New Friends and Toxic Spills

This is the 11th in a series of articles about my recent trip to the emergency room, my intestinal surgery, and my recovery afterwards. Here is an index to all of the articles in this series.

It’s now Friday, August 11 after my emergency surgery the previous Tuesday. I was feeling reasonably well with minimal pain. When I did have pain the morphine shots seemed to help. It was time to start thinking about life beyond this hospital stay in the key to that was getting up in my wheelchair.

As explained before, I can’t sit up without my back brace which is basically a plastic body cast that runs for my waist to my armpits. I was wrestling with the difficulties that would pose now that I have a plastic bag glue to the side of my abdomen that would eventually contain all sorts of nasty waste. I really, really did not want to have to cut any holes in the brace to make room for the bag. I spoke to Dr. Davis the surgeon and he seemed to think I can simply wear the brace over the bag.

That morning a nurse who was described as the “ostomy and wound care specialist” stop by for a visit. She was there to train my parents how to change the bag and to give the other general instructions about how to deal with this situation. Mom wasn’t there that morning but Dad was. She demonstrated how to use a small damp wipe with a special solvent that helps loosen the glue. Then she showed him how to clean the skin to prepare it for a new bag.

They have a small piece of cardboard with various size holes cut in it that you use as a measuring gauge on your stoma to see how big a hole to cut in the bag before you stick it on to you. She said that over time as it heals further they can actually shrink some so you need to measure it periodically to make sure you’re still doing it right. You then peel some backing paper off of the bag and stick it to your side. You apply pressure with the palm of your hand and use the heat from your hand to sort of warm up the adhesive so it sticks well. She said leave your hand there a minute or two.

When I discussed with her possibility of wearing the brace over the bag she was much more skeptical that that would work. She was concerned that I might bruise the stoma. I also asked her how often I might have to empty the thing. I’m generally out of bed 10 or 11 hours per day. She was also skeptical that I can go that long without emptying it. It was all pretty discouraging.

Other than the visit from the ostomy nurse. The day was pretty uneventful. I did have the visit from Judy on her way home from work which was very nice. Mom and Dad were in and out and as usual I did a lot of sleeping.

They had me on a all liquid diet which was extremely boring. Jell-O, tea or coffee, broth etc. One of the problems was that it was all stuff that tended to give me heartburn. Sometimes it was so bad I would just throw it up again.

Another milestone I needed to pass was to actually put something in the bag. Since the surgery I hadn’t had any movement all. Friday night was the first time anything went into the bag.

Weekends in the hospital are a different experience because generally the staff levels are lower. There’s not as much activity because no one schedules surgeries or procedures on weekends or unless it is an emergency. I had had pretty good nurses taking care of me. St. Vincent hospital has instituted a color coding system for some of their uniforms. Nurses wear light blue and patient care people (what they used to call orderlies) wear red. Saturday morning I had the unusual luck of the draw to get two male nurses (actually one nurses and one caregiver). Like most male nurses, he had started out in the Armed Forces as some kind of medic and then got his nursing degree after getting out. The caregiver had been working at the hospital a couple of years and had worked in a nursing home prior to that. He was going to school part-time to study nursing as well.

The caregiver guy named Cory kind of became a friend to me over the next couple of days. I think we bonded after a minor disaster occurred Saturday morning. Cory was giving me a bed bath and as he rolled me over on my right side, the ostomy bag flopped over because it was full of liquid. I was the first I’d had anything in there yet. As he’s washing my back I suddenly noticed a nasty smell. When he rolled me back on my back again we discovered what was wrong. The bag completely peeled off of me and spilled its contents down the side of bed and all the floor!

You can imagine how discouraging it was the first time there was ever anything in this bag that the results were a major disaster. Cory couldn’t believe it. Upon further inspection it looked as though the nurse had failed to peel away the protective backing covering the adhesive. I can’t imagine someone who has experienced as the ostomy specialist nurse would’ve messed up like that. There must have been something defective about the bag or there was some other problem. Anyway Cory just went about calmly mopping up the whole mess. He got me cleaned up and applied the new bag. I don’t know what went wrong that day but I’ve never had another “accident” with the thing yet and that was a couple of months ago.

I was fortunate to have Cory has my caregiver for three of my last four days in the hospital. He not only did the usual things like coming in to take vital signs. He was also responsible for feeding meals. That gave us plenty of time to talk and get acquainted. I always joke about hoping to find a good-looking female nurse with whom I could fall in love during the hospital stays. Given that it’s highly unlikely that would happen, I guess the next best thing is to meet a guy who could be in really good buddy to hangout with during meals at who was calm and collected in the middle of a crisis. I felt very like to know him.

In the next installment I invent a new language to instruct my caregivers.

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