The set up:
The life:I’m being a bit pretentious but, you see, I can be. Why?
Welcome, my friends, it is…
(I don’t use this brand but it’s the only graphic I could find for free, thank you Hollister, I’ll be ordering some samples soon!)
I thought that it would be informative to my readers to understand just a little about what I have to do to be a teaching and traveling bonsai artist living with an ostomy.
First, for those who have no idea what that is, an ostomy is, basically, a hole in your body through which either urine or feces (or fæces if you’re English) can exit your body (from those organs which produce said waste) and be collected in an appliance. Check this website out for a good description of types of ostomies.
I have an ileostomy (more specifically, a loop ileostomy. This type is supposed to be temporary but I am coming up on four years now with it).
Let’s introduce the Ostomates (what those of us with ostomies call ourselves) to my art, bonsai trees.
What’s a bonsai?
Generally, it is a relatively small and young tree, trained, through various pruning and artistic techniques, to look like a big and old tree. We use just about any kind of tree (juniper, oak, elm, etc), but we usually prefer trees with small foliage and the ability to respond to our various abuses.
Like the ficus above. It is a ficus salicaria, or willow leaf fig (a ficus is a fig is a ficus). I’ll be going back and forth between work on the tree, and explaining my ostomy. It’ll be fun, don’t worry. There will be a little bit of…umm….fleshy bits, but you can quickly scroll past those parts if you’d like.
The first thing I do to a tropical tree like our ficus here is to (usually) cut off all the leaves (oh no!!!) don’t worry, the tree responds very well to this technique. I’ll also be removing the training wire (I use aluminum but many artists use an annealed copper wire).
The purpose of the wire is to move the branches to make them look older than they are. They’re not permanent, but are much like braces on your teeth. When they’re “set” you take them off.
Let us begin…
Speaking of snip….
All this paraphernalia and supplies are just for me to be able to hold my….uhhh, poo.
Below is the bag, or ostomy appliance (because you apply it to the skin I guess). This side is what you stick to your abdomen.
The brand is ConvaTec, and the model is an Esteem Plus, one-piece, drainable pouch, with a moldable Stomahesive skin barrier. The part with the graphic of the two thumbs is the moldable barrier. For me, it gets tossed aside. I tend to adapt things to work better, so I use a different barrier, which you’ll see in a moment.
This is the front. The opening on the bottom with the Velcro is how I drain the pouch. I won’t show you that, don’t worry.
This is the lifesaver, without it I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. . It’s called a SureSeal ring. It goes over the part we call the flange (which is the seal). If I get a leak from the flange’s seal, this SureSeal keeps it, uh…contained, until I can change the whole system. I learned about this miraculous product from Megan, The Front Butt YouTuber
These are my ostomy scissors. They’re specially shaped to cut a circle.
These are my bonsai scissors. They’re specially designed to cut off leaves and branches.
Like so. Our ficus has been dewired and defoliated.
This is the seal I use in place of the one that comes with the ConvaTec bag. It is a Coloplast Brava skin barrier protective sheet. I learned about them by talking to the ostomy care specialist from Coloplast and they suggested it.
I have found, after all of the different skin barrier seals I’ve tried, this to be the best “seal” for my situation. It works for me.
But, I have to cut it to fit. And that’s what those scissors are for (the first ones). For those who wish to know, the hole I have to cut for my stoma is 50 mm or two inches wide. That is large, btw, as far as stoma sizes go. My ostomate readers will understand that. But the hole isn’t as big as my ego. My bonsai people will understand that.
What now? Cleanup. To my stoma area I first remove the old pouch (interestingly, there are several words we use for our appliances. I say bag, but some find that distasteful, some say pouch, as you saw in the ConvaTec description above. Technically, it’s an appliance. Here’s a very good link describing several different kinds).
For my fellow ostomates that want to know what a bonsai is, you can peruse my site (there are more than 400 articles) or go to my friend Oscars’s site Bonsai Empire
This ficus is a little unusual in the structure, kinda like me and my stoma.A little about me as an artist: I find myself in a philosophical and aesthetic mindset where I wish to use odd shapes and interesting structures to create my bonsai (my tag line for this blog is accurate, I am both irreverent and questioning). I think I’ve shown enough that I can create regular or “acceptable” bonsai (as an analogy, I can paint a bowl of fruit, and I’ve done it in many ways and styled. At this point in my artistic journey, I don’t want to paint fruit anymore).
This tree below might just be considered not a “good” bonsai. Some might even say it’s bad. It’s not a good bowl of fruit because it doesn’t conform to what some people might think is a bowl of fruit should be. I know, the ostomy readers are thinking, a “bad” bonsai? Isn’t bonsai an art? How can art style be bad? You either like it or not. Or it’s not well done (I guess that might be considered bad, but does one discourage a beginner in an endeavor by saying whatever they do is bad, or do we encourage for them to practice more?)
Speaking of art, as I said, my stoma is shaped oddly. Here’s a digital re-imagining of it.
Don’t worry, it’s not that bad. I call it my “Middle aged Mutant Ninja Stoma”. Sometimes I call it “Admiral Akbar”
If you can’t laugh at yourself, whom can you laugh at.
