October 4, 2002
In my family, we rarely acknowledged let
alone discussed bodily functions. We were uptight in that charming
Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, look-the-other-way-and-change-the-subject
kind of way. I think we were all in fact comfortable with our own
bodies. We just didn't want to hear about anyone else's - even
If pressed, any and all embarrassing or
personal ailments were simply described as "stomach
problems". That was enough to make sure everyone gave you a
wide berth, and was warning enough to make sure no one asked any
more detailed questions. Going to the bathroom was "washing
your hands", or at the worst, "freshening up".
I'm not sure that was a healthy attitude,
but it sure was a lot more comfortable than some families. A while
back I was at a wedding shower. During the speeches the mother of
the groom was asked if she had any words of advice for the bride to
be on joining the family. "Yes," she said. "If he's
like his father, just make sure you always have lots of toilet paper
on hand." There was much laughter from one side of the family.
The bride's family stood looking uncomfortably at each other, no
doubt wondering what they had gotten themselves into and whether
they could still get a refund on the wedding cake deposit.
I sided with the uncomfortable people, since
in my family we barely acknowledged the existence of the toilet. I
don't think I was certain that my parents even went to the bathroom
until I was in my 30s. Call us hopelessly out of touch with
ourselves, but it certainly wasn't something my family thought was
an appropriate subject for a toast to the bride.
Maybe it's for that reason that I never know
what to do when I encounter people who are a little too comfortable
with their bodily functions - and who feel it is their obligation to
share the details with everyone. And I mean anyone, not just
pharmacists, nurses or other health professionals. These people feel
the world has to know what's going on inside them.
I was waiting in a lineup at an ATM with a
woman behind me loudly discussing the state of her health on her
cell phone. In spite of humming "O Canada" to myself as
loudly as possible, I left with such a detailed knowledge of her
gynecological problems that I felt I ought to have billed her for a
A friend of mine has a person like this in
his office. A simple: "How's it going?" results in a
catalogue of her recent bodily functions, which may or may not
include cramps, various liquids and gases, as well as any of the
other more serious by-products of being human. Apparently the only
thing that could make her happier is if she had a body like that
clear plastic model we had as kids called "The Invisible
Woman". That way she could actually point out the progress of
things as they worked their way through her system rather than
having to describe them like a narrator on The Learning Channel.
So give me good, honest repression any day
of the week. And if you ask me how my bodily functions are, the
answer is always going to be "just fine thanks" regardless
of my actual condition.
Trust me - a little denial is going to make
us both feel better.