A bladder with a Foley catheter and drainage bag.

The Use of Catheters for Big Life Events

Last updated: October 2022

As a pelvic floor physical therapist, I treat men with prostate cancer. We find ways to stop leakage and dribbling, and we strategize with men on how to do Kegel exercises properly. But sometimes, we cannot always get the urinary piece fixed to precancer levels. Some men rely on pads for the rest of their lives.

This got me thinking about urinary catheters. While I had initially shunned their use during a very big moment in my own life, I realized there was a place for them.

My experience with a catheter

I needed spinal surgery in December of 2020. I had unrelenting low back pain from working as a physical therapist and getting people out of their chairs and beds in hospitals and nursing homes. I found just the right doctor. He wasn’t just a surgeon, he was a healer. I trusted him completely when he told me I needed to have screws and rods implanted in my spine.

We had the discussion before surgery about what would happen. The surgeon told me I would get a urinary catheter before my surgery and that it would remain within me for at least a day following my surgery. As someone who has suffered from chronic urinary tract infections and bladder pain my entire life, I was horrified. “Can’t we skip the catheter?” I implored. “That depends,” the surgeon replied. “Do you really want to get out of a hospital bed hours after low back surgery and walk to the bathroom to pee?”

I personally dislike when other people see things medically that I cannot. But that is the life of a patient, right? We are not typically in charge when it comes to spine surgery or prostate cancer treatment.

Not as bad as I feared

The catheter turned out to be inconsequential, as my low back pain the day after surgery was so fierce that I could barely feel the tube being pulled out of my urethra by the lovely nurse. Over 1 year later, my lumbar pain is gone. Yet this issue of the catheter stuck with me. I had been so very afraid of a very narrow tube entering my bladder. There is something about the thought of something going up that orifice that still makes me want to cross my legs and twinge. But it turned out to be quite helpful!

This made me ponder the men who live with prostate cancer. Urination takes on such strong meaning after treatment for this disease. Many men with prostate cancer have some measure of urinary leakage after they have addressed their cancer. They often have no choice in this matter if they want to throw the cancer on the floor and stomp on it!

I reached out to a woman who markets different types of urinary catheters to doctors. What she tells me from the doctors she speaks with is that many people are reluctant to use them, until these patients realize what catheters can accomplish. In my case, I was able to rest my body after surgery while my urine was being passively collected so that I wouldn’t have to move. In other cases, the use of catheters can allow a man who uses pads to have a long and important outing without worrying about changing pads.

When catheters can help

Let’s give the example of a guy who likes to play 18 holes of golf. I have suffered through 18 holes of this sport (I am not a fan), so I know how long it takes and how few restroom breaks there are in between. If an avid golfer wants to play with his friends or business associates, using a urinary catheter for that 1 day might really boost his confidence and allow him to focus on chipping and putting with savoir faire.

Here is another example: my grandfather had bladder cancer and used a leg bag to collect urine. I only knew this because I visited his house in adulthood and saw the reusable bag hanging in his bathroom shower stall. He came to my wedding and danced with me. No one ever knew that he had a bag strapped to his leg to collect urine. He wasn’t a slave to the bathroom on that day. Looking back, it makes me smile that he handled his cancer with such grace and dignity.

The benefits

The windup is this: sometimes the things that we fear are the very things that can save us. Using a urinary catheter, either permanently or for a very big life event, can prevent us from focusing on peeing.

While peeing is essential to life as we know it, it isn’t everything. There are more victories to be had, more golf scores to beat, and more granddaughters who will get married and want to dance.

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