I’m a 26 year old female graduate student living with my girlfriend and our dog. I was diagnosed with UC when I was 24 and we were living in a primitive cabin in the woods in Alaska. This meant we had no indoor plumbing, our faucet was a jug of water over a bowl, our shower was a washcloth, and our toilet was a pit in the trees covered by a wooden-slatted frame. Our water constraints presented me with unique challenges, but also some unique benefits that I have come to miss now that I have all the luxuries of the modern-plumbed world at my fingertips.
My diagnosis came in December after a month of blood in my stool, which I only noticed when I was at school with a well-lit, shallow porcelain bowl.
The average temperature where we lived in December was only -6 or so, but that year it was frequently -20. Anyone with IBD knows just how much time you have to sit on the can, and just how little time you have to prepare for this sitting. I regularly had to don thick pants, a coat, hat, very warm boots, and a headlamp before committing to sitting in the dark at -20oF for any period of time. Plus the outhouse was across the porch, down the stairs, around the house and along a 30 foot walkway. I perfected my speed-waddle on ice after about a week and only once didn’t make it quite in time. However, despite the difficulty of getting to the outhouse, and the difficulty of staying warm, with the enough foresight and the right equipment (one requirement was a 2 inch-thick piece of foam as a toilet seat kept you from ice-burning your bum) having UC with no plumbing had some amazing benefits.
I was forced to sit quietly outside in a magic world rarely experienced in such a manner. The temperatures and darkness of winter in the interior of Alaska interfere with the typical modern lifestyle. It is rare to take a moment and watch how the arctic slowly creeps about its day. My infirm-induced solitude allowed me to witness countless shows of the northern lights, a sonata of owl calls, my very own squirrel soap opera, and the seemingly eternal stillness of the ice fog that coats the interior so frequently. I even had the exhilarating experience of startling a moose on the path to the outhouse on morning. Moose are the most dangerous animal in the Alaskan interior, stomping people more frequently than bears attack people. However, in this poop or die situation, I chose to quickly dart past the moose and hope my wooden box would shield me from any aftermath of moose rage. Luckily she walked away before I could go back to the cabin. She probably was encouraged by the cacop hony which I delivered most expertly.
This brings me to the other benefit of having UC with an outhouse. No one inside the house has to suffer from your noises or smells. It is no more awkward to go have explosive diarrhea at a party than it is to go for a little walk around the block. After living with such freedom, moving to a place where it is illegal to poop outside makes having a toilet inside the same place where you eat, sleep, and entertain seem virtually barbaric. For anyone with IBD who is thinking about building your own place, I highly recommend an outhouse option. You will have learn to associate the discomfort of a flare with the calm, soothing pace of the natural world in your backyard, as well as keep yourself in good standing with your family’s senses. Just remember to keep a down overcoat close to the door for those nighttime surprises.