April woke up to feel warm steaming poop on her stomach, making her skin itch. By now she was almost immune to the stench. She got up slowly and carefully, trying to hold the partially detached colostomy bag against her body to prevent more poop from getting out of the bag onto her body or her bed. She noticed the sheets and her blanket were quite stained with poop.
She walked half asleep into the kitchen — “I need caffeine to deal with this” she said aloud to no one as she was alone — to make some tea, still holding the colostomy bag against her body, blissfully unaware that she left a trail of poop behind her from the bed to the kitchen.
After two cups of strong tea she started to unwind the poop-stained elastic bandages on her left leg one by one, then the padding material, then the cotton sleeve under the padding material that protected her skin from the padding (she was allergic to the padding material, as well as to many other things).
She found a new colostomy and urostomy bag (the latter old one was also poop stained), snapped the urostomy bag into its flange, and located paper towels and small plastic bags for the waste.
She got into the shower and using adhesive remover was able to entirely detach the colostomy bag. She used mild soap and wet paper towels to gently cleanse around her stoma which looked like a giant slightly smashed umeboshi. She then used more adhesive remover to dislodge the urostomy bag and still more on the skin around that stoma where tons of glue always remained. She rubbed around the stoma on the right with wet paper towels followed by soap and more wet paper towels. She blotted her abdomen dry. There were many red itchy patches. She put steroid cream on the red patches and then blotted again with a paper towel.
She pulled the plastic backing off of the urostomy flange and then carefully positioned the flange so that the stoma was in the center of the small hole in the flange and then pushed down on the barrier ring and pushed down inside the ring and then used outward strokes to finish sealing the flange to her abdomen. She did the same for the colostomy side.
She set a timer for 14 minutes and laid down on the floor, pressing both flanges into her body the whole time to make them adhere better. When the beeper went off, she got up off the floor and put some clothes on. She returned to the shower room and put the used bags and used paper towels into a garbage bag that she tied tightly shut and then threw into the kitchen trash. There was poop here and there on the floor so she cleaned that up with paper towels that she put into the trash bag. She also found the trail of poop on the floor between her bedroom and kitchen as well as traces of poop on the bedroom light switch. She cleaned this up with wet paper towels and threw the towels in the trash.
She went into her bedroom and took the soiled sheets and blankets off the bed and threw them into the washer together with her bedclothes and elastic bandages.
Good thing in a way it was only 4am! April said to herself. Plenty of time to get to school on time today.
She opened up a jar of skin cream and started massaging it gently into both legs and feet. Then she began her simple lymphedema massage on her left leg, slowly drawing the lymphatic fluids up towards her heart via small smooth light strokes. She rewound the padding into 3 rolls and found her spare set of elastic bandages. After putting on the cotton sleeve, she started winding the padding and then the bandages around her leg from foot to top taping the bandages to her leg.
April wasn’t hungry yet so she started doing the abdominal exercises she had found online for people with stomas. After about half an hour she became hungry and made her usual breakfast of oatmeal with banana.
She began to find the materials she needed to teach her classes today which were strewn about the living and bedroom. The wash was done; good thing it’s not raining, she thought to herself. She hung the laundry out to dry on the balcony. She changed her clothes and quickly brushed her hair.
Now 6am, she checked her telephone. Daisy had called her last night when she was out at a work social function. Daisy seemed to have tried to muster up a cheerful voice, but April could tell she had been crying. Too early to call her now, April made a mental note to call her tonight. She was worried about Daisy who had seemed depressed a lot recently.
Only a month ago April herself had put her head in a towel tied to her bedroom door as a practice session for suicide. As she had started to asphyxiate a voice in her right ear said: Go on! Keep going! Just go to sleep! but in her left ear: Your neck really hurts. Stop before you really injure yourself! She ended up listening to the voice in her left ear. Did she make the right choice? She could always try again.
She looked in the mirror. Not bad for a disabled woman in her fifties she said to herself. She had avoided looking in the mirror in the bathroom however when she was naked. Some days that was simply too much.
April got in her car and drove to the university. During the drive she felt something warm on her leg. Was her urostomy leaking? Or was this just a phantom sensation as she often got those. Or was she simply feeling the warmth of her urostomy bag as it filled while she was driving? April kept driving, hoping nothing had gone wrong.
Once at the university, April parked her car and walked up the stairs to her office.
A student was waiting outside the door. Oh no, it’s already started, April said to herself. The steady stream of students, teachers and office people who dropped by her room in the university. Sometimes it was too much; it was hard to actually get any work done. She longed for solitude.
April looked at the student’s face and fortunately was able to recall his name. Hi, Hiroshi. How are you?
Hiroshi looking down at the floor said in Japanese: I am having some problems I want to talk to you about.
Come in, said April. She checked her watch. Twenty minutes till her next class.
About the Author
Jane Joritz-Nakagawa is the author of many books and chapbooks of poetry, most recently Plan B Audio (Isobar Press, 2020) as well as fiction and creative non-fiction. She’s also the editor of an anthology titled women : poetry : migration [an anthology] (theenk Books, 2017). Originally from Illinois, Jane lives in central Japan. Email is welcome at janejoritznakagawa(at)gmail(dot)com.