For You

splash“You fucking idiot. You’re a fucking idiot. You fucked everything up. You fucked everything up. You’re fucking hideous. You fucking idiot.” I stare into the wide, teary brown eyes that look back at me in the bathroom mirror. I feel as though I’m really looking at someone else. I don’t see myself.

I see a long, thin, smooth, childish face. I see a long, skinny neck. I see little bones popping out around my shoulders. I see ribs pushing against the skin that covers them. I see boney arms connected to comically oversized hands. I see a beige bag hanging from the abdomen, partially concealing a blood stained bandage stuck below the navel.

I turn to my left and see more bandages in the mirror. White bandages cover the top of my right buttock. A thin layer of plastic covers the bandages. The end of a white tube peeks out from the bandages and connects to a clear plastic tube about the width of a pencil. Inside the clear plastic tube I can see collections of pus, short lines of brownish-yellow dregs. The tube makes a loop and ends inside a clear plastic bag strapped to my right thigh with white elastic bands. Brownish-yellow fluid pools at the bottom of the bag, above a ribbed, blue plastic nozzle.

“Hideous,” I whisper.

The creature in the mirror is not what a human being is supposed to look like. I can’t see the young man who once felt promise in his life. The young man who graduated with high distinction from the University of Toronto. The young man who kept a modest but tidy one-bedroom apartment in Halifax for two years. The young man who has run several 10K races, including one in his underwear. The young man who kidded himself into thinking that surgery would make his life better. I see a broken machine, held together with a patchwork of plastics and adhesives.

I grimace as pain radiates through my core and my intestines push gas and liquid stool towards my ileostomy. I hunch over as the pressure intensifies around the stoma. A loud fart thrusts its way through the stoma, followed by a warm squirt of stool that settles at the bottom of my ostomy bag. I cup the bottom of the bag to feel its weight. Not heavy enough to deal with the hassle of emptying it.

I step into the shower. Hot water rains down on me as I carefully slide the soap around my ostomy appliance, my wound dressing, the bandages on my drainage tube, and the bag on my thigh. It’s nice to shower opposed to the horrid washcloth wipe downs I gave myself in hospital, but I don’t ever really feel fresh after a shower with all these things on me, just a little less disgusting.

~ ~ ~

My homecare nurse, Shaudia, arrives soon after my shower. Her short, frizzy black hair is pulled back with a red hair band. She has dark skin, a small, flat nose, and always arrives 15 minutes ahead of schedule. I’ve been very lucky to have her as my primary homecare nurse; She’s knowledgeable, friendly, sympathetic, and as I mentioned, punctual.

Her first task is to change the bandages covering my drainage tube and apply a new “anchor” – a little plastic platform designed to help keep the tube from falling out, as it did a few weeks ago. I lower my white shorts and underwear and lay on my bed on my left side. Shaudia begins the painful process of peeling the plastic film and bandages that cover my drainage tube. I hear tearing and scraping noises in between apologies from Shaudia. “I hate doing this. I feel the pain,” she says.

“It’s okay,” I reply. I close my eyes, scrunch my face, and take deep breaths. The adhesives rip out my body hair and leave grey residue marks on my skin. Once the bandages are removed, Shaudia cleans the area with saline-soaked gauze pads, then sets up the new anchor. She covers it with a much smaller bandage, then layers Tegaderm – a waterproof plastic film – over the bandage. I hike my underwear and shorts back up and roll onto my back.

The next area in need of attention is my ostomy. I have, as one wound and ostomy nurse put it, a bad ostomy. It’s sunken into my skin, rather than a protrusion from it, which makes it much easier to care for. I lift up my green t-shirt and Shaudia removes my ostomy appliance, gently separating the adhesive flange from the skin on the right side of my abdomen. Light brown liquid stool covers the stoma and some of the surrounding skin. Shaudia wipes the stool away and I can see a ring of red skin around the exposed stoma, which is a little smaller than a quarter, but not perfectly round; it’s shaped more like a bean. Shaudia dusts powder on the damaged skin, then lines up a new flange over the stoma. The convex-shaped flange digs into the skin around my stoma and sticks to my abdomen. I clip a new bag onto the flange and tug on it to make sure it’s properly attached.

With the ostomy covered again, Shaudia lifts the bandage that covers the wound below my navel. The wound is 5.5 cm long, 1.5 cm wide. It looks like raw beef. Shaudia cleans the wound and the skin surrounding it and places a 10 x 10 cm Mepilex bandage over it. Shaudia tells me that on her next visit, she’ll swab the wound with silver nitrate to aid in the healing process. I remember the mild burning sensation I felt that last time I had silver nitrate swabbed on my wound.

With my body’s dysfunctions cleaned and newly bandaged, Shaudia’s work is done for the day.

“Thank you for everything.” I swivel my legs over the edge of the bed and sit on its side.

“Oh you’re welcome, Rasheed,” says Shaudia. “You take care.”

I walk Shaudia to the front door and watch her get into an older model, green BMW. We wave at each other as she pulls away.

~ ~ ~

I meet Jayee at Second Cup outside the Square One shopping mall. She wears blue shorts and a leopard print top. Her shoulder-length hair is tied back, a few loose strands hang behind her ears.

“I hate doctors,” she says. “You look handsome. Anyway, I went to the walk in clinic and the doctor starts by yelling at me, ‘Why are you here?! What is it that you’re looking for?!’ So I told him I had been having severe headaches and nosebleeds, then he says, ‘But why is it you’re here?! Are you looking for a diagnosis?! Work with me here! What is it you want out of this visit?! Be honest!’ He was terrible.”

