My stoma, Ron, is always busy spewing out everything that I eat and drink. It is exhausting keeping up with him – staying hydrated and nourished is practically a full-time job. Though Ron has resided with me on my tummy for a year and a half now, I am still not 100% comfortable bringing him out of the house.
Emptying Ron’s beige click-on bag in a public washroom is stressful. First of all, I don’t like to be rushed and women’s bathrooms always have lineups. It takes a few solid minutes to smoothly and cleanly empty the bag. With ileostomies the “output” tends to be very liquid, so you have to line the toilet bowl with tissue, otherwise there will be a splashfest of gnarly!! Then you have to make sure that the opening of the bag is perfectly clean before you roll and seal it back up, otherwise you risk burning your skin or ruining your clothes. (Been there, done that!). Finally, there is the always humiliating scent. Ron, like most stomas, could use a lesson or two on pretty fragrances, perhaps a little lavender or mint to go with that “output.” The smell is shockingly hideous. I have a toilet bowl spray called “Poo-Pourri” and though it does help, (if you spray twice the suggested amount), it is expensive and most people with stomas probably won’t have access to it. So going to a new restaurant or to a dinner party at someone’s house, I am now always filled with dread, as I don’t want Ron to ruin the vibe or people’s appetite.
Then there’s how to dress to conceal a stoma bag! Right before my cancer operation – when I got Ron – I had started wearing high waisted 70’s style jeans with fitted tops. It was a good look on me and it made me feel attractive. Now I have much more limited options. My go-to outfit consists of skinny low-rise jeans (the jeans hit me under the bottom of the bag), a snug stretchy camisole to kind of “flatten down” the bag and a loose, longer top. Thankfully I can pull off this look, but as someone who enjoys clothing I hate not having more options. Plus, even when concealed, the bag can fill up quickly making you look lump-sided. The other day I had lunch with my lovely cousin and by the end of eating I was tenderly holding Ron’s full bag – I was cradling it as if I was cradling a miniature alien baby! Whether I was comfortable or not I was forced to empty Ron’s bag at the restaurant or risk having it explode. No one can prepare you for the strangeness of having a stoma. It is heartbreaking, lifesaving and funny all at once.