumped Bovril into my veins it would probably be as effective. I’m on maximum doses of all my medication and I’ve seen maybe a 20% improvement. Not enough to escape the knife. No one has put any pressure on me to go through with the op. The gastro team and the surgeons have allowed me to reach my own decision. To be honest though, I decided a while a go to shirk all responsibility and leave matters to my body. My body has, after all, been in control of me for nearly 4 years now. Like it or not I have no control over it. I don’t seem to have much influence in the health department. I’m powerless to my body’s whims, if it chooses to flare up, well, there’s not a lot I can do about it. Drugs or no drugs. So, I passed the buck. I decided that if my body responded to the drugs, then great, I could go home with all my internal bits intact, but if it didn’t, then okay, I’d have the op. True to form my body let me down. Which is why a nurse is currently scribbling on me. Worryingly she has now drawn a second circle 3 inches to the left of my belly button. Surely 2 new bumholes is a bit excessive? Sensing my concern the stoma nurse explains that it’s not always possible for the surgeon to put the stoma in the intended place, so as a back up she’s marked up a second spot. Best to cover all eventualities, she reasons. A waterproof dressing is placed over each little black circle to stop them rubbing off, and that’s it, I’m ready. Ready for THE OPERATION I AM HAVING TOMORROW.

My stomach shortly after being measured up to be converted into a radio. Volume control will be on the left, the tuner on the right.