Catheters: you're going to put that where?!

14 February 2024

Dr Cora Sargeant

Cora’s MS bladder issues were causing chaos in her day-to-day life. Find out how intermittent catheters made things a lot easier for her.

What used to be a gently rising sense of needing to pee as my bladder filled has become a switch randomly flicked from ‘no, we don’t need to go whatsoever’ to ‘if we don’t go to the toilet immediately, I won’t be held responsible for what happens next’.

The problem is brought into sharp focus when I look down to see a little red cranberry sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor.

This is one of those ‘urgently need to pee’ moments, but it’s right there within reach. I’m overconfident, I bend to grab it, and I flood the kitchen floor.

Fast forward and I’m sat in an appointment. The urologist looks at me somewhat puzzled. I have peed as much as I can in his little medical bucket, but the ultrasound has spotted fluid still sloshing around in my bladder.

He looks at me a little more sternly and asks me to try again, and to really try to get more out ‘or else…’ and he trails off mumbling vaguely about catheterisation. 

I head to the toilet and pull out all my best moves: the truffle shuffle, the walkabout, the double tap.

I squeeze out what dribble I can, but I know it isn’t enough. I feel a familiar fear, the ground slipping beneath me, my stomach lurching.

The urologist invites me to start intermittent self-catheterisation and calls for a nurse, Sally, to teach me. Sally is lovely and invites me to disrobe my lower half, lies me down, covers me a little, and sets to locating her target. She prods me with the tip of a disposable catheter. 

‘Is that it?’

It wasn’t. She attempts a few more probative pokes and, like a lost traveller asking for directions, calls over the urologist.

Eventually we locate it, and fluid fills the bag. The urologist lets me know that I’m going to need to replicate this process, and get much better at it, multiple times per day.

It’s all… a lot. I bite back tears and take a breath.

I’m always up for a new experience… I lie ...let’s do this.

At home I put a towel on my bed, get comfortable. I place the disposable catheters with attached bags, wet wipes, and the little stand-up mirror they gave me within reach, and I go for it.

I get lost, badly. I know I can’t use a catheter tip that has touched anything else, so I tear open a new one. I miss again. Another catheter, and this one doesn’t work out either.

Frustrated tears run down my face.

I’m in familiar freefall, out of control, unable to see what is coming, worrying I won’t ever feel solid ground beneath my feet again. I grit my teeth… and I cry.

Two weeks later sitting on the toilet I pop open a pink cigar-shaped case. It is sleek, subtle and well crafted, and I slip out a hydrophobic, pre-lubricated, four-inch catheter. 

My movements are practised and precise and I empty my bladder without even looking.

The process is comfortable, even easy. I take a look in the mirror and remember Sally, her kindness in the face of my deep vulnerability, and I smile. 

I think back to the fear and panic, as profound as it had become, and try to remember this feeling, too. Defiance.

I head out to for dinner with friends a couple of days later. I take my catheters with me like any sanitary product and I use them as I need. I don’t need to have one eye on the closest cubicle. I no longer fear the cranberry. 

The biggest problem I’ll face in the bathroom is checking whether there is toilet paper before I sit down…

I forget to do that every time.