Thursday, January 24, 2013

Nepal 2012 Ostomates Only - Skipping Stones

We had summited Island Peak and stopped to rest during our descent. I checked my ostomy gear, discovering that the flange was totally detached ... what a mess!
I knew I had troubles with flanges not sticking when placing a cold flange on cold skin with cold hands. And my climbing harness had rubbed and pressured the flange when I had been twisted, hung, and supported by the harness and ropes. So I wasn't really surprised to find the flange completely detached. But this was not a convenient place for my worst-ever ostomy-blowout!

The smell was obvious when I opened my pants and long-johns. I had sh*t from belly-button down to mid-thighs and everything in between (think about that visual image). On my skin and on my clothes. I was cold and exhausted. It would not be possible to get a new flange to stick under these conditions. We still had 5 hours of grueling work to descend. Delays would have us traveling dangerously in the dark, seeing only with headlamps.
I would have to clean up quickly and spend
the next 5 hours
on the mountain
Without Ostomy Gear

Many of us, as kids, would find flat stones on the shore of a calm lake, and throwing them underhand or side-arm, could make them skip on the top of the water. Skipping stones made sense then, and was my inspiration for skipping stones on Island Peak Mountain.

So how was I to clean up? Smears are pasty and partially dry. Toilet paper isn't coarse enough to do the job. I won't sacrifice a sock, as it's more important to keep my feet happy. I have no water, and ice doesn't seem appealing to my already cold body. I had a problem, and seemingly not much to work with. Then the inspiration struck - I was standing on a pile of flat scree stones which would be perfect scrapers! I scraped enough to cover one side of a stone and flung it down the side of the mountain, skipping dozens of times before coming to rest thousands of feet below. With 6 stones, I scraped my skin and inner clothes 'reasonably' clean. I had to laugh out loud at the practical ingenuity of scrapers and skipping stones!

Being environmentally sensitive ... the smeared stones landed thousands of feet from
where any person or animal would be, and the smears would dry. This would be
an insignificant amount of 'contamination' relative to the immense size of these mountains.
The flange was put in a ziploc bag and carried back to base camp for proper disposal.
My climbing partner (who was aware of my colostomy) recognized the situation. He scowled and shook his head, then walked away, muttering ...
"you're the toughest son of a b*tch I have ever known"

Really, he was complimentary, concerned, and uncomfortable
... and his presentation was typical for men our age.

Our Nepalese climbing guide Karna was curious with the Skipping Stones and came to investigate. The shock, horror, and panic on his face is unforgettable. (Karna was not aware of even the concept of a colostomy, as there are few if any ostomates in Nepal).
"Sh*t comes out front !?!?" he said, assuming I had been injured on this climb, which was his responsibility. Karna quickly conversed in Nepalese with Ganesh and Sanjay (both aware of my colostomy). I don't know how they explained the colostomy, but Karna was much relieved and came back to talk with me. In his basic English he said
"I take many climbers to top of Island Peak, but I will always remember you in a good way. Because you are old. And because of that..." as he traced a circle around my stoma. I expect I was the first 62 year old ostomate he had guided to the top of Island Peak :)

This was a short delay, and we soon continued our descent. I used a wad of toilet paper to pad my stoma from rubbing. Fortunately, and common at high altitudes, appetite and stool production declines, and stool thickens, so the 5 hours without ostomy gear was not as bad as it could have been.

After an exhausting 16 strenuous hours on the mountain, we arrived safely at Base camp. All I wanted to do was sleep. But I had a cleanup to do, and a cold-induced ostomy problem to solve. Posted next as Ostomates Only - Cold Induced

You can also read about other ostomy-challenges on this adventure ...
Ostomates Only - Heat Induced
Ostomates Only - Disposals

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