Over the last many years, I have had to learn to perform a somewhat disquieting procedure on myself. I am an incomplete paraplegic due to a spinal cord injury I sustained in an automobile accident. One of the effects of that injury is a reduced ability to fully empty my bladder, resulting in the need to self-catheterize.
When I was in the hospital after the accident, the nurse the sent to teach me how to use this medieval torture device on myself, was a gay Jamaican male nurse; a great guy I often spent sleepless evenings playing cards with in the lounge.
He tried to assure me by saying, "Don't worry, Mon. It's just a little prick."
Personally, I thought that was just adding insult to injury, but apparently he was talking about the feel of the catheter going in.
As a result of all this, I carry a small bag with me containing catheters, syringes, latex gloves, alcohol swabs, and anaesthetic ointment. I never expected that I would have to explain the contents of the bag to anyone. That was before I met the Canada Customs officer at a border crossing between Washington and British Columbia.
I’m still not sure why I was singled out to have my car searched that day, but when the officer found my little supply bag, he thought the syringe indicated that somewhere in my car he would find more drug paraphernalia and contraband. He routed around inside the bag, pulling out more syringes, gloves and swabs. When he pulled out a catheter, he demanded to know what it was.
So I told him.
I gave him a medical school-style lecture on the proper use of a catheter, how to insert it, and how to carefully feed the tube up the urethra and into the bladder. I explained how to make sure the bladder was fully drained, how to avoid infection, and what to do when one occurs. All the while I ignored his requests for me to stop. At first he tried to sound official. By the end he was pleading for mercy. It was clearly more information than he expected or wanted to hear. I wasn’t going to let him off easily, though.
I ended my lecture by saying, “…and when you are finished, you firmly grip the end of the catheter, and yank it out.”
That’s when his knees buckled slightly, and he told me in a cracking voice that I could go.
"But I haven't even told you about the kind that involves duct-taping a condom to yourself so you can pee in a bag strapped to your leg," I said.
Tears were starting to well up in his eyes, and he walked away from my car, before I could tell him the effects of removing the duct tape. I would have also told him that I haven't used that kind of catheter since a bellman at a hotel walked up and offered to check my bag. I guess I should have known he meant my suitcase.
Kingsley Amis once said that if you can't offend someone, there is little point being a writer. Words I live by. I would add, that if I can't make some overly officious border guard weep, there is no fun in being a paraplegic.