Life with a disability can sometimes give rise to unspoken questions and sensitivities, but amid the awkwardness there can be humour. The following is an edited version of a sketch by Philip Henry, who has Crohn’s Disease, delivered for the BBC at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
There’s nothing sexy about diarrhoea. And since that’s the main, outwardly noticeable symptom of Crohn’s Disease, it makes dating hard. This is why I decided the best way to deal with the problem was to ignore it completely. Let me tell you how that turned out.
I had always thought Lydia was cute, but nothing had ever happened between us.
A few years passed before I ran into her again and clocked the nakedness of her ring finger – she was single – and asked her out for dinner. The fact Crohn’s had reared its ugly mug since we last knew each other wasn’t mentioned. It just didn’t come up.
All I needed was one good date – enough to make her want a second, and hopefully a third. Date three was the time to drop the C-bomb. You can bail after two dates, but after three you need a good reason, and I figured no woman would be callous enough to say, ‘it’s because you have a chronic illness and I think it’ll be a drag’.
You’d think my body would be a faithful accomplice in this plan, but no, it wasn’t going to give me two trouble-free dates. It wasn’t even going to give me one.
That evening, as I waited for the taxi, my stomach bubbled and gurgled like an air-locked radiator. Maybe nerves were making it worse, I don’t know, but thanks to Imodium I made it into the taxi and to the restaurant.
I walked in and saw her. She looked really good. I could tell she wanted this to work as much as I… needed the toilet. I bolted and made it to a cubicle with nano-seconds to spare.
I had to stay positive. She hadn’t seen me and if I could get this all over with now, I might be OK for the rest of the night.
After a few false starts, I left the cubicle. Two lads stood by the sinks daring each other to take an ecstasy pill. I threw another Imodium into my mouth. “Third one tonight,” I said, as I passed, leaving them suitably shocked.
After blaming the taxi for my lateness, Lydia and I had dinner – I hoped good solid food would settle my stomach, which turned like a washing machine – and she even laughed at my jokes.
We headed to a local pub where a band was playing. It was a warm summer night and this was going well. I’d almost forgotten about the date-saboteur in my intestinal tract.
While we watched the band, it started again. Just the odd cramp at first, then the familiar spasms that foreshadowed something like a fire hose being shot into a toilet bowl. I scanned the pub for the toilets and spotted them at the far end.
But while I had looked away to plan my route, something unexpected happened – she made “the move”. Her hand had edged across the bench towards mine and she had interlocked our fingers.
It was the sweetest gesture directed at me in years and I wanted to tell her, to reciprocate, but instead, I said “I think I see someone I know,” snatched my hand away and ran towards the toilet.
As I sat and stared at the graffiti-riddled cubicle door, my stomach sank in a way that had nothing to do with Crohn’s. She had made the first move and I had embarrassed her. She thought I had rejected her.
When I returned, her hands were folded across her stomach. The conversation was polite but dry.
I had to come clean.
“Lydia, I’m sorry about ducking into the toilets. My ex came into the pub and I knew she’d go crazy if she saw us together, so I had to wait for her to leave.”
It was pathetic. It was the most obvious lie I had ever told.
And she bought it.
Twenty minutes later we were snogging in the back of a taxi on our way to her flat. Thirty minutes later we were in bed together. An undisclosed amount of minutes later we were lying back in each other’s arms smiling. I fell asleep happy, content, and with no further emergencies.
I sat bolt upright. Morning was the worst time for me. Every day was a sprint to make it to the bathroom, but as I looked around this strange bedroom I realised I didn’t know where the bathroom was. I looked at the empty space beside me. She wasn’t even there to ask.
I got up, ran out of the room and found I was in trouble – I could hear the shower. I tried the handle. Locked. Now she gets modest? I looked around. It was too much to hope that this little flat would have two bathrooms. I knocked on the door.
“Hey, will you be long?”
“Give me 10 or 15 minutes. Put the kettle on.”
I couldn’t hold on for that long. It was impossible. My sphincter was already at maximum clenching tolerance. My stomach cramped violently. I ran down the hall and looked for anything that might help. I stopped and considered it for a while – but the cat’s litter tray just wasn’t feasible. I ran into the living room – a couple of vases, they’d work as Plan B.
Sweat dripped off my forehead as I ran into the kitchen and saw the answer to my problem – the kitchen bin. It was seat-height, had a bin-liner in it and there was a roll of kitchen tissue nearby. It was the best I could hope for. In one deft move I sprinted towards it, pulled my boxers down, turned and aimed – I had one shot at this.
When Lydia arrived draped in a towel, she stopped dead in her tracks, her mouth agape.
“You made breakfast!” she said.
I nodded and smiled back. I ushered her to the table and pulled out her chair. She sat down in front of the bacon butty and mug of tea I’d prepared.
She looked up at me, shaking her head. ‘I can’t believe you did this.’
I shrugged, “I also emptied your bin.”