Back in January a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot wrote an incredibly insensitive, misinformed, and elitist piece that had my friends with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) losing their poop. Pun intended.
The column was written in reaction to a defeated bill that would have required businesses in Virginia to allow patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (collectively known as IBD), access to their restrooms. It would have served the columnist well to do a little research on IBD before equating the sufferers of this debilitating disease to a bunch of sticky-fingered thieves.
As I have mentioned in several previous blog posts, I suffered from ulcerative colitis all through college before eventually undergoing major surgery to remove my entire colon during my senior year. I would not wish Crohn’s or colitis on my worst enemy. Heck, I wouldn’t even wish it on that columnist from Virginia.
The issue of being denied restroom access has come up a number of times on a social forum provided on a mobile app called GI Monitor, designed specifically for people who suffer from IBD and related bowel ailments.
Once, about four months ago, one of my GI Monitor friends was shopping at a popular greeting card store when she was hit by the sudden urge that IBD sufferers are all too familiar with. And for the record, people with IBD cannot physically “hold it”.
My friend approached the counter, explained her condition and even showed her medical alert restroom card, a card designed to encourage shopkeepers to make their restroom available to people with IBD. Still, she was denied.
My friend did everything she could to convince them, but because they showed no compassion to her, she lost control of her bowels and had an accident in the middle of the busy store. It was a humiliating experience for her to say the least, but there was some justice in the end—the same employee who had denied her access to the restroom was forced to clean the mess on the carpet.
One of the store’s employees actually said to her, “you don’t look like a baby so there’s no excuse for what you did.” My friend appropriately replied, “Try living with a disease where you have no control of your bowels” and took her business elsewhere. No pun intended that time.
My point is that this condition, which the Virginian columnist inaccurately called a “rare disease”, is actually something that 1.4 million Americans have to live with. And while the columnist suggested that Crohn’s patients should launch a public relations campaign to raise awareness, I would point out to her that they already have. In fact, The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America just won a national award for their “Escape the Stall” campaign. I highly encourage you to click here and watch the clip if you haven’t already seen it on TV.
IBD is so prevalent that I would be very surprised if the same store employee who snubbed my friend does not unknowingly have a close friend or family member affected by the disease. But because it is so painfully embarrassing, too many patients are afraid to come out of the, um, stall.