by Katherine Morgan
(from Ostomy Canada Magazine – Summer 2012: Volume 20, Number 1)
Like many, I’m buzzing about my normal routine, we all know the deal… Sweep here, dust there, put a load of clothes in the wash as I’m dashing out the door, stop at the grocery store for a few things, run into the local pet store for fish food (yeah, my Koi are SUPER spoiled), quick grab of a snack at the not so good but oh so quick fast food drive up window, mad dash into the Post Office to drop off a couple of parcels, on to City Hall to stand in line forever for a building permit for our patio cover and then, ahhhh, at last, onto my final stop, Costco (truly, my second home).
It was as I pulled into the parking lot of Costco that I realized that not so tasty snack from the drive-up window was now pooching out my ostomy pouch like the Goodyear blimp. We’ve all been there, waited just a fraction too long to empty and now we have something that looks like a third breast sitting squarely on our abdomen. Not only is this new ‘addition’ similar in size to something off of the top half of Dolly Parton, it is about as hard as cement that has been cured for 25 years. Who knew that poop could stretch the limits of an ostomy pouch to something equal to 15 g-forces. Yes indeed, the ol’ bag was about to blow!
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Costco, before they will even let you sniff the very air inside that building you must first produce the guarded membership card. And to those who aren’t ‘purse organizationally challenged’ this would not be a difficult thing… To others, such as myself, it’s like asking us to find a needle in a haystack. I believe the conversation went something like this… “Yes, Mr. Costco man, I realize that I must produce my membership card… Yes, I realize that I can’t saunter about the store without my membership card or a pass from the membership desk… YES, Mr. Costco man, I did receive my coupon book… YES, Mr. Costco man, I know full well that you won’t be open on Labor Day… Look, Mr. Costco man, put a sock in it or you’re going to have a mess on the floor in front of you that, quite possibly, would bring Attila the Hun to his knees… OUT OF MY WAY, MAN!” And off I ran to the ladies room.
Let me just interject something here… why, in the name of all that is sacred, do stores insist on putting the restrooms in the furthest corner of the building? Move those puppies up front so the public at large is not exposed to the many ‘pee-pee dances’ we see as folks (myself included) attempt to make it across the store without leaving a trail that Hansel and Gretel would be ashamed to follow.
Ahh, I digress, back to my adventure. Steps quick but close, determination carved deep in my brow, I make my way to the ladies room, bypass the yellow barrier tape that the cleaning lady has put up and into a stall I rush. Do ya’ll realize that when you have a rock hard Triple E Dolly Parton breast on your tummy that it is a bit difficult to slide your jeans down without ripping that thing into pieces? Well, it can be done and given enough incentive (the poop collection is growing!!) those jeans can be at your knees before Mr. Costco man can say “Membership card please ma’am”.
I’m a ‘stander’ when I empty my pouch (we’ll have to have a discussion on standing versus sitting someday), clip in hand, pouch gripped tightly to control the force of Hurricane Ostomy as he tries to exit my pouch, facing the self flushing toilet, feet spread just enough to avoid any possible splash as the lightning speed of waste hits the water… all systems are go, let ‘er rip! Ahhhh. The relief I felt as that pouch emptied from a good two-gallon capacity down to less than an ounce was paramount to the birth of my son. But quickly, ever so quickly, that feeling of bliss was instantly erased as I realized that my pouch clip that had been tucked not so securely in between my fingers is now floating in that rather overfull toilet bowl. Now, don’t tell me no one else has done that, I can’t be the only klutz with an ostomy. It is here I have to admit that the thought of reaching in and snagging that little plastic jewel crossed my mind for a split second but just as quickly as that thought crossed my mind, the automatic flusher on the toilet kicked in and, SWOOOSH, down my little retention dam went, onto sewer headquarters.
