My feet are dangled over the edge of my hospital bed. I’m wearing my “street” clothes which is very weird. For the past fourteen days I have been wearing a hospital gown. I’m anxiously awaiting my nurse to return. Today is the big day. D-Day. Discharge day. I would be leaving with fewer body parts than when I had arrived. I had battled two years with Crohn’s disease. It pretty much won. The prize for it? It got to claim my colon. For me? I was going home with something called an ileostomy. The very end of my small bowel, the terminal ileum, was brought through a hole in my stomach, this was called a stoma. Over this was placed a pouch into which my bodily waste is deposited. To be honest, at this point, only a few days into it I really didn’t know a bloody thing about it. I pretty much avoided looking at it. The stoma nurses were great, they showed me twice how to change it. But I really didn’t want to go home. You see, I felt safe in the hospital. There were all these wonderful people taking care of me. Going home was... well, scary.
“This is your graduated container. Every time you have output you need to empty it into here and measure it. Then you will jot it down on this log.” My nurse holds a piece of paper up for me to see. “When you come back to see your surgeon, they are going to want to see this.”
“Wait… what?” I muster weakly having barely understood a word she had just told me.
My nurse, a pro, didn’t skip a beat. All the nurses who had taken care of me the last fourteen days were. She didn’t seem exasperated with me that I hadn’t understood. It was as if dealing with patients who had only half heard her or always had confused looks on their faces was what she experienced all day long.
“So, I can’t just empty into the toilet? I have to empty into this thing first, measure it, and log it?”
She shook her head in affirmation.
I took the three-sided container from her and looked it over closely. It was a strange triangular shape and was made of semitransparent plastic. It had graduated scales up two sides of it. One read 32 ounces. Or 1000 cc. The other side was in milliliters. It went up to 1500.
“So, you got that? Empty into that first. Jot down the amount of output on this.” She holds up the piece of paper again and dangles it in front of me.
“Yeah, sure,” I muster. Although I was sort of turned off by the whole thing.
It seemed, well… it seemed gross to me. I thought back to the few stool samples I had to supply for various tests over the last two years. It was never a pleasant experience. It almost always triggered my gag reflex. The one time that I had thrown up uncontrollably surfaced in my mind. Queasy I put my hand over my stomach only to rediscover my new hitchhiking friend there on my belly. My ostomy pouch.
The nurse rattled off what seemed like another 100 instructions and since I didn’t have any further questions, she had me sign all the documentation and we headed down to the parking lot.
And then… freedom. And food. Bread. With butter. Apple sauce. Tapioca pudding. Crepes. My mother-in-law must have made me a hundred crepes my first week home from the hospital. Bread with more butter. Two trips that first week to the grocery store. I proudly pushed the shopping cart hither and to. I gained almost eleven pounds that first week home.
And too… getting to know my new ostomy. A 3 am bag change that turned into a 2-hour affair replete with excessive sweating and a litany of swearing. I wasn’t any good at it. There wasn’t anyone to ask for help. My wife did the best she could, but it was all new to her as well.
And the measuring. I was a diligent patient. I knew that my surgeon was counting on me to uphold my end of the bargain. I had to measure my output. And so, every time I had any I used the graduated container as I had been instructed. And then washed it out with soap and water. Every. Single. Time. My one-page log turned into a multipage bible. I figured by the time I saw my surgeon (just 3 short weeks after being discharged) it would be a large dusty tome detailing the inner workings of my new plumbing situation.
And the day came for my first appointment since discharge. I was almost 15 pounds heavier from just three short weeks prior when I had left the hospital. I was feeling so much better. The pain was even bearable. In addition to seeing my surgeon (Who didn’t recognize me) I also saw the ostomy nurse. I was proudly clutching my “Poop-log” and handed it over to her expecting praise for having been such a responsible patient. Without even glancing at it she shoved all 5 pages of it into a folder.