All I could do was just stand there in the middle of a very suburban street in Christchurch, while an unholy amount of liquid feces poured out of my body.
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100% Pure New Zealand
For anyone that has not been, it should be on your bucket list for sure. It is one of the most stunning places I have ever been. I’m talking snow-capped mountains and rolling fields; the stillest waters and steaming springs. Wildlife, culture, adventure, great food, great people, and hobbits! It simply has it all.
I had always heard great things about New Zealand, but honestly…nothing could have prepared me for how crazy-amazing the country was when I visited in 2009 with Jack, a lifelong friend.
We were staying near Christchurch, in a lovely suburb called Edgeware, roughly two or so miles from the city center. Jack’s family, his uncle on his mother’s side, had very kindly offered to put us up for the stay. They were an incredibly generous family who made me feel very welcome. This was to be our HQ.
From our “base” we set out on little expeditions to explore the many wonders across the South Island. Josef Glacier, Abel Tasman, Milford Sound, the party hub that is Alexandra Town, Hamner Springs; just a few places we managed to get around to visiting during our 4-week stay. After each mini-trip, we would return to his uncle’s house for a day or two to recharge, wash our clothes, and plan the next excursion. Sounded like a perfect plan.
In truth, it was. But as we have all experienced at some point, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Living with crohn’s disease
Perhaps I should have mentioned earlier; I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2007. Some two years later I had not yet fully come to terms with what the disease meant. I knew what it was of course, but I had not yet truly appreciated the impact it can have (and currently does) on my life.
Back then, the condition was still new to me. Aside from an extended hospital stay when I was first diagnosed, to help get everything under control, I had not really found my feet with it. By 2009 I had got my weight up to around 150lbs (a healthy weight for me), a vast improvement on the 125lbs I had wasted down to when I was really sick. In fact, apart from the “bad guts” I had always had since hitting puberty, I was lucky enough to remain largely unaffected since my initiation into the Crohn’s club.
Recovering from my long-haul flight
The first few days in New Zealand were physically a little uncomfortable for me. I was bloated, backed up and jetlagged: constipated from the airline food and nearly 30 hours of flying. I chose to ignore what my body was trying to tell me. Maybe I would feel better in the morning.
The day after landing and settling into Jack’s uncle’s, we both woke early and decided to hike into the center of Christchurch before breakfast. Within about 40 minutes we found ourselves in Cathedral Square, standing in front of Christ Church, an Anglican cathedral. If I had known the beautiful building would be severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake, I might have paid it more than a cursory glance. Instead, my attention was on the giant chess set two guys were orchestrating.
I need to go, NOW!
Jack was hungry and keen to return for some breakfast. I wasn’t thinking about food. A familiar feeling of discomfort had started to gnaw at my insides. I sensed I was not going to be constipated for very much longer, quite the opposite in fact.
“I can make it,” I thought to myself. The house we were staying at was not far, and I knew the way back …didn’t I?
The previous year, as we both journeyed around Europe, Jack had given me the nickname of Radar. You see, I had this uncanny ability to navigate, even as a child, with considerable accuracy, pretty much anywhere. It was like I had an internal compass and homing pigeon instincts. It was with this sense of arrogance, and self-confidence, I began to direct us back to where we were staying.
“I recognize this street.”
“It is definitely this way.”
“Let’s take the next right.”
“Only a few more blocks; not far now.”
I surrender: time to ask for help
This continued for some time. Eventually, I had to admit defeat, we were pretty lost. Jack had not been paying attention as he always trusted me to navigate.
By this point, my discomfort had turned from a strong need to poo to full-on butt cheek clenching time. If someone had placed a walnut between them, I would have cracked it open for sure.
“Hey man, there’s a newsagent over the road. We can ask there.” I said. “If it is far, I can beg to use their loo.”
Jack nodded in agreement. We both went in. Jack and asked if they knew where Canon Street was.
“It’s not far from here my friend.” A lovely Kiwi chap answered. “Five minutes at most, just walk along this road until you reach the river, turn left and keep going a few blocks.”
Perhaps my radar wasn’t as broken as I had thought? I remember seeing the river earlier that day. I decided rather than asking to use their toilet, most likely leaving an awful smell in my wake, I would hang on a few more minutes.
We walked to the end of the road, turned left at the river and began to walk down the longest street I have ever seen in my life. Five minutes quickly went past. We crossed a major intersection and still nothing was looked familiar. Ten minutes passed. We were still lost.
Losing it – “I pooped myself”
Then it happened. One mega cramp in my gut keeled me over. My guts…released.
