I have no colon. It was removed in 2008, in a life-saving operation. Prior to this operation, I’d already had two different colostomies and one ileostomy, the result of lots of surgery to manage complex Crohn’s disease. Since 2008, I’ve had a permanent ileostomy and continue to negotiate the ups and downs of disability and chronic illness. (Thankfully, since 2013, many more ups than downs.)
I am quite used to coping with the complexities and the irritations of a stoma: the occasional major and minor accidents, the smells, and the fact that one is close to one’s own faeces, the sore skin and the way that bag-glue melts in hot temperatures. I have grown used to having a stoma. It is my stoma and I cannot imagine not having it. I’ve had a stoma of some description since 1999. This is me. This is my body.
The NHS has been wonderful with me. It’s saved my life. Without it I would be dead many times over.
Equally, I cannot survive without NHS medical supplies. I try not to take them for granted, but without stoma bags and the various gubbins that go with them, I’d be in a terrible mess very quickly. Indeed, in my more febrile moments – those silly, three-am ‘what would happen if …’ moments – I’ve thought, what would I do in a situation of national emergency where there were no supplies? I guess I wouldn’t be one of those people who would last very long.
In recent days and weeks, as the Brexit crisis has deepened, there has been talk about stockpiling of medical supplies and other items. The fact that insulin is not made in the UK has been highlighted, and a potential disruption in supply is an alarming prospect. It will affect friends and congregation members, potentially even our own Prime Minister.
The stoma products on which I rely are not made in the UK. They are made in the wider EU. I also rely on medical drinks that are not made in the UK.
Instinctively, I want to say, ‘It will all be OK. There’s no reason to suppose that we shall be so idiotic in our approach to Brexit that we’d risk the medical well-being of people in need.’ And yet …
I cannot imagine that those who voted for Brexit in the Referendum voted for widespread anxiety among disabled and chronically ill people. I cannot imagine they wanted potentially catastrophic disruptions in items that people like me rely on. If they did, it would be monstrous, based on some unutterably bleak idea of the disposability of the vulnerable.
All the evidence, including that around medical supplies, indicates the foolhardiness of leaving the EU. Even if we do leave, chances are that the cost of these supplies will go up for the NHS.
We are now too thoroughly integrated to intelligently leave the EU. We are united at too basal a level. The level of flummox and chaos that has surrounded negotiations indicates this. Our government seems lost in a fantasy pick-and-mix solution.
Leaving the EU represents ideological foolhardiness. It shall only add to the ongoing anxieties the vulnerable experience. If someone with my level of relative privilege and power is feeling under pressure, how much more so those with relatively little?
I am used to being close to crap. As a person with a stoma I cannot avoid it. I know what stinks and what doesn’t. The ideological fury of those who advocate ‘Brexit at any cost’ stinks to high heaven. As ever, it will be those who are vulnerable who will pay the price.