Public Bathroom Etiquette

Usually, in a public bathroom, you don’t talk to anybody. Just do your business, turn around, and get out.

Most of the time, your business is pretty quick, quiet, and not incredibly stanky.

TMI alert.

These last few weeks, I’ve been having a bit of trouble with my bowel movements. They’re a bit out of my control–pretty much the opposite of the “perfect poop.”

Long, loud, and smelly.

What I always wonder is this: if there’s another person in the bathroom already, is it okay to call out a preemptive “Sorry in advance”?

Because I think it would be weird. You don’t really acknowledge people in the bathroom.

On the other hand, though, it feels rude to drop a gas bomb on a poor, unsuspecting non-chronic-disease-having person three stalls over who just wants to pee in peace.

I’ve always been acutely aware of being the person who messes up a peaceful bathroom, and I’ve trained myself to not worry about it too much, but I still think about how my personal bowel issues impact everyone else who uses that bathroom.

I hate making everyone else’s air stink. But I also refuse to apologize for having a disease that I didn’t choose and do my best to control.

Also, it’s just weird.

Maybe there’s a balance between trying to make other people feel comfortable and just doing my business.

What do you think?

Fighting the Health Insurance System

One of the things that frustrates me most about health insurance: when you need it most, you’re less able to deftly navigate the system:

“You have the right to independent medical review, but how good are you going to be at taking advantage of it if you’ve got cancer?” said Dustin Berger, an attorney in Wyoming who has written about health insurance appeals.

Every health system rations care one way or another. And some might say that a warrior like Todd is sucking the system dry. To her, that analysis is backwards: She believes she gets patients the treatments that have the best chance of working, instead of wasting their time — and the insurers’ money — on endless rounds of less effective interventions.

“People say, ‘The insurance companies might come and torch your car,’” said Todd, laughing. “But I’m the insurance company’s best friend. I’m saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars by finding the patient the best treatment for them.”

It’s true, though. My experience with insurance is much the same thing–you have to try and fail and try and fail and try their list of treatments one by one until you can finally level up to a treatment that might work. Even if you have documented evidence that you’ll need to skip from level 1 to level 4 to effectively treat, they don’t let you.

That is the problem with large systems like insurance or with “scripted” walk-in clinics like ZoomCare*. You are not an individual person to them, you are an input. And, as one of many different inputs, you’ll get routed as appropriate until you reach the end stage. It takes a massive amount of startup energy to eject yourself from the pre-programmed channel into being as a real person with a real problem.

That’s why Laurie Todd personalizes her stories. That’s why she goes straight to the top, the people who can make decisions and pull files out of the routing system. That’s why she waits until the last week, when she can light the issue on fire and lob it into the appeals board and make a big bang.

To tackle the biggest problems, you really do have to go outside the system. Either you go alternative, or you fight with someone like Laurie Todd on your side. I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more Laurie Todds in the future.


*ZoomCare is great, don’t get me wrong, but usually for clear-cut issues that only need a rubber stamp treatment.

Training the Gut

Mike Massimino became an astronaut, but only after applying an extensive amount of work.

And over the course of several years, he applied twice to become a NASA astronaut and both times was rejected in the first rounds. A few years later, he tried again, finally getting an interview. But the interview included a medical exam, which he failed due to poor eyesight.

Dejected, Massimino considered his options. Rather than taking NASA’s third rejection to mean that he should abandon hopes of becoming an astronaut, Massimino was determined to improve his eyesight.

“Even if I could rectify it somehow, which seemed impossible, still no guarantees of anything,” Massimino says. “But before I could even be considered again I had to do that. So I went through some vision training to improve my eyes so I could see better. And it worked.”

I’m intrigued by this idea, this idea that we can exert control over bodily functions that are seemingly beyond our power. We can control things like our breathing, and winking, which are typically both body functions that are taken care of by our autonomous nervous system. We don’t have to control them, but we can, when we take the time and effort. I know it’s possible to build up lung capacity and extend the time that I can hold my breath.

Obviously we can exert control over muscle mass through diet and workouts, as both bodybuilders and Victoria’s Secret models demonstrate.

I’ve even learned how to control my body following adrenaline spikes–trying to get heart rate down, that sort of thing. We have all worked through fear to do something that we don’t want to do.

With that in mind, I have a hunch that it’s possible to control other bodily functions that we normally don’t think about–perhaps digestion?

I will be looking into various types of vision training to see if I can apply them to my gut.

Now Hiring: Gut Translator

Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at listening to my body, of translating various signs and symptoms into actionable cause-and-effect chains (or at least as close to them as possible; it gets pretty tricky sometimes).

The hardest part is that my guts do not speak English or even Korean or Braille or any other language that uses abstract thought. Guts speak physicality. They speak hormone. They speak feeling.

Even then, I can only observe through a 3rd party translator, like the health of my skin, or my energy levels, or the quality of my poops. I can’t talk to my guts directly.

Sometimes I get so frustrated because I JUST WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU NEED, GUTS. More probiotics? Kill bacteria? Sleep? Are you dehydrated? Do I need to feed you more fiber or less fiber? JUST TELL ME!

And that’s the problem: they are TRYING to tell me.

It’s the same with plants, you know–they’re distressed and wilting, turning yellow and dropping leaves all over your desk–but you don’t know WHY. And they can’t tell you. They’re already doing the best they can to survive but I’m overthinking things like AM I OVERWATERING OR UNDERWATERING? DO YOU NEED MORE LIGHT OR LESS LIGHT? WARMER OR COLDER?

That’s when I pull out the little plastic stake with instructions, that comes with the plants. Those at least give you a hint of what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it.

Sometimes I feel like it’s a complete shot in the dark as to what’s going to make my gut better, since my abdomen didn’t come with a little plastic stake full of instructions.

But that’s not entirely true–I know from experience and talking with my doctors what is good for me. More low-FODMAP fiber, more sleep, more water, more herbals.

Usually one of those helps.