(This is a submission from Phil Bailey, a fellow Crummy Gut person. Enjoy!! Tina)
IBD or IBS? Inflammatory Bowel Disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome? I don’t completely understand the differences between these two maladies, so I’m not sure which one I have. Maybe I don’t have either one. I don’t really care. All I know is that sometimes I’ll go for a couple of days with no noticeable bowel activity other than passing gas, and then BOOM! I’ll have a massive bowel movement that’s like an active volcano that oozes magma at a steady rate. It’s not explosive, just a constant flow. I call it a geyser.
Now I need to explain that I don’t have bowel movements the way most people do. Due to serious complications resulting from prostate cancer radiation treatments and cryoablation, I wear a colostomy bag. I poop into the bag and I have no control over the process of elimination. Stuff moves through my colon and when it’s ready to come out, it exits through a small hole in a stoma that sticks out through my stomach and enters a small plastic bag. Sometimes small chunks of solid material are expelled; sometimes it’s soft stool.
Colostomy bags are not very large, and in my opinion they are not very well designed. They are widest at the top where they attach to the skin around the stoma; then they taper to a small width at the bottom. The opening for emptying the bag is much too small. After two days without any bowel activity, a “geyser” completely overwhelms a colostomy bag. And it only takes about 5 minutes to do so.
The other day I was having lunch with Tina at Disneyland. We ate corn dogs and apple slices and then stopped for ice cream on Main Street before heading for the exit. I had not had a bowel movement for a couple of days, so I knew I was due for a geyser and that it would probably come sometime that day. I didn’t expect it to come while we were walking to the parking lot tram and riding back to the main parking structure. By the time we got off the tram and rode the escalator up to the 5th level of the parking structure, I could feel the weight of my colostomy bag pulling down on the seal that holds it in place on my stomach. By the time we walked from the top of the escalator to my car, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to make it home before going to the bathroom. I had to ride the escalator back down to the ground floor and hobble into the restroom to empty my bag.
In this instance everything worked out okay even though my volcanic bowel movement occurred away from home. I was not as fortunate in another incident that occurred back in early July…
I was at Yosemite with a few close friends. We were hiking up the paved trail to the base of Vernal Falls. It was a pretty steep and challenging trail for a guy still recovering from major abdominal surgery and carrying a camera bag on his shoulder — especially a guy who had severe neuropathy in his feet (a side effect of strong IV antibiotics I had been on for nearly 4 months, from mid-February until early June). I was far more concerned about my numb feet that day than I was about the integrity of my colostomy bag, which was now on about its fourth day.
Fortunately, I didn’t experience a volcanic eruption that day. Fortunately, I made it to the end of trail at the base of Vernal Falls without incident and was able to take some photos of the falls and the spray coming off the rocks. Unfortunately, my colostomy bag did fill up enough during the hike that as I was leaving the falls to walk back down the trail, the weight of the bag plus the constant bending over I had been doing to put down my camera bag to change lenses and take pictures, plus the constant twisting to keep the camera bag on my shoulder while I walked, plus the heat that was producing perspiration, caused the top part of the seal to give way and separate from my skin without my knowledge.
My first indication that something was not right was a damp brown spot about the size of a quarter that I noticed on the left side of my shorts near the waistband. I stopped walking, put down my camera bag, lifted up the bottom of my tank-top shirt, held it up with my chin, and pulled out on the waistband of my shorts so I could peek inside. I was horrified at what I saw. I quickly pressed the colostomy bag back against my skin, let go of the waistband of my shorts and the bottom of my tank-top, and then tried to hold the bag in place using pressure from my left hand against the left side of my stomach.
As I walked down the trail as quickly and as steadily as I could, I got lots of strange looks and stares by the people passing me who were going up the trail. Several asked me if I was alright. A few others asked if I needed help. I was so tempted to say, “Yes, I need help! I have a leaking poop bag! Can you fix it for me?” And then for dramatic effect, pull out on the waistband of my shorts so they could see the grossness. Am I too cynical? When people ask someone if they need help, are they really willing to help even if it means getting smelly and dirty?
I always carry an emergency ostomy repair kit with me wherever I go so that I’ll be able to patch up a leaky seal if one should break when I’m away from home. Except that on this day I had left the repair kit in the car in the parking lot at the base of the trail. Oops! Now I put the repair kit in my camera bag if I’m taking it with me on a hike, or I put it in a small backpack if I’m hiking without my camera bag.
The Boy Scout motto is very appropriate for anyone who suffers from crummy gut symptoms of any kind: Be Prepared!