My So Called Life, Part 1 – The Human Whoopee Cushion


I hate doctors. I don’t know why exactly, but part of me thinks of them like mechanics, like I’m going to go in there with a sore throat and sniffles and come out with an under active thyroid and a tilted uterus. If it’s not going to kill me any time soon and it doesn’t involve some big old ugly tumor growing out the side of my neck, I don’t wanna know about it, alright? So suffice to say, when there’s something wrong with me I’ll put up with it way past the point of reasonable comfort levels and common sense before I even consider going to a doctor.

Here’s one thing I’ve learnt; working in an office is not good for a dodgy stomach. There are too many opportunities for silence, my new mortal enemy. Let me paint a picture for you and please, if you’re eating, come back to this later. When I eat something tummy dislikes, tummy’s going to do two things – it’s going to fill me up with gas and turn me into a human whoopee cushion or it’s going to fill me up with gas and turn me into a human geyser. Or if I’m really lucky, it’ll do a combination of the two.

Now with the first one, as far as I know it’s not the done thing to sit at your desk in an open plan office and follow the “better out than in” rule. Maybe if you were a guy and you worked in a small office with three of your best mates from school nobody would bat an eyelid, but I’m pretty sure in mixed company, in the corporate world and in Britain, lying on the ground and asking someone to come and sit on your stomach until all the gas is squeezed out would not be acceptable. It would on the other hand ensure nobody sat anywhere near you, which means you could fart to your heart’s content, but odors tend to waft don’t they, so no, still not ideal.

But of course I didn’t do that. No, I chose instead to become intimately acquainted with every stairwell, basement, loading dock and abandoned corridor I could find. I became so attuned to when an eruption was imminent I’d have to leap up from my desk and hurry off to deal with it so many times, I’m sure I must have looked like the busiest office worker in the entire history of office workers.

But sometimes there wasn’t an opportunity to rush off, such as when I had to attend meetings and, god help me, all day training sessions. Better out than in indeed. Keeping it in just creates its own set of problems.The gas just moves around my insides, eventually exploding internally and sounding exactly like a normal fart anyway. For some reason I’m still not sure of yet, the flatulence is worse sitting down than standing up.There’s only so many times in one meeting a person can loudly shuffle their papers, cough or move noisily around in their chair before people start to realise something’s up. I thought about ways to perhaps stand through all meetings, but didn’t think I could go the rest of my life pleading “injured coccyx” before it began to affect my promotional opportunities. So apart from the lack of any offensive odors, inside farts are not good in an office either.

Once when I first moved to London, I went on a day trip to Oxford and booked myself onto a private tour of the Bodleian library. Have I mentioned how long I’ve been in denial about this bloody problem of mine? Whoever said ignorance is bliss obviously didn’t have digestion issues. The Bodleian library, if you didn’t know, is one of the most famous libraries in the world, and being a library it had the nerve to be deathly silent. Now I know this about libraries, and anyone with half a brain would be able to figure out what was going to happen and tell me to just go and marvel at the pretty buildings from the outside instead, but no, I had to be stubborn stupid.

So two minutes into the tour my stomach starts its warm up exercises. I hung back a bit and feigned a sudden intense interest in a collection of musty books that looked like they’d been sitting there longer than human existance, hoping it would settle down. Of course, as I’ve said, IBS is thought to be most commonly caused or exacerbated by stress, so often it’s a catch-22 situation. The gurgles begin, I get stressed, they get worse and around and around we go until a bunch of strangers in the worlds most famous (and to my new found knowledge, most perfectly, acoustically amplified) library in the world are looking at me like I’m the love child of Shrek and Peter Griffin.

Maybe it’s a terribly narrow minded and stereotypical thing to say, but I’m sure to have a bunch of strangers think you are farting in public is more mortifying for a girl than it is for a boy. Even in these days of supposed equal opportunity and unisex toilets, it’s still not socially acceptable for girls to fart, and as much practise as I’ve had lately, I can’t seem to adopt a carefree attitude to the stares of disbelief or incredulous snickers it generally solicits.

So what did I do when all this continued to get worse? Did I read up on it, did I go to the doctor? Did I put one and one together and realise it was all to do with what I was putting in my mouth? No. I just made allowances for it, I made my life a silence free zone. No movies, no theater, no museums, no visit with friends to which some music or television show at just the right muffling volume was not applied. And plenty of time alone in my room, alone with my bloated gut and my extra thick duvet, under which I was free to let it all out and know for sure that I was not offending any unsuspecting housemates.

But if all that wasn’t enough, it steadily got even worse over the last few months (due most probably to quite a bit of stress in my personal life) and finally, fiiiiiiiinally, when I hadn’t had a solid “movement” in more than two months, and I was beginning to spend more time in the loo at work than at my desk, I plucked up the courage to ask a doctor about it. And I’m slowly starting to accept this thing is not going to fix itself.

It’s just as well I couldn’t pick up wifi in the toilet, or I might still be working there in that office, telling people the echo on my end of the phone is just bad reception and no, that flushing sound they hear is just the new water feature they’ve installed for mental health week.

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