September is National Prostate Health Month, so I’m taking this moment to talk about the prostate and urinary incontinence. If that makes you squeamish or uncomfortable, stop reading now. It’s only going to get worse from here.
Grownup conversation follows.
Let’s get the basics out of the way. The prostate is a small gland in men’s bodies that provides the fluid that transports sperm out of the body. For much of a man’s life, it could be described as his favorite gland, as it is the pathway to much delight and happiness. Until it isn’t.
As he gets older, for many men, the gland, which surrounds the top of the tube (urethra) that drains urine from the bladder, swells and interferes with urine flow. There can follow any number of resulting problems – reduced output, trouble getting the flow started, incomplete bladder emptying, stop-and-go flow, urgency, erectile dysfunction, incontinence and other really inconvenient and unpleasant stuff.
And when the pleasure gland becomes the pesky gland, it also becomes that thing that men just don’t talk about. They’re very sensitive about things going on in that region of their anatomy, and so they too often suffer in silence. No bonding over the subject when sharing beers while watching football with the guys.
This reticence can be exacerbated as they – and all the rest of us – see those commercials on TV about men’s underwear products and even the squirm-inducing pictures of small catheters (“It can fit into your pocket for easy application when traveling”) a person can use to, as the ads say, “self-cath.”
And as to taking one’s prostate to the doctor – oh sure. Every taboo and cringe response possible boils to the surface when contemplating a medical professional laying hands anywhere near, never mind directly on, a man’s nether regions.
I must digress. OK, all you tough guys, try being a woman. Pelvic exams and PAP smears often begin in our teens. Let’s be brutally honest here. A speculum – a duck-billed jaws-of-life apparatus – is inserted so that a spatula-like device can follow to scrape cells off our cervixes, while our legs are elevated onto stirrups, this being done by a medical professional we sometimes only first lay eyes on when we are in position and see over the drape that acts as a tent for him/her to peer under to do the procedure.
And then there’s childbirth, by which time we’ve lost all expectations for privacy and have made our peace with strangers’ hands (as long as they are attached to medical professionals assigned to the task) where they otherwise don’t belong.
With the birth of my first son, I recall the obstetrician – while I was midpush – asking if I minded if a new cohort of nursing students observed. I looked up and saw a ring of bright-eyed students that had filed in and were standing behind the doctor, who was in baby-catching position. I was too busy to object, the upside of which was that when the seemingly bowling ball-sized head emerged, leading the way out for the rest of my son’s body, it was greeted with audible “aahs” and a round of applause.
So, men, get over it.
This (finally) gets me to my point.
Let me share the story of one elderly gentleman who has stopped suffering in silence with an enlarged prostate. For his privacy I won’t call him by name, other than to mention that I have his permission to do this and that we’ve been married for more than 50 years.
I commend him for letting me write about this. It wasn’t easy for him, being a man of a certain generation, when such things were not only not talked about, but – good God – never written about for strangers to read.
He has dealt with the issue for several years and finally went to a urologist, at the strong (probably incessant) urging of his wife, and has tried a variety of prescribed medications, which did provide some relief. Trouble is, the situation got worse as his prostate continued enlarging. He still operates a small business, involving work inside and outside peoples’ homes, so the urgency and other effects of his enlarged prostate have made work much more difficult.
Also, social situations required careful forethought. Knowing the location of bathrooms became important when going out. Not taking in too many fluids when working became necessary (not such a great thing during this summer’s heat). It was time to consider other options.
Reluctantly, he began looking at various surgical possibilities, but the earlier ones didn’t feel like the right fit for him. Then he learned about a minimally invasive prostate stapling procedure. He had considerable discussion with his urologist as to whether he was a good candidate for that procedure and what he could expect.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I don’t play one on television, nor in print. And I most definitely do not and will not ever advise any man to do any specific thing for his prostate. What I am recommending, however, is that men take care of their prostates just as they would a faulty heart, diabetes, a broken bone or a bad hip. Seek medical help.
What I do know and respect is the individual mentioned here did get past the don’t touch-my-junk taboo and went to a doctor with a problem. In his case, after years of trying a number of other therapies, he chose prostate stapling. The procedure was done recently, so recovery is in process, and early results are promising.
Women have urinary incontinence, too, but, clearly, not a situation that is prostate-caused. Subject for another time. Maybe.
Go see a urologist if your prostate turns pesky. Maybe start with your primary care physician, if you have one. Not only can it improve your quality of life, it could possibly save it, should there be more dire reasons for your problematic prostate.
Consider that your prostate’s health is not just about you, but also about your life partner and others who love you.
Just man up and do it.
Correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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