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The last thing in the world you want dirty

I’m not sure how women feel about this subject, but there are few words that strike as much fear into the hearts of men as “catheter,” a word that by itself is enough to make even the toughest male squirm. (On the off chance that you don’t know what a catheter is, imagine a long rubber tube designed to remove urine being inserted into the little hole in your … yeah, that’s a catheter. Squirming yet?)

Actually, I suppose just bringing up catheters in casual conversation won’t make all guys uncomfortable. You could do a test. Mention catheters to a group of men. The ones who get a pained look on their faces and bury their hands in their laps as if protecting themselves have probably had to use a catheter at one time or another. The ones whose expressions don’t change likely haven’t had the, uh, pleasure, so to speak.

I was once so naïve. Years ago I spent a couple of days in the hospital following surgery on my hip, and the painkillers I was given — not to mention the difficulty of getting out of bed and walking to the john — made it hard for me to pee. The nurse attending to me asked if I would like to have a catheter inserted to relieve the pressure. As the nurse was young and quite attractive, I stupidly said yes. And to be honest, having a good-looking girl insert a tube down there wasn’t the worst experience ever.

Two days later, however, shortly before I was to be discharged, a big, burly orderly by the name of Mitch removed the catheter, and if it wasn’t the worst experience ever, it was damn close.

I don’t know how, but over the course of two days the smooth rubber of the tube had morphed into very coarse sandpaper, or at least it felt like it had when Mitch pulled the thing out. To describe it as a burning sensation doesn’t quite do it justice. Holding your hand over a candle is a burning sensation. This was more like the great Chicago fire of 1871.

One thing I was thankful for, though, was that I saw the pretty nurse remove the catheter from its packaging, so I could rest easy knowing the thing was clean. This, I assumed, was standard practice. I mean, if anything is going to be clean, it ought to be a catheter. I shudder — quite violently — at the thought that someone might ever have to use a catheter that isn’t clean. The very notion is preposterous, right?

Apparently not.

I learned this the other day when I happened to glance at a TV and saw one of those ads that literally stops you in your tracks and demands that you pay attention. This one featured an elderly lady and a middle-aged man in a wheelchair. The lady begins by telling the audience that she uses catheters, which she finds messy and expensive, and then the man chimes in by saying he worries about infections.

The ad then cuts to a doctor — and we know he’s a doctor because he’s wearing a white coat and a stethoscope — touting something called the Medical Care Club. The doctor looks gravely into the camera and implores his audience to “Stop using dirty catheters!” as if people were somehow doing something so vile by choice.

OK, say it with me now: “Ewwwwww!” Can you think of anything grosser? Well, yeah, probably, but still, that’s pretty awful right there.

The problem, it seems, was that Medicare used to pay for only four catheters a month. Four. I could see that not being an issue for people who only pee once a week, but for everyone else I’m guessing four catheters probably isn’t going to cut it — unless, of course, one enjoys leaving them in there for a week at a time.

Fortunately, things have changed, and Medicare is finally willing to pay for a few more catheters, and by a few I mean 200 a month. So now, if you’re on Medicare and you feel like changing your catheter six or seven times a day, go right ahead. I imagine you’ll get used to the burning sensation after the first few months.

Anyway, if you’re elderly or disabled and have to use a catheter, you have my utmost sympathy. I realize how horrible that must be. But that’s still no excuse for using dirty catheters, people. You folks need to just cut that out already.

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Todd Hartley

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