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Thursday, 27 July 2017

A guest blog I wrote for the lovely

people at the MS Society

"Catheters? Oh alright then"

How help from the continence clinic finally gave Mark some relief from bladder accidents.
A lovely warm evening in 1995. A team outing, yay! I was living in France, and working for Disneyland Paris, as I had done since its 1992 opening. After a few glasses of champagne, a crowd of us hopped merrily on a bus.
During the journey I suddenly felt the need to pee. Not the slow, rising need everyone normally feels after a few drinks. No, a sudden switch. From no need at all to total desperation. Like a hand hovering ominously over a tap, about to turn it and start the flow. But not prepared to tell me exactly when.

Where’s the loo?

We only had a couple of minutes to our destination so I did all the usual stuff. Crossing my legs, biting my lip, staring out of the window. Staring at my watch, complete with Mickey Mouse image, as if that would get us there double-quick.
We pulled up at the entrance. Phew, made it! Where’s the loo? I had nervously edged my way to the front of the bus and was the first to scramble off. I took a few steps towards the restaurant entrance, trying to be ‘casual but fast’. And lost control. Not a little dribble: all that champagne, right through me and soaking my left leg. And worse, I was wearing cream-coloured trousers. One leg was now dark beige.
I ‘got away with it’ by getting myself seated ever so promptly, and later claiming I’d spilt a carafe of wine down me.

Bladder gurus

This, and other milder symptoms popped up on and off for years without me suspecting a thing. I thought the odd bladder accident was ‘normal’ and just an unspoken secret. Probably just among men. And anyway, I lived in France so I could usually pee anywhere and continue to ‘get away with it’. 
Skip forward to 2007. Back living in the UK and going through the MS diagnosis process, which for me included a urology consultation. Urologists are the bladder gurus basically. Mine was friendly with a relaxing manner. I had to pee into a special loo to test my flow; he had a good rummage around my prostate; and I had a scan, like the pregnancy one. I wasn’t pregnant, but Mr Urologist confirmed I wasn’t emptying my bladder properly.

Using a catheter

Soon after that my MS was formally diagnosed, and I first heard mentions of ‘catheters’ and ‘continence clinics’. I resisted for a while, cutting down on caffeine and alcohol. That improved things a little, but sadly I couldn’t stem the flow. Literally.
One day, after yet another incident, I took a deep breath and got myself referred to my local clinic. And after some more rummaging and pregnancy scans, I was gently persuaded that catheters were for the best.
The first time, with the helpful and expert guidance of a nurse, was awkward. Weird. Embarrassing. Icky. All that. But it didn’t hurt, honest. And the relief! I had totally forgotten what an empty bladder felt like. The next few times were tricky too. But soon it all became as routine as brushing my teeth. Though best wash my hands in between…
I self-catheterise three or four times a day now, following a strict cleaning regime each time to ward off bladder infections. A doddle in general. And each time, blessed relief!
About Mark: Mark lives on the Dunstable Downs in Bedfordshire with his wife Joanne and two boys, aged 11 and 6. Mark works as Head of Group Social Media for Dixons Carphone plc. He was diagnosed with relapsing MS in 2007. He is writing a book. Slowly. Visit his blog:

Friday, 14 July 2017

First hotel date night - Me alone with my wheelchair

I've bungee-jumped once. I've jumped out of three planes. I've (briefly) piloted a tall ship without bumping into the Isle of Wight and drowning eighty souls. I've self-injected painful drugs hundreds more times than I care to remember. Way back when, I've skied some of the most daunting black runs in France and Switzerland. Hey, I've sometimes dared to contradict my wife on matters of furniture, fabrics and fashion.

But I've found few things scarier than contemplating a night on my own in a hotel with just my wheelchair for company. I wouldn't even be taking my trusty walker with me to get me up and hobbling round the room.

Packing the day before was frightening enough. Checking and re-checking drugs, clothes, PJs and catheters. Double and triple-checking the drugs. Chucking in some spares. Then repacking for easy access to the important stuff. I've always been a "chuck stuff in and find things later" kinda' chap. But that strategy doesn't work when even the act of opening a suitcase takes five minutes. When at least two of my drugs are highly addictive and the withdrawal symptoms rather unpleasant. And to forget catheters? Well, let's just say the housekeeping team wouldn't be best pleased with the guest in room 327 the next morning.

But you know what? It wasn't so bad. OK, I was stared at more blatantly and more frequently than usual... Perhaps because the dozens of tourists also in the hotel appreciated actually having something of mild interest in West Acton. And the solo meal passed without incident and indeed rather blandly...Phew! No glasses crashing to the floor, no pasta flying onto adjacent tables, and nobody tripping over my wheelchair.

I learned rather too late that barging and edging my way through fire doors is best done with help, and likewise inserting the key for my room then pushing my way in before it auto-locks again are skills to be developed.

I learned that staff are only too happy to help if asked - And that through the usual mix of misplaced pride and naivety I don't ask nearly enough. By the morning I'd figured it out. I could chuck my belongings back in my suitcase willy-nilly. Brekkie with assistance was a breeze. And checking out, the lovely porter chap was only too happy to push me round the corner to our offices. I treated myself to a celebratory cup of coffee there and breathed a deep sigh of relief.

I don't fancy it too often. Washing and dressing in unfamiliar surroundings is weird. I miss my wife, my children and my home comforts. But for now at least, it's a challenge I can survive.