A surprisingly uplifting chat with the man who, in 13 days, will never shit again.
Paul, shitting at the top of the Shard. All photos via Paul Silver
You take shitting out your arse for granted, is the thing. A normally functioning healthy bowel should take no more than a few minutes to flump something out, and then you can get on with your day. Unless you have Crohn's, and things aren't so simple. "Basically, for me, I swing between being really constipated to being... really at the opposite end of things," says Paul Silver, who's been suffering with Crohn's since he was 12 (he's now 32). "It's never in the middle, I'm always one or the other." That means debilitating cramps and subsequent pain, two-to-three hour fragmented toilet trips every morning, urgent can-I-use-your-toilet-please bolts into shops and restaurants, and a looming sense of anxiety when using public transport. "Every time I'm on public transport, I'm conscious that I could get in trouble needing to go, so I don't go out as much," he says. And that's not to mention the operations: a visit to a doctor a good once a week, and procedures to shorten his bowels once every few years. "What happens is, because of all the pushing and pulling and all the inflammation, my bowel is fucked basically," he says. "You get narrowing, and you get stretches, and in my experience every 8 or 9 years you need the bad bits removed, the bits that are not working any more."
Anyway, good news: Paul is scheduled in for a permanent ileostomy on the 21st of April, a procedure that will see his large bowel removed entirely, his bum sewn shut like a Ken doll, and his small bowel attached to the side of his torso and a stoma structured. It means he goes from sitting in the bathroom in agony for a few hours every day to emptying a little baggy into a toilet every now and then. But also, crucially, means he'll never do a shit out of his butt ever in his life.
As you can understand, this is a conflicting time. On one hand: a permanent end to years of pain and discomfort. On the other hand: never do a shit. What would you do?
Turns out never doing the shit is by far the more viable option, so Paul's on a sort of turd marathon, where he does a few of his final meaningful shits in various palatial bathrooms. He's already shat at the top of the Shard, and is on a sort of half spiritual, half very necessary journey to do notable shits before his arsehole's closed for business forever. I spoke to him about Crohn's, buttsex, methadone, and people who turd all over bathrooms and just leave it there for someone else to clean up.
VICE: Hey Paul. So what's going on with your bum?
Paul: I've got Crohn's disease. I'm having a permanent colostomy on April 21st, basically that means that they're removing my large bowel, and I'll be a Ken doll from behind, and I'll have this new thing that I've nicknamed a bionic bumhole, which is a little stoma that sticks out the side and they attach a bag to me. It will kind of give me a new life.
And what's with the poo marathon?
On Facebook someone posted a picture of the view from the Shard, and I kind of joked to myself that I'd like to have my final poop there – because obviously the view is absolutely magnificent – and that joke turned into a thing.
So that was the first one. It's actually quite awkward doing a photo opportunity poop: I had my trousers down and my pants up and a photographer with their lens out, and then a cleaner just walks in and goes, 'No, no, no! You don't do that in here!' It took me 15 minutes to calm her down. And then I had to explain to management afterwards what we were doing.
The next ones I'd love to do are: apparently the Queen has a personal lavatory in the Royal Albert Hall which is one I'm aching to get on, and places like Buckingham Palace, and Number 10. I'm up for anything really: I'm looking for historical places, or theatres, or posh places like Harrods and Selfridges – I'm pretty sure the management there would have a really grand loo, I'm picturing, but I have no idea.
Someone handing you towels, that kind of thing?
Yeah, exactly. In Harrods I think they have an attendant and stuff like that, so that would be quite cool. And also I'm quite into restaurant as well. I'm not talking about like McDonald's, or anything like that: fancy thrones.
It's about spreading a message, too. I just want to get out there, like: 99.999 etc. % of the world is at some point in the day sitting on the toilet, it's normal to go to the toilet. People shouldn't be embarrassed about having to ask if they can use the toilet, if you need to go and you're walking past a restaurant, just go.
What about messy toilets?
Yeah mate, especially with bloke's toilets, they can be rank. Basically: you are a complete dickhead if you mess up a toilet intentionally. Leave it how you want to find it. Because someone on minimum wage has to clean that up afterwards. It's not always drinking where it's an excuse, either, because I've been to places like the supermarket in the middle of the daytime and seen wrecked toilets, and they clean that thing every hour, so for that to happen regularly there must be quite a lot of dickheads out there doing that sort of thing. I really think badly of anyone who ruins a toilet that's not their own.
So, forgive my ignorance, but I'm not too clued up on what Crohn's is and how it affects its sufferers. What is it?
