My first holiday season after having my total colectomy wasn’t a fun one. By the time the holiday rolled around, I had only had my ileostomy for less than two months, and I was still working out the kinks with it. There were leaks, and I vividly remember having a “blowout” at my stepmom’s house during a family dinner and bursting into tears. She brought me into her bathroom and helped me clean up, reassuring me that it was no big deal. That was such a difficult holiday – everything that was happening to me was still so new and unfamiliar. I didn’t really feel human.
One of my other memories from that first holiday season was a visit from my best friend, Nicole. Many of my friends had kind of vanished over the last really bad year with the disease, but she still came to visit me, undeterred, whether it was in the hospital or while I was recovering at my mom’s. True friends are hard to come by, and I’m proud to say that she is one.
A few days before Christmas, she stopped by for a visit and brought with her some festive chocolate covered pretzel rods, decorated with holiday sprinkles in various shapes. In those early days, it didn’t take long for things to pass through me, so a couple of hours into our visit, I noticed it was time for me to empty my ostomy bag. By now, this had started to become a bit more routine, and while I was still nowhere near a fan of having the ostomy, I didn’t cry each time I emptied the bag, which was progress as far as I was concerned.
As I was taking care of things in the bathroom, I looked down to make sure that the opening on the bag was clean and was greeted by the sight of what seemed like hundreds of little floating Christmas trees and Santa Claus faces. It was quite festive, really. I laughed out loud, thoroughly amused by my “holiday poo”, and Nicole and my mother could hear me clear down the hallway. Apparently those little suckers don’t digest – who knew?
While I’ve told her that story several times (thank god she’s a nurse) and I don’t think the poor girl can pass by the decorations in the bakery aisle of the grocery store without thinking of that incident, I don’t know if she knows how truly monumental that moment was. That was the first time I had laughed, really laughed, since the surgery almost two months before. That was the first time I was able to stop obsessing over the horror that I was convinced my body had become, even for just a few minutes. For those couple of moments, I was just a girl crapping out Christmas trees into a toilet bowl, and it was pretty damn funny.
That was eight Christmases ago; in some ways it feels like eons and in others like it was just yesterday. That moment stays with me though, and has reminded me over and over again that laughter truly is the best medicine, and can get you through (almost) anything. Some good drugs don’t hurt, either.
Regardless of where you may be in the course of your disease this holiday season, I hope you can find some laughter in the next few days. And to those who will spend their holiday caring for those of us who are sick (the doctors and nurses), thank you as well. While work may have pulled you away from your family, to many of us, you are a part of ours.
Merry Christmas, everyone!