Thursday, 25 April 2013

Life lessons learned in a public toilet

Last week I had an interesting experience in a public toilet involving a 94-year-old woman, poo & latex gloves.

Sounds scary? Yes, it was.

But it was also an incredibly humbling experience. Let me give you the details before your imagination runs wild.

My three-year-old daughter Issy and I were exiting the public toilets when a nursing home bus driver approached me and asked if I could give a continence pad to the elderly lady in one of the cubicles.

I hesitated but I told him it was no problem and walked back inside to find her.

I expected that I would knock on her toilet door, a wrinkled hand would stretch out, take the pad, and she'd say thank you. THE END.

But instead I walked in to find the toilet cubicle door wide open and a dear old lady walking towards me with her underwear around her knees and her wrinkly bottom out in the open.

"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear," she said, over and over again.

 That's when the smell hit me. She had completely soiled herself. And it was no small soil. This was a possible post-laxative soil.

I turned around to see Issy behind me, staring in shock, her mouth wide open. She waited just inside the door as I collected some toilet paper and helped the lady back into the cubicle.

I then went and asked the bus driver if there was someone on the bus who could help but he explained that the usual female bus driver wasn't available that day. There was no one else to help.

It was down to either me or him.

"Do you think you could help clean her up and get her changed?" he pleaded with me. "I can bring you gloves."

"Yes, I'll be fine,” I said, feigning confidence. “I am a mum. I deal with poo all day!"

Back in the cubicle, with Issy by my side, I began handing toilet paper to the elderly lady. She tried to clean herself but it was just going everywhere. The smell, oh the smell was just like nothing else. In this moment, I resolved within myself that no matter what I have to do, I will help her walk back to that bus with her dignity intact and the poop out of her pants.

I gently explained that I would need to get her changed into a fresh pair of underwear (the incontinence nappy), donned a pair of gloves and set to work.

The humiliation she felt was evident. She kept laying her head into her trembling hands and taking small, sharp breathes.

“Oh dear, oh dear,” she kept saying over and over again.

She told me she was 94 and remarked, "I am not doing too bad for a 94 year-old am I?"

"Ninety-four! You are doing really well for ninety-four," I said.

As I helped her lift her legs out of her pants and put a nappy on, she looked up towards heaven, and said, presumably to God, "You better be watching this!” She then turned to me and said,

“Thank you, oh, thank you dear."

After I had her completely dressed I walked out to let the bus driver know she was okay. I came back to find Issy handing the elderly lady’s walking stick to her.

“I helped her mum,” she said with a smile.

I felt so proud of her.

Once we had waved off the nursing home bus, Issy and I walked hand in hand back to the playground where we had left our friends.

“Mum, you were so caring to that lady,” Issy said. “You're such a caring mum. I think you can get a sticker when you wake up.”

I laughed and then she asked her usual string of questions, “Mum why did you help her? Why did you do that? Why couldn't she go to the toilet by herself?”

I explained everything as best as I could.  

We can teach our children many important things like brushing their teeth, eating at the table and using their manners. But I think it's in situations like these that children can learn the most important lessons in life.

Today, my little girl saw what it was to care, to truly care and help someone. To respect the elderly, to care for those in need, to choose to take part in an act of kindness and restore dignity to those who may be hurt or unwell.

It’s in doing these types of things, which I don’t do enough of, that we can also teach our children that it's through helping others we find our place. We find purpose, a sense of belonging, of being who we were made to be.

In spite of this, I am not going to start searching for more elderly bottoms to wipe anytime soon!


  1. Mel, that made me cry. I thought how I would feel if it was my grandmother and there was a nice lady like you and a sweet little girl to help her! Those are the important lessons for our kids, aren't they?

  2. Oh I am so humbled by this post - what a kind hearted person you are! You just set your daughter the most amazing example about caring for others, even in the most unpleasant of situations. I too would have been hesitant and nervous, but I hope too that I would have dealt with it as you did. Really applaud you xx

    1. Thanks for your encouraging comments Donna. I really appreciate it. This was my first link up with FYBF. I really enjoyed reading some of your posts on your blog too. Congrats on the arrival of your little girl not too long ago!

  3. Beautiful story! Loved the way you brought me right into the toilets as though I was apart of it.

    1. It would have been good to have had your nursing experience there with me Amy! Next time...ha. Thanks for your comment. x

  4. Wow, you nearly made me teary, I have a lump in my throat. You did an amazing thing. My grandparents are elderly and I find that's cruel that they find themselves in those sort of situations. She was very lucky you were there! Thanks for your story.

    1. Thanks for your comment Nat. It's lovely to see that people are being moved by the story as it was quite an emotional experience for me. It's so sad that as we age we often lose so much independence and can sometimes descend back to being helpless like a child. Your blessed that you still have your grandparents around! They are special people to have in your life.

  5. Oh I feel for that lady. Good on you Mel, what a great example you are.

    1. Thanks Amy. You have probably witnessed similar things as a nurse I'd imagine!

  6. What an amazing thing you did - good for you. There are not many people in this world that would do that. X #FYBF

    1. Thanks for commenting Kellie. I think many people would surprise themselves as what they are capable of doing in a situation like that. I am usually a bit of a germ-a-phob (e.g I can't stand public toilets!) but something within me just HAD to help her.

  7. What a touching brautiful example of humility and humanity - the way you wrote it made me laugh, wince and cry. Your daughter will have learned a life lesson beyond her years that day. The idea that you wanted to save that woman's dignity is what spoke so loudly. Bless you.

  8. I'm so glad you helped! What a great example you are to your daughter on how important it is to respect our elders and to be kind and helpful to all people even when it takes us out of our comfort zones. x