A couple of years ago I shared a three-bedroom house in West Nashville with two close friends. It wasn’t a palace by any means, but it served as a very comfortable home for the two years that we resided there. One of the small negatives of this humble abode was that it had only one small bathroom. Seeing that my two roommates and I were all of the male gender and we all kept different schedules this small fact never posed much of an issue. That is until the week before our first Christmas in that house.

We had just hosted our annual Christmas party consisting of 20+ guests, with extensive amounts of food and libations and just one bathroom. Can you see where I’m going with this? Don’t worry. The holiday festivities were not halted by any catastrophic events. We all played Dirty Santa, drank and socialized and had an overall very merry time. It was the following day that all hell broke loose.

DO NOT IGNORE: Plumbing Issues Do Not Just Go Away

My roommates and I probably should have acted when we began seeing signs of plumbing troubles a few days before the party. Our plumbing had never been in tip-top shape; the occasional drain clog in the shower and having to jimmy the flush handle on the toilet from time to time are all what I would consider somewhat normal annoyances. However, at this point we had been taking showers regularly in about 4 inches of standing water and had encountered several frequent toilet clogs. Not to mention that when we would get the toilet flushing smoothly, small amounts of water would back up into the sink and shower. I know, red flag. But at the time my roommates and I did not possess a wealth of domestic sensibilities. After all, we were just three dudes in our mid twenties. That and we all had a strong knack for procrastination. We did at least put a sign on the toilet before the party urging our guests to be… “gentle.”

Not even 36 hours after the party I was informed by a plumber that due to when the house was constructed (mid 1950’s) all of our plumbing units; shower, toilet, sinks, dishwasher and washing machine were all fed by one main pipeline. Due to the age of said pipeline, it had a tendency to “backup” every couple of years. That being said, anything thicker than water had been accumulating in that main pipeline for God knows how long. Hence the frequent toilet clogs and water backing up into the sink and shower. It all seems very sensible in hindsight. Sigh…

The Levee Breaks

The evening after the party, I was getting ready for the upcoming week. I work retail, so there is no such thing as holiday time off for this guy. I had just put in a load of laundry and was enjoying what was most likely a Christmas movie with my roommate, Ryan. Around the same time the washing machine was dumping the several of gallons of water that were used to wash my clothes, I happened to be walking by the bathroom and hear a peculiar noise. A noise that I quickly realized was those several gallons of water forcing out the months of accumulated “build up” out through our toilet. Now I don’t want to over embellish here. It wasn’t like shit water was spraying out into the bathroom or anything, but at this point the toilet had very much overflowed and the lovely discharge was beginning to cover the bathroom floor and it was anything but a slow process.

Yelling for Ryan in what I can only imagine sounded like a sort of panicked hyena shriek, I ran through the near inch of  “water” and as I kneeled down next to the porcelain volcano to cut off the water, gagging from the smell Ryan entered the doorway and produced a reaction similar to mine: silent panic, followed by a series of expletives not suitable for print. My efforts to shut the water off were very much in vain. The dam had been compromised and all the water and whatever it was pushing out had to go somewhere. This time, instead of the metro sewers, it happened to be our bathroom. At this point the water and sludge had begun to enter the hallway, which led to our three bedrooms. Walking through the mess, we gathered every towel we could find and began a sort of “sand-bagging” effort at the bedroom doorways and the entrance to the kitchen. This actually proved successful and the cards finally seemed to stack in our favor as the flow of water finally seemed to cease.

In the time that all of this transpired I had made a panicked call to my other roommate, John, telling him his assistance was needed immediately. I followed it up with a picture text. Needless to say he was home in about fifteen minutes. While I waited for John, Ryan took off to Wal-Mart for a hefty amount of cleaning supplies and I tried to configure a game plan via multiple Google searches. Believe it or not, as vast as the expanse of the Internet is, I didn’t find much on this particular issue.

Even though he missed the initial eruption, John walked into what resembled a demented horror movie version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Ryan soon returned with an odd plethora of materials that would prove to be the arsenal that we would use during what would soon come to be the worst assault on my senses that I have ever experienced.

Killing Ourselves to Cleanup

Our tactical gear consisted of yard shoes, old gym shorts, elbow length latex gloves and bandanas (a poor attempt to shield our noses from the smell). Our weapons of choice: mops, buckets, a shop vac and a bottle of bleach and ammonia.

I’ll spare you the more explicit details, but I’ll say that we had to empty the shop vac full of shit multiple times, and due partially to the small size of the bathroom and mostly the need to go vomit in the backyard as a result of the stench, we had to work in shifts. One of the more picturesque moments consisted of me standing on top of the toilet with a gardening hoe (we obviously didn’t have the most practical supply of tools), emptying scoops of slop out of the toilet bowl into a bucket.

Once we had removed the residue, we then had to decontaminate. That’s where the bottles of bleach and ammonia came in. We filled a bucket with the bleach and another with the ammonia and began scrubbing away with the mops. Unbeknownst to John and me, Ryan had posted pictures to Instagram, documenting our ordeal. Whilst in the throes of sanitation, Ryan began to receive a large volume of concerned comments and responses to his Instagram posts. “STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING,” “THAT COMBO IS TOXIC,” and “ARE YOU ALIVE?” were just a few of the comments that stuck out. A post-incident Google search about mixing ammonia and bleach yielded recommendations such as: “dial 911 for emergency help,” “call poison control,” and “if you find someone who you think has mixed bleach and ammonia, chances are he or she will be unconscious.” For a complete list of instructions of what to do if you ever find yourself in such a predicament, click here.

Fortunately for us, we didn’t mix the two chemicals directly, but using one on top of the other still induced a physical response I care not to relive. Tears and mucus were flowing like the Mississippi River and the shifts significantly decreased in length due to the influx of puke breaks. My eyes were bloodshot and my skin itched to for a good 24 hours after as well. We were a sorry bunch indeed.

After three hours of absolute hell, our bathroom had never looked cleaner. And though I would never choose to repeat such an ordeal, that is still one the best memories I have with my two friends. We felt like brothers forged by battle that night. Despite the silver lining however, I leave you with three strong pieces of advice:

1.Never ignore a plumbing issue. It WILL NOT just go away.

2.Never mix ammonia and bleach. You might die.

3.If you’re a renter, just call your landlord.