Monday, February 24, 2014

Timing is Everything

I recently came across an interesting factoid of nature: that the average mammal, from mouse to elephant, takes about 21 seconds to urinate. Clearly I am not the average mammal, as it often takes me 21 seconds just to unbutton my jeans with my bumbly MS fingers. And then, if you permit me to discuss the 16th letter of the alphabet a bit more candidly, it takes minutes for me to fully empty my bladder. Poor Laura could get through not one, but two sections of the New York Times before I’m done tinkling. Admittedly, it is a touch embarrassing when friends and family wander back into restrooms to “make sure I was okay”—as if I might have forgotten to lift the toilet seat and gotten my ass wedged into the bowl or needed a new Sharpie for all the graffiti I was scribbling onto the stall walls—but that’s life with multiple sclerosis. Docs call it urinary retention and hesitancy. I’ve gotten used to it. But that doesn’t make it any easier. And after a recent trip to Northern Europe, I discovered that having a rather slow flow can make using the restroom a lot more memorable.
Take this pristine handicapped bathroom at Oslo’s airport. Look at how brilliantly clean it is—sunglasses should be mandatory. Heck, a heart surgeon could do a triple bypass in here without risk of patient infection. There’s a good reason why. If you look on the wall, you’ll see a digital “hygiene monitor” with a countdown of the number of minutes left before the next inspection. Exactly. I had precisely 55 minutes left to pee before a coordinated team of uniformed Norwegian inspectors wearing orange jumpsuits barged through the door to clean the very toilet I was sitting on. It’s challenging enough to pee when you’ve got a disease that affects the bladder and how swiftly it empties. But add a timer?! Now I was on the clock, and we all know how easy it is to pee under pressure when you have MS. Thank god I made it out in time.
But I wasn’t so lucky in Hamburg. When I started to trudge down a long flight of stairs at one German restaurant to get to the facilities (bathrooms are often downstairs in Europe), the wait staff ushered me instead around the corner to a handicapped restroom that was being blocked by boxes and brooms. No wonder I had missed it! Upon entering the bathroom, it became clearly apparent that the folks tending to this toilet were worried about gimpy people with loose stools. There were 16 rolls of toilet paper within arm’s reach of the potty. But if you were to run through those (yikes, one of those days), you had a full pallet of TP in the corner. If felt like I was taking a leak in aisle 16 of Costco. While I was laughing to myself about the ungodly amount of paper products at my disposal, I heard boxes moving, brooms being propped against my door. I had taken too long—I was being entombed. Quickly I assessed the situation: I had access to water, so I could live for weeks, and I had a lifetime supply of Charmin. But horrors, no German beer. It was indeed a desperate situation, so escape was mandatory. I gingerly pushed open the door and the result was as predictable as the sunrise. I made such a racket that the restaurant goers that afternoon probably are still talking about it to this day.
It couldn’t get much crazier, could it? Oh, don’t dare underestimate me. Just ask the poor residents of Copenhagen. In the heart of the Danish city, there is a large public unisex bathroom that is manned by a couple of attendants who keep the facility in ship shape and direct cross-legged visitors to open stalls. When they saw gimpy Dave, though, they pointed to a special door. With the turn of a key, the automated sliding door quickly whooshed open like I was on the set of Star Trek. Totally trick. Instructed that the door closes by itself, I wandered into the large, handicapped accessible bathroom and waited for the door to slowly track back into a closed position. (It’s important to note that the closing of the door is much slower, probably so it doesn’t slice a wheelchair user in two.) In any event, I was proceeding with the business at hand when I realized that I technically hadn’t locked the door. Heck, the door itself didn’t even look fully closed. I then determined that locking said door was the most prudent course of action lest the attendant forget about me and open the door while I was midstream. Fortunately, there on the wall, was a button with a key. The lock button. So with pants and underwear around my ankles, I waddled with my gimpy MS legs over to the lock button to properly lock the door. Only when I pressed the lock button, it dawned on me that it might not be such a button. WHOOSH. The door flew open, and suddenly I wasn’t on the set of Star Trek. Or Star Wars. Or Battlestar Galactica. I was in a horror movie taking part in the obligatory naked scene as I was suddenly flashing all of Copenhagen. I waddled as quickly as one can waddle with MS to the corner of the bathroom, and proceeded to then moon all of Copenhagen, while waiting for the door to slowly—ever so slowly—close. God only knows how many lives I’ve scarred in Denmark. I fear future Hans Christian Andersens are no longer penning the next Little Mermaid but instead writing The Naked Dude. Jiminy crickets.
So is there a lesson to these three tales? Not really. Just pee faster (no pressure). But with multiple sclerosis, good luck with that.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello Dave,
Your articles are so well written--be they in humor or serious with medical information. Thank you! You're always welcome here if in the DFW area where our bathrooms are far from this fancy or clean.
Best regards,
Ann

Dave Bexfield said...

