If you’ve never heard of a Suicide Shower, you’ve likely never traveled in Central America. Most homes and hotels in this part of the world don’t have hot water heaters. That’s fine for places like Nicaragua, where it’s almost always ungodly hot, and a cold water shower is usually a great way to start the day. But here in Guatemala, there are some mountainous regions where it actually gets pretty cold. Enter the Suicide Shower:
Basically a Suicide Shower is a larger shower head that heats the cold water inside the head with an electric heating coil. You turn on the water, the water fills the head, completes the circuit, and you get hot (usually lukewarm) water.
That’s all fine and good, until you consider the fact that there is 120 volts of electricity running to your shower head in a country where there are almost no standard rules or regulations for electricians. This means that usually, the shower heads, electronics and all, are installed with reckless abandon by amateurs. Expect lots of electrical tape, bare ground wires attached to nothing, breaker boxes in the shower, and above all, expect a shock. Touch the head, get a shock. Every time.
Furthermore, you have to adjust the water just right to get it hot. If you have the tap all the way open, there’s too much water coming through and it doesn’t get hot. Turn it too low, and it doesn’t complete the circuit and start the heater. The lights in the bathroom dim slightly when the heater kicks on, so I watch the bulb while I adjust the nob. You have to find the sweet spot. It’s amazing how easy it is to become accustomed to this kinds of things.
A couple weeks ago, I was showering and thinking to myself how nice and hot the water was – much better than the lukewarm water I was used to. I didn’t think too much of it until I turned off the water, and the heater kept going. I could hear it growling inside the shower head. The water left in the head began to boil, hissing and bubbling inside the shower head. Something was seriously wrong. Normally, as soon as you shut off the water, the heater shuts off as water drains out of the head, but this time, it wasn’t stopping.
Steam started squealing from the seals, like a kettle boiling on full blast. Up until this point, I’d been standing there naked, dripping wet, and confused as to what was going on. But I figured this thing might actually explode, so I grabbed my towel and got the hell out of the shower. I opened the door and stood in the hall watching as the steam ran out, and the heater continued to heat. I could see it, glowing red, raging inside the plastic shower head. Black smoke started streaming from the holes in the plastic, and the heater raged on, squealing a more and more high pitched death knell.
My first instinct was to cut the breaker, which was just in the hallway, but by the time I had that thought, the possessed shower head had reached its terrifying crescendo. There was a pop, probably the heating element finally breaking, and then there was silence. And I was still standing there, dripping wet, heart pounding, and utterly confused.
I told my landlady what had happened, and she said, “Oh, that happens sometimes, we’ll get you a new one.”
Anyway – That’s what we call a Suicide Shower. Because you have to know that every time you decide to take a shower, it could be your last.