Last Monday I finally had my drain taken out of my pelvis. An experience which will be etched on my mind until the day I die, and indeed will probably be one of thousands of images of my bum waving around in the air which will flash in front of my eyes in my final moments. It is also an experience I never want to go through again. Last week I found myself back on Ward 44 waiting to see my heroic surgeon, who was in a rather chirpy mood (he was going on holiday again!) as I stumbled into the stoma clinic and the scene for my next probing session. As per usual he checked my stoma was working, my scar was healing, before uttering the dreaded words….”I need you to turn on your side so I can look at your back-end” (well possibly more technically put). I always think the best thing to do at this point is leave all sense of modesty aside and just whip your panties down and let them have a good poke around. Which I did. But it is always at this moment, when my bum is unceremoniously thrust in my surgeon’s face, and a team of student nurses are bobbing up and down over his shoulder for a closer look as I huddle my knees closer to my chest, that I start wishing I’d had that bikini wax in the weeks before my operation. I couldn’t care less that my bum is all stitched up and I can no longer poo or fart, I’m worried that the world and his wife are looking at me and wondering why I haven’t stuck to my end of the bargain of personal grooming, or why the hell I’m wearing those faded granny pants reserved solely for laundry day.
Anyway only moments after my 3D pink scar lining my bum had been given the all clear I was left alone with the ward sister whose unenviable task was to remove a drain from my lady parts. My surgeon departed the room with a cheery wave and with the confidence inspiring words of “don’t cut her vagina sister, you have done this before right?”. I felt the hot wave of panic flush over me, and I had an overwhelming urge to let her simply leave the drain in (no matter how uncomfortable, inconvenient or ugly it is) forever. Part of me thought that there was no way I was letting this rubber gloved and scissor wielding woman near my lady parts, not for a million dollars, the stronger part of me, who has battled more painful procedures, thought suck it up Flint it will all be over soon. I should have listened to my gut and run as fast as my muscleless little legs and flailing drain bag would allow me to.
Sister Sue said the magic words assigned to all nurses for these moments of panic. When I asked her if it was going to hurt she said “it might be a bit uncomfortable”, describing my drain as a pig tail – to which I imagined a little pink tail hooked into my pelvic muscle refusing stubbornly to budge for love nor money as she waggled it out. I couldn’t have been more right, and she couldn’t have been more wrong. I like to think I have a fairly high pain threshold having lived with severe Ulcerative Colitis and all its horrific side effects for most of my life. I’ve been through far worse than having a drain pushed and pulled out of my vagina, but to describe what she did as mild discomfort was the understatement of the century. She must have been tugging at it for at least 25 minutes as it simply refused to let go. I’m ashamed to say I moaned and yelped and at one point screamed out in pain as she tugged and it felt like my whole abdomen was about to explode through the pressure. Anyone passing the room must have thought I was having my eyeballs removed under some sort of torture due to the farm-yard style noises coming from the stoma nurse room. I panted and puffed as if I was in labour, until she finally came to a halt, embarrassingly confiding in me that it was almost out but had got wrapped around a rather stubborn sprout of pubic hair….if I hadn’t been in so much pain I would have died of shame!
As it was finally yanked free I stared in wonderment at the tiny coil of string which had caused such pain over the past couple of minutes. It always amazes me how something so small can cause so much disruption. Being free of the drain was an overwhelming relief, but the feeling that the string and tube were still firmly lodged inside my pelvis and protruding from my vagina remained, it would be almost two days before the ache started to fade and I felt almost human again.
Walking with a drain or catheter is a bizarre experience. For a week I dragged around the heaving bag of septic mucus and liquid with it dangling down my leg and having to hoist it up to sit down, stand up or go to the bathroom. When I left the hospital they finally gave me a leg strap so I wouldn’t be forced to carry the clear bag around like a medical handbag for all to see, but that still presented challenges, with me struggling to conceal it under my baggy track suit bottoms, pyjamas and loose trousers. The plastic spout always found a way to work itself into view and almost trail along the pavement while I attempted to walk in a cowboy like style during the days of building myself up slowly walking into town. Having it taken out meant freer movement, less pain in my abdomen and the prospect of wearing jeans, skirts and tights again. It has meant a new world of freedom, and has been a blessing relief to be able to sit down properly (well to an extent) without having to find the rare position which doesn’t cause pain – difficult when you have stitches in your bum and a drain sticking out of your vagina – take my word for it!
Now, just over a week after having my drain pulled out, I have finally managed to get a taste of my normal life back. Yes I’m still the woman who can be seen every day at around 2pm hobbling into town with crowds of students stuck behind her as I walk slower than a grandma with a Zimmer frame, and yes I’m still struggling with food and feel like fainting over the prospect of wearing a bra over my tender scar – but I am able to move around and at times leave the flat to buy a paper, sweets or simply to feel the air on my face. I also am hardly seen without a doughnut ring cushion (you know the ones I mean – mostly used for piles etc), which embarrassingly enough has my name written in huge letters across it, a security device against theft my mum put in place while I was in the hospital. But walking into the city you work in as a well-known newspaper journalist with your name emblazoned across a medical pillow associated with piles is not always a good thing – especially in a small town like Chester, and when most of the criminals know exactly who you are and now believe they could jump you at any moment and due to a problem with your bum you couldn’t begin to run away.
Over the past few days I’ve walked significantly further than I thought possible so soon after a major operation. I’ve stumbled through gardens and shopping centres, marvelled at daffodils and sunflowers, and managed to start cooking. I’ve sipped a giant non alcoholic cocktail at my best mate’s leaving party (sob!) and put on minimal makeup in a bid to look human again for the first time since my operation. I watched in amazement and horror as my boyfriend was forced to conquer his fear of heights by swinging from the tree tops in Go Ape at Delamere Forest. I was struggling to stay on my feet and dealing with my overwhelming instinct to run from seemingly harmless dogs as we traipsed around the course following his exhilarating zip wire course. And I was more exhausted from the massive walk through the forest than he was climbing trees when we got back to the flat frozen and covered in mud on Sunday afternoon.
Yesterday I made it to the small theatre in Chester to watch a remarkably entertaining amateur dramatic production. It was a comedy, but an agonising one both due to the rock solid seats on my pink bottom and the agony from my raw scar as I laughed out loud at some of the scenes. The play was excellent, but my bum and joints didn’t agree to sitting still for hours on end and it was a blessing relief to sit back at home on my polo mint pillow ( which, to my horror, I forgot) drinking a hot chocolate and scaring myself shitless watching The Following.
On a serious note every night I pray I will continue on this remarkably fast if painful road to recovery. I pray for hope, courage and bravery, not just for me but for my family, boyfriend and friends, and for everyone awaiting or recovering from surgery, or who is experiencing a flare or has recently been diagnosed with a chronic condition. I’m not devoutly religious, but I’ve always found a few words help keep me grounded and give me hope. I can’t sleep until I’ve said these words or silently prayed in my head. For some weird reason Winnie always farts during my prayer and makes me laugh, and I find myself in the bizarre position of apologising to God for my stoma’s rudeness and bad timing!