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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Strube

When #2 becomes your #1

With all this talk of Ebola, it’s easy to miss the toilet-edge research that is happening in our very own bathrooms.

Yes, dear friends, a major medical discovery occurred this year. Known as the “poop pill,” scientists have found a way to cure and even prevent the Clostridium Difficile bacterium (C. diff), which causes severe diarrhea and kills 14,000 people every year. For a while, the only way to treat C. diff was through a costly, uncomfortable fecal transplant procedure, where a patient’s family member donated stool, mixed it with water, and injected it into the patient’s bowel using an enema. Yes – I’ll let your imagination imagine that one. Yet now, this awkward picture of a procedure can be replaced with a simple pill.

A simple pill fill with frozen donated poop.

Yup. Poop cures poop.

Sure, it’s gross, but as Thomas Louie, professor of medicine at the University of Calgary and lead author of the poop pill medical study says, “It’s really quite primordial, and we just need to get over it.” The bacterium is placed in gelatin capsules and dissolves after an hour, long after you can taste them. To be cured, the patient takes 24-34 capsules. And what’s even better, the poop that goes inside the capsules is, like all of our poop, absolutely free.

Yes. Completely gross and fascinating.

We are seeing this gross fascination now in various depths of immunology. While we still don’t yet have a cure for the simple flu virus, we have the flu shot, which injects small portions of the strain into our bloodstream, so our body learns how to attack the virus on a micro-level. This is how we immunize our children, preventing them from polio with a shot of inactive polio itself. Immunology is now expanding into cancers, using the power of the incurable simple virus to target attack cancerous cells. We don’t yet know how to destroy a virus, but we can put it to good use and use it to destroy another malady of the body. It’s a “if you can’t beat ‘em, use ‘em,” kind of medical brilliance.

And now, we are seeing it with poop. Which, I know, sounds disgusting. I don’t even like writing the word. It feels elementary. It feels like junior high bathroom humor (pun poorly intended). Even other terminology such as fecal matter, bowel movements, Montezuma’s revenge, and the good old #2 are not high-class options. The English language gives us very little room to do anything but evade this subject matter. Poop is just one of those things you don’t talk about, let alone blog about. Fifty years ago, this blog may have been banned, or I would have (at minimum) been evicted from etiquette school, as women do not poop. They smile and vacuum. Today, New York magazine would classify this poop talk as low-brow/disgusting on their weekly approval matrix. Talking about poop is almost as awkward as this photo:

Yet this latest research on poop did give me pause. Yes, the poop pill (which I can’t even politely abbreviate into PP) made me ponder.

If poop can cure poop, the cure could be in the cause.

This is the exact opposite of what feels natural. If I am running to the bathroom with a cramped stomach, the last thing in the world I want to imagine is ingesting poop. No thank you, dear medical prowess, even if it’s packaged in a nicely packaged “we-promise-it-won’t-dissolve-in-your-mouth” pill, I do not want any. In fact, I’m running to the bathroom precisely to remove these toxins from my body. To think of adding more frightens me, gags me, and makes me want to shoop.

I reckon this response is somewhat normal. I should not naturally embrace the things that gross me out. Nor do I. However, as the poop pill highlights, what I often want to rid myself of is the very thing I may need to ingest. And what I can learn from this strange piece of science is to flip my view of things. To make my problems the answer and to make what I want to expel the very thing I embrace.

I’m a big believer that the cure for everything already exists; we just have to find it. I believe that every problem is inherently solvable. That, as Sonny the young entrepreneur so eloquently says in the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be alright in the end. And if it’s still not alright, it’s not yet the end.” I believe that our job, as God’s hands and feet on the planet, is to make things right. To inquire, to create, to be curious, to love, and to use our compassion and empathy to be the salve for that which is wilted and scratched. Because, let’s face it. While we are made whole in love, we also can get hurt rather simply. We get scraped knees, frayed hearts, tempered feelings, misunderstood emails, under-appreciated cooking. We get bitter at bosses and lonely at nightfall and crabby when lacking good chocolate. We hold grudges at women that look better in spandex and feel envy when others buy Teslas. It’s natural. We want to become more generous Girl Scout cookie buyers, less agitated drivers, and hope to become the most patient dental room waiters.

But it’s hard.

It’s as hard as swallowing a poop pill.

Yet maybe that’s exactly what we need, a true honest dose of our own crappy healing. Maybe the cure for our sh** is found in our sh**. Maybe we need to ingest the very thing we want to rid ourselves of. Maybe the cure for the fearful is to do what scares them, rather than hiding and bolting. Maybe the sad need to let themselves cry a bit more, rather than wiping their faces. Perhaps the cure for the lonely is to learn to be with themselves, rather than fill their time with distractions. “The best way out is always through,” write T.S. Eliot, to embrace rather than run from ourselves.

I mean, what’s better? Let’s say you and your best friend have a long-standing rut in your friendship. Is it better to name you are bitter, feel the yummy juicy of the bitter, and then let the bitter balloon slowly pop? Or to keep smiling for years, when you are actually seething. Or, if it’s easier, ask yourself – what would you rather she do to you? Name she is bitter or do the strange seethe smile? The latter does little, the former leads to conversation that, although may be momentarily yucky, could solve the issue. And bring you closer. And make you hug and all things Hallmark.

Swallow the poop pill. Find the cure.

We do this with all sorts of things, not just problems. Some of us do it with gratitude. We claim we want to be more appreciative in our lives, but we only notice the negative. We ask, “Why isn’t anything good in my life?” and maybe that question is the answer. The cure for gratitude is gratitude.

The principle works in multiple patterns, and we must lean toward the counter-intuitive. If you don’t want to spill, you lean the bike into the turn. If you are sweating on a summer day,  guzzle a glass of warm water (cools the body down faster). If you want to lose fat, eat more fat (the healthy real kind, rather than the non-fat chemicals). If you want to be loved, open your arms (says dear poet Rumi). And apparently, if you are having bad bathroom spells from C. diff, swallow lots of poop pills.

But that’s how healing abounds, dear friends. So what’s the thing you’ve been evading rather than embracing? Today, it’s time for the hard medicine. I can’t promise it will be delicious, but it could be the very cure you need. So drink up, dear ones. Freedom abounds on the primordial side 🙂

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