Where was I? Ah, cleanup of my stoma area, I use baby wipes to clean, literally, the shit. That’s what they’re made for. But, unfortunately, baby wipes have oil in them. Oil, as you might guess, is not conducive for making a good seal. So I use that rubbing alcohol to “prep” the skin.
Then, so I don’t get a rash (those of us with ileostomies are susceptible to rashes from our output because of two reasons. First, it’s very watery. I don’t use my large intestine as the diversion, the stoma, Akbar, occurs at the end of the small intestine. And, if you remember from your anatomy section in your health class, the large intestine is where you absorb most of your water. I, obviously, can’t now do that and yes, it makes me very much in danger of dehydration. That’s why, when you see me at the shows or on stage, you see me with a drink in my hand almost all the time (no, not an adult beverage, usually it’s a Powerade) . Secondly, it’s also inside the large intestine where the body reabsorbs digestive enzymes. So literally, if my flange is leaking, I am digesting my skin. This is why babies get rashes as well, their systems don’t work well so their poo is watery and acidic….and that just painted a nice pic in your head of what my poo looks like, didn’t it? Hahaha…. ), I use this powder…. It absorbs moisture…..
This is a typical rash. Don’t worry, this pic isn’t bad either.
This one is though, a camera selfie.
This pic is kinda cool.
The next step for the bonsai is repotting.
This is my soil mix , I have many blog posts on soil mixes and what I use, so I won’t bore you all too much on it, except to say, there is no “dirt” or “soil” in it. Soil mix is just a generic and (in my opinion) an acceptable term to use. I’m not a Bonsai Snob and I rather dislike those who try to be (that’s why they call me irreverent really, I don’t know why, but they also Call me the Gangster of Love…..).
By “repot” I mean that I am removing old soil and pruning long roots and, often, re-using the same container the tree was in. I don’t often put it in a larger pot, but I might change it if I find one that matches the tree better.
I wish I could change my stoma so it matched me better.
So, a warning……
……you may want to scroll fast past the next pic…….
…….it’s an actual, in living poo color, in your face picture of my stoma……
…….I warned you…..
What you see on the edges are granuloma tissue that needs to be removed by my surgeon. But I haven’t seen her for about two years. It’s a long story but it has to do with me needing to switch insurance companies twice in those two years.
I won’t engage in an argument as to what system may work best when it comes to health care payments. I just won’t.
But here I am, with an ugly stoma (are there any pretty ones?) and one that prolapses as well. My surgeon and I had discussed the prolapsing (I won’t put a link this time but if you’re curious, google prolapsed stoma, not even remotely attractive), but we were going to do a reversal…..and then the whole insurance thing. So yeah……as a result of the prolapsing, I wear an abdominal binder to keep my intestines in (for those of you who have met me or watched me in a demo or class, no, it’s not a girdle keeping my fat belly in).
Speaking of binding, it’s time to wire. The wire above is called a guy wire (if we called it a girl wire, it might get us in trouble…..ba dum dum crash)
A second one. When we wire, usually it’s done by wrapping the wire around the branch in a spiral. Often times, if we only need some downward movement, a guy wire or two works just as well.
And, after all the branches are wired, I move them so they look old (meaning it looks like gravity has acted upon them over time and are twisted and gnarly, like my personality), but are harmonious as well. This is a bonsai.
But that’s not all I do. I teach bonsai as well, traveling around the country, driving, flying etc. with my ostomy.
This is Judy, one of my Ft. Myers, Fl students.
These all belong to Rick, another student.
This belongs to my client, Janice.
And this is me, the handsome devil I am.
Why am I writing so extensively about my ostomy today,? Well, it is Workd Ostomy Day, which only happens every three years, and the theme of this years World Ostomy Day is:
Speaking Out Changes Lives.
The interesting thing is, I did not know that was the theme when I started writing this blog post. I just had an idea that I should share more with my readers than I ever have. And to give you all an idea of what I need to do to function in my life.
I also wanted to share my passion for bonsai, both the Art and the education, with the Ostomates that stumble upon this post.
And to show them that one can still be productive and fulfilled with an ostomy.
I am not always happy and chipper (or cantankerous for that matter). This is a painting I did after one of my surgeries. There are some very dark moments living with my ileostomy.
But bonsai brings me back. This is me giving a talk about bonsai at Epcot in Disney World. That was a good day.
I also have a YouTube channel where I act like a fool talking about my trees (Here’s a good example of my video work)
It’s been a humbling journey, both in bonsai and with my ostomy. But I still live.
I could not have made it without my wife, Rebecca.
She’s been my rock. She changed my bag until I learned how (all you New ostomates, don’t you worry, you’ll learn). She takes care of me and the kids, she waters the trees while I’m away. And is often the face of the business when I am vending at a show (I’m too busy hobnobbing with my fellow bonsai artists).
Thank you my wife.
Thank My Bonsai World.
And thank you my fellow Ostomates, I know that I am not in a bad way. reading and watching your stories sometimes makes me sad. I actually have it easy, and in many ways, I’m pretty fortunate.
I am grateful.
Happy World Ostomy Day my friends.
Anyway, that’s me.
I hope to meet you one day.