Caught Short

Sir Michael Parkinson, speaking to the press recently about his prostate condition, said that if a man was unable to eject his urine at least two feet away from him he should straightway go to his GP to have his prostate checked. I have done as he recommended and await the result of tests. Meanwhile I have become a bit of an expert on my prostate and its effect on my waterworks.
It’s quite a few years since I last achieved the Parkinson target. I am now in my seventies.   These days as I stand in the stalls in the gents I compare my feeble dribble with the horse-like gush of the younger urinator in the next stall.  I too was once a gusher, able to get my stream to describe a satisfactory arc on to the porcelain ahead of me. My problem now is that although I make sure I’m pointing Percy at the porcelain,  the trajectory of my pee is treacherously unpredictable, more often than not turning in on me and splattering my shoes or my trouser leg. At the same time the desire to urinate has now become both more frequent and intense.
The cause of this distress is a walnut-sized gland lodged in the pelvic floor alongside the male water pipe.  Ironically, for most of its life the prostate helps provide insemination and sexual pleasure but becomes a pain or a nuisance as one moves beyond retirement age. In a healthy male it performs a useful job in providing the fluid that enables the sperm to be ejaculated at sexual climax.  ‘Use it or lose it’ they say. If one’s sex life declines after 65 or less – though there’s nothing inevitable about that –  so the prostate tends to becomes a useless appendage and starts to swell up, putting pressure on the urinary tract, a bit like a snail caught in the spout of a watering can and restricting the flow. The symptoms are particularly acute at night, so sleep is constantly interrupted by the overpowering need to stumble to the loo.
The consultant urologist in whose care I have been placed has a rather poetic medical term for this night-time condition – nocturia. (One imagines a goddess in black, vengefully getting her own back against male oppression.) In its early form I could put up with it – three times a night wasn’t unendurable. But lately my nocturia rate has increased on some nights to as much as ten or more loo visits.  It is wise in this extremity to sleep as close to the loo as possible, and to avoid the dangers of stairs between bed and pedestal by having a chamber pot under the bed. If you have a sleeping partner, you will be courting break-up unless you use a twin bed or a spare room.
The ultimate nightmare is to wet the bed or to wet oneself in public.  We all have a deep-seated fear of being caught short, probably going back to childhood bed-wetting. I remember wetting myself on my first day at school.  We were sitting in a circle in the playground, and I tried to remove my little puddle from view by mopping it up discreetly with the piece of felt we had been given to rub out the chalk on our slates (yes, I know, that’s going back a bit). A teacher spotted my problem and whipped me indoors.  I cried with shame.
I’m glad to report that so far my nights, though disturbed, have been dry. The risk of being caught short is higher during the day because of being out of reach of a toilet.  So, when in the car, I try to plan for it by stopping at every motorway service station on my journey or taking to country roads where I can get to bushes or trees.  I see quite a lot of nature close up this way, and enjoy it – so long as there are no thorns or nettles.
Built-up areas are more of a problem. I do not wish to be seen watering a wall in public, like some drunk who doesn’t care where they go to pee. A desperate but private solution is to keep a plastic bottle handy – provided you can fit into the nozzle. Oddly, I find the desire to pee increases severely as I approach home.  Neighbours may wonder why they see me burst out of the car and dash up the garden holding myself with one hand and fumbling for the door keys with the other.
My GP prescribed a drug which is claimed to relax the bladder and reduce involuntary peeing. It didn’t do much good for me.  One self- treatment is regular exercise of the pelvic floor so that you can bunch up the muscles around the urine pipe and control the urge to splurge. I have got into the habit of doing this while waiting at traffic lights. I also tried giving up spicy food and caffeine drinks. I fell back on green tea, until my son pointed out that this was just as diuretic as tea or coffee.
Although the prostate problem has been publicised intensively in recent years, it is said that many men still have no idea of where the prostate gland is located. The fear of cancer – prostate cancer being one of the biggest killers of men – inhibits many from reporting their symptoms. Happily, the prostate is often found to be clear of cancer and can be treated to reduce its effect on urine flow.
Fortunately, the prostate  is now less of a medical Cinderella and is receiving much the same level of resources as breast cancer.  I hope the tests I have been having will clear me of any malignant growth. Perhaps the consultant will advise surgery that will trim the troublesome gland  down to size or remove it altogether. Who knows, I may even be able to regain the pee-power recommended by Sir Michael Parkinson.
October 2014