You know that deer in the headlights, ‘oh crap’ look, well, yes, indeed, within a flash I was garnering that very look. Hmmm, what to do… Now I’m not one to carry an extra clip in my purse when I’m out running quick errands (lesson learned now!) so onto my less than organized shoulder bag in hopes of finding a rubber band. Wallet, check, debit card, check, Costco membership card, check (where was this thing hiding not three minutes ago?), pens, check, lipstick minus the cap, gross but check, half a pack of brittle gum, check, three sticky jelly beans, check, $47.53 in coin change, check… Rubber-band, NO check. Okay, plan B… PANIC! Okay, Katherine, think…
At this point I figure there is no use in staying in there until the cavalry comes as the cavalry doesn’t even know I need backup! Ahhh, cell phone! Call the everhelpful membership desk at Costco, speak to a rep and briefly explain that I’m in their restroom and I need a rubber band. Let’s just say this right now… BWAHAHAHAHA! Yeah, right!!
If I recall correctly, that special little conversation went something like this: Costco employee: “Costco, may I help you?”… “Yes, I am in your store, in fact, I’m in your restroom and I need a little help…”
Costco employee interrupts, “You’re where??” “In your restroom… in the store… you know, the restroom that’s way the hell ACROSS the store, as far away from the membership desk as is humanly possible!” Costco employee: “Oh… Okay… And you need help? Are you stuck in a stall? We had a lady get stuck in one of the stalls last week… ramble, ramble, … blah, blah, … Jiggle the hinge side of the door… ramble, ramble, …” “NO, I’m not stuck in a stall, but I am in one of the stalls and I have a bit of a medical situation”… Panic interruption from Costco rep… “Do you need an ambulance… Carol, call 911, we have a woman in the restroom who’s in trouble, HURRY!!…” “WAIT!! WAIT!! Do NOT call 911!! I repeat, DO NOT call 911!! Don’t let ‘Carol’ call 911 either!! I just need a rubber band, not half the city’s emergency crew running full code across town to your store!!” Costco employee: “Ohhh. Are you sure you don’t need an ambulance? Carol is dialing now…” “Sweetheart… Ladybug…, I think I would know if I needed an ambulance at this point in time and, trust me, I DON’T! What I need is a RUBBER BAND! You know, the stretchy thing that goes around newspapers?” Costco employee: “Ohhhh, okay… We don’t get a newspaper here at the store… did you not get your monthly coupons?” “GRRRR… Ummm, do you also work at the front door?” Costco employee: “No ma’am, but I worked in the bakery… will a bread tie work? pssst, Carol, hand me the walkie-talkie.” “For the love of Mary, would you please find a rubber band, walk across the store to the restroom, I’m in the handicap stall… I’ll be waiting for you… CLEAR?” Costco employee: “Ohhhh, yeah, okay… Carol, did you get the ambulance cancelled? I think there is someone on drugs in the ladies restroom, find the walkie talkie, call security!”
As I was moving my valued cell phone from my ear the final words I heard from that somewhat misguided Costco employee were “Yeah, she’s wanting a rubber band, she’s really agitated, I think she’s doing drugs in there!”
And now I have to say God Bless older women who have organized purses and listen in on the conversations of others while in public restrooms. As I sit like ‘The Thinker’, elbows on my knees, banging my head with my fists, I see this little, timid well-aged hand reach under the stall door with a rubber band, and in the tiniest of voices I hear, “Here you go, deary.” At that moment I had found my new hero! Delicately taking that little stretchy object from her, I quickly secured my now deflated pouch, up go the jeans and out of the stall I rush. And there I saw her, she was all of 4’9”, 90 pounds soaking wet and toting a hand bag the size of a small mini storage. She was a vision in lavender polyester, silver hair, glasses the size of dinner plates and ‘spunk’ written all over her; all she needed was a tiara and a cape and I know she would have been able to conquer the world! She was absolutely precious! We exchanged pleasantries, I offered to explain my need for a rubber band, she offered me a hanky along with a peppermint, we bonded instantly. It was a friendship that would last a lifetime even though we both knew we would, no doubt, never see each other again. We washed and dried our hands, tossing the tissue over our shoulders like pro basketball players and then walked to the exit door of the restroom… It was in those next moments that I realized that this precious little lavender clad lady was one of the most spirited people I had ever met. As we approached the exit door of the restroom we were met face to face with a Costco employee, a security guard, Mr. Costco man from the front door and a couple of burly males who looked like they could work as bouncers at the toughest joint in town. My heart stopped, I was going to jail, the local law was going to be there any moment! I wanted to shout: SWEET HEAVEN, ALL I WANTED WAS A RUBBER BAND! I DON’T LOOK GOOD IN STRIPES!
