How to take a shit in the woods (when you are in a wheelchair)

There are certain under-valued pleasures in life such as a hot water bottle on a chilly night, homemade Irish cream, and the simple act of taking a shit in the great outdoors that we do not give their appropriate due.

It was within a week of my husband’s paralysis that he lamented the fact that he would never take a shit in the woods again, which at the time, I thought was a ludicrous thing to obsess over.

What about skiing, sucking in your abs or walking.

While he was in spinal rehab, I remember looking through a bunch of old photos and one picture caused my diaphragm to spasm a little as my eyes lit upon it.  It had been taken the previous year at a campground on Stradbroke Island off the coast of Brisbane, Kev, XXXX beer in hand, sat on a blanket outside our small orange tent as books, bags and dinner dishes spilt out beside him and a large Malibu surfboard rested on a patch of bare dirt alongside the tent.

Quizzically, he looked directly at the camera.  And it felt like a punch.

To me the photo represented everything we had lost.

How do you go camping when you need a white sterile box packed with stuff that can’t get dirty and about half an hour just to take a piss? How do you wheel around dirt, sleep on a crappy 1 cm thick sleeping pad without pressure sores, and transfer to and from the ground or pick up the Leatherman when it falls down beside a campfire?

How the fuck do you camp in a wheelchair?

We had that question ringing in our minds, propelling us forward, when  a few months later we embarked on a four month camping and backpacking trip around Australia.

Travelling so early after injury was tremendously challenging, emotionally and physically exhausting, and almost imploded our relationship.  But together, we learnt that things seemingly lost to us, were still firmly within our grasp.  The life we had dreamed of living together was still there, maybe a little obscured, and at times we hacked through a thick poisonous jungle to find it, slammed by both anticipated and wildly unanticipated difficulties.

Travelling showed us that we could still do everything we loved – even if in a somewhat modified form.  Everyone’s challenge and manner of coping is different, but trying something new (or something old) despite the inevitability of the occasional failure, is exhilarating.

Figuring out what works to reclaim your life as much as possible after a spinal injury, and what sure as hell doesn’t, requires much ingenuity, patience and humour. Then once you think you have it all figured out, everything will change again, due to kids, illness or other factors requiring further thought and modification.

Nothing is constant except change.

Twelve years later we are still figuring things out.

While packing for a recent camping trip to Central Australia where we would be bush camping for an extended period and space was at a premium, Kev realised he would have to sort something to take a shit without any facilities.

As we were bemoaning the price and size of portable toilets from a disability equipment supplier, an old friend confided, to much ridicule, that his mum carried a fold-able camping toilet on every camping trip when he a kid, and  he didn’t learn to squat until he was a tree-planting twenty year old.  ‘It might work for you mate’ he said.

Somewhere in the desert north of the Flinders Ranges, I watched Kev wheel towards me.

“That was the first shit I have taken outside in over twelve years,” he said as he passed, dragging a shovel behind him.

“Oh yeah?  How was it?”

“Fucking glorious…”


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