Sunday, October 10, 2010

HPS’er nightmare – four hours, no bathroom

Last week I flew to San Francisco to attend the national meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics (more on that later.) On the way I had what I lovingly now refer to as “an HPS moment.” Actually, this time it was more like a few HPS hours.

Traveling just isn’t what it used to be. Between the security restrictions and the cost-cutting measures of the airlines, any shred of enjoyment that used to accompany air travel is now gone. Planes are more like glorified cattle cars of the sky with masses of humanity stuffed into them like any other type of cargo. We might as well be widgets.

Needless to say, my traveling expectations are pretty low these days. I used to enjoy flying. Now it’s just this miserable endurance test that is a necessary evil to get anywhere.

But, this time, I had a traveling experience perhaps a little more unique to being an HPS’er.

Besides all the usual travel headaches, when I travel these days I’m always exceedingly nervous about bathrooms. As I walk through airports I take note of the location of every bathroom I see, just in case I need to find it in a hurry later.

The preparations for my toilet needs start way before the trip. I plan out the changing of the ostomy appliance in conjunction with the time of my travel. I find most unexpected leaks happen in the first 24 hours, as if something just doesn’t work right when the appliance is supposed to adhere to the skin. So, if I can change and get through 24 hours, chances are I’m golden until I get to my destination. I pay extra attention to the process as now the skin ulcers that appear around my stoma from time to time can complicate traveling. Don’t get me wrong. I won’t stop traveling because of this – but if I can avoid it, I’d just assume not have to do an emergency ostomy change in an airport or airplane bathroom.

The day before traveling I’m super careful about food and liquid intake. I don’t want to get dehydrated (something that now always happens when I travel), but I don’t want to have to go the bathroom any more than necessary. I don’t want to eat anything that could potentially complicate my trip.

After I get through security, I buy a bottle of water at highway robbery prices so that I can sip it throughout the flight – just a bit here and there to maintain hydration, but no swigging of the water lest I have to pee even more than usual. I time the last trip to the nearest bathroom (which I have carefully taken note of) so that I’m out just in time to pre-board my flight. (I now pre-board only because of all the extra medical “stuff” I must carry with me.)

So, perhaps you can imagine my distress when I boarded my flight for San Francisco only to discover that the motor that makes the onboard toilet flush wasn’t working. “Ladies and Gentleman, please reframe from using the laboratories…” the flight attendant announced.


I instantly felt a rush of panic. There is no way I’m getting all the way to San Francisco without needing to use the toilet. NO WAY! Obviously this 20-something flight crew on the mini regional jet has never had a medical issue like this – and I wasn’t alone.

I hit my call button and asked the flight attendant if I could speak with her in the front of the plane privately. I explained my problem, somewhat irritated that I’d been “outed” against my will.

I freely share my medical life here because I figure if you’re reading this, it matters to you either because you’re family, or an HPS’er. I don’t go around advertising my ostomy to just any old schmuck on an airplane!

At least I have an ostomy. I explained that I could empty into a trash bag or container, but I would have to empty.

As we got closer to San Francisco, you could feel the tension in the cabin as passengers became increasingly uncomfortable trying to “hold it.”

The flight attendant revised her instructions. We were now permitted to go to the bathroom, but we had to take a bottle of water with us to try and wash out the toilet bowl and, hopefully, the water would force the little flap in the toilet to open and our waste would find its way into a holding tank.


We made it work. I got to San Francisco leak free, although somewhat grossed out.

But here’s what really gets me. As I entered the terminal, the gate person was on the overhead advising passengers to use the restroom now – the one of the plane wasn’t working. Instead of fixing it they were going to load this plane back up with passengers and water bottles.

By the way, this was a US Airways booked, United Airlines operated, SkyWest flight. Go figure.

Memo to United Airlines – the restroom is not optional equipment, especially on a cross country flight!

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