I pooped myself. That’s all I could say as molten lava flowed out of me. For anyone who has experienced the type of diarrhea you only get when you are really sick, you will know exactly what I mean by molten lava.
Rivulets burned trails down my legs, and my trainers bubbled over and steamed away as they filled up. All I could do was just stand there in the middle of a very suburban street in Christchurch, while an unholy amount of liquid feces poured out of my body. Jack saw the whole thing. All I could do was just stare at him while he looked on in horror and disgust.
“What. The. Fuck,” he mouthed.
I was mortified.
A stranger’s garden
What happened next in my mind is a mixture of panic-driven daring, in the moment genius planning, and complete nastiness. To say I was soaked through would be something of an understatement. My shorts were dripping from the back, my legs were caked with feces, and my trainers were filled to the brim. I needed to tidy myself up.
There was little I could do other than waddle into the nearest front garden, crouch behind their rubbish bins and get naked, at least from the waist down. For some reason, I vividly remember there being a black Audi A4 parked in the driveway. Funny how the memory recalls the little, insignificant details.
So here I was, hiding in someone’s front garden, everything hanging out from the waist down and covered in poo. I was at a bit of a loss. What do I do? And that’s when I saw it in all it’s black and white glory … the daily newspaper. Just lying there on the front doorstep. Not exactly three-ply Andrex but it will do!
I did the best one can do with a newspaper; scrunching up pages and then wrapping the sullied sheets in the unused ones. When I thought I was clean as I could make myself, I dumped everything into their bin, including my underpants. I put my cleaner shorts back on and walked away. To this day I cannot imagine the horror that family experienced discovering my crap-encrusted underwear as they went about their day. Not my proudest moment. The trainers went in the bin too, I walked barefoot after that.
Walk of shame
“Don’t say anything,” I warned Jack. “Ever”
He just looked at me and nodded. I was glowing red with embarrassment.
Two minutes later – I kid you not – we turned onto the right street and quietly walked back to our temporary home. As we walked into the house, we could smell breakfast being cooked, sausages I think. His uncle called out for us to join the family for breakfast.
“I need to go and shower. Tell him I was feeling under the weather and am going to go lie down for a minute.”
The plan set in motion I made a beeline straight for the stairs. The whole family, two adults, and three children were all sitting around the kitchen table. As I walked up the stairs, I could hear Jack discussing ideas for tomorrow’s excursion. I was in the clear.
I showered with my clothes on, scrubbing them clean from the outside. Stripping naked I washed at least one hundred times over. And then some. Feeling much better I toweled off and went back to our guest room to try and rest. The horrors of the morning were behind me.
As I did this the two youngest kids, girls aged around five and seven were told to brush their teeth and get ready for school. The uncle brought them up and ushered them into the bathroom. This was when I heard two sentences that will haunt me for a lifetime:
“Oh, he left his shorts in here.”
…NO! My shorts were still in the shower.
“Daddy, it smells funny in here.”
…Oh god! Why!
This was not good. This was not good at all. I was staying in the house of a complete stranger, to me, and his daughters had unwittingly discovered that a 19-year-old had less control over his bowels than they did.
The understated laconic uncle
The bedroom door opened. It was the uncle.
“Jack said you were feeling a bit ill?”
“Er, yeah. Felt nauseous so took a shower and was going to lie down.” I replied.
“Mm-hmm.” A long pause.”You shit yourself, didn’t you?”
Great! Bloody marvelous. Why is the ground not swallowing me up?
“Yes.” I finally replied, “Yes I did.”
I felt so uncomfortable and awkward. How humiliating to talk about my uncontrollable bowel movements with a stranger.
And this is where the story ends. The uncle to his credit was a complete gentleman about it all, even regaling me with a time he did the same thing in Thailand when he was my age…on more than one occasion. He gave me some Imodium (which let me tell you, really works! I did not poo for another three days!) and after that, he said nothing more.
If you laugh at crohn’s disease you cannot be owned by it
Jack, who I was chatting to about this very story quite recently, told me that it is one of his fondest memories of our trip to New Zealand and of me in general. It’s actually quite endearing, in a very perverse, what the fuck kind of way. It makes me love him all the more for it.
Yes, I still see my friend. He did not disown me. He knows how debilitating Crohn’s disease can be. I am also better at telling my friends, and strangers, that I have to use their bathrooms. No more ‘waiting until I am home’ to somehow hide my condition.
For anyone who has had a similar experience, or has undergone anything that was just mortifying and horrible, remember this: if you can look back and laugh you cannot be owned by it. I tell this story quite often to friends and new people in my life. It is often an icebreaker, and in some odd way, I am quite proud of it.
Shit happens for a reason (sometimes on the street). It won’t ruin your life.