Tips For Dealing With A Catheter Part 1 (Or how this week has really, really sucked)

I have spent 7 days trying to figure out how to write about how awful this experience has been without completely freaking out people who may need a catheter in the future. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that sugar coating and rose-colored glasses aren’t the solution. So rather than placating statements about how this too shall pass (although it will), here is what I have learned so far:

  1. If you participate in pubic hair removal, this is the time. If you don’t participate in hair removal, this may be the time to start. Seriously. The number one thing I have been grateful for since the surgery (okay, okay, number two thing, immediately after large amounts of moral support) is that I got a bikini wax the week of my surgery. In one of my numerous converations with nurses before surgery (after they finally started returning my calls. Details here) I asked about whether I should do some landscaping. The nurse told me that there was no need, and if it were necessary the surgery team would shave me. Given that shaving gives me horrible razor burn on such sensitive skin, and that I didn’t relish the idea of my pubic area looking like Angelica’s Doll Cynthia, I went ahead and made an appointment with my regular aesthetician. It is hard enough to get a visual of your genitals, and hair would really have complicated the issue. It’s important to both see your genitals and know what they typically look like, so that you can track progress/ take note of things like swelling, birth (safely remove) 6 feet of gauze, and keep the area clean and free of blood. Note: I had my wax a few days before my surgery because it is pretty irritating to the skin and I preferred not to have impaired skin before entering a hospital due to infection concerns.
  2. Mesh underwear > any of your sexiest panties. Move over Victoria’s Secret. I don’t honestly know if any of my underwear will fit over the tubing attached to my leg as I haven’t had to find out. After charming my nurses with model poses in my assless hospital gown, they bequeathed upon me 2 pairs of mesh underwear – often utilized after giving birth. Benefits: not ruining your normal underwear with stray blood, stretches over all sorts of lines and tubes without any issues, you can buy 3 pairs on amazon for $13. Not as beneficial: They go up above your bellybutton – convenient if your belly is bigger than normal and you’re having a hard time finding underwear that fit, inconvenient if you want to wear any pants that don’t come up to your bra line. The ones I purchased online advertise that they don’t have VPL (Visible panty line), which has been the exact opposite of what I have experienced, but given that I abandoned thongs at the beginning of this joyride, this is barely a blip on my radar. They’re supposed to be handwashed, but I threw them in a lingerie bag before putting them in the wash and they’ve held up alright through a few washings.
  3. You will pee on everything. I have found it to be unavoidable. When it comes to changing from my big overnight/lounging bag to the smaller leg bag (or vice versa), I’ve just started doing it in the bathtub for easy clean up. I keep gloves and alcohol wipes next to the tub so I can easily reach everything I need to keep the tubes clean to limit infection risk. Before I got my bladder spasms under some sort of management, every time I would empty the bag into the toilet my bladder would spasm and I would leak urine around the catheter tube. Not only was this extremely painful, it was also very annoying as I was going through a billion pads and I was tired of cleaning up pee from the floor. I started folding up a paper towel and placing it on top of my pad before emptying my bag (and inevitably my bladder); it saved me from having to change my pad every time I emptied the bag.
  4. Ask for these things before you leave the hospital: mesh underwear (see above), gloves and alcohol wipes for cleaning the catheter tip, a few extra stat lock devices for holding the catheter tubing in place, tape for holding the stat lock in place, some other tubing in place, or securing the catheter tip to the tubing while you sleep. I walked out with prescriptions for a pain medication, an antibiotic, and a stool softener (you will need it). I wish I had walked out with a prescription for an antispasmodic medication and an anti nausea medication. I ended up with nausea from the laxative I had to take (turns out that anesthesia also puts your bowels to sleep and they sometimes need a bit of an alarm clock to wake them back up). But far and away, the thing that has made the last week the most unbearable were the bladder spasms. The pain from the incision only lasted a few days, and was generally subdued by the time my pain medication ran out, but I could not get any reprieve from the feeling of burning, aching discomfort that felt like the UTI from hell. This pain was made worse by movement of basically any kind, and kept me (and continues to keep me) on my back. Other things you can get at the drugstore: unscented babywipes for sensitive skin, laxative (nurse recommended magnesium citrate), clingwrap to protect the adhesive on your stat lock when you shower, standing hand mirror if you don’t already have one, gloves and alcohol wipes if you run out of what you get from the hospital.

The number one most helpful thing getting me through this week has been the outpouring of support: phone calls checking in on me, friends coming to visit with flowers and snacks, and my partner working from home feeding me, watering me, and holding me when things get to be too much. In spite of my sometimes stubborn, strong willed nature, I have decided that this has not been the time for me to insist on being independent nor understating the affect this has had on me. I know that this too shall pass, but I do wish it would pass a little faster.


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