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What It's Like to Be a Teenager Who Uses a Catheter


One thing a lot of people don’t know about me is that sometimes I can’t use the toilet like everyone else. I’m now 19, go to university, go out with my friends, I love playing the piano and doing sport.

Having a catheter is something that I have always just kept to myself. It’s not something you really want to share with people, “Oh, hi. I can’t always wee by myself, so here is my bag of pee.”

The first time I had a catheter was last October. I had lost feeling and movement in my legs after my back muscles going into spasm. An ambulance was called and I got sent straight to the emergency room. I didn’t really realize my lack of ability to go to the toilet. I had had so many other things going on and machines beeping that that was the least of my worries. I had been in the hospital over night and it was about 11 the next morning when a nurse came over to my bed and told me it was time to go to the toilet. I was bed bound so she brought the commode over and four members of staff moved my body over to the commode. The nurse stayed with me as I tried to go. It then dawned on me that I wasn’t able to urinate no however hard I tried. The nurse paged for someone to bring a ultrasound scanner to measure the amount of urine in my bladder. Two liters of liquid was in there. A catheter was immediately inserted.

I watched the liquid drain out of my bladder through the tube and into a bag. The tube was uncomfortable. I felt uncomfortable that a nurse had inserted this into my body. I felt uncomfortable that my new friends at university who lovingly visited me in hospital saw my tube of wee. It was upsetting that my body was slowly failing at its functions. I was angry that I was spending my first week at university in hospital when I should of been partying with my friends.

After two weeks in hospital I had slowly gotten used to having with bag of wee following me wherever I went. The nurses and I called it my handbag. But everyone knew that this couldn’t be a permanent solution for me. We started to trial taking the catheter out, letting my bladder fill and then seeing if I could go naturally. However, we ended up having to put in a in and out catheter to let the liquid empty. It was traumatic. I started to feel the urges that my bladder was filling and it hurt so much, but it just wasn’t working. The nurses knew that I was getting upset with them having to insert it all the time. I felt like this should not be happening to me. All of my privacy had disappeared and I felt violated.

I felt we had run out of options. Would I be in hospital with a permanent catheter forever? Lots of consultations and discussions later, it was decided that I would be taught how to use a catheter in the hope I would be discharged from hospital. My favorite nurse happened to be the one who taught me so that gave me more confidence. She went through it step by step and showed me exactly how to do it and respected my fears and worries. She knew I found it all traumatic and upsetting and didn’t rush me until I felt 100 percent able to do it.

I now am occasionally able to go to the toilet myself, which is hopeful for the future that one day I won’t need any type of catheter. For the bad days I have a semi permanent catheter, which the urine drains into a bag that is tied round my leg. Most days I used in and out catheters, which I insert, let the urine drain and then remove. It took a lot of getting used to, but I can do it now.

I am more confident in inserting it in public places, I am more confident about carrying the catheters in my bag and I am slowly trying to open up to people about how my body doesn’t always work like other people my age. I am realizing it is nothing to be ashamed of, and despite not being able to wee all the time, I am still in the netball team at university, I can still go out with my friends, I am still able to do normal things. I am still like any other teenager – my body may just need a little bit more help that other teens.

Getty Image by tommaso79