Dear Stupid Bladder:
I once heard a comedian say, “The only time I don’t have to pee is when I’m peeing.” Yes! I thought.
I used to think you were merely small, dear bladder, a genetic oopsie like my mom’s tiny one. From college well into my 30s, I was teased for peeing all the time, especially after I started drinking alcohol around 20. I’d always say, “I have a small bladder” to explain why I’d hit the restroom 15 minutes after I already went. For years, I planned my days based on where the next restroom would present itself. You ruled my life. I often wished there was bladder transplant surgery, so I could just swap you out. I even took antibiotics on my wedding day, thinking you were infected then! (You weren’t.)
Forget window seats on airplanes or road trips with friends with camel bladders. Forget concerts with large crowds, long lines, and porta-potties. And holy cow, teaching high school was like Chinese water torture when it came to having availability to use the bathroom. Walking around Manhattan sightseeing? Miserable. I distinctly remember standing next to the 9-11 site thinking, “Oh my god, I’m going to pee my pants.”
But you’re not just small, are you, my stupid bladder? I didn’t realize that for many years because you were sneaky. Back when I was still drinking soda, caffeinated coffee, and acidic juices, you were an extra super bitch, making me think I was constantly getting bladder infections. It burned to pee; it burned worse after I peed. You kept me up in the middle of the night, and you tortured me any time I couldn’t relieve you.
I spent countless hours in the urgent care complaining, only to spend money on antibiotics that didn’t touch my fiery flare-ups. I was told I could only have a urinary tract infection if I was a) dehydrated (which I wasn’t), or b) if I’d had sex with a new partner (which I didn’t always do).
And I did actually have a real infection one time, complete with a fever and chills, and I didn’t normally have that problem, so what the hell was going on with you? I had no idea.
Finally, an urgent care physician asked me, “Have you ever seen a urologist for this?” When I said, “No,” he referred me to one. That’s when all the tests began, tests that were painful and humiliating. I learned that even the smallest catheter felt like razor blades; it sent involuntary tears down my face. You even had a camera put inside you; I could see you on TV. My doctor asked, “Do you see all those white lines? Those aren’t supposed to be there.”
That’s when we were onto you, you feisty brat. Through the process of elimination, we determined what was wrong with you; you were diseased with something called Interstitial Cystitis: a term I can barely spell—or say. My urologist said, “We don’t know what causes it, and there’s no cure.” My middle-aged Ob/gyn said, “My mom has that.” Glad I have so much in common with the elderly, thanks to you.
I was given a list of foods and beverages I should avoid to make you slightly happier: alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods (Mexican—my favorite!), acidic foods (especially fruit and tomatoes), artificial sweeteners, yogurt, chocolate, pastas, canned fish, and sodas, to name a few. In fact, all the cranberry juice I drank when I thought you were infected was counterproductive. I cried. If I followed that list religiously, a list similar to the one I was given for my acid reflux, I’d rather die. Bland, colorless, and never-processed foods and a “water only” existence is no way to live.
I tried homeopathic remedies that didn’t work (Aloe Vera? Really?), and then I discovered a drug called Elmiron. Beautiful, beautiful Elmiron. The one medication approved to fight IC may not cure you, but it appeases you. Elmiron is expensive—a $65 copay every month—but it repairs your lining as long as I keep taking it, which is enough to keep me sane. It really has changed my life for the better.
I sometimes sleep through the whole night now, and I don’t have the tremendous pain I had for over a decade. I tried to wean myself from taking the drug to see what would happen, and again you instantly became a fiery mess. I will be taking this medication every morning, afternoon, and night for the rest of my life, but oh is it worth it. Elmiron may have made my hair thinner, but it keeps the inflammation of unspecified origin in check. It’s even worth having to pee more frequently to be able to drink wine without the added pain. Oh ridiculous bladder, I own you now.