life with an ostomy. candid, not sugar-coated. empowered, not embarrassed.

May 17, 2006

We must be everywhere

In the summer of 2003 I was relaxing in a hotel suite with a group of people I didn't know that well. A joint was being passed around, the conversation was good and we were all unwinding after an intense day. I was very relaxed. I was so relaxed in fact that I did what I normally do when I'm at home lounging on the sofa; I pulled my bag out of my pants and slouched into the couch with my legs crossed on the coffee table. I'm not sure how much time passed before I actually realized that I had just exposed my bag to people who had no idea I had one. I was so embarrassed.

If this had happened to me today, I would have just made an announcement then and there. But I just kind of shrugged and slipped my bag back into my pants feeling, you could say... awkward.

The next day, I felt to the need to have a confidential talk with one guy in particular who I thought might have been completed baffled, maybe disturbed, about the what he'd seen. So I stopped him in his tracks and blurted out something like, "I know that was totally weird when I exposed that bag, um, that was hanging out of my pants, I mean, ummm...."

First of all, he had no idea what I was talking about. And he was not playing dumb. He looked at me blankly, which put me in the unwanted position of then feeling like I had to explain what the hell I was referring to.

Before I get to the apex of the story, this is a good time to illustrate a point. As an ostomate, I know I have an obsession with the lower right quadrant of my abdomen. If I ever feel a little bulge in my jeans, and my shirt isn't covering it, I am prone to thinking that everyone who walks by me is totally aware of it and immediately knows I have an ostomy. If the top of my bag peaks out of my pants when I reach for something, I'll assume that everyone in the room directed their attention to the quarter-inch of tan-coloured bag that was exposed. Yes, I am seriously misguided by my skewed self-perception and obsession with my poo resevoir. Thank god for moments like this when that point becomes clear: despite sitting in the same living room as me, while I had my entire bag hanging out of my pants, he did not notice it. And he hadn't even had a single puff of the magic dragon.

So when I was in the position of feeling like I needed to explain what the heck I was talking about, I told him. When I did, he matter-of-factly told me that he had been given a colostomy when he was a newborn. Apparently, we're everywhere. He was born with an extremely rare condition that required him to have the surgery (how cute it that? a baby with a little ostomy bag! I want one!). It was reversed years later, but I figure- once an ostomate, always an ostomate. I felt that immediate kinship with him that I feel with all ostomates I meet.

As much as I often think my bag is obvious, I know ostomates never really are. I wonder sometimes how many times I have shaken hands with an ostomate without knowing it, or been served by one at a restaurant, or cursed at one when they cut me off in traffic. My neighbours could be ostomates.

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