From my book, Three Tablets Twice Daily
Chapter 2: Toilet Runs and Traffic Reports
April 30, 2007
I sit inside the traffic studio at News 95.7, on the ninth floor of the Young Tower near downtown Halifax, staring at images beamed from Nova Scotia’s highway cameras to my computer monitor. I report the traffic for News 95.7 in Halifax, News 91.9 in Moncton and News 88.9 in Saint John. I call my contacts at the police and transit departments in each city for information on accidents slowing down the morning commute. I have a favourite contact, Trevor, the morning supervisor at Moncton’s Codiac Transit.
“Good morning lil’ buddy,” Trevor says.
“How do you always know it’s me?” I ask.
“Well, who the hell else would be calling here at 5:45 in the morning?”
“I’m sure there’s lots of people that want to talk to you.”
“Oh yeah, and they all want to complain.”
“About what?” “Oh just the same old buuull-shit.”
“I won’t complain, as long as you let me know what’s happening over there.”
“Well, it’s all quiet out here. We got a little rain last night but the roads are good. They’re gonna be doing some patching and paving on Wheeler Boulevard later today, so that’ll slow things down. It’ll be a rolling maintenance crew.”
I scribble ‘Wheeler Blvd construction’ on a pad of lined, white paper. “What time?”
“Probably around nine.”
“Yay! So I got jack shit to talk about for the next three hours.”
Trevor laughs. “Pretty much.”
“Well I appreciate it, as always. Thanks Trevor.”
“I’ll talk to ya tomorrow.”
The roads are clear in all three cities. A lone car zooms past the camera pointed at Exit 3 on the 101.
I slip on a pair of padded black headphones and press the mic button on the studio’s control panel. The button lights up red and the ‘on air’ sign glows outside the traffic studio. Erica’s voice fills my headphones:
“News 95.7 time 5:51. Now with Halifax’s most frequent traffic reports, here’s Rasheed Clarke.”
I lean forward in front of the microphone dangling in front of me.
“Hey Erica,” I say. “Well it’s a really easy-going drive on the routes around the city right now. Very light volume to deal with if you’re heading inbound on the 101, 102 or 103, and both the MacKay and MacDonald Bridges are moving well into Halifax and Dartmouth, and city streets also moving along trouble-free at last check with Halifax Regional Police.”
I push the mic button and the red light goes out. Ten minutes until my next live report for News 95.7. Ten minutes to record mp3 traffic updates for Moncton and Saint John and send them out. If I send those out quickly, maybe I can run to the bathroom. I have to go number two for the second time in under three hours. No, I’ll hold it in. I can’t risk missing my next live hit.
My stomach gurgles. I think about the red streaked toilet paper.
By the time of my last report, the sun has lit up the Atlantic Ocean, Citadel Hill and the ninth floor of the Young Tower. I tilt my monitor to remove the glare.
“News 95.7 time 10:31. Now with Halifax’s most frequent traffic reports, here’s Rasheed Clarke,” says Erica.
“Well just some construction slowing things down right now Erica. If you’re heading inbound on the bi-hi, just past the 101 we have construction crews blocking the left lane, so a little bit of a delay through here. A bit of good news, those earlier problems at Robie and Cunard have now been cleared out of the way, and volume has eased off pretty nicely on both harbour bridges heading into Halifax and Dartmouth.”
I turn off the on air light outside the studio and Natalie slides the glass doors open. She takes over the traffic reporting duties at 11 a.m.
“’Sup dude,” she says.
“Oh, you know, the usual. I was up late watching the Raptors last night, so I was yawning a lot today.”
“No, not on air. Duh. Just in between reports.”
Natalie laughs. “Duh. Sorry. Did they win?”
“No. Shitty game.”
“That sucks. Well you can go take a nap now, so that’s good news.”
“I just might do that,” I say as rise from my chair. “Oh, and there’s some construction around all three areas, the notes are all there on the pad.”
“Sweet, thanks. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I open my black messenger bag and rummage around for my keys, pushing aside the banana and plastic container full of Cheerios I packed for breakfast. In the newsroom, Erica, Doug, Ruth and Alison clack away on their keyboards.
