Death by Toilet

Andra Watkins
4 min readAug 12, 2019

Given John Oliver’s discussion of American medical bias against women and people of color, this story about an elderly woman’s medical journey is poignant.

She knows something is wrong. Every time she visits the toilet, she sees the evidence in the bowl. But it doesn’t mean anything. An anomaly. It will pass.

People do not want to hear about her shit.

She knows this. So she keeps the blood to herself. After all, she only noticed a little smear. Once. Okay, several times, but still. If she doesn’t tell anyone, never says the words, what she thinks she sees won’t ever be real.

To build confidence in her story, she broadcasts reports about the status of her bowels. My bowels moved today! I had a good bowel movement! Oh, look in the toilet! She almost levitates above the padded toilet seat. She knows her niece wishes she were anywhere else. Because who wants to stand off to the side while someone takes a dump, waiting to pull up a pair of depends? So she piles on the melodrama. Waving her hands above her head, she yells My bowels are moving right now!

Once, she tries to talk to a professional about her shit.

But she doesn’t get very far. Americans are fixated on youth and beauty. The older a woman gets, the more invisible she becomes. And by the time one gets to her age, they may as well not exist. The nurse won’t look at her during her intake interview. Cuts her off mid-sentence every time she tries to gather the courage to mention what’s wrong.

The doctor treats her like getting her from wheelchair to examining table is more trouble than it’s worth. Acknowledging her will give him leprosy, like he’ll instantly be as old as she is, like she’s an affront for reminding him that he will someday die.

Everyone wants to ignore her shit, even when they’re paid to examine it.

She goes home. Concocts her detailed bowel-casts for everyone who calls. Blames an inability to shit on constipation. Any blood is just a side effect of how hard it was, the effort required.

She tries to talk about what’s wrong again. Not an admission. No, saying the words gives darkness power…

Andra Watkins

NYT bestselling author NOT WITHOUT MY FATHER | speaker | dreamer | risk-taker | travel whore | turn I wish I had into I’m glad I did