My Brief, Wondrous Career as a Professional Pooper

professional pooper
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Humans have eaten shit for centuries. In ancient China, it was consumed as a remedy for poisoning and diarrhea, and later mixed with water and called "yellow soup" as a treatment for abdominal diseases. Bedouin tribes too have long eaten camel dung as a remedy for dysentery. Modern fecal transplants first came about in the 1950s as a treatment for ulcerative colitis, and since then research has shown that for some diseases fecal matter transplants are a superior treatment compared with antibiotics.

Could I also contribute to this miracle treatment?

I had never heard of fecal matter transplants until this past New Year’s, when, at a get-together in my new city, I bumped into a old friend who was a med student at the U. She had been involved in the U's program at some point, and hearing the details about it gave me that fluttering sensation you experience only a few times in your life which informs you, in an instant, that your whole future has just been irreversibly transformed. I fired off an inquiring email the next morning, and to my surprise heard back within a day from a researcher at the U whom we'll call Amanda. Amanda told me to fill out an online application containing a dozen pages of questions about my health history.

I'm fortunate to have no known medical conditions, and so I breezed through queries about everything from allergies to mad cow disease with ease. Shortly thereafter, Amanda emailed me that I'd passed the first screening and she invited me into the clinic for further testing. I met her at 7am on Tuesday of the next week and she gave me the low-down on fecal matter transplant (which she'd been careful to abbreviate as FMT throughout our correspondence). It turns out, while she was in grad school, she herself had suffered for a year and a half from a debilitating stomach disorder, only to have it disappear within 48 hours after she herself received an FMT.

The clinic at the U was looking for healthy donors to offer up their dung to the altar of science both to help treat patients who had deficient gut bacteria as well as to help some corporation who was sponsoring the lab to develop an experimental poop pill that could eventually be spun into a mass-produced cure to an assortment of stomach ailments. Amanda also informed me that getting accepted as a fecal matter donor was quite rare: less than 5% of people who apply are accepted (making it more selective, and hence prestigious, than the Ivy League). You have to have a clean bill of health  --  no allergies, eating disorders, medications, asthma, hereditary proclivities, nothing .

After hearing this spiel, I was given the consent form with all the usual things, including risks ("You may find it distasteful to provide fecal samples for this study"), benefits ("There is no direct benefit to you for volunteering. The information gained from this research may lead to improved care for patients in the future."), and, most importantly, the compensation! Fifty dollars for the initial screening visit, and $20 for each donation visit, which can be every day of the workweek if you want. In other words, enough to cover rent and then some! All there was left to do was some additional blood testing to make sure my internals were in order, and soon I'd be on my way to paydirt.

Rejection is a turd in the punch bowl

I was a ball of nerves as I waited for the results. Finally, what I was waiting for arrived: a note from the lab. It read:

Hi Jacob,
All the lab tests we did in your donor screening were fine, except for one of the liver tests (AST = 70). This abnormality is very mild. We could re-test to make sure it isn't a fluke of some sort.

I was deflated. My braggatory FB post would have to be tabled. I was also beginning to realize this was meaning a lot more to me than it should have. But the heightened AST was probably just a fluke, right? Trying to maintain composure, I asked for a retest. They were gracious enough to give me another shot. We scheduled it for the following Tuesday, which gave me four days to try to change my levels. I googled AST and asked my science friends what I was doing wrong. My med-student friend told me that AST can be elevated due to running and eating leafy vegetables. Great, I thought, the very things I thought were going to make me healthier are actually keeping me from my dreams. Thanks for nothing, science.

Tuesday came. I went in again and took another needle to the arm. After two more days, I got another email, this time not from Amanda, but from the head doctor himself:

Dear Jacob,
The AST (liver test) was still mildly elevated at 70. I agree with you that the most likely source of this abnormality is exercise. The strict criteria in the donor program do not allow us to recruit you while the test is abnormal. Our options are: (1) wait a little longer (~ 1 month) and re-test, (2) do a more extensive clinical evaluation, which would be outside this donor program. The clinical evaluation would need to be covered by your insurance, which most insurances would have to do. Either way, this is not a disqualification, and we still hope that we will be working together in the future.

