Intermittent Self Catheterisation – a male perspective

We all know that MS isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of a deal. However, there are a few symptoms which are more common than others (for example Fatigue). The other biggie is Bladder Issues.

Now – I’m firmly of the belief that, just because something is said to be common, doesn’t mean that it has to happen to everybody. Having said that, I once went to an information day run by the uk ms society and the session before the first tea break was all about bladder problems. I’ve never seen so many people rushing for the toilet before the end (FULL DISCLOSURE: I was one of them).

Bladder woes

Over the years I’ve been on various bits of medication for my own toilet issues, and I’ve gone through a bladder retraining programme. But towards the end of last year the endless just-in-case trips to the bathroom before leaving the house (plus journeys planned by toilets, having to scan places for the nearest conveniences when I arrive anywhere)… well, it all just got a bit silly. And not a little depressing for the people in my family.

So I mentioned it to my MS Nurse team and made an appointment for a bladder scan. After two just-in-case toilet trips at home, one more on the journey, and one at the hospital, I was as sure as I possibly could be that THE TANK WAS EMPTY when my scan began. So it was quite a surprise when the nurse said that my bladder was almost full.

Urine retention

This retention of urine explained the constant trips to the toilet as well as feeling that I needed to ‘go’ again immediately afterwards. We talked about the fact that retention was a common issue for people with ms and that there weren’t really many ways to deal with it – certainly no further drug treatments. The best option was to start a programme of Intermittent Self Catheterisation.

Bear in mind, this was the week before Christmas! However, I don’t think there’s ever a great time to get that news. But in the abstract, if that was what needed to be done, I’d get on with it – especially if it would make our travels and journeys easier. So a couple of weeks later, the nurse came to my house to talk me through my first attempt. During my first attempt, the words that came to my mouth (that are fit to repeat here) were “deeply, deeply odd”.

The Nurse agreed – she’d done it on herself as she didn’t think it would be right to tell people to do this without experiencing it. And it is a weird thing to find yourself doing, certainly for the first time – that particular ‘area’ has been strictly one-way traffic before now.

I’ve now been doing this a couple of times a day for over a month and it’s one of the truisms of life with MS (or any kind of lifelong condition and/or situation), but it’s amazing how quickly humans can adapt. Not that I’ve got it all sorted – my technique can be a bit off. But my issues are mostly logistical – when to fit the process in amongst the hurly burly of the school run, if we’re out will the toilet have everything I need, have I got enough supplies, that kind of thing.

Making life easier

But even with all that, it does make it easier. We had a couple of days away the other week and I was able to drive a couple of hundred miles without panicking about finding toilets on the way, and the same was true when we’d arrived.

So what’s the point of all this shameless oversharing? Like I said earlier, if (and it’s a big if) you have MS related bladder issues, you might be able to handle them with medication and/or bladder retraining. If however – through no fault of your own – you are faced with intermittent self catheterisation, it’s really not that bad. I’ve tried out a variety of catheter types before arriving at my chosen options so I’d definitely recommend experimenting before you find a solution that works for you. I have ones for at home, as well as catheters for when I’m out and about which extend out of a plastic tube the size of a pen, which also doubles as its own disposal unit. Pretty neat.

So in conclusion: intermittent self catheterisation. Undoubtedly odd, but not the end of the world if you can maintain the right frame of mind. At the end of the day, it’s just another tool to help you live your life better.

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