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People With My Condition Are The Hidden Victims Of Toilet Paper Hoarding

When I first heard about the coronavirus-induced toilet paper crisis sweeping the nation, I thought it was all a bit of a beat-up.

I mean, surely the wider population wasn’t actually buying up all the toilet paper in the land due to the threat of a respiratory illness. They did know the difference between a runny nose, and having the runs, right?

Nevertheless, as a 23-year veteran of ulcerative colitis -- the slightly lesser-known cousin of Crohn’s disease -- whenever there’s a mention of three-ply my ears instantly prick up.

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition affecting the colon. With treatment, the side effects can be mild and manageable for some, while for others it can lead to hospitalisations, life-threatening illnesses and in the most serious cases, removal of the large intestine altogether. The risk of developing bowel cancer also increases the longer you are affected.

Nick Bhasin

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People that know me, know that I don’t like to be left out of the hottest trends – whether that includes TikTok, scrunchies and, of course, mass hysteria.

Together with Crohn’s disease the conditions are known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and are an emerging global issue. We have one of the highest prevalence rates in the world, with more than 80,000 Australians living with either Crohn’s or colitis. That number is expected to increase to more than 100,000 by 2022.

The one thing most sufferers of the two conditions share is an often urgent and increased need to use the toilet. Not surprisingly, the availability of toilet paper is an issue close to our… hearts.

As #ToiletPaperGate deepened and media coverage hit fever pitch, I took my first cursory glance at the shelves in my local supermarket, safe in the knowledge that the hysteria surely wouldn’t have spread as far as my small regional town.

I was dismayed to find the shelves had, in fact, already been stripped bare. No TP, no tissues, barely even a roll of paper towel (ouch!).

As a person whose condition forces them to visit the ladies’ on a fairly regular basis (ahem…), it was a startlingly grim reality.

Not amused. (Image: Working Title Films)

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Don’t these crazy pandemic preppers understand the potential mess they’re creating for people with my condition? Isn’t the uncertainty and indignity of these diseases enough, without the threat of running short hanging over our heads (but not on our toilet roll holders)?

I don’t want to even consider the consequences if I was preparing for my bi-annual colonoscopy -- those intimately aware of the procedure know you wouldn’t want to start that pre-surgery process without plenty of three-ply on hand.

Of course, it’s not just IBD sufferers whose bathroom breaks are being put at risk by greedy toilet paper hoarders.

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Australia is full of people who find themselves visiting their water closets more regularly than others, from the one in five who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, to the 15,000-plus people diagnosed with bowel cancer each year, not to mention our annual 5.4 million cases of foodborne gastroenteritis.

I may sound pretty light-hearted, but really, the shameful act of toilet paper hoarding gives me the sh*ts (pardon the language -- and the pun).

A second trip to the supermarket a few days later revealed things had gone from bad to worse. Signs had popped up all around the store warning of a one-packet limit if and when their stocks arrived.

Australian toilet paper panic-buying. (Image: Twitter)

Long queues began snaking down the meat aisle as desperate shoppers waited in line, fingers (and possibly legs) crossed while harried staff handed out bulk packs straight from the loading dock.

In another supermarket, I saw people barging past others and arguments breaking out as impatient shoppers crowded around the shelves where the last few remaining rolls gleamed like cylinders of precious white gold.

Online, I was shocked by the reports of an aggressive customer being tasered and that infamous video of two women pushing, yelling and fighting over dwindling supplies. Charges have now been laid and while I’m not one for violence, there was a slight tugging at the heartstrings as the woman pleaded for just one packet from the overflowing trolley load.

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I’ve done my calculations and thankfully I’m not at desperation stakes yet, but enough is enough Australia.

Hoarding basic supplies such as toilet paper, tissues and hand sanitiser isn’t just crazy, it’s disgraceful behaviour not worthy of a country whose generosity of spirit was on show only weeks ago in the aftermath of the bush fire emergency.

It’s time for common sense to prevail.

It’s time for shopping to occur in aisles, not battlegrounds.

And it’s time for the toilet paper hoarders to start giving a crap about those people who literally have to, numerous times a day.