“Have a good day guys,” I say.
“See ya,” they say in unison.
I pass the cue-card-sized stick man on the men’s washroom sign and my stomach gurgles. No, hold it until you get home.
~ ~ ~
I step into my apartment, slide off my shoes, toss my bag into the bedroom and head for the toilet. A gurgle from my stomach. A splash in the toilet. A sigh. Soft bits of stool float in the bowl, the clear water now dyed a cloudy brown. Brown streaks and red dots stain the toilet paper. I wash my hands and rush to my bedside table. The top drawer holds a box of Pepto Bismol chewable tablets:
Directions: Chew or dissolve in mouth. Adults and children 12 years and over: 2 tablets every ½ to 1 hour as needed. Do not exceed 8 doses (16 tablets) in 24 hours. Use until diarrhea stops, but not more than 2 days.
I chew two chalky, pink tablets. The residue clings to my tongue. I drink a glass of water and eat the banana and Cheerios I packed for work. It’s just diarrhea. Bad diarrhea, but just diarrhea. It’ll go away.
~ ~ ~
The traffic signal up ahead at Joseph Howe Drive and Dutch Village Road turns red. I slow my jog down to a walk and clench my butt cheeks together. Not now. Not now. Two kilometres more, I can make it. I’ve run up that hill on Main Avenue so many times, I can make it. The traffic light turns green and the pedestrian icon beneath it glows in white. I sprint across the asphalt at the intersection and hop up onto the concrete sidewalk on Dutch Village Road. My reflection runs alongside me in the windows at Fairview Pizza and the Corner Pocket Pool Club, and again in KFC’s windows at the corner of Main and Dutch Village. Up the hill I go. A steady jog. Another urge. Maybe shorts weren’t the best choice today. I tighten my glutes and slow my jogging pace. My apartment’s parking lot is in sight. Another urge hits.
I have to stop.
C’mon not now. Please, not now.
I walk with one hand on my butt, like I’m trying to push whatever’s on its way out back in. I tighten my backside muscles again and hobble the rest of the way home, careful not to have an accident.
In the apartment, I jolt to the bathroom, sneakers on. I barely manage to pull down my shorts and underwear and sit on the toilet before a rush of diarrhea hits the water. Drops of bright red blood drip into the bowl. I shiver at the sound of every drip. I tear off a wad of toilet paper and wipe my backside. A red, watery streak soaks through the paper. I tear off a larger section, fold it up and wipe again. Another wet mix of brown and red.
Thirty-two Pepto Bismol tablets chewed in two days and still no relief. More diarrhea, more blood, more worry.
~ ~ ~
I stuff a pair of clean boxers, a banana, and a container of Cheerios into my messenger bag and head to work.
The elevator at the Young Tower stops at the ninth floor. I pass the little stick guy on the men’s bathroom door on my way to the studios. I think about the bloody diarrhea I let out before I went to bed last night, and the bloody diarrhea that woke me up this morning.
Two hours into my shift, another urge strikes.
I don’t think I can hold it in.
I record and send the traffic reports for Moncton and Saint John. Seven minutes until my next live hit. I race to the bathroom, my spare boxers bunched in my fist behind my back. I crash through the stall door and fumble with my belt and slacks. The mess rushes out. I slide my slacks and underwear down and the rest of the watery stool splashes into the toilet. My underwear is streaked and stained. Five minutes until the next report. I yank at the toilet paper roll. I put on the clean boxers, then my untainted slacks. I bunch up my soiled underwear, wrap it in paper towels and shove it into the garbage can. Three minutes. I wash my hands and run back to the studio.
I stretch my headphones over my head, and they spring back over my ears. Erica’s co-anchor, Doug, throws to commercials–a one-minute break. I clutch my stomach, and wish that I could apologize to the janitor who has to empty the garbage from the men’s washroom. I light up the on air sign and wait for my cue.
Three Tablets Twice Daily is a collection of short stories about how I live with ulcerative colitis. It was published by Life Rattle Press, Toronto, in 2011. You can purchase a copy from Life Rattle Press or Amazon.ca. All proceeds go to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada.