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  • Writer's pictureDan Cardwell

Patience: Zero/SOS to the World

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

Warning: Contains unavoidable bodily functions.

I’ve always liked the idea of having a column like Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City, where you could make really simplified points about complex matters like relationships and…er….relationships through a clunky metaphor. You know, how are the end of an episode, a saccharine voiceover would say something along the lines of ‘It was then I realised that my shoes were like New York. Some days, you’d walk, and the heels would be a little too high for a steady stroll, but on other days, you’d find the perfect pair and they’d let you walk tall. And now I realise that, in many ways, New York was like relationships. And my shoes. My shoes were like New York and love. No, my shoes were New York and New York was love. New York. Shoes.’

Ah, Sex and the city. A show full of classy metaphors and dignity. Dignity (watch you don’t get hit by this clunky segue) is something that has been on my mind a lot in the past few days. If there is any tip I can give to someone entering hospital for any reason that may leave you bed bound, it’s this – leave any notion of dignity at the door. Because, whether you choose to abandon the notion or not, dignity will leave you.

The men on my ward, all with at least a couple of decades on me, have seemed much better at accepting this fate than I. Don’t get me wrong, the air in the ward is a thick with all our shame as it is the stench of bodily fluids and defecation, but the generation between us is

the learned difference between stoic emotional repression and me crying because I can’t get to wee in the big boy toilet.

There is undoubted feeling of vulnerability that comes from not being able to move from the bed, the state of being returned to a child, only this time, the monsters under your bed aren’t dream dinosaurs or some Star Wars character your mind has conjured on Ket and now owes money to George Lucas for. Worse still, these aren’t monsters your parents can save you from.

These are the monsters of an itch at the end of a leg you can no longer bend to scratch, the glass of water that’s tantalisingly just out of reach, or the desperate need to go to the toilet when you know the only option you get is a pan in the bed.

I’ve always had a problem with toilets, in the same way I have a problem with authority. The only time I like it is when it’s mine. I’ve in many ways always found myself envious of the sort of people who can waltz into a toilet and go about their business, whether that loo be their own, a friend’s or a public convenience. I can just about stomach urinating in an alien commode, as long as I have tissues, so I don’t have to touch any of the surfaces all those unwashed hands have contaminated. For a short while, I did take to ordering boxes of disposable surgical gloves to make my life easier, but every time I walked into a gents and snapped a pair on, the look of fear in the patrons eyes as to what was about to occur was too much for this toilet phobic fella to bear.

Never has this paranoia been more problematic than the period of time when I was doing lots of festivals. There was a period of time when my friends and I, full of bands, comedians and drunks alike, would be visiting music festivals on a regular basis, with me often performing a set or two over the weekend to a bored looking afternoon crowd in a tent.

The first festival I ever did was a dubbers festival called Run to the Sun. Normally a holiday camp site, that did give it the advantage of having a clubhouse with proper bathroom facilities alongside the more traditional festival option of portaloos, the sole preserve of which seemed to be a line of cheaply produced confession booths sequestered for unwashed festival goers to use to make a really dirty protest against something they must have really, really hated.

But with the clubhouse facilities available, I used to (along with the trusty kit of sprays and wipes that killed 99.9% of germs – who was that 00.1% that was such a resistant little bugger?) go to the campsite shop and purchase a rubber-ring, the kind used for lazing about in a swimming pool. At which point, I’d run to the clubhouse, blowing up the ring as I went, then place it on toilet seat, knowing that I could go about my business without concern of my rear touching urine soaked seats or, at best, a throne where many bare behind’s had sat before.

But, of course, now it had lain on a dirty seat, I couldn’t then touch the ring and had to sadly leave it for the next user. I always imagined a confused cleaner finding them and wondering what the hell was going on (“What’s he trying do, save the little chocolate fishes from drowning?”

The only time this masterplan failed was when I got to the shop on the way to my morning ablutions and was told it had sold out of inflatable toilet seat covers/rubber rings. The shop person must have recognised the look of terror in my eyes as they hurriedly told me of a tent within the festival pop-up marketplace that sold rubber rings.

