Oh Shit: In Which We Learn That Fecal Incontinence Will Not Kill You (No Matter How You May Wish for Death’s Sweet Release in the Moment)

As many of you know, Neal and I used to run a trivia night on Capitol Hill. Its original incarnation was at the Pour House, a Pittsburgh-themed bar that was a very doable half mile walk from our home. A dear friend was in town visiting, and I was thrilled to share my local celebrity status with her (oh how they used to cheer when Neal said, “Helping me, as always, is the lovely and talented Score Babe, Rebecca!”). We delighted our guest with music selections and trivia tailored to her interests. The three of us stuck around for an extra round of Yuengling after the game was done. A good time was had by all.


There were blessings to count. 1) I was with two people who had proven their unconditional love for me many times over and would be nothing but kind about the incident for years to come. 2) No one else was around. 3)  We were a short walk away from a hot bath and a change of clothes.

There is no need to go into detail about the physical horrors of the experience. We are all familiar with excrement and its qualities. I hope you are not and never will be familiar with being an adult who has lost control of her bowels in a public place. For all of the physical unpleasantness, the mental toll is much, much worse. When the last, increasingly uncomfortable steps brought us to the house, I rushed straight to our downstairs half bath, locked myself in, and sobbed uncontrollably. Was this my life now? Was I going to live in constant fear of the next pants-shitting? Would I need to limit my diet to cheese and other binding agents to ensure this never, ever happened again?*

Pajamas were brought from upstairs; soiled clothes were bagged and put in the trash outside. My sweet husband was convinced we could save the jeans, but I was having none of it. My well-meaning house guest told me about the time the same thing happened to her when she was younger and had the stomach flu. In spite of the impulse to do so, I did not scream, “STOMACH FLU DOESN’T COUNT!!!” I was too demoralized to do much but sniffle and nod. When I eventually shared my experience with other close friends, they too were empathetic and a little tone deaf, sharing stories of drunken GI mishaps. Didn’t they understand? A drunk college kid shitting their pants is hilarious. A moderately tipsy young woman doing so is tragic.

The bad news: incontinence has visited me multiple times since that Tuesday a decade ago, and it sucks every time. The good news: I have a great gastroenterologist with a sense of humor, which is even more valuable  than a funny name. He taught me about Runner’s Diarrhea (apparently it’s not just for runners anymore!) and strategies for avoiding such embarrassments. While I’m not sure that this particular hardship that hasn’t killed me has made me stronger, it definitely has made me more resilient, and resilience is key to surviving chronic illness. So I’ve got that going for me.

*This joke did NOT occur to me until many years later. Tragedy + time = comedy.