Wendy: Coping with pancaking

Wendy: Coping with pancaking

Nobody had ever told Wendy about the phenomenon known as pancaking. This is when output is collected around the stoma instead of dropping down into the pouch.

At first I was innocent, and the word pancake remained pure. What I was experiencing was leakage. And nobody had warned me about leakage. Not the surgeon, not the ostomy nurse, not the other people I'd met with an ostomy; no, it was a big secret, apparently.

Accidents, as we call them, were one of the biggest things I had been looking forward to not having. No more running to the loo Mo Farah style, only to find that without his speed, making it on time was out of the question. And not making it in time meant serious washing and new underwear.

Wendy: Coping with pancaking

Hoping not to worry no more

Sometimes it meant locking myself in a toilet, washing and drying my jeans and thanking the gods of technology for the invention of the hand blow dryer.

Knowing this was never to happen again once I'd been replumbed was a huge factor in my decision to have my colon whipped out in the first place. I couldn't wait to not have to worry about scoping out the nearest toilet, soiling my clothes, mortal embarrassment.

You’re not leaking, you’re pancaking

You can imagine my horror, then, when I woke up one morning covered in poo. A horror exacerbated by having to wake my husband, leaving him to strip the bed and change the sheets while I tore off my soiled clothes and jumped in a shower. I hadn't signed up for that. And it kept happening.

I went online to try to find what was causing it, to reassure myself I wasn't the only one experiencing it, and to try to find a way of stopping it. That's when I discovered I wasn't leaking, so much as pancaking.

Pancaking explained

A leak is when the output somehow finds a way to ooze out from under the bag, usually at a weak point, often down to user error. I was on top of those after my first few months.

Pancaking is different. When the output is thicker than usual and backs up really quickly, with nowhere to go because the person – in this case me – is busy not thinking about the fact that they have a pouch and not checking on things.

It clusters into a mound and pushes the pouch away from the body. When you look, there is a mass, a pancake like mass, of poo and the bag is all but free of your body. It's not nice. And golden syrup won't make it any better.

Wendy: Coping with pancaking

The pains of being constantly aware

My solution to pancaking, for the first few years, was to remain vigilant.

To be aware of what I'd eaten and to keep checking on the bag, smooshing (maybe not a real word, but you know what I mean) the thicker output down into the bottom of the bag as soon as I could get somewhere private enough to do so, and mostly coping.

But messing about with your bag is not an easy thing to do in public, and I'm not always in a situation where I can find somewhere private.

I've actually turned towards a wall and tried to surreptitiously manipulate things before now. I can't imagine what anyone passing thought I was doing; if I was a bloke, at least I could pretend I was having a pee. So, whilst I had found a solution of sorts, it wasn't exactly ideal.

The solution: A bit of lubricant

And then somebody in the know suggested a deodorising lubricant. It wasn't someone in a sex shop in Soho; it was a person who works with ostomy products.

It's my own fault that I have the mind of a teenage boy when I hear the word lubricant, and if you're more mature than that, please accept my apologies.

The point is, said lube is swished around the inside of a fresh bag before you put it on. In my case, I take care to make sure the top of the pouch is completely covered in it, and then I proceed as normal.

No pancaking in six weeks and counting

I first did this about six weeks ago. Leaving aside the ridiculousness of my not having discovered this until I'd been pancaking for almost four years, my life has now been changed.

In those six weeks, I have not had one pancaking incident. My bag has stayed put and I am starting, daringly, to develop the confidence to not even think about it. Not always, but for more and more minutes every day. I'm optimistic. I think it's going to be okay from now on.

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