Guest Post: Self-catheterisation

Note: This is a no-nonsense and detailed post on self-catheterisation.

As MS progresses we often have to self-catheterise. This presents few problems for some. Others, like me, aren’t so lucky.

When I was told I would have to self-catheterise I fell into a state of shock. I had gone to the continence clinic expecting tips on how to strengthen the muscles in my pelvic floor. Following an ultrasound bladder scan, however, catheters were mentioned and a booklet was produced with pictures showing body parts I had never heard of, like the urethra.

I was led into a side room where a thin piece of tubing was produced and asked to drop my trousers and pants, clean myself and insert the tube into my penis, pushing it up the aforementioned urethra and into the bladder. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts the catheter seemed to get stuck and the procedure was abandoned.

When the nurse finished patting my head with cooling towels I was told that perhaps I needed more time to get used to “self-cathing” as she called it. I was given a box of samples and told a community continence nurse would call.

For weeks I refused to even open the box. Then I stumbled across a bladder charity with an advice line so I phoned. It was a good call. Soon I was pouring out my woes to a person who actually used a catheter. We did a lot of talking.

I discovered that in Britain 60,000 people self-catheterise using a staggering 57.5 million catheters a year. Those who carry out what is called intermittent self-catheterisation – where you catheterise yourself once or several times daily- are a broad group ranging from those suffering neurological conditions like MS to men with prostate problems and those who have physical blockages caused by injuries such as a low flying cricket ball. The helpline adviser suggested I call the community continence nurse and ask if she would visit me at home where things might be more relaxed.
Two weeks later a community continence nurse was sitting at my kitchen table. She had brought some samples and I remember thinking it strange that a grown man had been defeated by fear of a slim and flexible tube about a foot long.

The continence nurse said my problems getting the catheter into my bladder may have been caused by having a narrowed urethra – the thin bodily conduit that carries urine from the bladder. Urethras can narrow for many reasons and the continence nurse suggested a few tips to get round my narrowing problem. With her guidance I got the catheter through the narrow spot or “stricture” and into my bladder where I promptly “voided” nearly a pint (400 ml) of urine.

I told myself that from then on I would self-catheterise daily. And that is what I have done. In the past five years I have self-catheterised thousands of times. I never thought I would say this but five years on I am now a happy cather.

by Ian Cook

Ian writes an ezine for progressive MSers: