In November of 2010 I was suffering from a horrible upper respiratory infection. It was that kind of cough where you have to stop whatever you're doing, bend over, brace yourself, and give in to body-shuddering whooping. It's the kind of illness that you just end up getting when you have two children in Kindergarten. But that particular round of illness also turned out to be my breaking point. I discovered that my own personal breaking point was realizing that if I wanted to move up another size in incontinence pads I was going to have to move into "incontinence underwear."
After the birth of twins in 2005 my urethra never regained the snappy quality it had in my carefree childless years. I spent five years doing Kegels at stop lights to no avail. Anyone who was with me could predict when I was about to sneeze. I would stop walking, grab the nearest wall or fence, cross my feet, and squeeze my thighs together as hard as I could, and still piss my pants. A particularly nasty cough had me changing my jeans twice a day, so I decided I needed to see a doctor.
Post-partum incontinence is common enough to have doctors who specialize in fixing it. I remember an ad for this guy named Dr. Feinstein. The radio spot had these ridiculous female actors joking about their friend having to run to the ladies room at the comedy club. I was shaking my head and laughing at how stupid it was when I stopped and thought, "Oh God, it's me. This ad is supposed to be funny because it's ladies joking about peeing their pants and YOU ACTUALLY PEE YOUR PANTS". What a horrifying realization. My first decision was that I wasn't going to that asshole. I picked some lady doctor at random out of my PPO list.
My first visit to the Urogynecologist's office I noticed that I was the youngest person in the waiting room. Then I saw a little rack with little pamphlets stacked in it. One was titled, "Get The Facts About Urinary Incontinence" with a line drawing of a geriatric lady on the front reading a pamphlet. I thought, "Why does she need this pamphlet if she's already reading a pamphlet?” Also, “Maybe they should print a separate pamphlet with a line drawing of a young woman with multiple babies hanging off of her." The doctor called me in before I could get all the facts about urinary incontinence, so I put it back on the rack and went in.
The doctor/surgeon seemed really nice. She did a quick pelvic exam and asked some questions. She asked about Kegels. She asked if I thought seeing a physical therapist could help. There are physical therapists that help you do Kegels? Apparently so. I said no and we moved on. I asked her if having a vaginal delivery contributed to my ruined pisser and she said that it certainly didn't help. But the majority of the damage was from carrying a multiple pregnancy on top of my pelvic floor for 39 weeks. That made me feel better. I had been laboring under the delusion that if I'd had the C-section this wouldn't be happening tome.
The next appointment was to administer a test called Urodynamics. I went into that with no idea what was coming. The nice nurse told me she was going to have to place a catheter and I asked why.
"We're going to push fluid into your bladder to determine how well your muscles work."
"Are you sure this is legal?"
Is there anybody out there who doesn't mind getting catheterized? It is one of my worst memories of childbirth. But I took a breath and let her put it in. Then they made me stand up to start the test. That was when I learned what a Vasovagal Response felt like.
From Wikipedia: Among people with vasovagal episodes, the episodes are typically recurrent, usually happening when the person is exposed to a specific trigger. Prior to losing consciousness, the individual frequently experiences a prodrome of symptoms such as lightheadedness, nausea, the feeling of being extremely hot (accompanied by sweating), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), uncomfortable feeling in the heart, fuzzy thoughts, a slight inability to speak/form words (sometimes combined with mild stuttering), weakness and visual disturbances such as lights seeming too bright, fuzzy or tunnel vision, and sometimes a feeling of nervousness can occur as well. These last for at least a few seconds before consciousness is lost (if it is lost), which typically happens when the person is sitting up or standing. When sufferers pass out, they fall down (unless this is impeded); and when in this position, effective blood flow to the brain is immediately restored, allowing the person to wake up. Short of fainting a person may experience an almost indescribable weak and tired feeling resulting from a lack of oxygen to the brain due to a sudden drop in blood pressure. Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary describes this as the "feeling of impending death" caused by expansion of the aorta, drawing blood from the head and upper body.
I don't know about the rest of it, but the "feeling of impending death" was front and center. After twenty minutes of crying and recovery I was cleared for surgery. I asked the doctor how, if I could not get through this test without becoming hysterical, I was going to be able to get through surgery? She told me that it wouldn't be a big deal because I would be unconscious for the catheterization. Not comforting. Then she told me that I would have to have someone available to take me home from the hospital on the day of my surgery and that person could NOT be a cab driver. Not even if he promises to watch from the curb until I unlock my door?
The day of the surgery my anesthesiologist came in and introduced himself as Dr. Hu. I asked him if he parked his Tardis in the employee lot and he laughed and I decided that was a good sign. Then he told me that the anesthesia he was administering was the same kind that Michael Jackson had overdosed on and I thought that was a bad sign. But it was too late.
Doctors and surgeons like to give people the impression that "outpatient surgery" is like going to the dentist or something. Which it would be if the dentist had to transport you out of their office in a wheelchair. Recovery was painful. Far more painful for me than childbirth had been, and almost as bloody. But it was ultimately worth it. I have that same child-induced URI right now and I haven't had to change my underwear once.
Kelly Argyle is a retired saxophone player and full time parent. She usually thinks she's doing it wrong.