I didn’t even know such a thing as intermittent catheterisation existed until I recently had some health issues and ended up in hospital, due to not listening to my body when I had a pain in my back.
The pain increased over a week and the inflammation by then had caused enough nerve damage to stop my bladder from working as well as affecting my left leg.The reason I feel to share, is because catheterisation is not a subject many people talk about and I was unaware of it up until my own experience of intermittent catheterisation – and so too, if it comes to that, a certain intimacy with the anatomy of my vagina.
The whole episode started rather badly. At the hospital I had an awful experience of the male nurses offering to put a catheter in for me, I asked for a female nurse but when she arrived she sarcastically joked that she always gets the ‘good jobs’. I did not feel that I was in good hands.
From having been sexually abused as a child and with this upsetting start, I knew this catheterisation was not going to be easy for me.
The nurse began her job but after 2 attempts of poking around and not being able to get the catheter in, she called for help. By this point I was freaking out and in tears but luckily the second nurse was so calm and caring and knew exactly what she was doing. The experience however,left me shaky.
A few days later they had to take the catheter out and when they said they would need to put a new one in, I freaked out. I was scared, so I explained to the nurse my fears and what had happened. What was awesome about being really open and honest was that they were then able to support me – they had a nurse who was a midwife come and work with me and she made me feel so safe.
The whole thing was in itself a healing experience because I found the trauma from my first night was no longer with me once I was honest about it all and I had been shown that there was in fact another way.
I was going to need to continue with catheterisation for a while after my stay in hospital and so prior to leaving a nurse came to show me what to use and how to use it. She explained it all very well and I felt supported, but what I noticed about myself was that I was so unaware of my own body. The ‘down there’, other part of my body, that I had rarely connected to, now needed my full attention. I had to poke around to find the hole where I needed to insert the catheter and I was embarrassed, but the sense of relief was great, that if I could manage this on my own I would be able to go home.
At home, I struggled for the first week, finding myself drinking less and less to avoid needing to empty my bladder. Each attempt to get it in would bring me to tears every time and I would spend ages in the bathroom getting stressed about the whole thing. I learnt to set myself up with a good light, a stool with a mirror so I could see where I was going and all that I needed close by – but the pain was intense and the whole process a nightmare.
After the first week, a nurse came to visit and I explained the pain, the bleeding and how I was struggling with this. She then offered me some amazing gel that numbs your urethra! I was so relieved.
I have had a quick peak here and there over the years but never have I connected to my vagina and had to check it out so intensely. I have never even paid attention to how many times per day I needed to empty my bladder.
I learnt so much in those three weeks about how I have not really ever connected to this important part of my body.
I remember attending a breast care talk by Mary Louise Myers once and realising how I was so distant and not connected to my breasts, it was only now that I realised that I had also completely disconnected from my vagina in the same way.
I am not sure if it’s because of the sexual abuse or just because the anatomy of a vagina is not something that is freely talked about. I am fascinated that I can be aware of my feet or my hair, or any other part of my body and yet at the same time go through life as if my vagina and my breasts do not exist. It’s as if both are there for sex or childbirth and feeding, for others essentially, yet they do not belong to me. In writing this, the thought that comes to mind, which I know is not true, but it comes any way, is that the vagina is dirty or that it’s strange to look at it. As a child I can’t remember any open discussions about it, rather it was something that was never spoken about at all.
Now that I have had this experience and I no longer need to use intermittent catheterisation thanks to my nerve damage healing so quickly, I just reflect on it all and give thanks for the opportunity it has given me; that no matter the taboo, stigma or beliefs that had become attached to individual parts of my body, I can connect more and more to all the parts of me and start to love my beautiful body.