A woman with a cane abandons her grocery cart while rushing towards a bathroom sign that is hanging from the ceiling.

How MS-Related Digestive Problems Have Embarrassed Me in Public

Multiple sclerosis finds inventive ways of humiliating me in public. Oh, I look and act normal enough at first. I’m a petite gal of once-engaging cuteness that is now fading as I move through my sixties. To compensate, I wear an industrial-strength underwire bra beneath animal print dresses, and stylish, flat-heeled, strappy bronze sandals.

A distraction from my cane and odd gait

I also wear an ever-present smile to distract people from looking at my cane and odd gait. “Isn’t it a beautiful day,” I chirp, beaming at them as I limp across the grocery store parking lot. I can tell when people are smiling behind their masks. Their eyes crinkle up and sparkle as they meet my gaze. “Gorgeous day!” they respond, matching my sunny mood. During such moments, life is beautiful. Then there is what happens next.

The dreaded gurgle

I enter the grocery store — or perhaps I am finished shopping and pushing my cart out of the store — when I hear the dreaded gurgle. First, I wonder if others near me can hear it too. Above their masks I see no one snap to attention with that alert, direct look people wear when they hear my bodily functions.

Bowel urgency

For an instant, I feel relieved—until the gurgle is followed by pressure. What is happening is so familiar that I could draw it out for you in breath-taking detail. I can also lay odds that my anal sphincter might fail to contain the gas-propelled waste racing through my gut in search of an outlet. I have no choice but to weigh my options.

Weighing my options - run for the car or the bathroom?

My position at the entrance is equidistant from the store's restroom and my car. Do I make my way around customers to use the restroom and risk gurgling or noisily passing gas near them? Cloth masks don’t make people deaf, so they would hear my gut sounds and then give me that alert, direct look that proves they heard it. They might even laugh, watching me hobble briskly towards the restroom. “Hope everything comes out right,” someone might say. Then I have a terrible thought. What if I evacuate my lower level right there on the floor, in front of everybody? Face masks wouldn’t keep them from smelling it if I had an accident, either. At least my mask would somewhat cover my identity— and a deep blush from being totally embarrassed.

Praying I don't have an accident in public

I choose to high-tail it to the store restroom, gurgling and noisily passing gas, praying I don’t let loose. I fix my gaze on the destination and ignore everybody around me, so I don’t know who is hearing or watching me. Fortunately, I make it to a stall in time. I’ve had less successful outcomes at home, though. Crapping on my carpet and bathroom floor is nowhere near as harrowing, though it is just as humiliating. It makes me afraid to go out in public, too.

Adult diapers don't seem fit for bowel incontinence

Adult diapers caught my attention and I ordered a few samples. They seem to be designed for urinary incontinence more than bowel. Elasticized leg openings and additional pads don’t look like they would effectively contain liquidy feces.

Those incidents happened last year and the year before. As of this writing, I haven’t had an accident anywhere during the whole of 2020, so I’ve elected not to try protective undergarments.

How I've been coping with my diarrhea problem

Fortunately, I resolved most of my explosive diarrhea problem by eating smaller amounts of food and taking a yeast probiotic as needed that slows the speed of the digestive process. A side effect is constipation, but it only lasts a couple of days. It’s a small price to pay for some peace of mind.

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