Ugh. Rejection again. One month is an eon to a millennial, so it was on to option #2. I called up my insurance and asked them what a clinical evaluation of my liver would foot me. They told me $600. I was taken aback. "But, but, but what about the Affordable Care Act?" "Sorry, kid, you're shit out of luck." I hung up. How bad did I want this? I did a quick calculation of how many shits I'd have to take if accepted to cover the screening cost. Jeez, that was a lot, and in all likelihood I'd have to increase my grocery bill just keep up with the waste I was expected to make. And so I had no choice but to walk away, my dream deferred.

man about to use the toilet

Redemption comes for the aspiring pooper

Or so I thought. A couple of days later,  Amanda (angelic Amanda!) sent me another email. There was another study going on at the clinic, this one about Crohn's disease, and they could use some healthy donors for that program to serve as control subjects. The threshold for health isn't as high for this one, so you'll definitely be able to take part, she assured me. I read the email and was overjoyed. I was going to get another crack at professional pooping! Sure, this study wasn't as prestigious, you were only allowed to give five samples, and the payout was only $50 total. But I could still say my dream came true. Plus, unlike the other study where you had to schlep over to the U to give samples, this one let you do the donations at home and store them in the freezer until a staff member they sent came to pick them up.

So I hopped over once more to the clinic and went through a familiar routine (though strangely and delightfully this study also came with a RAND CORPORATION personal happiness survey to fill out in advance; perhaps there's a causal connection to be found between smiling and pooping?). I answered regular medical questions too, took height and weight, drew blood, and then at last I was approved to be presented with my donation equipment.

First, I received a stack of poop-gathering containers that sit on the rear of the toilet bowl. I was a little intimidated by these at first since they held up to 27oz and I was afraid I'd therefore be expected to fill each with turd the size of a turducken. Luckily, Amanda then informed me that only a small amount of fecal material was needed on each day, producing a set of spoons about a third the size of ice cream samplers.

Next, I got a set of tubes in which to store the feces, a Ziploc bag for each, and labels with my donor ID number (the donations were anonymous) plus a place to write the time and date. I was also given a log to keep track of the five days of pooping, with columns for date, time, and comments. I asked Amanda what people usually wrote in the comments section. She said that's usually for patients who aren't in the control group, and I cringed imagining what sorts of mayhem they'd be forced to write there. Finally, I was given a freezer bag to contain the whole operation and, feeling like James Bond emerging from a meeting with Q, made my way home.

How to plan a pro-pooping life

I live in a small apartment shared with someone who was a chemistry major, which means he knows what's contained in fecal matter and the dangers of being exposed to it. He wasn't keen on my storing my stool in our small freezer. Luckily, I have another friend, Oliver, who lives nearby and didn't study chemistry, and he was more than glad to help me in my pursuit. The only snafu was that he lives with five others whom I don't know as well, but we figured it'd be best not to tell them what was going on.

However, two nights before I was to start my donation cycle, he and I were finishing up dinner at his place with one of his housemates. Since we cooked, she asked if we wanted some dessert she had recently whipped up. Sure, we said. She went into the freezer and returned with a Ziploc full of chocolate balls. He and I looked at each other, both thinking the same thing: to prevent any confusion, it'd probably be good to tell her what was going on. But turns out she had no problem with it, only she made sure for the time being to store her chocolate balls in the upstairs freezer instead.

