Last week my life changed. I was faced with the imminent possibility of not being able to buy toilet paper.
The ‘no toilet paper phenomenon’ appeared overnight and definitely caught me by surprise.
I was not one to take my toilet paper too seriously, except when travelling to an unfamiliar destination on another continent, in which case a roll in my purse was my constant companion.
One other toilet paper scenario could set off a personal state of emergency: me, running late, dashing out the door, dressed in a formal outfit, realizing with dismay that nature demanded an immediate pit stop in the bathroom, only to find myself stranded without even one four-inch square of toilet paper in sight. Then I would become a screaming lunatic, likely calling the person who had used the washroom before me any number of unpleasant names such as ‘nincompoop’, pun intended. Unfortunately, harsher revenge would have been self-incriminating as I also, at least once, had been the inconsiderate slob who had failed to replace the toilet paper supply.
Most times, however, I found reasonable resourceful substitutes, without fanfare.
- When hiking, a leaf – or many leaves, given the size of my derrière.
- In drafty outhouses of years gone by, ripped pages from Sears Catalogues.
The rough paper was not regarded as a hardship, however, since the enticing photos of fashion and toys I would never own were a welcome distraction from the tedious waiting chores of shelling peas, weeding the garden, or picking raspberries amidst biting thorns.
- If stuck in a public washroom with an empty toilet paper dispenser, I would plea to strangers for some toilet paper to be passed under the door. I could not understand how I could never remember to avoid this embarrassing moment by first checking the toilet paper supply before choosing a stall. I would prefer to attribute this mental lapse to a weak bladder rather than to a faulty memory.
- If no toilet paper was available, a Kleenex tissue, wipe, or torn pieces of paper towel would suffice, unless it was one of those ‘poor’ weeks, when all such items were unattainable luxuries. Cheap toilet paper was then the only option to keep the nose drizzle in check, so I tried not to have a runny nose on those weeks.
- A last resort was a quick forage in a garbage can, followed by an immediate trip to the store to buy toilet paper.
At least, that was my life before COVID-19 and we were struck with toilet paper madness.
Daily, I had listened to the reports of the spread of the illness, and every night, I felt safe when I turned off the news, knowing that the insidious monster was seemingly a million miles away.
I had a brief bout of uneasiness a few weeks ago when an electrician came to our house to repair a faulty light. He happened to mention his recent trip to Japan, but reassured me that he had not come in contact with the coronavirus. My brain told me that contracting the virus via the contractor was less likely than winning the lottery; nevertheless, after two weeks, when our household remained virus free, my heart breathed an irrational sigh of “Whew, that was close!” I felt safe and secure.
Until last week, on Thursday…
COVID-19, sending out ever-widening shock waves with the relentlessness of a persistent, merciless drum beat, marched, not only into our province, but right into our city.
A woman, labelled as CASE 1, had symptoms. Although the diagnosis was not yet a substantiated fact, the overnight effect was as if a giant switch in the sky had been flipped to change the atmosphere over our city. The presumptive diagnosis of a bank employee some forty kilometres away suddenly downsized our metropolis of over 1.6 million to a microcosm. Given the impact on our household, Case 1 might as well have been my next-door neighbour.
Indeed, the entire population suddenly became both my friend and enemy, as each individual became not only a possible person of support but also a potential virus carrier. Surprisingly, some turned out to be furious foes in the shopping frenzy that immediately ensued.
By Friday, Walmart had sold out of hand sanitizer and face masks. Only four one-gallon water jugs could be purchased at one time. Two bank branches were closed for disinfecting, and all employees sent home for two weeks of self-isolation.
Most notable of all, COSTCO and the dollar store were out of toilet paper.
Stores could not keep the product on the shelf as customers purchased exorbitant amounts of the apparently precious commodity, at times stocking up with a year’s supply. Long line-ups, overflowing parking lots, and even customer fights became an unexpected part of the shopping experience.
Had I been shopping to prepare for a two-week confinement, toilet paper would definitely not have been my first priority, and my list most likely would have included:
2. expensive coffee
3. a jar of peanut butter, or more if on sale
4. an extra charger or two
5. more chocolate
My lack of panic in the face of such purchasing limitations may have been due in part to my fairly recent splurge on an enhancement to my toilet.
Many years ago, I had seen strange extra toilet bowls in European washrooms. I guessed they might be for washing feet but could not figure out how to use them. I later found out that these bowls were called bidets and were well-loved by Europeans and foreign travellers alike. My elderly aunt installed a cheap one, but, again, I didn’t know how to use it, and was too embarrassed to ask.
Last fall, my own bathroom dilemmas became more unmanageable due to a combination of the afore-mentioned ample arse size and the h-word. I am not referring to the fiery inferno, but it is an apt description for attempting to clean hemorrhoids with toilet paper.
I decided a bidet might be the solution, although I had never used one.
I embarked on a few days of research. I found out North American bidets fit on most standard toilet seats, and ranged in price from less than one hundred to a few thousand dollars. I had several options: light or no light, heated water for one-time use or multiple-uses, and varying nozzle positions. I could choose between a remote or a sidebar for controlling water force and drying times. I picked a mid-range product, more expensive than the cheap one my wealthy aunt had purchased, but reasoned that I might need the extra bells and whistles as old age became my new reality.
I finally had a manual so now I could actually figure out how use the bathroom contraption. An unanticipated benefit was that I now only needed a negligible amount of toilet paper. Little did I know that my bidet might become a necessity rather than a luxury.
Just ten days after the initial announcement of the first presumptive case in our city, persons with confirmed COVID-19 were no longer reported as individual numbers, such as Case 1 or Case 20, but rather simply lumped together as one daily number, adding to the steadily increasing global total.
Mount Everest was closed, on both the China and Nepal sides, as was the Eifel Tower. I felt a deep chord of sorrow as I saw the TV report of an inconsolable man from Italy, unable to find a funeral home to bury his sister.
Locally, events were being cancelled. The 811 help line for COVID-19 testing was jammed.
We have since hunkered down at home, and will work from here as much as possible. Alarmed by the diminishing product on supermarket shelves, we have stocked up on diapers, formula, and groceries, although, in my opinion, we are rather short on necessary chocolate.
Hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and toilet paper were unavailable, but we hopefully will have enough white paper rolls for the next two weeks as a visiting relative thankfully presented us with a large package as a hostess gift.
However, it is not the lack of toilet paper I fear.
I have a bidet, after all, and for any future incessant drippy noses, I can root out the heirloom handkerchiefs inherited from my mother and grandmother.
I do not fear dying, for I am at peace with my maker and my eventual demise.
However, I do fear deaths that could be prevented.
I am apprehensive that government, corporations, and individuals will not act decisively. North America has observed the global evidence of proactive decision-making and also the disastrous results when preventive measures were delayed. We have had ample time to prepare.
Is it acceptable that the 811 medical help lines are plugged solid? After several months’ notice, and now at least ten days since the first known case arrived in our city, should we not have access to multiple drive-through testing sites, especially for immune-compromised individuals?
Would it not be wise to insist that all travellers from foreign countries be mandatorily tested and quarantined? Should all schools and day cares not be closed as a precaution?
Is it not possible for all of North America to band together to implement strategies to stop the spread of the illness, possibly including a mandatory lockdown if necessary?
On a lighter note, purchasing shares in a bidet company might be a good idea!
Gifts of chocolate may be left at my front door, along with a roll of toilet paper,
just in case.
Feature Photo: Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada
Photo taken by Michael Newbury, the author’s son. Used by permission.