Thanks Ann! There's not much sciencey stuff in this post I'm afraid. As for the DFW area, the handicap restrooms are pretty decent. Heck, I probably have photos of a few of them, ha.

Stella Turzanski said...

Hi Dave,
My urologist settled the problem. Use a catheter. It helps me empty my bladder when I'm pressed for time or when I can't empty enough. Hope this helps.
Stella with MS

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,
Your stories about bathrooms in Europe cracked me up. I used to live in Hamburg and am very familiar with the 'find the WC' adventures. I'm hoping to go back soon to visit and I'm spending just as much time working on going up and down stairs as practicing walking on cobble stones. When I was there the larger issue was finding a WC in a public area. I have the 'Bathroom Scout' app now so that may help. Did you remember to tip the attendants? :-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for making me laugh today. We're headed for Norway this summer and I feel better prepared.

climbingdownhill said...

Thanks for the entertaining post. Too many of us can relate. What a great sport you are. Many years ago I experienced European bathrooms and I can't imagine using them today. I remember the great concentration it took to start and continue a flow - any noise or distraction and forget it! I have become part of the cathing club too- so much easier in so many ways.

Dave Bexfield said...

Stella, fortunately I'm pretty good at emptying my bladder, it just sometimes takes me a bit of time if I don't really "have to go." The above three bathroom stops were due to convenience and my personal rule of not passing up a clean bathroom. But cathing is a good option and would probably make life at time a touch easier. But then I wouldn't have such stories to tell!

Dave Bexfield said...

Anon from Hamburg, we loved our visit. And we got familiar with more than a few attendants. I think some of them knew me by name, ha. As for the app, that requires me to purchase a smart phone, which I am committed to do. Eventually. Really.

Dave Bexfield said...

Anon going to Norway: it's fantastic. And fantastically expensive. Even super light eaters can drop $100 on a quick lunch. Even beers are $15. That sobered me up quickly!

Dave Bexfield said...

climbingdownhill, when I was getting barricaded into the Hamburg restroom, the extra noise certainly didn't speed up matters....

Anonymous said...

Good story Dave, thanks for the humor today.

Larry

Dave Bexfield said...

Just today? Dang, I've got to up my game, Larry.

Anonymous said...

Dave, have you asked your urologist about physical therapy? My physical therapists got me a TENS unit, which has been remarkably effective fom me. It (gokeh like it wasn't working well when we were trying the therapy in the office. After the second therapy appointment, I saw some improvement. When I got the unit to take home and started using it daily I saw a bigger improvement. Enough that the anual probe is tolerable. I hnw you were wondering where the wires went. It is just the one probe, no pads. Hope it helps, Mike

Anonymous said...

It (gokeh was supposed to be: At first it seemed. Sorry about that.

Jeri Burtchell said...

God as my witness you made me laugh so hard I peed my pants. So that means, when under pressure, just whip out the cell phone and read something Dave wrote.

Dave Bexfield said...

Jeri, you are killing me! Mike apparently a TENS unit isn't needed, just read a bit of Dave humor, ha. But only on the potty, apparently, unless you are wearing protection. Safety first.

Whitney Shuck said...

Dave, I can always count on you for a laugh! I lived in Paris 26 years ago and have experienced some of the different loos you're described. This was years before MS was even a blip on my radar, and I still distinctly remember one or two times where my reaction upon seeing the available facilities was "What the heck do I do with that?!"

Dave Bexfield said...

Whitney, I have more photos of bathrooms than I can count. I think I'll have to put them all in an online photo album. Unfortunately, some of the best ones I didn't get pictures of--too scary!

My Odd Sock said...


Good stuff!
Isn't it nice MS knows no boundaries.
Not only is a time limit a distraction, but if a bathroom is too busy--I can't go.

Dave Bexfield said...

Sock, I've taken to using those separate "family" bathrooms more often for just that reason, especially if the accessible stalls are taken in the main bathroom. The only problem there: when people jiggle the door handle trying to get in! Ack!

Elys Bank said...

Dave,

I stumbled across your blog (no pun intended). I am approaching my diagnos-aversary in a month. I love reading about the humor that has to be part of MS. Thanks for writing it down.

Dave Bexfield said...

Elys, thanks! And happy anniversary—hope you celebrate in a memorable way. Maybe torch something. Um, maybe not do that.

Anonymous said...

So funny!!! Glad I just went to the bathroom before reading!

Dave Bexfield said...

You are wise beyond your years, Anon.

Anonymous said...

Dave
thx for the best laugh I've had in awhile. I'm still wiping the tears away from laughing so hard. It is a true gift to take an embarrassing situation and find the amusement in it.

Dave Bexfield said...

Anon, I've had far more embarrassing situations, but it would be unethical to pen them unless readers signed a release form. At least so says my lawyer.