The Downside of Colonic Irrigation for the Ostomate – Especially if Mother has Dementia!

Late Friday afternoon a few weeks ago, a friend phoned and asked if I was doing anything later that day, as he and his partner were thinking of coming round to visit. Aghhhhhhhh! I needed to irrigate that night and didn’t have time to do it before their arrival and as they would probably leave late it wouldn’t allow me time afterwards, so I just had to say why it wouldn’t be convenient. I usually invent some reason; ‘just about to go out; in the middle of some casting; Mother not well’ – whatever, but after 20 years I’m running out of excuses, so decided to come clean.

How do you explain to someone that you will be in the bathroom for well over an hour (and maybe a lot longer) ostensibly giving yourself an enema? It may be successful at the first attempt, but invariably not. The theory is that you will infuse your remaining bowel (via the stoma) with 750 – 1000mls approx of warm water. Easier said than done! Sometimes it goes smoothly but usually not. The remaining colon sometimes snakes around (seemingly tying itself in knots) and won’t allow the water to enter and if you suffer from wind this will cause an air lock. You need to allow yourself plenty of uninterrupted time. Again, easier said than done! I like to allow myself at least an hour and a half.

After you have successfully infused the water, you wait with trepidation for the eruption. Alas this doesn’t always happen and you wait and wait – and wait. Hopefully you will get there in the end, but sometimes you feel uncomfortable, still bloated and in fear of seeing anyone, just in case there is another eruption of which you have no control.

During this time the phone might ring – or you hear a persistent knocking at the door. The caller assumes you are in because the car is outside and so begins to knock louder. Mother might open the door and allow them in, but you are stuck in the loo and daren’t come out. I usually double lock the door so she can’t open it, but the person knocking can see her through the glass and invariably thinks there is a problem and might just go for help. This is all SO stressful and not conducive to a successful irrigation!

Recently I took the phone into the loo with me (mistake). It rang and I saw the caller was Adrienne. Fearing a crisis I answered to find it was her son. He had forgotten to buy washing-up liquid and didn’t feel like wandering down the road to the Co-op to get some – could I lend them a bit. Groan – ‘give me a few minutes’, I replied and he said he would be round in five. I hastily tied myself up, got the washing-up liquid and waited anxiously by the front door, with my hand poking out and hoping Mount Vesuvius wouldn’t erupt. 10 minutes later I was still there, getting more and more anxious. Eventually I had to call him and ask if he would come NOW!

Back to the headed caption – ‘especially if Mother had dementia.’ Before commencing my irrigation I always make sure mother goes to the toilet first, in the hope that she won’t interrupt me. Well that old chestnut comes to mind – ‘live in hope, die in despair’. And surely I will, because Mother just can’t leave me in peace – she has to need the loo – even if she doesn’t (if you see what I mean), but I just can’t risk it, for indeed she may need the loo and if she can’t get in, she just might go and do it somewhere else – and indeed she has done – on the landing – in her bedroom and even on a towel in the kitchen and then hidden it in a cupboard! It’s a shit life in the literal sense of the word.

So there my friends is the down side of irrigation, but nevertheless it beats the other methods I’ve tried and for me it has been a lifesaver. Not only that, my supplies come with wonderful red or orange pegs which I use to decorate my clothes – see example on my Trafalgar Square ‘Plinth’ photos, especially the one where I appear to be hanging.

To summarise – it is very difficult in doing anything spontaneously if you irrigate. Because I don’t eat copious quantities of food, I only feel the need to irrigate every other day, so try to arrange my appointments around it. In other words, it is difficult when invitations fall on consecutive days. I hate staying in other people’s homes and it is awkward when I have visitors. Life would be simpler if I were a recluse, but by nature I am gregarious, though Paul wasn’t a party animal, so I suppose I got used to a quieter life. Since he died I think I would prefer to keep my head below the parapet, but my friends won’t let me!

(Apologies for the long delay in getting around to writing this blog – it’s been a very traumatic time. In fact another shit time, which I will document ASAP).


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Born in Liverpool at the end of WW2, but raised in Skelmersdale. I first studied art in Southport from 1960-63 and worked in graphic design till I married. In December 1969 I moved to Zambia with my husband and two young children. There I taught art in the local girls school, illustrated for the National Correspondence College and did all sorts of other artwork, paid and unpaid. In 1978 I divorced and remarried in the summer of 1980. In 1985 I became ill and the following year cancer was diagnosed. There was no treatment available in Zambia and so I had to go to the UK. After recovering from a radium needle implant I went back to Zambia, but 18 months later the cancer recurred and it was off to the UK again for radical surgery. This time I realised I must stay in the UK where treatment was available, so I never returned to Zambia nor my husband. A few months later I applied for a degree course, but two years later the disease metastasised and I spent most of my final year in and out of hospital. It’s been a long hard road, but I’m still plodding on and it is now 24 years since my last cancer treatment. Because of my experience of cancer and surviving against the odds, I try and help others cope with their devastating diagnosis and prognosis.

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