by Angie Schickerowski
(from Ostomy Canada Magazine – Winter 2013: Volume 21, Number 2)
The power of kindness. It’s overwhelming how the simple act of a stranger helping you out in an extremely embarrassing and awkward situation can impact your life so greatly. And it almost, emphasis on ‘almost’, makes up for the ignorance and poor attitudes of others who make you feel even more embarrassed and ashamed in those situations. In the four years of having an ostomy, I have had trouble with the clip closure on my ostomy pouch only four times. Make that five now. It doesn’t seem like a huge number, but each of those memories is vividly ingrained in my mind. I think anyone who’s been in one of ‘those’ situations can identify whole heartedly. It was an average day for me as a Mom of two and seven months p regnant with the third. Our daughter was at school, and the little mister and myself were at the pool, taking part in one of those mom and tot swimming lessons. You know… the ones where a group of one and two year olds splash around in the water as the moms all sing “ I Had A Tiny Turtle” in unison for the twenty-seventh time.
I love swimming and I especially love spending time in the water with our kids. Being seven months pregnant and starting to feel like a walrus, I also really enjoyed the weightlessness of being in the water. Having an ostomy has never held me back from enjoying time in the pool. Ahhh… Life was good.
The class ended, the kids got their ‘report cards’ and our little guy Lincoln got a high five for passing the ‘Duck’ level of Swim Kids. In the change room, we got our stuff all together and I wrangled the squirmy little dude into a change room so that we could change out of our swimsuits and back into our clothes. As I was pulling my swimsuit bottoms down, and trying to stop the little escape artist from crawling under the door, the clip o f my ostomy pouch got caught on the fabric of my swimsuit, came undone, and WHOOSH, the entire contents of my bag went crashing to the floor, splashing all over the floor, our towels, and my son.
“ NOOOO… ” I cried out, along with a word I’m not proud to have said out loud in front of a bunch of children.
I grabbed Lincoln and pulled him off the ground as he started to try and play in the mess that was all over the floor. My brain started running in circles, trying to think of how to even tackle this mess. I could feel the panic starting to rise up in my throat, and then I hear this from the other side of the change room: “Oh my GOD! Disgusting! Madeline get over here this instant! NO! NOW! We’ll go to the family change room…” Followed by the quick rustle-rustle as another mom and her kid hurry to pull their stuff out of a locker and rush out the door. All of this happened in a matter of seconds, and the tears started pouring down my face. Lincoln was trying to scramble out of my arms, and as shame and embarrassment overcame me, I really was at a loss as to what to do next.
Then I heard another voice. “Excuse me, are you okay? Can I help?”
I was full on sobbing by this time. My emotions tend to run on the more sensitive side of things to begin with: add on the hormones of pregnancy, and you’ll find my picture in the dictionary under the definition of ‘basket case’.
“I don’t know,” I squeaked out. “I… I… I need to give my son a shower… and I… I don’t know. I need to clean up this mess. It’s hard to explain…”
I heard her quietly murmur something to her kids and then she was back at the door to our change room. “Why don’t you pass your little one to me?” she asked, “I can give him a shower.” “No, that’s okay. He’s… Um, he’s covered…” I was really struggling with how to explain this. He’s covered in my poop? Is that really something I want to say out loud? Lincoln is crying by this time. He doesn’t like that I’m crying, but he also REALLY hates the fact that I’m not letting him down. “Listen, it’s okay. Don’t worry. I’ve got three boys. They’ve been covered in all sorts of messes before. Let me take him to the shower quickly if that will help you out at all?” This lady is pretty much a complete stranger. We’ve attended six mom andbaby swim lessons together. We’ve sung the stupid turtle song a hundred times together. But I don’t know her name. We’ve never made small talk. And here she is offering me what feels like the greatest gift of kindness in the world. “Okay…” I sob, and use my swimsuit to clean a little bit off Lincoln before opening the door a crack to pass him through. I hear her chattering away to him as she rinses him off in the shower, and he’s squealing with glee because he’s a little fish. As I use the already dirty towel to clean up some of the mess on the floor and off of my feet, I hear her come back to the locker area with Lincoln and instruct her four year old to share some of his cars with his new friend.
