Experiences from hell – male urinary catheters

Penises have a number of uses. One of them is to pipe urine from the bladder out of the body through a tube called the urethra.

The urethra has a one-directional valve which regulates the flow of urine out of the bladder enabling most people to control their bladder and thus avoid a continuous ‘trickle out’ effect. In addition, I suspect, the penis has built-in mechanisms (including pain) to discourage silly humans from sticking things up it.

The role of a male urinary catheter is to be pushed the wrong way up the penis (and later extracted).  Urinary CatheterSuch catheters are about half a metre long. About half of which is ‘inserted’ through the urethra into the bladder, with the other half attached to a bag to catch the urine. Catheters come in different sizes (circumferences). Emergency Wards tend to err towards the big sizes (ouch!), just in case.

The catheters ensure bladder emptying when a patient is unable to urinate. A problem is that he only knows that the flow is blocked when he needs to pee! The kidneys carry on creating urine. And pain starts to grow and grow as the bladder becomes increasingly overinflated.

Get to emergency room fast

I discovered two things: firstly, get to a hospital emergency room fast. Secondly, an hour is a very long time to endure the ever increasing pain from an overloaded bladder. Hold on to the fact that although the worst is yet to come (inserting the catheter), there is the most amazing sense of relief on the horizon.

The duty nurse or doctor will insert (shove actually) a catheter up the penis and push through the one-way flow mechanisms. The catheter is anchored in place in the bladder by a balloon that is inflated after insertion. The insertion is excruciatingly painful. I discovered this on about six different occasions over a four week period (after a biopsy on my prostate).

Lube tube

I should mention the tube of the lubricating gel (it also claims to have numbing properties) that is squirted into the penis before the insertion/shoving begins. I guess the lubrication does help overcome the design of the penis and urethra.

The numbing effect? None. Afterwards, I read the instructions on one of the lube tubes. “INSERT LUBE AND WAIT FOR AT LEAST FIVE MINUTES TO ALLOW NUMBING TO TAKE EFFECT”. Never happened. Always the squirt was immediately followed by the insertion. I spoke to my urologist about this. He said he had often spoken to nurses about it, but they did not listen.

Rusty razor blades

I imagine the ‘insertion’ pain would be similar to that experienced if hot, rusty razor blades were ‘inserted’.

The relief is amazing, as the catheter does its job and the urine flows out. Sad to tell, the removal of the catheter is not a barrel of fun either, but it’s not nearly as bad.

Suprapubic catheter

At some point during the month from hell, a second operation took place looking for the blockage. Not found. So the surgeon inserted a suprapubic catheter (inserted through the abdomen wall directly into the bladder). This one has a tap on the end, that you open when you need to pee.

Richards Bay and back, and back

I can pee again, and I am currently undergoing radiation treatment for my prostate cancer. My research revealed that the Richards Bay Medical Institute has the best equipment in the country, if not in Africa. So far, so good. I drive there and back from Durban once a week, for 8 weeks. The outcome is still ahead.

3 thoughts on “Experiences from hell – male urinary catheters

  1. Shannon

    I read this article, wincing and squirming at the descriptions and vowed this is one article I wont be sharing with my husband… I am sorry you went through all this and wish you well for an excellent outcome. I enjoyed your article on education for school children in the modern day and agree with your sentiments totally, and this led me to look and read your other articles.


    1. Peter Mansfield

      Thanks Shannon. One thing I discovered: instruct the nurse to wait for 5 minutes after gelling, before insertimg the deaded catheter


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