Home > General, Medical > Airing the dirty laundry

Airing the dirty laundry

Attention: This post is slightly graphic, and kind of gross. If you don’t want to read about megacolon or related issues, stop here!

Still with me, you brave soul? Okay, well one of my worst fears was realized today. As you know from previous posts (My #2 Career) James suffers from encopresis/megacolon, and when I say “suffers” I mean with as much grace as he can muster considering the graceless subject. Just so we’re all on the same page here, James often goes 1-2 weeks without a bowel movement, even with large doses of laxative medications. I will spare you details (if you want them, go see my other post!) but you can imagine the pain and discomfort that come with biweekly B.M.s. In between these enormous B.M.s, as more poop builds up in the colon, it creates a blockage while also stretching out the colon. Some poop leaks around the blockage, resulting in what seem to be accidents, but are really incidents that James is unaware of until he, or more often we, smell or otherwise notice them. Add to that a special needs child who knows enough to be mortified but not enough to clean himself up or to assert himself enough to get to a bathroom quickly and a recipe is brewing. A gross one.

Again, I will spare you the details (though Christmas Eve 2009 will eventually be a post) but we have had dozens of “accidents,” leaks, and full blown disasters over the years while entertaining dinner guests, working with tutors, visiting with family, and especially when traveling to new places. My experience in dealing with these “situations” has grown considerably, and I consider myself somewhat of an expert on James’s colon adventures. I can tell from a facial expression or a slight shift in body language when I need to get James to a toilet, fast. Sometimes we go months without an accident, then a change in schedule, a house guest, or a trip will bring on 10+ accidents a day for a week.

Thankfully, miraculously, James has never had an accident at school. I was incredibly anxious about this through 2nd grade – plenty of children have had accidents at school, but not too many have had “accidents.” James already had such a hard time fitting in with his peers, and one misplaced B.M. could do some serious damage to his already-weak image.

I got to find that out firsthand today. Today marks the end of 5 clean years and the beginning of an anxiety renaissance, for me and for James. James went down in a spectacular explosion of flames, having the single worst accident I can remember since he was old enough to go to school. This is my understanding of how it all happened, though I am piecing it together from half a dozen sources. Try to read the story without wincing, feeling sick in your stomach for James, or at least wanting to help James run far, far away – I dare you.

The horrific incident went down during recess, outside, where lots of kids were available to notice. His para sent him to the bathroom to clean himself up. James tried valiantly to do just that, only the accident must have been much larger than usual. Much larger. How else did he end up with poop covering his hands, arms, legs, back, shirt, shorts, even his socks? In fact, James ended up with poop all over the boys bathroom toilet and floor, where more kids came in and witnessed his worst nightmare coming true. He was then taken back outside, away from everyone as the principal called me and asked me to come quickly.

I couldn’t have prepared myself for this no matter how many years I had agonized over it. Thankfully, I was with a friend when I got “the call” who generously accompanied me to school and watched the babies as I ventured inside, fresh change of clothing in hand. When I got to James, I could barely look at him – my heart hurt to see his sad little face. He looked so ashamed of himself, and I wanted to give him a big hug, but he was really pretty gross. James’s para indicated that a bathroom had already been shut down and that I could use it to change him while she guarded the door. We went in and I quickly realized it was much worse than I thought – the bathroom had already been through one cleaning, and I could see huge wet areas where poop had presumably been a few minutes before. I started to undress James, and with each layer that came off, more poop fell onto the floor, got onto his clothes, got onto my clothes – it was everywhere. I asked him, “Why, James, didn’t you go to the bathroom? Why didn’t you tell someone you needed to go once you started to have an accident? How did it get this bad?” James replied, “My tummy hurt too much to walk to the bathroom.” I felt so sad for James, all of his amazing effort and progress this year with the kids in his class, erased in one fell swoop. This sentiment was confirmed as I heard some boys from his class out in the hall talking to James’s para – “Why can’t we go in the bathroom? Is it because James is in there? James messed up the whole bathroom, didn’t he?” There was glee in their voices. If I hadn’t been up to my elbows… now that I look back, maybe I should’ve gone out there anyway.

About 30 minutes later James was “clean” and in new clothes I had picked up at TJ Maxx on my way over to school. He walked out of the bathroom and casually headed down the hall toward gym class, as if he were going to attend. His para raced after him to make sure the other kids didn’t see and taunt him, and to keep an eye on him while I spoke to the principal, guidance counselor, and teacher about what would happen next.

Though humor has been a very successful coping method for me, today there was nothing funny about the situation. I could barely keep it together as I asked, “How am I ever supposed to send James back to school here ever again?” Everyone kind of looked at each other. I wanted someone to protest, but they were all thinking along the same lines I was. I felt sick to my stomach. After 3 awesome years at this school James had shown academic progress in class but more importantly huge leaps and bounds socially, and they were all being wiped out before my eyes over something totally beyond his control.

“What if I talk to the class?” I asked. “Let me field the questions that James would otherwise have to deal with when he comes back to school.” The guidance counselor decided she would assess the students Thursday and I would come in Friday in the hopes that James could return Monday with less trauma, in the hopes that the two days at school and a weekend would bring some other incident that would be more interesting than James pooping his pants at recess and destroying the bathroom on the first floor.

I was sick about it all the way home, just totally overwhelmed. When we got back I put James in the shower and lathered him up with about a cup of liquid soap and left him there to soak. I tended to two very grumpy babies, whom I had neglected for the last 2 hours. I called my husband, mother and mother-in-law to talk to them about what had happened. I talked to James’s doctor and discussed a new course of action, aka different medication dosages. But I was calm. By the time we sat down to dinner, all of the children were being pleasant, eating their food, using their manners and listening to some soft music in the background. It was peaceful and enjoyable, which are not the words I often use to describe our family dinners. I think James was on his best behavior because he was unconsciously waiting to get “in trouble” for the fiasco at school, and he was confused as to why I wasn’t acting angry or upset with him. Without discussing it aloud and upsetting a perfectly good meal, I was letting James know that we were all on his team, and that this family was going to get him through the next steps in one piece, and that no matter how many more hundreds of accidents he has I will always go to bat for him.

So tomorrow James “is staying home to help me with his sister at the playground.” And Friday we “get to stay home to visit family coming in for the Central Park Challenge.” Perfectly logical reasons to skip school. And after a weekend full of races and confirmations and baseball games, James will have forgotten all about this mess.

But everyone else will not have forgotten, so I am working on what to say to James’s classmates. I want to tell them that everyone has dirty laundry.  Nobody is perfect and everyone has issues, problems, secrets. Some of us can’t hide our issues because we can’t control them. It is cruel to make someone feel bad, scared or sad over things they cannot control.

Sometimes it is liberating to air your dirty laundry, to let go of the anxiety that comes from keeping it all bottled up. Other times it’s even better to just throw it away. I aired my dirty laundry, but I threw James’s away.

  1. October 15, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    You’re a good mom. I know I’m reading this after the fact, but I hope the kids didn’t make James suffer more than he already had. Also sorry that an old fear got new fuel.

  2. Courtney
    June 2, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    I hope you are able to find the words to inspire empathy in those kids. I am so sorry for James that he has to deal with this. And of course I am sorry you have to deal with this too, but also in awe. In awe of how you handle such challenges with so much grace. I’m sure you’re tired of being a hero to us all, but…. you have no choice.

    Have a good weekend with family and friends, and we’ll see you soon.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: