One summer during my college years, another premed student and I got a job at the Swedish Hospital in Minneapolis, as nurses’ aides. At that time, the guys were called orderlies, but we were part of the nursing department. We were taught how to clean patients’ private parts without making the patient feel self-conscious, and how to place urinary catheters mostly in old men with prostates that had overgrown and were blocking urinary flow.
We all have those private areas, let’s not pretend otherwise. The waste disposal parts are as important to us through our lifetime as our hearts, except not quite as romantic. Try switching metaphors and famous poems simply don’t have the same pizazz. For example, try E.E. Cummings’ “I carry your colon with me,” or William Wordsworth’s “My urinary tract leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky,” or Douglass Cross’ “I left my bladder in San Francisco.”
Romance aside, we are happy when our urinary tract is working well, draining the urine, removing waste and water. The kidneys collect and concentrate the urine, they deliver this yellow fluid through the ureters, the tubes from the kidneys to the bladder. The bladder is a bag to collect the urine until it is convenient to be emptied.
It seems like a simple, straight-forward system. However, trouble could be around the next corner. Conditions like urinary tract infections, kidney stones, bladder control problems, and prostate troubles are not uncommon through the course of a person’s life and can vary from causing short-term discomforts to long-lasting conditions.
One of the barriers to treatment for many people is the human problem of stigma and shame. It does not feel good to admit to anyone, even a loved one or a medical professional, that you’re having troubles “down there.” Let me reassure you: this is a common human condition. Shame is an enemy to a healthy, functioning body. I would instead say “join the club!” and remind you that you are not the only one with such a problem.
I am no longer the young orderly helping the old men in the Swedish Hospital with their issues. I now find myself amazed at the magnificent function of the human body, identifying more with those old guys than I do with the young staff. All of us have bladders and urinary tracts about which there is nothing to be ashamed.
Richard P. Holm, MD wrote this essay in February 2020. He passed away in March after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was founder of The Prairie Doc and author of “Life’s Final Season, A Guide for Aging and Dying with Grace” available on Amazon. Dr. Holm’s legacy lives on through his Prairie Doc organization. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook, featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc a medical Q&A show streaming on Facebook and broadcast on SDPB most Thursdays at 7 p.m. Central.