At a routine check-up last week, my consultant said, ‘Bladder?’
‘Fine,’ I replied, trying not to catch D’s eye as I remembered my most recent – a rare – experience of being catheterised.
Last year, with my health breakdown, neurological paralysis and hopelessly inadequate staffing and equipment support in hospital, I agreed to be catheterised just to ease at least some of the stress of my hospital in-stay. I wasn’t happy about it but desperate does the job!
In the event, the actual catheterisation went more smoothly than either D or I had imagined. With the support of a few pillows, strategically placed, and some strong-arming by D, the catheter was in place within a few minutes.
And there it stayed for the entire six weeks of my hospital stay. It was a relief to have it, in truth. I’d been in agony trying to move and it allowed me to keep hydrated without the pain. Result.
On leaving the hospital, still bed-bound, I agreed to keep the catheter in as it was clear I was healing quicker by not having to keep moving. The docs changed the short term catheter for a longer term one, on discharge day, with similar speed and efficiency to the first placement. Brilliant, I thought. Catheters are so me.
And they were, right up until ‘catheter change day’ rolled around some twelve weeks later.
Initially, I’d hoped my rapid recovery would get me up and about again, avoiding the need for replacing the catheter. The docs at the hospital had intimated this, saying, ‘It will be fine, just whip it out and you’ll be back to normal. No problem.’
Don’t you sometimes wonder whether hospital doctors and community nurses ever talk to each other?
To my dismay, the district nurses viewed changing the catheter as a big problem.
Firstly, they said I would suffer incontinence when it came out because my bladder would be unused to being in control so they advised keeping the catheter in until my open wounds were fully healed.
Then, they insisted I had to undergo TWOC – trial without a catheter – if I wanted it out in case my bladder exploded (!) or, less dramatically, retained urine. TWOC involved spending a day at the hospital drinking loads of water and having people measure your urine output – not something I could possibly do at the time (or any time, given hospitals’ lack of equipment for me).
Then, they said I had to go back to the hospital to get the catheter changed because the hospital hadn’t authorised the community to change the catheter. Again, being bed-bound, I couldn’t get to the hospital other than by admittance.
Talk about drama and crises.
Luckily for me, we all ran out of time and the decision was made (after copious phone calls and emails) that the district nurses would change the catheter. Having had such an easy time at the hospital (twice), I was fairly relaxed about this. ‘How bad can it be?’ I said to D.
I know. My head is in my hands. I just never should have said it.
On the day, our jaws dropped open when three nurses came through the door.
‘How many nurses does it take to change a catheter?’ I quipped. They didn’t laugh.
‘How many spare catheters do you have here?’
‘Four.’ I replied. Do we need more than one?
‘That should be enough.’
Gulp. Now it was our turn to not be laughing.
Then the hard work began.
We explained how we’d done it before. The most experienced of them wasn’t comfortable with this. She wanted me laid out as she was used to with able-bodied patients. Sadly, my very paralysed body wasn’t able to do that … And so it went on.
Three of our four catheters used up, some considerable time later, lying on my back, knees close to my ears and three nurses peering between my legs, I heard:
‘Does anyone have a torch?’ Swiftly followed by, ‘Why is she shaking?’
D, deadpan, ‘Don’t worry. She’s just laughing.’
And, I was. Who wouldn’t?
The fourth catheter attempt was a failure too.
The nurses left, disconsolate, asking if I’d be okay until Monday.
‘Do I have a choice?’ I replied.
On a positive note, my bladder flipped itself straight back on immediately with no problem just as the hospital docs had promised, sparing me a visit from the communities ‘specialist bladder and bowel’ team. No drama. No crisis. And no more catheters for me.