Finding Urethra

“Let’s have you pee in a bed pan today!” My nurse exclaimed with an air of excitement, like we were about to go see our favorite band.

I had been in the hospital for almost four weeks, (to treat Peritoneal Mesothelioma, a rare cancer), peeing through a catheter the entire time. I was game to try going on my own, but I was weak and wasn’t sure I would have the strength to pull myself up on the bed. My nurse took out my catheter then helped me into an awkward position, crouched above a cardboard pan.

The pan looked like a larger version of those biodegradable herb pots, with my vulva like an alien spacecraft hovering above the brown pebbled earth.

“I’ll give you some privacy,” said my nurse, leaving the room.

I looked out the window at the falling snow. No urine was exiting my body. “I command you to pee!” I said in a theatrical voice to an empty room. Nada. Not a drop. I was sweating and wanted to lie down, the position required too much strength to hold.

The succulent-crystal gurus say, “Ask The Universe – with love and gratitude – for what you need. Then visualize having what you need – and poof! – you will manifest it.” So I asked the universe to help me pee, in what I hoped was a loving and grateful manner. Then I visualized a long river-like flow of urine exiting my body – swoosh! I paused, ears tilted, in full manifestation mode. Nothing. Maybe the universe was busy helping people with more serious problems, like those living in war torn countries. I couldn’t blame the universe, I’d do the same thing if I had magical powers & everyone was hounding me for help.

I was sure I was due for another blast of Hydromorphone. After two surgeries and HIPEC, (hot chemo poured in the abdomen and swished around), I was ablaze with pain. I buzzed the nurse’s station:

“Hi. I can’t pee. Nothing is coming out. Also, I think I’m due for more painkillers.” My nurse responded, “be patient, keep trying, it’ll come. And no, you’re not due for more pain meds yet.”

I stared gloomily at my crotch. “I know you’re in there, come out come out wherever you are!” Still nothing. I tried reaching for my water cup and fell into the pan.

My nurse appeared, “don’t worry sweetie, your bladder is just waking up from a long sleep, we’ll try again tomorrow.”

She helped me lie down and inserted a new catheter and we chatted about her weekend plans. I loved my nurse, I loved all of my nurses – they were like athletic shoe-wearing angels tending to me with care and quiet confidence.

“I’ll see about your pain meds” she said, as she handed me a damp towel for my sweating brow.

After five weeks in the hospital – and no peeing on my own – I was transferred to a Rehab Hospital to work on regaining strength, gaining weight and learning to walk again. My left femoral nerve had conked out during surgery, (from being splayed out for so long on the operating table) and I had awoken to find that I couldn’t move my leg.

The nurses at the rehab hospital were hardcore, they were like the Marine Corp of Nurses. They immediately took out my catheter and started “bladder training.” They seemed confident that I would be peeing in no time.

I was instructed to try peeing on my own every two hours. I would slowly make my way over to the bathroom using my walker, trying my best to avoid looking at my emaciated body in the mirror. Sitting on the toilet with the sink water running, I would wait five minutes, then get up and do my haunted girl shuffle back to bed.

Bladder training required waiting six hours before being allowed to have a catheter inserted to void the urine. In between physiotherapy, sleeping and doing my laps around the floor, my bladder would fill up to the brim; it was horrible. At this point I was no longer on pain meds, but I would often sneak a Xanax from my private stash just so that I didn’t completely lose it.

The nurses were required to scan my bladder to see how much urine I was retaining before they were allowed to insert a catheter to drain me. A catheter, in this case a long rubbery one which looked like a hose, was lubed up then inserted into my urethra. The urine would then drain out into the brown organic pan – it was called doing an “in and out.”

Then came the day when one of my favorite nurses dropped a bomb: “you’ll be going home very soon and your bladder nerves are still not working. So today I’m going to start teaching you how to do your own in and outs.” Dear God, have mercy on me please.

Thus began a brief chapter in my life called “Finding Urethra.” Because if you want to drain your urine, you first need to find the hole that it comes out of. And by hole, I mean a really tiny, almost imperceptible slit that is kind of hidden by the rest of the female bits. Maybe I’m in the minority or I missed a crucial health class back in high school, but I honestly didn’t really understand where the urethra was. So I used a mirror to watch the nurse and at night, under my blankets, I examined myself by the light of my cellphone.

I had an irrational fear of doing the procedure on my own. It’s like all my anxiety about having cancer was projected onto this one procedure and I couldn’t imagine that I would ever master the skill. I envisioned myself at home, swollen like a balloon with unreleased urine, until one day I just exploded, spraying pee everywhere.

But like anything in life, when your back is against the wall and you have no other options, you figure things out. One day, having finally located my elusive urethra, I successfully performed my own in and out! I basked in the glory of the moment, telling everyone on my floor my good news. I celebrated by eating an extra cup of ice cream (side note: the little hospital ice cream cups are, unlike all other hospital food, strangely delicious).

A few days later I was discharged from the hospital with a supply of tiny, clear catheters, lube, a giant splint on my leg, a walker, crutches and a cane. It would be six more months until my bladder woke up. Then, one day, while sitting on the toilet, I suddenly heard a beautiful noise – the swoosh of urine! The universe had finally granted me my wish.

