The law of unintended consequences

A guest post.

Warning: Only for those with strong stomachs!

Several of you asked me to continue to write for the blog on matters important to me at this point in my life.

I have now been out of hospital for three weeks and have been replumbed. That is the polite way of saying that I now have a permanent colostomy as a hunk of my bowel has been removed and the exit for the food waste comes out from my stomach not my anus.

Believe me it is a relief. A blocked bowel is incredibly painful and makes you feel really ill. It is only a realignment of the plumbing, and is not really a hassle as the modern health products are actually brilliantly designed and the stoma nurse support is great. The colostomy bags and paraphernalia are provided by the DHB and arrive regularly by courier.  The patient just has to learn how to use them.  

Sixty years ago my father had one, and it was hideous. It smelt, leaked and my very sick Dad couldn’t manage it alone – Mum’s last memories of her beloved husband were of managing this ill-designed contraption. The bags, by memory, were made of oiled material and had to be emptied and washed out and reused, and when they were past their use by date Mum used to wrap them in the airmail edition of the Guardian and burn them in our fire.

Nowadays the bags are plasticated, don’t smell (much) and are nearly leak proof – so far anyway. But there is a process that requires plastic bags – second or third use is OK. On removing the colostomy bag, and dumping the contents into the toilet, one wraps the bag and non-woven cleaning cloths and puts them into a plastic bag and into the rubbish.  One cannot put the baby wipes down the toilet so these have to be disposed of too. We don’t have fires nowadays for burning rubbish like we did in my Dad’s time. And, until the last couple of weeks, we had plenty of supermarket bags to reuse.

But now there are no supermarket bags around and one’s friends won’t even part with the leftover ones they have. I do not get any newspapers nowadays, and certainly not the airmail Guardian from Britain. So, this week I am going to have to buy new bags and use them once only which, on a minute scale, won’t harm the economy but will annoy the hell out of me.

It is amazing how interrelated all components of our lives are. I clearly remember life without plastic. Of the blood in the meat seeping through the newspaper it was wrapped in into the fresh, uncovered and uncut loaves of bread in the basket or carrier bag. (To avoid waste of precious food Mum used to fry the blood soaked bread for her hungry children – a sort of home-made blood pudding.) Of the honey leaking out of the oiled cardboard container in my back pack, and the meat (fresh for the first couple of days) bleeding over everything when I went tramping.

My little brother became a notable climber and, thirty years after his death, the stories are still being told about his using a glass Nescafe jar for water on major climbs around the world. I wouldn’t part with our Dad’s aluminium water bottle as the eldest child I had first rights to good gear. My best friend went around all the chemists in our town and collared all the aluminium drug containers for her tramping gear. Her salt, pepper, sugar, honey etc did not leak on to her clothes. Containers cost money and were valuable and treasured.

We certainly had a smaller foot print on the Earth then – and there were less of us too, of course. But, many of our storage and disposal methods would certainly not pass health and safety requirements today.

I am sure science and business will come up with some solutions for major replacements for the now-scorned plastic bags. But, it will take longer for the small side uses we made of them, as there will be no money in solving the problems of those with a minority requirement. It may be a bumpy ride for some of us as we transition.


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A guest post submitted to Whaleoil and edited by Whaleoil staff.

Guest Post content does not necessarily reflect the views of the site or its editor. Guest Post content is offered for discussion and for alternative points of view.

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