Yet another twist in living with a spinal injury...

Niall Strawson

Niall Strawson

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by

Weeing. We all do it. Yes I’m talking urine. We all make it and we all need to pass it. For me it’s a different experience. Most people assume it’s just my legs that don’t work but actually it’s everything below my injury site. In my case that’s everything below my chest.

When I was in rehab my psychotherapist told me that that the biggest ongoing problem for the spinally injured is not the inability to walk but actually dealing with bladder and bowel. This came as a shock to me as I was focusing on my legs.

For me to pass urine I need to use a catheter. Some of you may have had a catheter for an operation. In this instance it’s called an indwelling. This is put in once, stays in and continuously drains urine into a bag. You can use this style and have a leg bag as a wheelchair user but it’s a bit grim with a bag of urine sloshing about and trust me it tugs on your bladder – which even with limited sensation is uncomfortable.

The alternative is using a disposable catheter each time you need to go. I guess it’s a bit like one day contact lenses. I just put it in, wee into a bottle, chuck the wee down the loo and the catheter in the bin. Easy.

One of the things they tell you in rehab is that this kind of catheter use comes with a risk. When you introduce a catheter into your bladder multiple times a day there is a higher chance of urinary tract infection (UTI). It’s true, I have had loads of them. You can tell by dark and smelly wee – I’m very good at self diagnosis. To be honest it’s normally a case of drink lots of water and the classic cranberry juice to flush it out.

Recently I had a particularly stubborn one. To be honest as it’s pretty much symptom free I just hoped it would pass as others have in the past. Foolish mistake. One evening last week I got home from work and felt quite achy. This rapidly descended into fever, headache, weakness, shallow breathing and the shakes. As I live alone I felt scared and I felt so grim all I could focus on was getting from my chair into bed. After a sleepless and sweaty night I managed to get to the doctors who confirmed that I had a UTI and immediately put me on antibiotics.

Turns out that I had uro-sepsis, a body-wide infection spreading from my bladder. Instead of going to bed I should have called 999 as it’s quite easy to slip into a coma and even die if left untreated. Nobody told me that at rehab.

This was a good lesson for me and I guess that makes this column a public health announcement. UTIs are common especially amongst women.

Don’t underestimate them. It would have been a nightmare if I had survived a traumatic injury. Ten months in hospital to be killed off by a UTI. Yet another twist and turn in living with a spinal injury.

 

email: disabledspace@oxfordmail.co.uk

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