Of all the openings in the human body, the urethral sphincter is among the tiniest. So when a stranger, albeit a trained professional stranger, takes a catheter and jimmies it into this particular hole and then threads it into one's bladder, there is a certain amount of discomfort.
Of course, having a urinary tract infection for three months, the various stings and flames of this vicinity are pretty familiar. Still, there was a high-pitched whinny upon contact, and a sharp uvula-quaking in-take of air. "You have to breathe," reminded the kind nurse-sort who was playing doting hostess to my early-morning adventure. Then we both ignored the final dribbles of the last liquid I'd consumed as they spread all over the clinic's linens.
This past summer, things have whizzed past "frequent urinary tract infections" and double-jumped "chronic urinary tract infections" and now just seem to be a permanent state of being. On my first visit with a urologist, he apologized that I had to go through this and said: "I know it can really affect your quality of life" vocalizing something I knew, but hadn't made a thought for yet. Basically I've developed a Pavlovian grimace to everything that happens or might happen in this specific southern region. Even the carbonation from s can of Coke or a PBR makes me recoil in horror when I consider the way the bubbles will leave my body. And that, frankly, is the least of my concerns. I can live without Coke and PBR.
Our friend Cath recently described for Chuck a scene from a college-level biology class where a petri dish filled with infection was dosed with a drop of Cipro that mangled the infection on impact. A perfect antibiotic for saving factions of the universe after a global catastrophe. Just not in the case in my body, where I imagine cartoon-ish images of cigar wielding germs bumping knuckles with tiny Cipro pellets. I've tried a gamut of drugs beyond Cipro. Fail. Fail. Ouch. Fail. Yet some UTI-ignorant soul always cocks her head and says: "Have you tried drinking Cranberry Juice?"
Yes. I have. The expensive organic kind that is so bitter it doesn't even register. It just attacks the tongue and leaves behind a dry fecal aftertaste. The drink has broken down my senses to the point where I something-close-to-almost-like-it.
It is one of about 9 gazillion things I have tried. I'm a model student in the world of urinary tract care and hygiene.
Fact: I drink upward of 90 ounces of water a day.
Fact: I go to the bathroom at least every waking hour. Before I go to bed, and when I wake up.
Fact: I void, then cuddle -- as a former Urgent Care doctor once eloquently suggested.
Fact: I monitor what I expel to make sure it is clear and not cloudy.
Fact: Sometimes I drink Cranberry Juice.
Fact: I do not sit on cold stones, which is a bunch of hooey but something my Norwegian friend swears causes UTIs in her adorable country.
The doctor showed me a glass bottle filled with about 10 ounces of fluid dangling hamster cage style. It was going to hurt, my hostess confessed. She'd had a catheter. The important thing, she told me, was to drink a lot of water afterward to get my pisser back to normal. Then they slowly emptied the liquid into my bladder. I watched on a grayscale monitor as the purse-shaped pocket darkened.
"Tell us when you can't take it and really have to go," the doctor said.
"I wouldn't need a gas station yet, but I'd definitely be looking for an exit," I told him.
When I finally conceded that I couldn't wait another minute, that I would actually go on the shoulder of the road, they cranked my bed from horizontal to vertical and handed me a hard plastic crotch sized box with a baggie attached. I drained my bladder, reluctantly, into this contraption. The inside of my body was filmed and photographed by one of the three people in the room.
The word "dignity" played on a loop in my mind. It didn't help that I had my gown on backward.
After that, they took a CT scan of my torso and I got a little snippy with a tech who asked me to remove my belly button ring. It's been there for more than 15 years. It might be soldered there permanently. I don't usually get snippy with people. Especially not medical specialists. But I also don't usually start the morning by getting catheterized, either. Frankly, that's a mood dampener.
I dressed, and threw a wan smile at a woman in the waiting room.
I limped into the urologist's office like a bruised and beaten rodeo clown about three hours later for the results from the tests. A woman clicked away at the computer and mentioned that they were going to be looking in my bladd-
"Nuh uh ohh you aren't," I said to her. "We did that already. This morning. I'm just here for results."
She shook her head.
"No," she said. "We're going in with a scope to look at your bladder."
"Again through the urethra?" I crossed my legs.
At this point I started weighing my options. What was a urinary tract infection, even a 90-day infection, compared to being jabbed in a place that has never known human nor animal contact. But I had come this far, so I stripped down into the gown and crouched into the stir ups. I was tended to like a newborn on a changing table.
This time when I got the decisive jab, I started crying. Real tears. I grabbed the doctor's sweater. This scoping seemed to last forever, and I'd lost the directions to my happy place. Every time the scope moved it was like being stung by a bee in a very tender place. Afterward I jumped off the table, leaving a trail of spilled liquid leading to the toilet, breadcrumbs for the next patient.
The results? Inconclusive. There is nothing physically wrong with me that they could find. I didn't think there would be: My mom has chronic UTI's, my grandmother had chronic UTIs. I imagine somewhere is an old bible filled with black and white family portraits including thin-haired ladies wincing. Although, the urologist told me, I have a freakishly large bladder. Like 20 to 30 percent bigger than normal. For some reason this makes me proud.
"I can't wait to tell my friends," I told him.
Meanwhile, if you're looking for me I'll be on antibiotics for the next six months.
"Sorry for the water works," I said to the urologist as we left the office. "Ha! Water works."
He just groaned.