Some of my favorite things about Halloween and October and autumn and fall –- my favorite time of year to be alive –- are not favorites of my gut. Coffee-shop pumpkin spice lattes, a bowlful of Reese's peanut butter pumpkins, staying up too late working on a costume-contest entry -- none of these things do my Crohn’s any favors. But around Halloween, and in everyday non-spooky life, there are ways to make having IBD in a non-IBD world less frighteningly difficult. Here a few I’ve picked up along the way:
1. Sticky note on the toilet sensor: It seems like no one in the public-toilet design world is at all concerned with the splash problem. The automatic flush sensors tend to be oversensitive to movement (or just impatient for us to finish up and get out), and so they get going before we even have a chance to. The foul bowl contents roil up at you while you’re perched there vulnerable, and even if you haven’t gone yet, the water from a used public toilet bowl is hardly sanitary. BUT we have a way to fight back! Certain sensors allow for a piece of carefully draped toilet paper to block the sensor’s laser, so that whether you sit down or stand up, the sensor thinks you’re still there and so won’t flush on you. But even where this isn’t possible, bring a pack of sticky notes with you in your purse or pocket, and put one over the sensor beam before you sit down (and then remove it when you’re done so it will flush). Take that, indifferent toilet-designer billionaires!
2. Miralax/sports drink prep: If you’ve had trouble keeping the prescription prep liquids down (or have trouble affording them), for your next colonoscopy ask your doctor if you could do the “Miralax/Gatorade prep” instead. It’s over-the-counter and cheap, and I think it tastes a lot less gross. You’ll still get chilled and nauseated after you’re waterlogged with refrigerated brine, and you still won’t look at yellow Powerade or lime gelatin the same for a year, but still, it’s preferable. Your doctor might still say no to it (they might say it won’t work as well for your gut or the purpose of the test), so don’t have your heart set on it; I’ve just found that doctors tend to not volunteer it as even an option. (You should also know that Propofol-induced sedation is used with many colonoscopies now, which can make it more likely for some people to not feel or remember a thing from their colonoscopy. The memories I do have of my colonoscopies are not ones that I treasure, so I don’t have a problem with being completely oblivious to mine going forward.
3. Swallowing gross pills: Coated, smooth-surfaced pills should be the standard. Why would anyone manufacture big ol’ horse pills with a bitter powdery surface? Yet they exist. For some of the most metallic and gaggy prescriptions, I found that swallowing them in a spoonful of pudding (or maybe applesauce or mashed sweet potato, in keeping with the season) can make it go down easier. Also, if you have trouble swallowing pills in general, check out this recent New York Times piece with practical tips.
4. Portable outdoor toilets: In some public restroom facilities, you’d hope the toilet sensor was your problem. I used portable toilets years ago at a large summer music festival, and if you could get past the stench of sun-roasted excrement, the seat was still in disarray by the afternoon. The solution? Wads or stacks of disinfecting wipes. Grab a fistful and wipe down the seat several times (with your hand carefully shielded by the wall of wipes, and hopefully some hand sanitizer afterward). When satisfied that you’ve done all you can, still line the seat with several layers of wipes. You’ll get slightly wet from the wipes, but it’ll be a clean, consensual wetness, not the insidious filthy wetness you first found there.
It will be a clean, consensual wetness, not the insidious filthy wetness you first found there.
5. Embarrassing bathroom odors: Don’t light a match on an airplane. No matter what. This is not like how maybe you really can use the restroom when the seatbelt sign is on; it’s really illegal. And probably don’t light anything on a train or at a hospital, either. But otherwise, lit matches are great at making gross smells disappear, which is really useful when you’re at a house party and there’s a line of people waiting for the bathroom after you. If matches aren’t OK, you can bring an all-natural scented room spray; just test it at home first, and be aware that sprays can aggravate allergies and asthma in some people, so don’t overdo it. (Also, haven’t tried this but there’s also odor-absorbing charcoal-equipped underwear, to embolden gas-passers.)
And from last year’s Halloween column, a few highlights:
6. Costumes: After wearing a haunted house balanced atop my head for a whole night (and having to find a temporary “lot” for it before I could go to the bathroom), I decided that logistics needed to play a heavier role in my costume decisions. Pants and dresses are good; one-piece bodysuits with a zipper on the back that you can’t reach are not.
Logistics should play a heavy role in costume decisions. Pants and dresses are good; one-piece bodysuits with a zipper on the back are not.
7. Make your own candy, or buy carefully: I used to spend October feeling like crap because of the big ol’ candy bowl I put out circa October 1. But I eventually found workarounds and copycats to grocery store bagged candy. Think about what kind of candy you love to eat, then think about what kind of sweet foods don’t give your gut trouble, then do a little Venn diagram to see where there’s overlap between the two. Or start experimenting with small amounts, slowly and with great caution, to find out. I found that maple sugar candy (at some organic grocery stores, and Amazon.com) goes OK for me, and copycat homemade cashew butter cups do too. Take these safer treats and get little Halloween plastic zip baggies or cellophane with ribbon (many Dollar Tree stores will have this), and individually wrap your candy in your candy bowl (though some should be kept refrigerated or frozen – plus this is the best way to eat nut butter cups anyway).
Bonus: Archway coconut macaroons for diarrhea! (Obvious disclaimer that this is probably not the healthiest fix to diarrhea out there.) I can’t vouch for this one personally, but there are anecdotal reports of two Archway coconut macaroons a day putting a stop to diarrhea, and some people (including IBD patients) were in an uproar when these macaroons stopped being made. But others swept in with copycat recipes, and I bet you could whip up a pumpkin-spice flavor variation too.
Diarrhea’s not really my problem these days, but please comment below if you try this recipe!