"Catheters? Oh alright then"
A lovely warm evening in 1995. A team outing, yay! I was living in France, and working for Disneyland Paris, as I had done since its 1992 opening. After a few glasses of champagne, a crowd of us hopped merrily on a bus.
During the journey I suddenly felt the need to pee. Not the slow, rising need everyone normally feels after a few drinks. No, a sudden switch. From no need at all to total desperation. Like a hand hovering ominously over a tap, about to turn it and start the flow. But not prepared to tell me exactly when.
Where’s the loo?
We only had a couple of minutes to our destination so I did all the usual stuff. Crossing my legs, biting my lip, staring out of the window. Staring at my watch, complete with Mickey Mouse image, as if that would get us there double-quick.
We pulled up at the entrance. Phew, made it! Where’s the loo? I had nervously edged my way to the front of the bus and was the first to scramble off. I took a few steps towards the restaurant entrance, trying to be ‘casual but fast’. And lost control. Not a little dribble: all that champagne, right through me and soaking my left leg. And worse, I was wearing cream-coloured trousers. One leg was now dark beige.
I ‘got away with it’ by getting myself seated ever so promptly, and later claiming I’d spilt a carafe of wine down me.
This, and other milder symptoms popped up on and off for years without me suspecting a thing. I thought the odd bladder accident was ‘normal’ and just an unspoken secret. Probably just among men. And anyway, I lived in France so I could usually pee anywhere and continue to ‘get away with it’.
Skip forward to 2007. Back living in the UK and going through the MS diagnosis process, which for me included a urology consultation. Urologists are the bladder gurus basically. Mine was friendly with a relaxing manner. I had to pee into a special loo to test my flow; he had a good rummage around my prostate; and I had a scan, like the pregnancy one. I wasn’t pregnant, but Mr Urologist confirmed I wasn’t emptying my bladder properly.
Using a catheter
Soon after that my MS was formally diagnosed, and I first heard mentions of ‘catheters’ and ‘continence clinics’. I resisted for a while, cutting down on caffeine and alcohol. That improved things a little, but sadly I couldn’t stem the flow. Literally.
One day, after yet another incident, I took a deep breath and got myself referred to my local clinic. And after some more rummaging and pregnancy scans, I was gently persuaded that catheters were for the best.
The first time, with the helpful and expert guidance of a nurse, was awkward. Weird. Embarrassing. Icky. All that. But it didn’t hurt, honest. And the relief! I had totally forgotten what an empty bladder felt like. The next few times were tricky too. But soon it all became as routine as brushing my teeth. Though best wash my hands in between…
I self-catheterise three or four times a day now, following a strict cleaning regime each time to ward off bladder infections. A doddle in general. And each time, blessed relief!
About Mark: Mark lives on the Dunstable Downs in Bedfordshire with his wife Joanne and two boys, aged 11 and 6. Mark works as Head of Group Social Media for Dixons Carphone plc. He was diagnosed with relapsing MS in 2007. He is writing a book. Slowly.