I sit agape in front of Jayee at a little round table outside the café. “What kind of doctor asks if you want a diagnosis? Why else would you be there?” I take a sip from my mango smoothie while Jayee tastes her frozen hot chocolate. A wasp hovers around the lid of my drink and I try to bat it away. It retreats for a minute then returns. Another wave of my hand and its gone for a few minutes before the scent of my drink draws it back. The wasp and I continue our dance and I get more and more agitated. I gulp down the smoothie and throw the plastic cup into a garbage can behind me.

No mango smoothie in sight and the wasp returns to hover around our table. “Fuck!”

“Rasheed,” Jayee says in a stern tone, trying to settle me down.

I sink into my seat. “I’m sorry.”

Jayee reaches out to hold my hand. I take hold of hers. “It’s just been a rough day so far. My ostomy’s been causing problems lately and the skin around it hurts. I still have this tube in my butt and I’m worried that I’m going to need another surgery to fix all this. I’m trying to hold it together, but when so many big things are wrong, it’s hard to deal with the little things too. It’s like… with all these big things going wrong, you’d figure I could at least catch a break and have some little things go my way. Then when some little annoyance comes along, it makes me angry. It’s one more bad thing on top of all those other bad things.”

“The little bad things are always going to be there,” says Jayee in a soft voice. “You just can’t let yourself get so upset over them. I know… I mean I don’t really know because I don’t have to deal with it… but I can imagine how hard all this has been on you. I’m sorry things haven’t worked out so far.” Jayee strokes my hand with her slender fingers.

“It’s okay. I’m sorry.”

I look up at Jayee and see her smiling. White teeth shine below well-defined cheekbones. I smile back.

Jayee finishes the rest of her drink, with a little help from me, and we set out for a walk around the area. I put my black baseball cap on her head. We walk to the top of a hill and Jayee thinks about rolling down the other side. Out of fear she would inadvertently roll over some dog poop, we check the slope of the grassy hill. Surely enough, we find a dog turd. Plans of rolling down the hill are terminated. We look at all the new townhouses and condo towers and point out which ones we think have the nicest architecture or house number signage. We walk through the green space and footpaths around Sheridan College’s new Hazel McCallion Campus, and stop for a while at a funky seating area covered in purple blades of plastic grass. We head over to Celebration Square, a modern public gathering space near Mississauga’s City Hall, and wade in the water of a small splash pool. After drying off, I go to use the nearest bathroom. I sit down on the toilet to let out some of the mucous-laden discharge that comes out of my anus a few times a day – another unexpected gift from my pelvic pouch surgery. The usually yellowish discharge is this time a light brown. I look at the collection bag on my thigh and see brown fluid inside. “Now what? What the fuck did those doctors do to me?” I think to myself. I empty my ostomy pouch, wipe up, wash my hands, and go back out to see Jayee. After a glance at me she asks, “What’s wrong?”

I explain the new, concerning colour of the fluid draining from my body. We try to think of a rational, non-serious explanation, like the fact that my drainage tube had been jostled quite a bit in the course of removing the bandages and applying the new anchor earlier in the day. Still, I was worried, but even more so, frustrated. Instead of being able to reflect on a few happy hours with my girlfriend, I’m forced to focus on another potential health complication. My happy moments are fleeting and few.

Jayee and I walk to the bus stop nearest her house so I can catch the eastbound 26 and go home to rest for the night. As we walk hand-in-hand towards the bus stop I start tearing up. I sniffle and try to tell something to Jayee.

“I’m… I’m gonagetberfrooh,” I manage to blurt before I start sobbing at the side of the road.

“What?” Jayee asks in a quiet, caring voice. She squeezes my hand.

I wipe my eyes and sniffle some more. “I’m going to get better for you.” I start crying again. Jayee wraps her arms around my chest and pulls me in. I lean down hold her close. In the midst of our embrace, Jayee says, “You’re going to get better for you, too.”

We hug each other on the side of Burnhamthorpe Road as the 26 bus whizzes by.

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About rasheedclarke

Award-winning author. Marathon runner. Exceptional dresser. I'd like to be all those things.

7 comments

  1. Tee Tee

    You have me in tears Rasheed. I’m so sorry that you are going through this. You will get better for you. I remember the vibrant person you were in college I had great fondness for you. You were always so nice to me. And for that I am forever grateful. Love you rasheedy

  2. Deborah Rent

    This is beautifully written Rasheed. I cried. You will get better. In the meantime,I’m so sorry.This must suck so bad.

  3. Wow, had me in bits mate. A beautifully written piece. Hang in there buddy, I’ve no idea what you’re going through, but keep going and things will get better. You’re an inspiration.

  4. Lien Gomez

    You’re a beautiful person and great story teller. This story will have a great ending. Get better for you and all those that love and support you.

  5. Rasheed… you’ve got me all teary-eyed and speechless… Please don’t think those things about yourself anymore, because you STILL are that charismatic, talented guy from writing class and you always will be. Maybe sometimes you forget it, but the people who know you as that guy, we never will. You will get better for all of us.

  6. Thank you Toya, Deborah, Craig, Lien, and Lucy for reading and leaving a note of encouragement. I hope someday I’ll be able to write about a happier day-in-the-life.

  7. Pingback: A Cornucopia of Gratefulness | Rasheed Clarke

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