‘I’m sorry, sir, you’ll have to go back to your seat and wait after we have landed,’ the Emirates stewardess looked at me pitifully as she said the sentence of doom. I could feel the cold sweat running down the side of my clammy face and I gripped the handle of the toilet door even more so. I cried panicking ‘But you don’t understand, I will not make it.’
Let me rewind.
I was returning home from Uganda after spending six weeks building schools and education centres and we were just about to arrive at Dubai in United Arab Emirates to change planes. As I took the taxi to the airport from Kampala, I turned round to a fellow volunteers, also returning home, and said, ‘I didn’t really get any tummy upsets all this time.’ He cheered. Famous last words, indeed.
Throughout the six weeks I remember one by one, volunteers running for the drop hole toilet as they immediately felt their bowels twinge. I discovered the reason; they were all sharing their water bottles with each other thus transmitting the infection. I was called out to be stingy and selfish when I didn’t share my water bottle but I knew that I wanted to protect my health and especially not be getting the shits. As I boarded the flight at the airport, I smacked my lips from having a lovely wrap meal and hunkered down in my seat to fall asleep.
Hours later, I jolted upright from my sleepy stupor as I felt my stomach suddenly groan in protest and stop. Then, it emitted a deep echoey gurgle. I knew I especially needed the bathroom. People knew half an hour later that I had a tummy upset as I brushed past them to use the bathroom for the fourth time but unfortunately there was the dreaded queue. Trying to distract myself from the thought of chipping the metal off the toilet basin, I jigged around on the plane and talked to myself about my time in Uganda. People must have thought I was crazy.
At last, the person before me came out of the toilet and I could finally use it. However, as soon as I reached the handle, the stewardess locked the toilet as the pilot’s voice rang out over the tannoy that we would soon be landing. You know that scream where everything slows down when saying ‘Noooooo.’ Yes, that was me. I tried to get in the bathroom once more but still the stewardess insisted I sit down. I returned to my seat breathing shallow breaths and I motivated myself that I could make it to the bathroom at the airport. All it’s going to happen is the plane will land quickly, we’ll get off and straight into the terminal and hey, presto, I’ll be in the bathroom before I knew it. Easy, right? Unfortunately not.
20 minutes after I sat down, we were still in the air to my dismay. I was still squirming in my seat whilst gripping the arm rests profusely. The Chinese passenger next to me lolled his head around in sleep, sometimes smacking my shoulder. I glared at him through narrowed eyes. How dare he, how dare he have not a care in the world. Shouldn’t he be comforting me and helping me get through this? Finally, we went to land. I looked outside of the window, biting my cheek inside, willing myself to carry on disregarding the blood that trickled inside. My bottom hasn’t unclenched itself for half an hour and I could feel one of my butt cheeks already cramping. With a jolt that didn’t help my stomach as we landed, the pilot thought it would be a good idea to taxi the runaway around the airport for a further ten minutes. By then, I had my head in my hands, one of them shaking. Sweat patches began to form on my t-shirt and my stomach was protesting loudly to everyone within ear shot. I gave myself a small cheer as the plane judded to a stop and gave a loud groan when the pilot announced we would have to wait for the stairs to arrive.
Another ten minutes later, everyone was standing up to walk out but as regular selfish plane etiquette allows by one passenger blocking the aisle while slowly packing individual items, I clutched my stomach and quite forcefully pushed that passenger to one side into their seat. Running wildly down the stairs in the dry and hot Dubai sun, you will truly sympathize with me when to my utmost horror, I discovered rather than the gleaming gate awaiting me, it was a shuttle bus to take me to the gate. Inwardly I screamed and I really didn’t want to make the regional news becoming that guy who pooped all along the Dubai runway.
I boarded the shuttle bus, all the seats were taken so I had to make do with holding onto a pole while standing up. People took forever to get off the plane. I wrapped myself round the pole and literally sank myself to the floor as my leg gave out under me. I was delirious. I had visions that someone will have a box for me to take and I would have to go in the corner of the bus. Thankfully, I didn’t receive one as the bus roared to life. The bus painstakingly took a long fifteen minutes to drive to the other side of the airport where the gate appeared before me. Almost crawling out of the bus, I slouched slowly to the gate knowing that any sudden movement may set me off. My eyes were madly rolling around and I quite possibly laughed manically especially when I reached the gate. There was a security checkpoint and already there was a long queue. My bowels were about to explode massively violently and I had gone past the point of no return. Realising this, I groaned loudly as I felt one by one, the muscles controlling all my stomach and bowels start to weaken. Rushing forward, I skipped the queue and slammed my cabin bag down on the conveyor belt to be scanned through the X-Ray machine whilst ignoring the protests of my fellow passengers. I had committed the crime of breaking the British custom of queuing. This was an extreme case.
Finally, my bag check complete, I ran, demented, across the terminal and crashed through the closest bathroom door. All the toilets were in use. For a second, I stopped and I thought I would cry from disappointment but another deep gurgle erupted through my bowels and I knew this was it. Panicking, I started banging on all the toilet doors screaming, ‘getoutgetoutgetoutIneedthetoiletrightnow’. Luckily, one confused German man came out of a cubicle still zipping up his trousers and exclaimed as I brushed past him into the cubicle whilst trying to unfasten my belt. The belt was stuck. I violently screamed as I felt the mouth of hell opening and with the brute force of the Incredible Hulk, I tore off my belt in half and immediately dropped my trousers to sit down on the warm toilet seat.
I had just made it. And it was good.
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Having a bit of an IBS issue I’m a big fan of poo stories and can strongly relate to all these feelings.
My worst case was probably in Thailand were two minutes after getting on a minibus I got the dreaded feeling. Over an hour passed with the driver flat out refusing to stop, when he finally did everyone knew what I was doing as I’d spent the whole journey screaming. I didn’t make many friends that day.
I felt relieved when I read you sat on the toilet and felt good and warm, I have been through this man, it feels awful 🙁
I have just made all the neighbours come out of their houses wondering why I was laughing so hard. I understand absolutely exactly definitely what you are saying. Been there and nearly done THAT.
Glad to be of service!
What a shit story!
Ed – thanks for writing about this tricky subject. I also have IBS and fully sympathised with your story. I have been on the edge of death many times – it’s horrific. And yet a taboo subject! Very funny but true for many people who suffer form IBS.
You do need to lighten taboo subjects! It’s the only British way forward. Taboos can be broken by humour. I mean, look where we are decades later when it was rude to mention the t word. Toilet!