FOLLOWED BY A MOONSHADOW

PART OF THE THIS IS THE MOMENT SERIES

August and early September 2021

On Friday, July 16th, which was a beautiful sunny day, I drove to the CLSC in Rigaud (one of the local government run health clinics) to see my favourite nurse, Manon, to have my colostomy bag changed.

The objective is of course to have me able to change my colostomy bags myself as expertly as any of the nurses or dedicated stomothérapeutes—as we call them here, who work in hospitals and do community outreach—as soon as possible. But clearly, there’s an art to changing the bags, because of the five first bags that were attached to me by a nurse during the first month or so after my surgery, two eventually sprang leaks* . I’m happy to say that I’ve successfully changed my bag by myself twice already. But Manon says that it’s good to keep coming back, because my stoma hasn’t yet assumed its final, healed shape.

(* the fecal matter that can leak if the bag is not perfectly sealed to the skin is very acidic, and can severely irritate the skin around the stoma. It’s the most serious problem for colostomy patients.)

Manon looks like a kid with her long curls and glasses (that don’t succeed in hiding her pretty face), and her energetic way of speaking, but she’s in her fifties. She’s experienced and seasoned. She has overcome a burnout.

The colostomy bag I was wearing was beige. It’s meant to hide your feces from public view if your bag is exposed by a breeze or whatever, but it means that you can’t see what’s happening inside the bag. Most experienced patients are happy to forego those sights, but I was just four weeks into the “ostomy” life. Still, the day before my appointment with Manon, I noticed something happening, just by feel. My stoma, which should lie flat against my abdomen, had lengthened. I could feel at least 3-4 inches outside my body.

When I arrived at the CLSC the next day, I mentioned this to Manon, but the shape of my stoma seemed different. I lay down on the bed and we got down to bag business.  And then she removed the bag and the flange that it’s attached to, and out came this great glob of tissue (my stoma) along with a large hematoma (an even larger blood bubble). We both gasped, I think, and Manon’s entire demeanor changed. She immediately said that I had to be sent to Emergency at the CHUM. Nowhere else would do. The hematoma was “active”, that is, as soon as it was touched, it hemorrhaged.

I took a picture of it while waiting in the CHUM’s emergency room till 11 pm before being sent up to the 12th floor (digestive surgery), but it’s too graphic. Let’s just say that the first image that popped into my mind when I saw it on my belly, red and swollen and wiggly like Jell-O, was of the jellyfish that used to float in on the waves of the beaches of Prince Edward Island when I was a child, and which would have fit in a cereal bowl, just barely.

 And so I had to have my second colostomy in a month. They call it a revision, but my surgeon told me she had taken another foot of bowel (she showed me with her hands spread) to make sure there was no repetition of the prolapse. With all of these dramatic diagnoses and emergencies, I didn’t have time to follow-up with the eye surgeon who had done my cornea transplant the previous December. Everything seemed to be going well between January and the end of April, and then pollen season struck with a vengeance here in Hudson, and my right eye was irritated and running incessantly.

I ended up seeing my surgeon on August 30th. Cornea transplants can take up to a year to heal and vision to be restored, but my eye was a disaster, and I was sure that it had rejected its new cornea. Sigh. I found it hard to muster anything but sad resignation. I’ve been so tired.

It turns out that the transplant is okay, but my thin, dry and fragile cornea has sprung a new leak. So that was sliced and patched with glue, and a protective contact lens installed right there at the ophthalmology clinic.

And that’s where I’m at.

Shields, Frederick James; Hamlet and the Ghost; Manchester Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/hamlet-and-the-ghost-206019



My second colostomy surgery doesn’t seem to have solved my prolapse problem. Until my bowels move regularly (they have been traumatized by two surgeries, and my intestinal flora depleted by intravenous antibiotics), I will have to deal with daily prolapses that are caused by intestinal gas and my bowels’ attempts to move poop through the stoma.

It’s uncomfortable, embarrassing and always potentially dangerous because a swollen, prolapsed stoma can become strangulated by the flange that encircles it—which is what brought me to the emergency room mid-July.

And then there’s this business of living with one eye that sees and one eye that burns and is crazy-sensitive to light, and wants to shut all the time, and is being irritated by a contact lens…

It’s more disorienting than being completely blind in an eye, because my good eye can’t ever really adjust, and its vision is impaired, too, by the eye protector I wear on my sick eye and the perforation itself, keeping everything to my right looking like it’s been smeared with Vaseline. I can’t see my right hand if I move it up close to the right side of my face…

The strangest thing is that none of this is cancer; only the side effects of the disease and its treatment.

But I feel as though I have slid down several rungs of wellbeing. I lost a lot of weight through all this and putting it back on is much slower than I expected. And I’ve realized that I can’t get through a day without at least one nap—especially since my right eye wants only to shut and see nothing.


* * * * *

Nicholson, Winifred; Candle at a Window; Lakeland Arts Trust; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/candle-at-a-window-145431

Sometime through all of this, I found myself humming the song Moonshadow, by Cat Stevens. Stevens popped up on my radar a few years ago. I think he’s been rediscovered—an unforeseen side effect of COVID-19. That song, which I’ve always found to be lovely, came back, again and again—an earworm, they call these. So I went to YouTube and watched him performing it.

And it hit me. And I sat there dumbstruck while he sang.

Are you familiar with this song? Have you ever listened closely to its lyrics?

MOONSHADOW

BY CAT STEVENS

Yes, I’m being followed by a moonshadow
Moonshadow, moonshadow

Leaping and hopping on a moonshadow
Moonshadow, moonshadow

And if I ever lose my hands
Lose my plow, lose my land


Oh, if I ever lose my hands
Oh, if, I won’t have to work no more

And if I ever lose my eyes
If my colours all run dry


Yes, if I ever lose my eyes
Oh, if, I won’t have to cry no more

Yes, I’m being followed by a moonshadow
Moonshadow, moonshadow


Leaping and hopping on a moonshadow
Moonshadow, moonshadow

And if I ever lose my legs
I won’t moan, and I won’t beg

Oh, if I ever lose my legs
Oh, if, I won’t have to walk no more


And if I ever lose my mouth
All my teeth, north and south

Yes, if I ever lose my mouth
Oh, if, I won’t have to talk

Did it take long to find me?
I ask the faithful light


Oh, did it take long to find me?
And, are you gonna stay the night?

I’m being followed by a moonshadow
Moonshadow, moonshadow


Leaping and hopping on a moonshadow
Moonshadow, moonshadow

Moonshadow, moonshadow
Moonshadow, moonshadow

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Islam Yusuf

Moonshadow lyrics © Cat Music Ltd., Cat Music Limited, Cat Music Ltd

What was happening in his life when he wrote it? This lovely, cheerful melody carrying lyrics about loss—physical loss—and finding the grace to accept it.

Perhaps, young as he was when he wrote it, he was thinking of an aging family member or friend, and that inevitable march toward the end of life.

Perhaps the faithful light is hope, or a divine presence, or simple awareness…

I love that he chose to cast his questions against the background of the sky, of the heavens, and of light and shadow.

I think my memory floated this song up into my awareness the way a good person would hold out a hand to someone struggling. I have been followed by a moonshadow for months now, and it seems that my ability to leap and hop isn’t what it was.

I have more lessons to learn. About acceptance. And resilience.

This morning, I checked to see what Facebook had in my Memories cache, and one of the things it selected was this:



“One word
Frees us of all the weight and pain of life:
That word is love.”
― Sophocles

Unattributed image