Public Restroom Bill Leads To Public Awareness Pursuit

Public Restroom Stall in Richmond, Va. Photo Taken by: Ashley Jones

Public Restroom Stall in Richmond, Va.     Photo Taken by: Ashley Jones

Richmond, Va. — A bill that has been presented by Delegate Rob Krupicka to the General Assembly to allow individuals with inflammatory bowel diseases and irritable bowel syndrome access to all restrooms in public with an information card, has recently been laid on the table.

The bill, also known as The Restroom Access Act, did not make it past the House Subcommittee. According to the United States Government Publishing Office, laying a bill on the table is a motion equal to a final adverse disposition. This action generally leads to denial of a bill being passed as a law.

The efforts have now been directed towards continuing to increase the knowledge of such ailments because of the constant limitations affecting the lives of those suffering daily.

Problematic conditions of the gastrointestinal tract are more prominent than many may assume. According to Dr. Theodore Bayless, a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, about one million people are affected with inflammatory bowel disease, about 500,000 with Crohn’s disease and another 500,000 with colitis. In addition about ten percent of the population is affected by irritable bowel syndrome.

The issues of the inflammatory bowel diseases including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and those of irritable bowel syndrome often go unheard of in the public realm.

“Most people don’t talk about their bathroom habits, so it’s not something that is discussed,” said Bayless. “Even within families people don’t really discuss that.”

Josh Morgan, a resident of Williamsburg, Va., suffers from Crohn’s disease and expresses the necessity of people understanding the conditions of these illnesses. Morgan has suffered from Crohn’s disease for fifteen years and recalls life before the agony. He was able to go out to bars with friends and have a decent social life before he started to experience the effects.

“As the disease progresses with you, you find yourself not being able to go out a lot,” said Morgan. “You can’t really make plans because your stomach might violently erupt.”

Morgan believes in persistence in terms of his stomach health and says that life can sometimes revolve around making sure he gets the treatment necessary. He says that some symptoms may be parallel to other health issues so some people, even doctors may not understand the severity.

“We’re bleeding and people can’t see that pain on the inside so they’re like ‘it’s just a bad stomach virus, you’ll be okay,’” Morgan said. “But really it’s like being slashed up with razors on the inside with lemon juice poured in it.”

Victims of IBD often experience flare-ups, or moments when the intestine will become inflamed and cause waste to pass rapidly. Dr. Bayless says some patients experience urgency after meals or in the morning and have to adjust their lifestyles to accommodate time for the bathroom. He further explains that the timing in flare-ups depends on the level of inflammation ultimately affecting the amount of time someone has to make it to the bathroom.

“Sometimes (patients) can’t distinguish gas from stool, so they need access to a bathroom suddenly,” Dr. Bayless said.

These sudden flare-ups have to be strategically avoided. They may result in vomiting, bad diarrhea, fever, and even high blood pressure. Morgan has experienced a flare-up that has lasted about a month long and says it really depends on what is eaten.

Caroline Roessler, an in-store nutritionist at Martin’s Food Market in Midlothian, Va., describes the diet of Crohn’s and colitis patients to be conditional with flare-ups. The diet is used as a way to manage and prevent the severe conditions that can result from inflammatory bowel diseases.

“They want to try to do 5 or 6 smaller meals a day and that’s just to decrease the stress on the system when taking those nutrients in,” Roessler said.

There are particular foods Roessler stresses patients to avoid that contribute to inflammation are often referred to as trigger foods because of the high chance of causing a flare-up.

Kathy Rocco, a Chronic Disease Manager at the Virginia Department of Health, is passionate about finding ways to aid individuals who are not receiving the care they need.

“My mother suffers from IBS and we have run into problems at restaurants, out at the mall, or where there is no community bathroom,” Rocco said. “I can relate to it on a personal level just seeing what she goes through.”

She admits the department of health is lacking in resources, and can improve the efforts of awareness and potentially form an outlet for these patients. She believes the biggest cause of limitations in support for these chronic diseases is related to funding.

“The reality is we have very prescriptive grants from the CDC and another from ASTHO and they are very, very prescriptive so they don’t get into Crohn’s Disease or any other GI diseases,” said Rocco.

Morgan notes that awareness also stems from education and it could allow more willingness to be open-minded. He believes if people took the time to listen to what he and others are really experiencing, it may foster new opportunities.

“This is a real disease. This really affects people,” Roessler said. “I think just having that compassion for people in general as humans is going to be important for the public to recognize these people.”