"I Have a Broken Bladder": How to Start a Conversation about Incontinence
A few days ago I had a great conversation with a patient who I was seeing for a routine visit, who I will call Sarah for the purposes of this SharePost. She has urinary urgency with retention and incontinence.
Sarah is on multiple medications which help her quite a bit and she is pretty satisfied with her overall state. Yes, she still wears pads and has episodes of incontinence, and she is still pretty hesitant to catheterize herself, but she tells me she is pretty content with her status. After delivering these updates, Sarah then proceeded to tell me about a road trip she recently took with her sister and how she had to come to terms with her situation, and she had to come clean with her family.
Sarah told me how right before they got in the car she used the bathroom and within half an hour, she asked her sister to pull over because she needed to use the restroom. Her sister stated “Didn’t you just go?” “Yes, but I need to go again,” stated Sarah. They got back on the road, and in under an hour she was asking to pull over again. Her sister was getting quite annoyed. When they got back on the road, her sister said “What is your problem?”
Sarah thought, well, it’s time to open up and start talking. “I have a broken bladder,” she blurted out. “What does that mean?” Sarah said they spent the next four hours on the drive, and at stops, talking about her incontinence, how it makes her feel and what she needed her sister to understand.
Sarah tells me she was extremely happy to realize that her sister learned that she had a real medical condition and it is sometimes under control, but often out of her control. Her sister was unbelievably sympathetic and no longer bugs her about having to stop the car. Sarah then had the courage to talk to other family members and friends about her “broken bladder.” She found that people are a lot more understanding than she gave them credit for.
People can be mean and uncaring, but with a little knowledge you would be surprised at how nice people can be. People are afraid of what they don’t understand, and it is your job to educate them if you want understanding. Start off the conversation with something simple like “I have a broken bladder,” and see where it gets you. I know this isn’t as medically-focused as my usual SharePosts, but I thought it was a great story, and I just wanted to share.
Jennifer Sobol is a partner in the Michigan Institute of Urology. She wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Incontinence.