Author’s Note:
My bladder nerves only partially woke up; I still have to self-catheterize twice a day. This is what the little catheters, aka, pee sticks, look like:

Beauty Prep

It was six thirty AM, time for Sharon to start getting ready.  She liked to look good for her surgical oncologist’s morning visits.  She asked her nurse for a bowl of water and washcloth.  Later in the day she would get a proper bath, well, as proper as you could get while lying in bed.  But for now she just wanted to wash away last night’s grime.  She washed her face, neck and armpits.  She followed up with a moisturizing wipe, the kind used to take makeup off, it left her face with an attractive glow she thought.  Then she brushed her teeth, using a styrofoam cup as her sink.  As soon as she finished, a strong wave of nausea overcame her. Fuckety fuck fuck she muttered.  She rode the wave for a few minutes – “nausea surfing” she called it – then thankfully it passed.

She propped up her travel mirror on the table next to her hospital bed.  Looking in the mirror her first instinct was always to burst into tears.  Her face was pale and scarily thin, she looked like a refugee from some godforsaken country.  She had lost twenty-five pounds and her hair was falling out, shedding like a dog all over her pillow.  But her daily beauty ritual of “putting on her face” as her grandmother used to say, (may she rest in peace), was essential to Sharon’s emotional survival. It gave her a sense of normalcy and the tiniest feeling of still having some control over her life and body.  She applied blush to the deflated apples of her cheeks, plucked a few stray hairs, then added a tinted lip balm. Obviously she didn’t do a full red carpet look, if for no other reason than she didn’t have the energy.  She finished primping by putting on scentless hand lotion and wrapping her bright pink Pashmina over her bony chest.

Feeling completely exhausted from the effort she lay back down, but then noticed that her overnight drainage bag was full of urine.  Worried that it might overflow, she buzzed her nurse.  A different nurse appeared this time.  “You’re going to have to start urinating on your own, you’ve had this catheter in for too long, ” the nurse said with a bossy edge to her voice.  “My bladder nerves were damaged during surgery, they’re taking awhile to bounce back.” Sharon said, trying not to reveal any emotion.  The nurse gave her a chastising look, her expression suggesting that it was somehow Sharon’s fault that she wasn’t able to urinate.  Dear God, where was her sweet nurse?

Ten minutes later her surgeon and his team of oncology residents were staring down at her.  They always seemed very tall to her.  It felt like being surrounded by tall, large headed aliens who were staring down at their human specimen restrained on a metal table.  A very handsome resident, Dr. Josh Doukas, pulled her gown aside and inspected her ten inch long abdominal scar.  “Looking good, looking good,” he said.  She felt humiliated.  Her sad little tummy, all mangled and grotesque.  Why did Josh have to be so good-looking?  “Now let’s take a look at your stoma, how has your output been?”  If there is one thing a girl does not want to be asked by a handsome medical resident, it’s “how is the fecal waste matter that is flowing out of the red intestinal stump on your stomach?” Sharon wanted to disappear.  Instead she smiled and patted the hideous bag affixed to her belly, the one that was collecting her waste.  “It’s working well, though I’m still only eating soft foods.”  The surgeon and his team continued to ask her questions and discuss her case amongst themselves.  Sharon was a bit of a Cancer Celebrity, in that she had a very rare type of terminal cancer.  The doctors, though they made a decent effort to hide it, were actually quite excited to have her as a patient – she was a fascinating case.

After lunch the physiotherapist and her assistant came by to help bring Sharon on a walk.  They were both plain looking, lovely young women.  Makeup free, hair pulled back in ponytails.  The types who wore Patagonia jackets and comfortable European made shoes.  Along with Sharon’s bladder, there had also been damage done to the nerves in her left leg.  Apparently it had something to do with being splayed out on the operating table for twelve hours.  So much to Sharon’s surprise, when she had awoken from surgery she’d found that she couldn’t walk, one leg was fucked up.  The three of them walked slowly, Sharon’s urine bag attached to the walker, her giant splinted leg awkwardly inching forward and brutal pain shooting out from her incision area.  She had once read about doctors who performed “vaginal tightening surgery” and for a moment Sharon wondered if her surgeon had tightened her tummy while stitching her up. The pain was enough to bring on another wave of nausea.  She bent her head into the little plastic barf bowl that the assistant always brought on their walks and threw up a little clear liquid.

Sharon succeeded in making it across her room and halfway down the long corridor.  This was considered a victory and for her prize she was offered a pain killer drip and some frozen yogurt.  Sharon passed on the yogurt, but was excited about the painkiller drip.  Maybe this is what it felt like to be a heroin addict – you looked forward to it, it was the highlight of your day.  What if she became a drug addict?  Then again she thought, who cares?  I’m already dying, so why the hell not?  She laughed to herself as the drug hit her body. She felt warm and cozy and happy.  The sweet nurse – Louise was her name – stopped in and put a couple of pillows under Sharon’s legs so that they were angled upwards.  “Sleep well Darlin,” she whispered to her.

 

The Power of Sparkle

Yesterday I felt like the color beige: joyless.  I was feeling sorry for myself.  I was mad that I had cancer, a terminal cancer which no one had even heard of: Peritoneal Mesothelioma.  WTF?!  I was feeling depressed about how the cancer had affected my body.  And I was feeling pressurized by the Positive Thinking Cancer Crew: “Live life to the fullest!” “Make the most of each day!” “Live in gratitude!” F*ck off!

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Then I looked over at my vintage dresser, (painted fuchsia – my poor boyfriend, lol!), and I saw my Sparkle filled vintage tea cup.  It made me happy, it really did.  So I took a picture.  The sparkle zapped the wretched Beige out of my system & suddenly I did feel grateful for everything: my life, my partner, my dog, my family & friends…All I needed was a little Sparkle!