The Hungry Catheter

Mon 25 January 2021

Martin Baum

A defining moment in my early years trying to establish a relationship with MS came right out of left field.

Although I had been long troubled by dodgy waterworks – tell me what MSer hasn’t – my GP finally decided to go beyond accepting a simple urine sample. Instead, he sent me to Kings Cross to attend the Hospital for Tropical Diseases for a catheter referral. 

My MS and bladder problems

Although I was in my mid-twenties and by no means a shrinking violet, I would be lying if I said that the name of the hospital did not terrify me. As if feeling stigmatised for having MS was not bad enough, it was not made any easier by having to attend a place for Tropical Diseases. But this was the 80s and that was where I was sent. I could have refused. But even I realised that if it meant finding a way to cut down my nightly marathon trips to the toilet then it would be worth it.

After all, having already endured an MRI and not to mention a spinal tap, I now saw myself as an MS veteran. A martyr to the cause. However, without really understanding what catheterisation was (or even telling my family because I had decided to go my own way without them) I travelled to Kings Cross alone.

Learning about self-catheterisation

What I remember of that afternoon was being spoken to with extreme kindness and understanding by nurse Mandy. For some reason and perhaps unsurprisingly, her name has stuck with me all these years on. Perhaps because the trust between us was implicit in view of what was about to happen.

Nurse Mandy’s job was to instruct me on how to insert and guide a flexible 16 inch tube through the tip of my penis, which she did with reassurance and care. It was a pretty big deal for me, as up until then anything I had undergone had not been as intrusive, but I survived.

A solution to my bladder problems

Suddenly there was a solution to emptying my bladder that became easier until, eventually, I felt I had regained enough bladder control to get by without any catheter assistance. 

After all these years, and having successfully navigated a number of other health hurdles as a sixty-one-year-old man, I can say self-catheterisation was just as painless as I found a recent prostate examination to be. It holds no fear for me any more – a very hungry catheter is far preferable to a very full bladder!

Martin is an MS blogger and influencer. You can read more of his blogs at