And now, my friends, this is where we learn from our elders. As bold and in your face as a person can get while still maintaining dignity, my new little lavender lady sauntered right up to Mr. Costco man from the front door, shifting her mini storage size hand bag from one hand to the other, placing her free hand on her hip like Mae West and tilting her head ever so gently to the right as she looked up into his eyes, her words were short and concise, she wasted no energy, her mere presence commanded their attention… all eyes were on her, including mine!
“Sir… Your auto flush toilet just sucked the Depends right off my hiney. Now, unless you want to put those hands of yours to work on operating a mop, I suggest you get out of our way, we have diapers to purchase!” And with that she laced her arm through mine, stuck her chin out a good three inches and proclaimed, “Dear, let’s go shopping!”
Yes, it was a day that will stay with me forever. As it turned out, this sweet little grandma was sporting a 40 plus year old colostomy. She was of that age where, as she so eloquently put it, “Too damn many kids, I leak like a sieve.” While she was taking care of business in the ladies room she loosened her diaper and perched on the toilet to tend to a flange issue with her colostomy. When she stood up the diaper didn’t, falling partly into the toilet bowl. Before she could grasp the diaper the auto flush kicked in and sucked that thing right down!
For a brief moment it crossed my mind that I was now strolling through Costco with an 80 plus year old women who had nary a stitch on under her little lavender polyester suit! And in the next moment I realized that I couldn’t have been more blessed, I couldn’t have been any prouder than I was at that very moment. I was in the company of grace, charm and a woman who had probably experienced more in her life than most of us could possibly imagine. She had buried two of her children, a grandchild, her parents, siblings and more friends than she could count. She had endured what would have been considered barbaric surgery by today’s standards but she not once uttered a word of remorse. She walked with confidence, she commanded respect, she had a twinkle in her eye that still melted the heart of her sweetheart of 65 years… And she was not the least little bit taken aback by her ostomy. She oozed that amazing comfort that well-worn blankets give us. As she briefly shared the ‘coming’ of her ostomy I realized that God truly has a plan and purpose for all of us and He had opted to share this amazing woman with me in my time of need. Granted, my life was not in danger as I watched my pouch clip float down that drain, I was not in harm’s way, my universe was not going to be shifted off its axis simply because I lost grip of the clip… life WAS going to go on. But my life was indeed changed. I had the amazing pleasure of sharing a brief moment with a woman who I can only dream of becoming.
So, the next time you are rushing about in your busy world, stop for a moment, listen to the world around you, take in the beauty of a friendship that you might otherwise brush off as a passing conversation, carry yourself with pride and dignity, wear lavender, carry rubber bands in a pocket, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone. And above all else, remember to count your blessings, open your eyes and live! Live loud! And should you happen upon a petite little lady sporting a lavender polyester suit, a handbag as big as the whole outdoors, and showing no fear in the face of a self flushing toilet, give her a hug from me. Mrs. Blankenship, you ARE da bomb!
Katherine lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico
“Costco, Lavender, Polyester, and the Auto-Flushing Toilet” first appeared in the Summer 2012 edition of Ostomy Canada. You can become a subscriber to our glossy, full-colour publication of Ostomy Canada by joining Ostomy Canada Society. Find out more here.