I’m sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, it’s only March and the season for colds and flu is not yet over. I am surrounded by sick people, coughing and sneezing, filling the air that I also have to breath with all manner of infectious agents. I can almost see the evil little germs making a beeline for me. The sooner this ordeal is over the better. Finally accepting that my symptoms are not normal, I have made the appointment to see the GP. The trouble with a little knowledge, is I know what is going to happen. I am aware of the first thing that must be checked when a patient presents in a doctor’s surgery like me. It would be far better to lie on my left side on the couch, knees bent and mooning to the room, in blissful ignorance of the humiliation to come. Facing the wall, my attention is fixed on a little mark in the paintwork and as I'm blind to the preparations going on behind me, my hearing seems extremely acute. A latex glove snaps into place with the force of catapult as the noisy cap being unscrewed from a tube of lubricant slowly increases the building tension. I need to relax but every muscle is rigid with apprehensive expectation. “This may be a little uncomfortable” the school child masquerading as a medic informs me. This I soon realise is an undeniable understatement, as the incredibly young doctor who I’m convinced is only a work experience imposter, vigorously and thoroughly checks to see if any abnormalities can be found.
Everything is as it should be, no bleeding piles, no abrasions, no obvious cause for the symptoms that I have presented with and so further tests will be necessary. I am still acutely embarrassed as she writes my referral to the hospital but she is professional and unfazed by the procedure she has just had to do. Even at such a tender age she must have seen hundreds of human sphincters, mine just one more to add to her increasing knowledge and experience and as I am now on this conveyer belt of appointments and investigations, I am going to have to get used to my private, intimate place where the “sun doesn’t shine” becoming just one more on a proctologist’s list.
As a general rule, I do not examine the contents of the toilet bowl, much preferring to flush the evidence of what happens in that most private of places, away. There was a putative television doctor, who claimed to be able to diagnose a multitude of ailments solely based on a thorough examination of a turd. Whether or not her methods stand up to any scientific analysis doesn’t really concern me, it is the fact that every deposit has to be picked apart for evidence of good or bad health, that I find extremely bizarre. It is therefore quite surprising that I did notice when my motions contained an unexpected quantity of blood! Perhaps it was because I was experiencing severe stomach cramps and felt generally unwell that I choose to look but when confronted by a bloody stool I did what most people do and chose to ignore it.
I trained as a nurse, I know the potential significance of such a find. I would recommend, nay, insist that any of my loved ones, visit their GP and subject themselves to further investigations. But after a few days I felt better, the blood was gone and I rationalised away the symptoms as the result of a dodgy curry or an unexpected haemorrhoid. Life carries on, and bowel habits return to normal so why dwell on a minor aberration, a once only occurrence, far better it seemed to forget that episode and definitely not to look inside the toilet bowl again.
Shit! Crap! Even just good old Poo, these are not polite words. Pejorative terms of abuse, expletives to emphasis the negative emotion and not something to mention at the dinner table. It’s not just the lexicon of swear words which cause us to shudder, even terms like “feaces” or “excrement” conjure up the matter they describe in an almost visceral way. It is as if I can smell the very word.
It is such a basic human function, to empty the bowel. We eat, we process that food, derive the sustenance that keeps us alive and defecate the waste. We all do, it is fundamentally human and yet remains taboo in a way that is almost inexplicable. Im not embarrassed by anybody else’s bowel movements, I understand that even the Queen has to poo. I have had two children, mini humans who arrive in the world without the skill of controlling when the body should empty away what is no longer needed and as such have changed many a smelly nappy with the blasé indifference to shit demonstrated by most young parents. I was a nurse, I had to regularly deal with this most normal of bodily functions with patients, I have administered medications into various orifices’ to help it on it’s way and have cleared it up for them if it arrived unexpectedly in the wrong location such as their bed.
So it is not the faecal matter itself which is the problem. It would seem it is only my turds, my waste and the realisation that other people know that I am producing them which fills me with acute, crippling embarrassment. It is something I must do on my own, something private, hidden away behind a closed and locked door. It is done in the security of my own home and not in a public toilet, they may be a convenience for some but I have always been able to hold on and wait. I could not bear the awkwardness and discomfort of being behind the tiny door of a cubicle, trousers around the ankle clearly visible as the barrier does not extend all the way to the floor, struggling not to let a noisy escape of gas reveal my presence as members of the general public are washing their hands. It is done with the toilet window open to let any identifiable orders escape, whilst whistling loudly to mask those inadvertent and comic sounds. Above all I don’t want to talk about it. I do not announce to the world in general that I am about to go and unburden myself, I go quietly, covering my intentions by mentioning something about needing to clean my teeth and then hope and pray nobody notices.