My aunt once remarked, when I was going through a particularly difficult time as a professional writer, that there was not only no shame in going back to doing some jobs just for the money, but that it would inform my craft far better than sitting by myself in my room would. “You often learn the most about life from your money jobs.”

How right she was, I have realised, looking back on my life. I learned so much more about human nature from bartending than I did from biology. Though, perhaps, the one summer job that truly left an indelible mark on my understanding of the human condition was this one.

From September, 2004, published in The Varsity at the University of Toronto:

Like the rest of you I’ve had some pretty crappy summer jobs‚ but nothing quite compares to working as the receptionist at a colonic irrigation clinic this year.

Imagine spending 95 per cent of your day talking about having feces sucked out of your intestine with a hose.

“Warm water is gently introduced into the bowel through a metal speculum‚ until sufficient pressure builds up that waste matter is dislodged; the direction of flow is then reversed so that the waste water is then sucked out. This pattern is repeated for up to fifty minutes to give the intestine a thorough cleansing.”

Why would one subject oneself to such an ordeal? In a perfect world‚ nobody should ever have to flush water up her ass just to stay healthy. But the lifestyles of the opulent and the poor alike leave much to be desired‚ and alas a diet of steak wrapped in bacon with a side of cheesecake can leave you with an overloaded system that gets so backed up you might not shit for days. The record so far at the clinic was a woman who came in without having unloaded herself for three weeks.

Twenty–one days worth of decaying food was sitting in her gut‚ and it was the pleasure of our therapist to get it all out of her.

I have to say the job was not without its perils. One day I came in to discover that the holding tank had exploded‚ and the entire lower floor of our building was flooded with old‚ murky shit–water. I had to cancel every single appointment that day‚ so no patient coming in would be assaulted by the vile smells emanating from below. This event was not enough to convince my employer to get the system thoroughly fixed‚ however‚ which had dire consequences.

One afternoon‚ a woman about to have her colonic went to use the toilet located next to the treatment room‚ which was hooked up to the same plumbing system. The pipes unexpectedly burst—while she was on the john. Feces began to spew upwards‚ covering the walls‚ ceiling‚ and‚ last but not least‚ her. She was remarkably placid about the accident‚ however‚ and even rescheduled an appointment for a week later.

I asked the “hydrotherapist‚” as they preferred to be called‚ why she would choose to do this for a living. The registered nurse said‚ “Well‚ I went for one myself‚ and after having one treatment I knew that this is what I was going to do with my life.” Chacun a son gout‚ I guess.

It does sound gross and silly‚ but the treatment I have to admit is pretty effective. Aside from relieving bottled up bowels of unbearable pressure‚ washing your insides with water is a really powerful detox.

The lining of your intestines isn’t smooth; it’s full of ridges and small pockets. Over the years small bits of food can get stuck in these indentations and build up. These bits don’t get fully broken down or flushed out; they just stay there and decay‚ turning into fecal toxic waste.

This built up waste makes it more difficult for other crap coming through to pass on‚ which can make you constipated‚ and the more it builds up the more constipated you can get‚ onwards in a vicious cycle. Your bowel should measure two and a half inches in diameter‚ but it is quite common for people to distend their bowels to five inches‚ which stretches out the muscles and makes it even more difficult to go.

That toxic waste is also bad because‚ well‚ it’s toxic. And it blocks one of the body’s major routes to void itself of other foul debris that may be floating around your body. Normally this debris would drift through your circulatory system and get expelled into the bowel and on into the world‚ but with a lining of ultra–rotten crap around your intestinal wall it can’t escape so easily. A lot of people even feel a bit high after the treatment‚ because things start flowing again and old toxins that have been stuck can now run through your veins and get flushed away.

And if you think I’m exaggerating how serious bowel problems can be‚ just remember how Elvis died: on the toilet. The star was‚ among other things‚ so constipated with Texas steaks and pints of ice cream‚ that his overwhelmed system couldn’t handle it. He died at 42 from “cardiac arrhythmia”—he had a heart attack‚ we presume‚ under the strain of trying to force out cemented waste. It is reputed that the autopsy found that his colon weighed 62 pounds.

It has been said that the British are the most constipated people in the world‚ and from my experience this is in fact true‚ as the clinic I worked at was on the outskirts of London. It was actually a full alternative health clinic‚ stocked with osteopaths‚ acupuncturists‚ homeopaths (sigh)‚ massage therapists‚ hypnotherapists‚ psychotherapists‚ and nutritional therapists.

But while bookings for most treatments were scant‚ we were delivering 85 colonics a week. The massage therapist offered 90 minute‚ full–body aromatherapy massages for £35 (about $80)‚ but people were instead lining up to have a hose shoved up their butts for £65 ($140). We were always booked two weeks in advance‚ and we kept a four–page waiting list for people who just couldn’t hold on for that long. You can’t imagine what it’s like being told “Oh‚ that’s marvellous!” after you’ve just informed someone that there’s a spare colonic appointment at nine a.m. on a Saturday morning.

People would book colonics for their friends as presents. People would book in groups of three or four‚ taking a communal day off of work so they wouldn’t have to face the ordeal alone. Women would book for themselves and their reluctant husbands to spend a day together doing it‚ and couples would frequently book the week before their wedding. People even booked colonics as presents for their lovers on Valentine’s Day.

Of course‚ we couldn’t treat everybody‚ and denying people an appointment over the phone was usually met with stubborn resistance.

“No‚ I’m sorry Ms. Walker‚ we cannot perform the treatment three times in one week; it’s against our policy. In fact the therapist has advised me to put you on our black list.” Clinics often find themselves frequented by people with eating disorders‚ and clinics will not treat them because it only fuels their problem. We usually had one enraged anorexic a week storm out after being told by the nurse that they couldn’t be irrigated.

“No‚ I’m sorry‚ I cannot book for your daughter‚ eleven is just too young to have the treatment…Yes‚ I understand she hasn’t gone in six days…Yes‚ smelling it on her breath really must be terrible.”

You must be wondering then‚ did I take the plunge? I have to admit that I did‚ after feebly telling people on the phone for months that I didn’t know if it hurt or not. I took a spare appointment one day just to see for myself what all the fuss was about.

It didn’t “hurt‚” but it certainly wasn’t all that comfortable—with a speculum lodged up your backside‚ it just felt like taking a dump for a full forty minutes. But afterwards‚ I actually did feel the benefits. My skin was clearer‚ my stomach less bloated‚ and my system was flowing faster than Niagara Falls.

I won’t do it again in the near future‚ however. Not until I become old and clogged‚ or until I become another middle–class mommy with too much time on my hands. Whichever comes first.

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