Tuesday, 22 November 2016
We need to talk about my bladder.
Well. To be honest, I think there's a pretty good chance that you could probably do without this particular chat...but I'm going to talk about it anyway. If you're squeamish, it's probably best to look away now.
In some ways, I'm an atypical MS patient: as I'm very aware, there's not all that many of us who are able to run marathons. That's not to say that I don't have any problems at all. I know that I've talked a lot here about the loss of muscle strength in my left hand side and the challenges that gives me with my running, but I haven't really talked at length about anything else. I might have mentioned my bladder before, but not surprisingly, it's not something that I particularly care to dwell on.
I've never had a particularly strong bladder. I've always been one of those people who goes when I can and not when I have to, and I have a certain reputation amongst my friends as having a smaller than average bladder capacity. Over the last few years, and like many people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, I've noticed some changes... sometimes, my bladder doesn't seem to empty properly when I visit the toilet, and I find myself needing to go back for another visit almost immediately; I experience something of a 'rush bladder' too: this is where you get a sudden, pressing urge to pee and have to stop whatever you're doing and try to get to a toilet as quickly as you can before you have an accident. Sometimes, at times like these, there can be a little leakage too; I sometimes also need to get up several times during the night. It's not terribly by any means, but it can be a bit awkward and sometimes a little bit embarrassing.
I did see a nurse about this for a bit, but other than trying to discipline myself to only go to the toilet when I really, really needed to go, there didn't seem much point in doing anything else. I definitely don't want to go onto medication, and to be frank, nothing I was experiencing was really serious enough to pursue any further.
All these things are very common in people with multiple sclerosis. If you look at the spectrum of possible symptoms (and, frankly, I try not to), then you'll see that bladder problems are very common -- according to the MS Trust, they will affect up to 75 MS patients out of 100. Self-catheterisation might not be something you care to think about, but for lots of people, this is a practical way of managing an issue that might otherwise dominate your life.
I mention all this because this has started happening to me. Beyond the frequent need to get up in the night and pee, I actually woke up in the small hours of Sunday morning, made a trip to the bathroom and came back to find that I'd actually already wet the bed. At first I didn't believe that this could have happened - why on earth did I go to the bathroom and pee if I'd already emptied my bladder? Surely that must be something else, right? Sweat, maybe? Then I was just shocked and embarrassed. What else could it be? My wife was absolutely brilliant and rushed to reassure me and to get things straightened out... but I have to tell you, dear reader, I was appalled and distressed. We'd been out at a friend's house for a party, but I'd had a couple of beers and a couple of glasses of wine all night... nothing out of the ordinary for a weekend and nothing much for several hours. Why was this happening to me now? Why did it happen at all? I have a bit of a cold and a nasty cough at the moment and spent about 18 hours of the following day asleep in bed: perhaps that was a trigger? I honestly don't know.
I'm a rational man, and my brain is telling me that, although this might not be a one-off, I really shouldn't start worrying about this until it become a more regular occurrence in my life. And if it does start happening more often, then I have the support network in place and access to great medical care so that I can do something about it...... but I have to tell you that I'm now living slightly on edge in case it does happen again. What about when I'm staying round at someone else's house? I've made some practical purchases, but really... I'm 42 years old and this really wasn't where I hoped I'd be at this stage in my life. Should I stop drinking caffeine and alcohol or what? Are espresso martinis now a thing of the past for me?
Why am I telling you this? Well, because I think it's important that we talk about these things. If I'm happy enough to trumpet to you about my wonderful achievements running with MS, then I think it's probably only fair that I'm also realistic about the other ways that my multiple sclerosis is affecting me. It might feel a bit embarrassing, but there's really nothing to be ashamed of here.
Life can certainly throw a lot of shit in your direction, but it only beats you if you let it.
We will endure.