Miraculously, the downpour from my ostomy bag missed me almost entirely. And thankfully didn’t hit our bag with clean clothes in it at all. By this time I was able to finish getting myself dried off and changed back into my clothes. As I opened the door, I saw my Angel In Shining Armour expertly putting a diaper onto my son who was twisting and turning on the change table in an attempt to get back to the little race track of cars that had been set up on the benches. His two new friends were still in their swimsuits and making expert car noises as they raced up and down the ‘track’. “ He seems to be the same size as Aiden,” she smiled at me, “so I just used one of our diapers.” “Thank you so much,” I started to say as tears welled up in my eyes, “ I don’t know…” As my sentence trailed off and the lump rose up again in my throat, she waved her hand in the air emphatically, “It’s seriously nothing,” she told me, “I’ve had strangers help me out before in some pretty sticky situations. Once, I had our van running, as I ran into the post office to get the mail. When I came back out, Lucas here (she points at the older boy) had undone his seatbelt, locked the doors and was in the driver’s seat trying his best to pull the gearshift out of park. It was awful! But the guy in the car next to me, who I’m pretty sure learned his skills in a shady way, was able to get my door unlocked in less than a minute. Thank God! It was one of those ‘I’m the worst mother in the world’ moments for sure.” Her rambling story put me at ease and I was able to smile as Lincoln started driving the car up and down my leg. “Hardly the worst mom in the world,” I told her, “and it is definitely something. Not NOTHING! I am so grateful for your help.”
“I need to get some janitor supplies or something to finish cleaning up in there,” I continued as I lifted Lincoln up to go out and ask a staff member for help. “They already know,” she told me, “they said they can just spray down the floor and pour on some bleach once we’re out of here. There are no lessons for the next hour so no one will be in here.” I have no idea where she found the time to talk to somebody about this. As she wrestles her one son away from the cars to get changed she goes into their locker and comes out with a plastic bag. “Maybe you already have one,” she said, “but in case you don’t, here’s one for whatever laundry you might need to put in there.” “Thank you,” I reply, and am seriously at a loss for words. She waves her hand again in the air, and as she starts getting her little guy changed, and I start putting on Lincoln’s clothes, I try to find the words to explain to her what happened. I feel like I have to.
“I have an ostomy bag,” I blurt out, “and it has this silly little plastic clip that keeps it closed. And it normally works just fine, but somehow today, it didn’t work fine,” I’m completely rambling, but I don’t know how else to explain all of this, “and my bathing suit got caught on it and so then the bag opened and everything inside spilled out onto the floor.”
She’s listening intently and looks up momentarily with a puzzled look on her face, “I really hate having to ask this”, she says, “but can you tell me what an ostomy bag is? I’ve heard the word before. I actually think my grandfather had one, but he passed away when I was thirteen. I really don’t know what it is.”
For some reason, I had the impression that this stranger had some sort of idea of what had happened inside that change room. I had a gut feeling like she was a nurse or something, and that’s what made her come to my aid because she had an understanding of what was going on . My heart is bursting with gratitude for this amazingly kind woman.
I have an ostomy ‘schpeel’ at this point of my life, a short and sweet description of having had colitis, going for surgery, what an ostomy is, and how it’s one of the greatest things to have ever happened to me. As I rattle it off to her, she listens carefully, all while dressing her kids, herself, and handing over a snack to all three kids. I feel like I have actually met Super Mom.
“I am so sorry that you’ve gone through all of that,” she says to me when I finish, “but wow, does it sound like you have the right outlook on life! I can’t say that I’d be that grounded if I were in your shoes.” I have a hard time believing that. My Angel In Shining Armour and I make our way out of the change room with our munchkins in tow and say goodbye at the door. Both of the one year olds manage to have meltdowns at the exact same time while we’re putting their boots and coats on , and we never get around to exchanging names or numbers. But as she was heading out the door I called out to her, “Thank you again. Words can’t even begin to express how grateful I am!”
“No worries,” she replies, “Seriously. Shit happens.” And the two of us laugh together over the whines and cries of the toddlers, as we go our separate ways. Her gift of kindness and good will, will forever be engrained in my memory. The shame and embarrassment I felt from the attitude and actions of the other mom in the change room will be hard to forget, but the pain is definitely much easier to swallow when I reflect on the amazing woman who went out of her way to help me out.
Angie is the 20/40-committee leader for both UOAC and Calgary Ostomy Society and the webmaster for COS and NCACOA.
“Shhh…It Happens” first appeared in the Winter 2013 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.