Living with Incontinence after Prostate Surgery
The Lessons I Learned
by Rick Redner, MSW, with Brenda Redner, RN
The experience with urinary incontinence begins after a much-anticipated event – the day your catheter is removed.
I was delighted to be free from my catheter. For a brief period, it was a happy day. I wanted to celebrate, so I took my wife out for lunch before we headed home. I thought my life was returning to normal once my catheter was removed. My celebratory mood would last a few brief hours before I experienced an emotional nosedive. I was totally unprepared to deal with my loss of urinary control.
I felt some relief from my depression once I started sleeping more and began leaving the house each day. I did find that changing my diaper took a heavy toll on me physically, emotionally, sexually, and relationally. But getting out of the house again to go out for a dinner or to see a movie was something worth celebrating because I felt like I was slowly returning to the land of the living.
However, I was surprised by how long I felt embarrassed about wearing diapers. I felt like a fraud. I was dressed in adult clothing, and from outward appearances, I knew I looked like an adult. But that’s not how I felt inside. Deep down, I felt like a baby – a baby disguised as an adult. After all, I was still “the squirter” (a nickname I had given myself). It took me a while to give up my baby nickname and baby identity.
I was a man who was dealing with urinary incontinence,
a temporary side effect of surgery.
My emotional healing came about after I shared my secret identity with my wife. She reminded me that I was a man who was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was a man who chose surgery to treat his cancer. I was a man who was dealing with urinary incontinence, a temporary side effect of surgery. It was through her eyes that my identity transitioned from a little baby “squirter” wearing diapers to a man who needed to wear diapers until I regained urinary control. Reclaiming my adult identity was a victory.
As an adult, I learned how to live and cope with urinary incontinence. Within four months after surgery,
I was back in underwear and able to wear jeans and a single pad, which lasted the entire day. These are the lessons I learned the hard way:
⇒ Buy the pad or diaper that works best rather than the cheapest.
⇒ Know how long you can stay in a pad or diaper before needing to change.
⇒ Base the need to change your pad or diaper on the flow of urine rather than a function of time or the cost of a diaper. I felt best when I changed my diaper every hour. My suggestion is to start at 90 minutes and work your way up or down depending upon how much urine you are leaking.
⇒ Carry a shoulder bag with a spare set of pants, diapers, pads, wipes, and clothes. Sometimes I kept my bag in my car. At other times, such as at the movies or the mall, I’d carry the bag on my shoulder.
⇒ Put away jeans and cotton pants. Buy dark nylon pants. When I gave up wearing jeans and switched to dark nylon pants, a spot of urine was not visible to other people. If they got wet from urine, I could go into a restroom to wipe them off. They dried quickly, and soon the wet spot vanished.
⇒ Avoid drinking 32-ounce drinks during your trips away from home.
⇒ Most importantly, keep your perspective. The majority of men will regain their urinary control.
With all these things in place, I still had some accidents in public places, but I was well prepared to quickly deal with them. After a few weeks, I had the confidence I needed to leave home for extended periods wearing my diaper.
Since this is such an unpleasant phase of recovery, it’s easy to lose perspective and think, feel, and react as though you’ll never regain urinary control. It’s important to learn to cope with this time and to keep in mind that the majority of men will experience significant improvement in a matter of months. This phase is only temporary.
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Rick Redner is a prostate cancer survivor living in Modesto, CA, with his wife, Brenda Redner. This article is adapted from their book I Left My Prostate in San Francisco – Where’s Yours? You can contact them at their website, WhereIsYourProstate.com.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2013.