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  • Writer's pictureAustin Birks

Attention: Emergency Code 2 in Freezer Aisle 23

So, picture the scene: it's a lovely hot April evening and I am doing a spot of shopping in my usual supermarket. All is good. I've just been to my gym and done one solid hour of advanced Shotokan Karate in the wonderful studio, which doubles as my dojo in none COVID times.

Probably worth setting the scene in advance, before the horrific events unfold. There I am, in the gym, training hard, just doing my Karate thing, and really enjoying myself if I’m honest. I finish my kata training and pop into the shower to refresh and revitalise myself.

Looking back, several things occur to me, with that unique joy called hindsight. First I made a wrong assumption, namely that having a shower was a good idea with my stoma bag. Why? Because once it got soaked, it no longer started to stick and it began to slip away from the extended bowel itself. I naively thought that was ok, because all that I had to do was dry it off with the hair dryer and it would be fine. As if the gods of stoma stickiness would take pity on me, and magically glue themselves back to the bowel of departure.

On reflection, this was the first of a succession of cataclysmic errors of judgement by yours truly, more would follow in quick succession. Post drying off my non-sticky stoma bag with the dressing room hair dryer, I assumed that all would be fine and that by arranging my trousers and t-shirt, it would ensure that the bag would remain in tact and in place.

Confident in my wardrobe chess clothes positioning, I drove to the supermarket and decided as it was nice and warm I would not wear my coat. Looking back, this was bad decision number two.

As I folded up my supersize bag and tucked it into my hand basket, I planned my shopping expedition. Hay fever tablets were first on the list, followed by a small selection of goodies that were already committed to memory. All was good. I skated around those oh so familiar aisles with the confidence of a man who knew just what he wanted, and just where to find those sought after goodies.

I went from left to right, meat, milk, hay fever tablets. I was a man on a mission, as ever I had a mental list and knew just what I wanted. I had, within a few short minutes, obtained all that I wanted. My mission was looking good. I had economically and swiftly captured all my goodies and was on my final flight path, heading north by northwest for the wine rack. Two excellent well-reduced bottles later, I was feeling good, high on that smug sense of thinking yes, not only had a 9 quid bottle reduced to 6, but actually I bothered reading the review that Mr Morrison had bothered giving. Truth be told, I cannot ever recall seeing anyone actually reading these reviews.

In sharp contrast, try popping into Waitrose wine aisle. It's like a library in there. Talk out loud at your peril. I’m not even sure that they don't employ a librarian, but that is a different story.

So, here, my friends, things take a very dark and awful change of fate. Let me elaborate, if I may. I was in the last two aisles of discovery, namely the freezer section. I was focused and knew exactly what I wanted, namely two of Mr Morrison's finest Cornish pasties. Yes, I had enveloped one of those fanatical desires to enjoy the taste of Cornwall, and nothing was going to stop me.

I tracked down my hunted prey and selected my choice. All was good. My mission was on schedule and all seemed fine. Until... I don't still know why, but for reasons unknown, I felt something was not quite right under my t-shirt. There was strange sensation around my stoma bag, so undaunted I popped my hand under my shirt and in a microsecond everything stopped.

My right hand touched not the bag, as I had expected, but the warm horrid clamminess of something else. Something that sadly I knew too well. As I withdrew my hand, I could see that it was now covered. Oh dear God, what to do? Even worse, I realised that somehow I had managed to get it on my box of Cornish pasties. Dear God above, I had no protection. My coat had my hankies and everything else. Even worse, there were civilians round me. I say civilians because I realised that in milliseconds I had to protect those around me in the freezer aisle as I knew the scars could run so deep, if they knew for a second what horror was so close. It was almost as if I knew that I had access to undetected and dangerous munitions. Of course, I had not, but the burden of guilt and responsibility was huge.

For a few seconds I stopped dead in my tracks. Stop, compose and think I said to myself. Let's prioritise so that is what I did. First, I need to make a decision about getting the stuff off my hand and the Cornish pasty box. So, very carefully I put my left hand in my trouser pocket. Had I got hankies? No. Goddammit. So what to do? Think options. Only option left was to wipe said damage onto the sole of my left shoe, so I did.

Ok, so do I put the pasty box back in the fridge? Pros are what is on it will freeze and might blend into the box, never to be discovered. In consciousness, I could never handle the potential guilt of the scars that might invoke for some hapless pasty lover. Or God forbid, the box got picked up very soon and then how would that play out for both customer and till person? What if both got accidentally contaminated? Imagine the scene, of till person accidentally finding a free transfer from the box, to till, hands, and what of the awful conversation between hapless pasty box conveyor.

No, my troubled soul could never cope with the sheer possible guilt. So I thought in the absence of any hankies or cleaning equipment, my only option was to wipe my hand onto the sole of my shoe. So, this was what I did. Next decision was do I simply leave said shopping basket discreetly in the aisle and just leave? Or do I say, no, stop and sort it out?

I said to myself let's work this out, so a very quick reconnaissance which showed no one else around. I lifted my shirt to assess the situation. My stoma bag was nowhere to be seen, more was coming out and was already spread all over my shirt. It was horrendous and even worse, I could feel that it was pushing out more and there was no bag to collect it. At that point, I decided that clear and decisive action was needed, so I thought head straight to the self-service till.

So, that was what I did, all the time keeping my left hand pushing my stained t-shirt to stop anything plopping out onto the floor. I mean, try explaining that to security! Every step was measured and careful and felt like I was on death row. Slowly, but purposefully, I strode to my destination of self-pay. Eventually, I got there and stood in a busy queue. Please God, I thought, please do not let me down now, in front of these families and small children.

I took my place and did my scanning. By this time, I was thinking just keep calm and carry on. You have this, mate. Slowly but surely I got it done and then it was time to go. When I got to the car, I cleaned myself up, changed my shirt, got rid of all the horridness from my hands and with tears relief I drove home to get straight in the shower and clean myself up. Lesson learned Birks: take a change of stoma to the gym don't soil supermarket products. Onwards and upwards!

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