Basically, for me, I swing between being really constipated to being really at the opposite end of things, it's never in the middle, I'm always one or the other. It's an extremely painful condition, I'm even on methadone for the pain, I take a morphine and methadone combination. The problem is, because my bowels have been shortenened, long-acting morphine doesn't work on me, so I take Toradol, it is really high-end when it comes to the pain side of things. But hopefully afterwards I should be able to cut down on them. I'm a little bit worried about the whole dependency on painkillers. But basically that's the sort of pain levels you get. Also when it gets worse you can get blood in the stool – sometimes I've looked down, and I don't mean to be graphic, but literally you can only see a centimetre down it's so red.
Yeah. It's never been great but basically I don't know what 'normal' is. In the same way that you don't know what it's like to fly, but a bird might say 'oh poor you, you cant fly', but it's something that you've never done, and it's the same with me with going to the toilet.
I'm lucky because my job [web developer] is flexible, but, I couldn't, for example, work in a shop where I have to be at the till for a certain time, because I'd run off to the toilet and someone would rob the shop. Or people can't rely on me to be 100% at a specific place at a specific time, because I never know when it's gonna hit. I have held down fulltime jobs making websites in the past, but thankfully again they're forgiving if I turn up at 12 o'clock.
And your drug dependency?
Well, I've always been on painkillers since I was about 12 years old. I started off on codeine, then over the years it's gone up: it started with a little bit of codeine, then a lot of codeine, then Tramadol, it's gone up and up and up. Right now I take methadone: relatively low amounts, but a strong enough dose for someone who doesn't touch other drugs.
Earlier this year I did try cannabis for the first time, for the pain. It didn't work for me as a painkiller, but it's well-documented in its effectiveness for other Crohn's sufferers. So when I saw the debate that went on last year I was absolutely disgusted. There's evidence after evidence after evidence about how it affects people who are ill. And the Tory guy just said: 'No'. That's the end of it. They argued that cannabis had, and I quote, 'no medicinal value', yet Savitex is a cannabis derivative – so how can it have no medicinal value? I think what they're trying to say is that it's un-patentable.
Yeah. Are you going to miss your bumhole?
From what I gather, they're literally sewing it up shut, so I'll be a Ken doll from behind. From the front I'm 100% normal and functioning.
So just to confirm: they're sewing your arse shut, but they don't intend to sew your dick closed?
Yeah. Dick/piss/sex, should be 100% the same as before. But one of my weird thoughts is: I'm a straight bloke who's never tried anal sex, but that door will never be open again. What if I'm missing out on an amazing experience? This whole thing would be much tougher on a gay bloke, in that respect.
Are you going to miss pooing at all?
Yeah, I really do have a love affair with the toilet. It's one of those places where I go, not only for my Crohn's but for my anxiety – it's where I go to escape. I'm the only one who lives in my flat so I can go anywhere I want in my flat, but I actually go to the toilet to think and when I want to read that's where I go. It's like the little fortress of solitude – my own little world where no one can contact me, I can just press the pause button. So it's a love-hate affair with that room: I used to have five flatmates to one bathroom, and the arguments that caused in the morning got out of control. In the end I actually got a little bucket and went in my room, waited till everyone went to work and then just ejected it, that means everyone in the morning could get ready for work.
What happens if you're out and you need to go? Do you ever have problems with the staff and stuff like that?
Thankfully there's normally a restaurant nearby where I am, and I prefer restaurants to pubs, but sometimes when they say 'for customer use only', I kind of have to beg and plead. I say: 'Look, I don't mind buying a drink or leaving a tip, I don't have time to talk to the manager. Just let me go.' Some places are fine, some aren't, and there's a card you can get which says 'please, I can't wait', but by the time you've got it out and they've checked it's legit you may as well have bought a drink and gone. I find Pizza Express are very accommodating, they're always fine.
So I guess it's going to be a whole new thing in about a week's time.
Yeah, that's why I'm on this poop quest. It's made the next three weeks, which was going to be filled with anxiety and uncertainty, a bit of fun. I know a lot of people are laughing at me as well as with me, but I try and make it so you're not laughing at me too much. I look at it like this: I lost my dignity a long time ago; I've had all these procedures done to me, like colonoscopies, and when it comes to this activity I don't have any dignity left, and I'm glad that's gone because I can have fun with that now. And it's something that everyone does too, with today's pictures that I've taken, I've taken pictures of myself trousers down, pants up in the toilet for social media, which is a position that everyone's in at some point in the day, so there shouldn't be any surprises there.