It was 11:30 AM. April felt a searing pain in her lower back as she slowly lifted herself off the bed, taking care not to disturb the tube that went from her small urostomy bag to her nighttime urine collection bag which sat on the floor near her feet in a large brown plastic box. But she noticed the tube was all twisted and there was still urine inside the small bag that never made it into the large collection bag. How lucky that the bag did not overflow!
The bandaging materials for her left leg were all over the floor of her tiny bedroom. She remembered that her foot hurt in the middle of the night causing her to remove all the bandages while half asleep. It seemed her leg often swelled while she slept making the bandages painful.
She carried the brown plastic box to the toilet but just as she was about to empty the bag into the toilet the tube coiled like a snake jumped out of the box and urine spilled all over the floor. Nasty tube, I ought to spank you! April said to the tubing. April went to get a pile of rags to mop up the floor, emptied and then rinsed the bag twice, and threw the rags in the laundry. She was always doing laundry it seemed, cleaning up spills from her ostomies or washing soiled underwear. Sometimes just emptying her colostomy bag would create quite a mess if there was splatter. She felt she had to be constantly vigilant against splatters and stains.
April was relieved it was Saturday. She was very tired on workdays and loved sleeping as much as possible on her days off.
After making a few cups of strong black tea she called Daisy.
It sounded like Daisy had just woken up. Her voice was drowsy.
How are things at work? she asked Daisy.
Oh you know, the same as always.
Give ’em hell, Daisy! What are you doing today?
Catching up with work.
How about tomorrow? Can you meet me tomorrow?
Yes, let’s have coffee at your house in the afternoon.
Ok, see you then.
Good. One task already accomplished.
April needed a shower. She took a large brown garbage bag and with surgical tape taped it to her body like a skirt that went over both of her ostomy bags to keep them dry. After her shower she carefully removed the garbage bag, dried her body, and hung the garbage bag out on the balcony to dry. Then she rubbed vaseline into the heels of her feet and used heavy moisturizing cream on both legs. She did a quick lymphedema massage on her left leg and then with effort using rubber gloves slowly eased on her compression stocking which had to be gradually pulled up using her fingers. Just getting the stocking on made her feel tired.
A delivery man came with a package for her. She knew it was the ostomy supplies she ordered.
In the box were ostomy bags and rings, tape, adhesive remover, bag lubricant, and stoma powder. April took the items carefully, almost reverently, out of the box and put them in the closet in her room. She always handled the bags and associated items with great care. Probably because she no longer thought of these items as appliances that she wore but rather as parts of her body. Because they were, in a way. She was rarely separated from her ostomy bags except for a few seconds twice a week when she changed the old bags for new ones. Otherwise they were always attached to her and she needed them. They were not just an extension of her but a part of her, she thought. She didn’t like other people looking at these items or handling them other than the supplier and delivery personnel which is why she mostly kept them as hidden as possible away from the eyes of people that she might invite over for coffee deep in the back of her closet.
As she began to clean up the breakfast dishes, suddenly a sharp pain stopped her. It felt like her clitoris was being ripped off her body. She bent over and moaned — the intense pain only lasted a few seconds. A few seconds more and April would have passed out from the pain, she thought. This used to happen about once a week but recently was happening much more often for some reason. She had many strange and painful sensations throughout her body over the course of each day. A few minutes later it felt as if she had wet her underwear between her legs. She grabbed her crotch but her underpants were dry; the area between her legs felt cold and numb. This made her feel sad but she tried to brush her feelings aside.
The body remembers what the mind has forgotten . . . .
Yesterday at work she had gone into the toilet again and again to manually push down her feces towards the bottom of the colostomy bag. If feces collected at the top sometimes it would push under the barrier ring and seep outside of the bag onto her stomach. She had to check the consistency of her output every day throughout the day sometimes taking herbs and other medicines to change it. It was hard to get it just right. The medicines took time to work. And sometimes the drugs made her stomach cramp even more than usual. But today things looked OK.
But she felt an intense itching under her urostomy flange. It did not stop so April fumbled around inside a very large box containing her arsenal of medicines and found some allergy pills. She took one hoping she would not need the steroid pills.
Today gas was filling into her colostomy bag making it look like a balloon. April went repeatedly to the bathroom to let out the gas. This created a smell like no other on earth.
It had been two years since her surgery. April did not drink alcohol so instead bought some fancy fruit juice in order to celebrate.
April opened the bottle of juice, held the glass high, and said out loud “To me!” She drank the juice. And, although she had only been awake for a few hours, a couple of minutes later she fell asleep in her chair. Because she had scoliosis her body was bent to one side. After sleeping a few hours she woke up because she had fallen off the chair onto the floor and her ear hurt. She was lucky that during her nap her urostomy bag did not overfill and that her left leg did not hurt from falling asleep with the stocking on.
After waking from her nap she decided it was a nice day for a walk. She dressed in warm clothes. She started walking down the street, feeling a pulling sensation where her rectum and anus had been, not a painful sensation but an odd one. She tried changing her posture and rate of walking but the sensation did not change. She caught a glimpse of herself in a store window: how old she looked! April had no grey hair and few wrinkles, but after the surgery her already terrible posture was even worse. She was bent forward like a woman 20 years her senior. She tried to straighten up but the shape of her reflection did not change.
The mask she was wearing helped keep her face warm and protected from the winter winds although it also made her face quite sweaty. She walked in circles with no particular plan in mind, just following the traffic lights, walking in the direction of green versus red stoplights. After about 40 minutes April was tired and returned home. After a meal of leftover oden, she took her compression bandages and padding materials and wound them into spools. Then she turned on the television and grabbed a handful of student essays to read. Ouch! she had forgotten to put a cushion on the chair before she plopped down on it. She set the cushion on the chair and began reading in front of the TV which was broadcasting the number of new COVID 19 cases.
Reading student essays made April very sleepy. She returned to her tiny bedroom and took several handfuls of pills, for pain and for sedation. She turned on a podcast. She removed her stocking and wound the bandages she had carried from the living room around her left leg. She connected her small urostomy bag to the larger one. She checked that the tube was straight and put the tube carefully under her leg. She also positioned the brown plastic box carefully on the floor. She went to the bathroom one more time to empty the output and gas in the colostomy bag. Then she got back into bed, checking the position of the tubing and box again, folded her hands over her chest, stared at the ceiling, and waited for sleep.
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.