Catheterization: Life Goes On with a New Normal

When your doctor tells you that it’s time to start using catheters, it isn’t always easy to accept at first. At 180 Medical, we often help out customers who are brand new to catheterization and a little frightened of the process. However, with the right products, support, and resources, catheterization can easily become a new normal.

180 Medical customer Stephan Onisick reached out to share his journey of learning to self-catheterize, which we hope will help you too. Take a look at his story below.

Catheterization: Life Goes on with a New Normal

by Stephan Onisick
Last year, I wrote an article called “Indoor Plumbing” in part to help myself accept the new reality of catheterization. I published it on a self-help website and had over 2000 clicks on the link. It has been over a year now, and catheterization has become a way of life for me. My perspective on the process has mellowed.

My goal, then and now, is to guide people through the transition of acclimating to this “bump in the road” so they can continue to thrive.

We all must confront the simple fact that life changes. Sometimes changes are gradual, but some are like a car accident and COVID-19; they are immediate. What worked yesterday no longer works. A “new normal” becomes our reality.

Catheterization was an immediate change for me.

I am fortunate to be in good general health and take 10-15 mile bike rides on the weekend. Currently, I work from home, like a lot of people, which is no problem since I am a computer developer and can handle any work-related tasks with good network connections.

The Road to Using Catheters

My health issues involve my urethra and urine-flow. In my 50s, the problem became so severe that I needed an operation called TURP (Transurethral Resection of the Prostate) to function without pain and urinary accidents. The TURP procedure widens the channel for urine flow by boring through the prostate.

We all like to believe surgery permanently fixes things — silly humans! It was helpful but not permanent. In the last couple of years, the problem has resurfaced. For the past three years, my urologist has been urging me to consider self-catheterization.

My mind resisted as long as possible. Memories of being catheterized for various surgeries haunted me. Any other option, please!

With the human body, like cars, chronic problems don’t usually get better. Ever had a self-healing muffler or self-healing brakes? Finally, last year, this baby-boomer relented and adopted the catheterization process. I had had enough with the late-night runs to the john, planning activities based on bathroom-proximity, small accidents, and oh so slow urine streams.

After starting catheterization, I kept exploring surgery options with my physician, Dr. Brown, but he was not optimistic about a full recovery. He didn’t expect me to have 100% bladder functionality after surgery. Unlike the “blue sky” recoveries of yesteryears, being in your late sixties is not all “golden” in this regard.

Since surgery wasn’t a guarantee, I had a more pressing desire to make a job change. I was in a dead-end job as a government contractor with NASA. I was getting paid well but had little to activate my mind on the job—no launches or fireworks were occurring in my work life. So, I took the chance and contracted with an IBM subcontractor. The job offered a shot of working for IBM in six months. I didn’t want surgery or a long recovery to trip me up, so I continued with the catheterization routine I had started.

I am now with IBM and joined them this year at 69 — a very young 69.

The First Time I Used a Catheter

Let me regress a little to my rocky start with catheterization. I vividly remember my first self-catheterization. A nursing assistant stepped me through the procedure. I was sweating profusely, and my hands were shaking. It hurt, and I didn’t want to do this ever again much less daily.

In retrospect, my anxiety magnified the pain. When I left the office with a “goody bag” of catheters, I couldn’t comprehend going through a day with five catheterizations. How would I manage this in a work environment? I was depressed. My wife of 36 years could read my feelings like a book. My life had changed.

Since the next day was Friday and a workday, I avoided catheterization altogether. I started on Saturday, and I could only manage the procedure three times that first solo day. At that time, I could not imagine getting through a whole day, weekend, a week, or a workday with these new procedures and catheter supplies.

However, slowly, I began catheterizing more and more. To make matters worse in the next week, I thought I had a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). My fever lasted for about two days, but then I felt better. Maybe it was a UTI, or perhaps it wasn’t. It took about three weeks for my “blue funk” to lift slightly.