man sitting on toilet
woratep suppavas/Shutterstock

Pooping under pressure ain't easy

So last Saturday was the big day. I got out of bed with extra pep in my step. Birds were chirping outside for the first time all year. I made sure to eat several heaping portions of chili for dinner to build up my mojo. Then, it was time. I locked myself in Oliver's bathroom with my equipment, loosened my belt, and let the games begin. Except nothing happened. I waited a little longer. Still nothing doing. So I went into my bag of tricks: the Seesaw. The Can Can-Can. The Toilet Two-Step. Still nothing. I tried playing "hard to get," and when that didn't work, I resorted to the All-or-Nothing. But despite my greatest asspirations, I still couldn't maneuver the manure out. I emerged empty-handed. I had no choice but to abandon the operation. Returning later, in a stupor, I headed straight for the pooper. But still nothing. Head bowed, I trudged Charlie Brown-style back to my apartment, where, awakened by the familiar confines of my own bathroom, the brown was able to easily fling open the floodgates.

Geez, one day in and I was already falling behind, I thought. This presented an ethical dilemma. Should I try to do double duty tomorrow and pass one off as today's? Or is the science so good they'd be able to detect what I'd done and I'd be put on a black (brown?) list, forever barred from donating fecal matter? I decided to admit the truth, and explain in the comments section what happened.

The next day though, the real thing happened! With no problems at all! I went in, pooped, wiped, bottled the sample, just like that. Swelling with excitement at the excrement I'd expelled, I skipped out of the loo with my poo and bagged it in the freezer.

So began my pleasant poutine. I'd text Oliver when I was feelin' the bowels a-stirrin', and he'd let me know if he was around to let me in. By the fifth day, I was pooping like a veteran, and couldn't believe my time in the slimelight was already almost over. But apparently my pooping prowess had begun to get to my head, for I thoughtlessly ate two bananas that day. When I went over to Oliver, my stomach was feeling calm as a cucumber. Nerves began to creep in. Would I, once again, be left a sitzpinkler? (That’s German for a man who takes a seat to tinkle.) No! It wasn't much -- in fact, only enough to barely fill the mini-spoon -- but it did come out eventually.

The only thing left to do was hand over the samples and get paid, so I called up the poop dispatcher (which job was weirder, I wondered, hers or mine?), she met me at the door, I traded five days of poop for my $50 check, and that was that. Thus came to an end my short but illustrious career, and now I can proudly state I was able to go poo in something other than sports.

What's next for me?

For now the $50 is displayed prominently on my desk, but I feel like I should reinvest it in the fecal matter industry. Yet how? My roommate told me about some dudes who starting offering DIY fecal matter transplants in their kitchen, so maybe I should buy a blender. Or I could launch a social-networking site to connect potential donors and recipients together. Call it Fecebook. Another friend suggested I become a doodoo guru, invest in a GoPro, and make the series of videos that launches the mindful pooping craze. I'm sure there are better ideas out there, though, so if you have any thoughts on how I could spin my toilet toil into something meaningful -- or, more importantly, profitable -- I'd be all ears. I really think there's a lucrative career to be found there.

FMTs are only on the rise. Depending on how quickly the technology develops, I wouldn't be shocked to see the US' GDPoop approach the hundreds of millions -- if not billions -- by 2022. And who knows how many new diseases will be discovered to be curable through proper gut bacteria? I could enlist as a G.I. Joe, a new kind of American hero, on call to deliver the special stuff to wherever in the world there's an outbreak of something particularly challenging to the midsection.

Unfortunately, if the sector becomes too successful, I'm sure it'll be only a matter of time until the tech firms try to get their hands on fecal matter transplant technology too, so IBM or the likes would probably soon after come up with a computer to generate the stuff more efficiently than we mere mortals can (would they christen the new device "Deep Brown" or "Deep Shit"?). But what I'm trying to say is that the next few years are probably going to be the golden age of human poo donation, and I want to get in the game while the getting's good. So if you hear any scuttlebutt on new FMT opportunities, please do pass them along. Once you've tasted what it's like to be paid to poop, it feels like a waste not to be.

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Jacob Hoerger likes bikes, writes, and sometimes watches chess videos at night. He's a gradual student in political theory in Boston. Find him here.