Running the length of the extended campsite to said marketplace, I started to get the pains in my stomach, my already amusing run now taking on the gait of some sort of Middle Earth creature that was dangerously touching cloth. By the time I reached the tent, I was scuttling in on all fours, screaming “the ring, my precious, give me the ring”.

They’d sold out as well. Either life was playing a particularly cruel trick or there was an OCD convention in town that had eaten a particularly dodgy curry the night before. In desperation, I ran to the clubhouse unsure of what to do. Desperate and approaching the point of soiling myself I decided the only option was to pull down my trousers, and crouch over the pan. Trouble is, of course, I am a weak man and didn’t have the strength in the thighs to hold the position for long enough. Desperate, I climbed onto the toilet seat, a foot either side, deciding it was better to burn the trainers and buy a new pair. As I tried to clamber on, my foot slipped, straight down the inside of the toilet, plonking itself with a splash in the bottom of the bowl. Legend has it, my howl of horror was heard across the entire festival.

As I exited the stall, weeping, a cleaner, concerned someone was hurt, had run into the bathroom, and took one glance at me to deduce I was the victim. Enquiring as to my well-being, I explained to him that I couldn’t face sitting on the seat, so had put my foot on the side, only for it to fall in.

“If only you’d told me”, he said. “I could’ve washed you a rubber ring to sit on. Some weirdos being leaving them in here all week”.

The point is, even with the ironic twist of fate, a few years later, that was a diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis (a bowel disease), there was no-way I was going to be using a bed pan to void the bowels. In fact, every evening, as the nurses came around the ward to dispense our daily dose of pills, I used to hide the laxatives they had slipped into the mix, as if I was Jack Nicholson trying to avoid Nurse Rachet’s attempt to lobotomise me.

The wee, however, I could do little about, and so, had to swallow my pride and let my dignity take a holiday, as I lay on my bed and urinated as precisely and accurately as I could, into a bottle. Like the rest of my bed-bound ward chums.

The ward was full of men from all walks of life, from all different ages, all with different opinions, all with different outlooks, all with different things to say. Different arguments to have. But we all shared the shame and stolen dignity of peeing in the bottle. We were all the same.

Except, maybe, when it come to the pan. Bed 2, next to mine, came in with a similar injury to mine, but he was having a little more trouble than me. He seemed to be in a lot of distress. Unable to stand or move for days, it seemed the herbal laxatives they’d been secretly feeding the whole ward had done nothing but make the poor chap more uncomfortable with his stomach feeling close to bursting. Even when he was at the point he would accept the bedpan was his only chance at relief, he still couldn’t go.

Deciding an industrial strength grade laxative was the only option, they pumped him full of it. At the time the dinner cart was being wheeled round, Bed 2 requested the pan. At which point, bed 2 preceded to have the noisiest, most prolongated shit, in his bed, right next to me.

As this cacophony of disturbing sounds continued, the dinner lady wheeled the cart with the pre-selected main meals upon it, right in front of the curtain, the only thing separating me from my defecating neighbour. Lifting the lid on the plate to present my meal less than a metre in front of a man who sounded in danger of passing a lung through his anus.

I told the dinner lady I was no longer hungry. On the way out of the ward she told the nurse about my sudden loss of appetite. I didn’t think we were going to need Hugh Laurie to clear up this case.

But, still, we went on. Ignoring the pain of pissing in a bottle and for some of us, pooing in a pan. Pretending we weren’t men who had lost the dignity of even being able to tend to our toiletry requirements by ourselves.

And, I realised, with all the difference in the world, with all the separation, with all the arguments, with all the disagreements, maybe we need to realise, when it comes down to it, we’re all the same, just people, one slip away from pissing in a bottle. Or possibly in shoes.

So, there it is. My message. We can save our souls. By all pissing together in a bottle. I only hope that someone gets my…. I hope that someone gets my…. I hope that someone gets my….

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