While I’d rather not be catheterizing, I could cope. Also, within that month, I had some irregular urinary bleeding, which prompted me to see a Doc-in-Box and get antibiotics. After later discussing this incident with Dr. Brown, my urologist, he concluded that I nicked a capillary while inserting the catheter. To him, this was a common occurrence, but to me, it was scary. The bleeding and urinary infections have not reoccurred in the last year.

Getting Catheters from 180 Medical

Dr. Brown’s office set me up to receive my supplies from 180 Medical, and it was a godsend. I was not in a mental shape to shop or negotiate for something I did not want. Delivery of the catheters occurs punctually every month.

jake in warehouse shipping
180 Medical’s Shipping Specialists proudly pack orders accurately and ship them to arrive on time.

180 Medical navigated my three moves and three different employer insurances without missing a beat.

It has now been about a year and three months since I started catheterizing. Mostly, I don’t think about it. My frequency is down to about four times a day, through trial and error. You may find that a different schedule works better for you. I used to measure my urinary output at first, hoping it would decrease. Now I’ve just accepted that at about four times a day that I feel better if I catheterize — no measuring cups.

Catheterization with GentleCath Catheters

It’s worth noting that I tried about three types of catheters before I settled on the GentleCath™ Hydrophilic Male Length Catheter. I have found that self-lubricating catheters, which are also known as hydrophilic catheters, work better for me.

Self-lubricating catheters have a dry lubricant coating on the outside wall of the catheter. Water from an internal packet activates this coating to provide lubrication. Optimally, water must break within the closed catheter package by the user before opening for use.

In the first self-lubricating catheter I tried, the water packet was too small. It did not adequately lubricate the catheter, which made insertion painful.

My first catheter was a size 14 French (FR), which made for a slow urinary process. I now use a 16 French catheter and experience no pain in slightly increasing the size. The human body adjusts.

gentlecath catheters

Also, even on the GentleCath™, I’ve found the water packet can be hard to pop with my thumb and fingers.

To circumvent this problem, I use the following procedure:

1. Push the water packet to the center of the package to prevent either end from blowing out with the force of the breaking. This prevents creating a watery mess everywhere. Yes, this does happen, but its only water!

2. Drop the catheter to the bathroom floor (it is still sealed and is plastic, so nothing breaks) and apply stockinged or barefoot heel to the water packet until it bursts using body weight.

3. Swish the water around inside the unopened package to fully lubricate the outer wall.

4. Pick up the catheter package and open it, using a baby wipe or alcohol wipe, to avoid touching the insertable part of the catheter with bare hands to lessen the possibility of infection.

5. Use as you normally would.

The whole process now takes about two minutes.

Take heart. Although catheterization is not the desired state, it does become routine, manageable, and even mundane.

I have found that I can do my normal activities, like work and bike riding. My biking and guitar buddy, Larry Halterman, took the below photo, which has launched me on my COVID-19 diet.

Stephan and his bike

My hope for you is that you don’t let catheterization prevent you from doing the things that give you joy.

180 Medical is Ready to Help You Too

We hope you enjoyed getting to know Stephan and hear his firsthand story of how he’s adapted to using catheters. At 180 Medical, we’re dedicated to providing our customers with the best customer service and reliable shipments. Plus, we want to make sure you have the right catheter to fit your needs, just as Stephan finally discovered the right fit for him with the GentleCath Hydrophilic Catheter.

If you’d like to learn more about your catheter product options, your catheter insurance coverage, or how to self-catheterize, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re ready to help turn your life around and make the transition to catheterization an easy one.

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About the Author
Jessica is a Marketing Specialist at 180 Medical, and she's been a part of the 180 family for 11 years. Her favorite part of working here is seeing the positive impact we can make on others' lives and in our community.

She loves cooking vegetarian meals at home, gardening, creative writing, discovering new music and podcasts, Peloton cycling, and spending quality time with her fiancé and their 3 awesome dogs.